We saw this sign each time we walked between our hotel and downtown when we visited Sa Pa, Vietnam. Vietnam is a long, skinny, S-shaped country in Southeast Asia running north-south beside the South China Sea to the east (or “East Sea,” as it is known in Vietnam). By land, Vietnam is bordered by China to the north, by Laos to the northwest, and by Cambodia to the southwest. North-to-south, it measures about 1650 kilometers (just over 1000 miles) and is about 50 kilometers (just over 30 miles) wide at the widest point. In area, it is approximately the size of Germany. Sa Pa is in the northwest, and the cities listed in the first four lines of the bus sign are in the North with Sa Pa. Of the cities in the last line, Hue is about halfway down Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City (“Saigon”) is in the South.
Bus from Sa Pa
This photo was taken on February 16, 2017. Specs are:
In February 2017, we visited the Imperial Tombs in Hue, Vietnam. There are a lot of them scattered over the countryside. The picture below was taken near the tomb of Khai Dinh, who was the 12th Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. He ruled from 1916 to 1925; his tomb was built from 1920 to 1931.
The photo shows statues of civil leaders, military soldiers, mandarins, elephants, and horses; the figure in the foreground is a mandarin. The tomb is built as a series of terraces. These statues are located on the Bai Dinh Courtyard (or Salutation Court), which is the second terrace. The actual tomb of Khai Dinh is located above the fifth terrace.
We were amazed at the reverence our guide showed these tombs. He didn’t seem to be strongly religious (few of the Vietnamese seemed as consumed with religion as other Southeast Asian countries) and Khai Dinh was not a very good emperor. Despite this, our guide treated this place as holy ground.
This photo was taken on February 19, 2017. Specs are:
This photo was taken in a small roadside shop near Huế, Vietnam. These incense sticks are hand-rolled by the shop owner from ground-up agarwood. The color (mixed with agarwood) is hand-applied to a few inches at the end; each color contains a pleasant natural scent.
Incense is burned as an offering to ancestors and gods; this practice is called thurification. The smoke is a form of communication and spiritual food. Multiple sand-filled pots are placed near temples, shrines, and other sacred places for holding the incense sticks upright as they burn.
We’ve seen a lot of instances of Vietnamese and Western culture blending during our travels. Last evening in Hue, we stopped at a cafe called “Why Not?” It is a full-on Wild West bar with wagon wheels, (fake) animal heads, rodeo posters, and every bit of Western Americana imaginable. The servers dress as cowboys. I saw one carrying a large platter. I looked to see what food he was carrying. It was dim sum, and I thought: why not?
One of the sights that make Hue famous is the imperial tombs. Each emperor has an elaborate park-like building complex with everything needed for the emperor’s “forever life.” One thing they all seemed to need is their mandarins who seemed to be the senior civil servants. At the entrance to each tomb we have visited, there are rows of mandarin statues on the left and right of the entry courts awaiting their late emperor’s commands.
We left Sa Pa, Vietnam, at 5 pm on Friday by car, took the night train from Lao Cai to Hanoi, caught an early flight from Hanoi, and arrived in Hue before noon on Saturday.
Hue seems pleasant and a little less crowded than cities like Hanoi. We are staying on Pham Ngu Lao street, which is like a dozen other Asian streets we have stayed on in the past. It is filled with restaurants, bars, and Western (mainly French) tourists. One restaurant has Old West decor and Vietnamese servers dressed as cowboys.
We took the elevator 14 floors up to the rooftop restaurant of our hotel and took the following picture before retiring from a very long Saturday.
Hue isn’t as exotic as some of our stops, but I think we will like it.