On Day 3 we explored historic Hue in central Vietnam visiting various Emperors’ Mausoleums and the Imperial Enclosure dating back to the Nguyen dynasty, as well as seeing a brilliant display of martial arts.
I hadn’t realised that India and China had had such a profound influence throughout the Mekong region. Vietnam was under Chinese rule for a 1000 years with several periods of independence in between before becoming a French colony.
It was the Chinese who introduced Confucianism, Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism, while the Indians brought Theravada Buddhism. During the Dark Ages in Europe Vietnam was already a blossoming civilisation with advanced scientific and medical knowledge.
The places we visited in Central Vietnam spanned a huge period in history from the early years AD to the present day. Today we saw three contrasting Mausoleums from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The first was for Minh Mang (1791 – 1841), one of Vietnam’s most powerful Emperors. His elaborate tomb was set in 18 hectares of picturesque grounds among 40 monuments including palaces, temples and pavilions.
Emperor Khai Dinh’s Mausoleum, the last to be built and most extravagant of all, was built between 1920 and 1931 using materials from France, China and Japan to complete exquisite glass and ceramic details.
Emperor Tu Duc enjoyed the longest reign of any monarch of the Nguyen dynasty, ruling from 1848-83. He apparently lived a life of excess with 104 wives but no offspring. Although his tomb is also very beautiful, the Emperor was never actually interred there for fear of grave robbers. No one knows his real burial site and those involved were beheaded.
The performing program of Vo Kinh Van An, Vietnam’s traditional Kungfu exponents, was quite spectacular.
Established as the capital of unified Vietnam in 1802, Hué was not only the political but also the cultural and religious centre under the Nguyen dynasty until 1945. Our afternoon was spent at the Citadel, the Imperial Enclosure where the Perfume River winds its way through giving this unique feudal capital a setting of great natural beauty. Much of this area was destroyed during the war and UNESCO funds are now contributing to its partial conservation.
Last tour stop was the seven storey Thien Mu Pagoda on the riverbank. Our guide explained the key difference between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. Mayahana Buddhism which predominates in Vietnam and China, teaches that enlightenment can be attained in a single lifetime and can be accomplished even by a layperson, while Theravada Buddhism, more common in Sri Lanka and western Indo-China, is more conservative, adhering to Pali scriptures and the non-theistic ideal of self purification to nirvana.
…And our very last stop after a hair-raising three-hour drive, which included a brand new 6 km tunnel through the mountains, was Hoi An ready for another early morning start….