Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January 19th: Hanoi and Hue

Good Morning Vietnam!  January 19th started early for the group as we had a 7:15 AM wake up call for our flight from Hanoi to Hue.  However, prior to departing Hanoi, we had one last city sight to see, the body of Ho Chi Minh, who is regarded as the “Father of Modern Vietnam.”  During his time as president of Vietnam, he achieved respect from his allies and his enemies, both domestically and abroad.  His body is embalmed in a mausoleum in Hanoi and because of the honor the Vietnamese continue to give to him, our visit was met with strict security.  There are certain days and times that visitors may enter and there is no photography allowed inside.  Thus, we have no interior pictures for you but we will try our best to use our literary skills to describe what it looked like on the inside.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

We entered the front (brown doors), walking past military personnel who provided one last security check, including telling us to keep our hands out of our pockets.  We entered a “foyer” that had two staircases, one to the left and one to the right.  There is minimal decoration and all the walls and floors are made of granite.  There is a cold feel to the air and minimal light, presumably to help preserve the body.  Walking on a red “carpet,” we took the staircase to the left which we walked up into an approximately 20’x20’ square room.  We entered the room from the rear and then proceeded to make a U-shaped loop around to the front of Ho Chi Minh’s body.  His body is contained inside of what is best described as a casket.  The coffin’s sides are made of glass however, which allowed us to see his embalmed body, at our eye level.  His body is lying down with his hands folded over his chest, much like traditional burial positions.  There are four military guards around the coffin, one at each corner.  Above the coffin on the wall, there is the star from the flag of Vietnam and a hammer and sickle.  His body is very well preserved, especially considering he has now been deceased a little over thirty years.  After completing the U-shaped loop around the body, we took the staircase down the right and exited the mausoleum out the right side (the right side of the above photograph). 
After seeing the Vietnamese leader’s body, we departed for the Hanoi airport, where we had a 12:30 PM flight to Hue.  The flight was only an hour and was enjoyable until the landing, where rainy conditions prompted us to have a very hard landing.  After retrieving our bags from the only baggage carousel in the airport, we were on the road into rainy Hue.  Once in Hue, we were given a half-hour for lunch, which most people used to eat at Western-style restaurants.   After lunch, we went to the Citadel and Imperial City by the Perfume River (we couldn’t sense the perfume smell).  The Citadel continues to protect The Vietnamese people since its construction in 1804.  There is a Vietnamese flag flying overhead, attached to Vietnam’s tallest flagpole, which you can see below.

The Citadel

Inside the Citadel is the Imperial City, which was Vietnam’s capital until 1945, when Ho Chi Minh moved it to Hanoi.  In 1968, during the Tet Offensive, the Vietcong took over the Imperial City as it was a strategic location in the middle of North and South Vietnam.  During the attack, the Vietcong burned the city and the United States bombed much of the city.  Due to this violence, much of the city was either damaged or destroyed.  UNESCO is now in the process of rebuilding the city.  Although construction was evident, it was very interesting to see the old capital and the palace where the Nguyen emperors governed.  Again, pictures were not allowed inside the palace, but there was a very impressive gold throne inside that overlooked the Imperial City.

Imperial Palace

Remains of Imperial City

Upon completion of our tour of the Citadel and Imperial City, we boarded the bus for a short drive to the Thien Mu Pagoda.  Built in 1601, this pagoda is one of the oldest in Vietnam and is still used by Buddhist monks to this day.  Although it was raining, the grounds were still very beautiful to walk around.  The Pagoda is on top of a hill overlooking the Perfume River. 

Thien Mu Pagoda

 Adjacent to the Pagoda, there was a small dock, where we boarded a boat to take a 35-minute ride down the Perfume River. 

Boat in Hue

The boat ride was not as scenic as our previous boat experience in Halong Bay.  However, it provided a nice contrast as it showed the economic disparity that exists in Vietnam as the river shores seemed to be poverty stricken.  After docking back near downtown Hue, we had a short bus ride to our hotel, which offers both a poolside bar and a nightclub as amenities.  We will all be getting to bed early tonight…Good Night Vietnam!
Posted by: Luke O'Rourke and Michael Nachajski

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