The city of Hue, Vietnam is bisected, north and south, by the flat, greenish Perfume River. I remember the first time I saw it. A guy named Floyd Utley and I had hitch-hiked south from Quang Tri City, through Phu Bai, perhaps not the most intelligent thing to have done, given that there was a war going on, but one I remember with considerable fondness.
I remember looking at the old imperial palace through the trees on the banks of the river and thinking: “Such a beautiful place—despite what happened here last year.” The reference here, of course, was the urban fighting that had taken place in 1968, days and days of it.
Today, the city is back and the river is as jade green as I remember it. We hired a so-called “Dragon Boat” to take us from the city limits well sough. Although there was a good deal of commercial traffic (carrying sand and construction materials primarily), we saw no sign of patrol boats, either Vietnamese of American.
After four or five hours of squinting at the shoreline, and scoping out the oncoming traffic, with the distinctive PBR shape wafting about your neurons, you can get a tad goofy. A little comic relief never hurts, of course, although it stood in stark contrast to the brief stop we made at the Thien Mu or “Seven Tiered Pagoda,” above a stone jetty on the riverbank.
The pagoda arises from a monastery whose head monk, Thích Quảng Đức, became grimly famous when on June 11, 1963 he drove from the monastery to Saigon in an Austin automobile and burned himself to death at a busy intersection. The Austin was subsequently returned to the monastery and, as you can see, remains there today.
I brought a GoPro camera on this trip and have been using it quite a bit. Stand by for a bunch of videos coming some time soon. I especially like the one Jim and I did while crossing a busy intersection in Danang. If you thing you have seen intense vehicular traffic in other parts of the world, you’ve got one heck of a treat coming up.
Not long after we’d gotten off our boat at a trailhead well down river, we entered a town that specializes in the production of incense—Buddhism continues to be quite strong in Vietnam. Very colorful stuff. Tomorrow, the Cua Viet River…which I have a bit of a premonition about.