Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hue, Vietnam

We flew to Hue (pronounced Hway) from Hanoi into a very small airport and were picked up by hostess and driver to the Pilgrimage Village. The resort is outside the city and offers large villas, a friendly and efficient staff, and free van rides into town. The breakfast restaurant offered good food and balcony tables along side a large swimming pool. We used the outside tables and enjoyed the morning sun before it got hot. After the rainy and moderate temperatures of Hanoi and Halong Bay, Hue was a sharp contrast as normal temperatures during the afternoon were well into the 90’s, making shaded head wear a tourist necessity. Our evening meals were in the comfort of air conditioning at the more elaborate restaurant.

After getting organized and enjoying the resort, the next day we have arranged for a driver and English guide to tour the Citadel, Vietnam’s version of Beijing’s Imperial City.
Emperor Gia Long started construction in 1804 to house the royal family and household. There are three walled enclosures, the Exterior Enclosure or Citadel; the Yellow Enclosure; and within that; at the center is the Purple City where the emperor actually lived. A French military architect constructed it and the French, years later, destroyed it. A lot of it has been restored and work continues to this day. The most interesting thing about the day was hearing the English speaking guide give us a history lesson of the Vietnam War and how the Citadel fit into the war.

We asked him many questions and he shared much with us some candid observations among the most revealing was that the present government is very corrupt and he thinks Ho Chi Minh would encourage another revolution to replace the present government. One can see that he feels a sense of betrayal. It is his conversation with us that prompted me to review some of the important moments in the war.

This is a temple inside the Imperial City.

A bit of history--

The NVA (North Vietnam Army) attack began early on Jan.31, 1968 and by 0800, North Vietnamese troops raised the red and blue Viet Cong banner with its gold star over the Citadel flag tower. It was quite a shock to the allies. It was not until Feb. 24th, that the US Marines had finally prevailed and had retaken the Citadel and NVA flag.

The US Marines found a harrowing house to house, bobby trap infested ordeal as they swept through every inch of the city. Armor and air strikes were very limited to do conditions and to keep casualties down. Allied forces were ordered not to bomb or shell the city, for fear of destroying the historic structures. Also, since it was monsoon season, it was virtually impossible for the U.S. forces to use air support. But as the intensity of the battle increased, the policy was eliminated. The communist forces were constantly using snipers, hidden inside buildings or in small holes, and prepared makeshift machine gun bunkers.

Communist forces suffered heavy losses in this battle, losing 5,133 men at Hue; about 3,000 more were estimated to be killed outside of the city. Basically its whole attack force was wiped out. Approximately 2,800 people killed by the NVA and VC simply because they were pro-allied. Mass graves of executed and other atrocities were unearthed. American losses were only 142.

What the NVA did win were the minds of Americans as the battle was carried on news casts every night. The carnage of the battle turned off many Americans. People watched the blood and napalm as they ate their dinner and from 1968 forward, public opinion only became more vocal against the war especially the young generation doing the fighting and dying. Rock culture permeated into the military to a large degree causing discipline and drug problems. The draft in America was immensely unpopular with many college age men leaving for Canada or getting out of the duty on claims of being a drug addict or homosexual.

Not all Americans were against the war, but the Battle of Hue was the turning point. Public opinion forced President Nixon to sue for peace 3 years later, after the treaty was broken and Americans had left, two more years later the war was over.

Our second day at Hue we took the van into town and hired a Tiger Dragon boat for a cruise up and down the Perfume River to observe river life and reaching the Thien Mu Pagoda before turning back.

Young boy shampooing his hair.

We reached the pagoda and saw the students coming out of classes.
  At the pagoda was the car that monk Thich Queng Duc used to drive to the spot in Saigon where he set himself on fire to protest the brutality South Vietnam president Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem had the backing of right wing Catholics in American, especially anti-communist Senator Joseph McCarthy, plus the Vatican, and was responsible for trying to oppress the majority Buddhists by denying them equal rights and killed many Buddhists. It was in every respect, a religious war. When Duc self immolated himself, President Kennedy started to withdraw support for Diem. Diem was assassinated 3 weeks before Kennedy on November 1, 1963.

The pagoda is often called the symbol of Hue and is the oldest religious structure in Vietnam, with construction started in 1601, with the bell tower built in 1864.

Upon arriving back to our villa, we enjoyed the spa and massages. I also practiced yoga there two mornings to start the day. This photo shows the entrance to the spa.

The next day we hired a car to drive us 3 hours through Danang to the World Heritage Site of Hoi An where we stayed at the nearby Nam Hai, the best luxury resort in Vietnam. Before leaving I took this photo.


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