7 June 2012

Today was full of activity.  We started at 8am with a trip to the old city.  The compound was built to be the new capital by the first Emperor of the last dynasty before the French and Communists took power.  While much of it was destroyed during typhoons and several wars, the Vietnamese are now working on restoring it, and what we could see was quite beautiful.  The complex is organised into three parts – the first for the common people, the second for the officials and ceremonial occasions, and the third was reserved for the Emperor, his hundreds of wives and the eunuchs to attend them. 

The Noon Gate (main entrance).

Most of the buildings were damaged or destroyed during the wars.

While scenic, it was excruciatingly hot.  I bought a fan from the gift shop, but after a few hours even this wasn’t enough.  The rest of the day carried on in the same vein.

One of the exhibits was a room full of gorgeous tunics and gowns from the last dynasty.  Particular designs were reserved for the Emperor, princes and princesses.  A dragon for the prince, and a phoenix for princesses.

After the old city we visited the tomb of another emperor, whose name I’ve forgotten.  He was a very wise and well liked leader, but was unable to father any children.  The tradition was for the children of the Emperor to write a biography on the dead Emperor’s tomb, setting out the good and the bad actions in his life for judging by the gods.  This Emperor had to write his own autobiography. 

We returned to the town for lunch and were taken to a pagoda where we were served lunch by the nuns of the pagoda.  They were wearing long grey robes, and some were wearing a golden layer of clothing over the top.  The nuns had shaved heads, and some had their heads half shaved – a sign that they were still novices and not yet fully one of the order.  As we left they began a prayer session with much singing, drumming, and bowing.

That afternoon we boarded a boat for a short cruise along the river.  The boat had two large dragon heads at the front, made of metal and colourfully painted.  An odd contrast after Singapore was that there was absolutely no commentary about what we were looking at, nor any description from the tour leader. 

We stopped along the way to visit another pagoda, full of monks, this time.  The major attraction for me however, was this hen and her chicks.  There are a lot of chickens here.

All along the way people were trying to sell us hats, fans and water.  I found the best way to stop this was to buy a fan.  No hardship, as it has since become an essential item in my daypack!


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