No doubt about it. Vietnam is a country full of lustral boys and it is also a place to which many lustrals and their friends from elsewhere like to travel or at least dream about visiting. Not that this is really somewhere for dreamers to go in search of tranquillity and meditation: for that, head to next-door Laos which has a land area two thirds of the size of Vietnam but only a fraction of the population of its powerful neighbour (seven million compared with Vietnam’s nearly ninety million) and moves at an even smaller fraction of the pace.
Welcome to Vietnam
No, crowded Vietnam has a busy, bustling, in-your-face energy which is more reminiscent of the atmosphere of Hong Kong but with added ingredients providing an exuberant charm and magic all of its own – amongst which one of the outstanding highlights has to be the food: life is never quite the same again after once sampling beef noodles for breakfast cooked for several hours and laced with fish sauce, lime juice, a handful of chillies and fistful of mint leaves.
Apart from the culinary, this fascinating country also boasts an extraordinary array of natural delights, from remote mountain highlands in the north to the vast, teeming estuary of the Mekong in the south and, in between, all manner of spectacles including the beautiful limestone monoliths of Halong Bay plus what is claimed to be the longest continuous stretch of beach in the world at Nha Trang – though doubtless around the globe there are a number of other contenders for this title – and, on more scientifically sure ground, the largest cave in the world at Phong Nha (8kms in length and still more unexplored) discovered only in 2009 by a British expedition. And then there are the manmade sights: pagodas and temples in plenty but also the poignant ruins of the once mighty Champa civilisation near the coast at My Son – perhaps surprisingly not Buddhist in origins but based around the Hindu religion which spread from India right across south-east asia nearly two thousand years ago and left another even more magnificent legacy at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. And from more recent times, Vietnam offers many vestiges of the colonial French era including tree-lined boulevards, elegant villas festooned with wrought-iron and magnificent government buildings such as the extraordinary main post office in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon as was) plus some grimly fascinating reminders of what followed after in the form of elaborate tunnels and whole underground villages created by the Viet Cong.
However the highlight of a recent visit to Vietnam was none of the above but rather an adventurous trip to see an early 19th century emperor’s tomb so far off the beaten tourist track that, despite its magnificence, it is scarcely ever visited. It is part of the rich legacy left by the last imperial dynasty, the Nguyen, which seized power two hundred years ago, unified the country giving it its modern name of Vietnam, annexed Cambodia driving the Siamese back into Thailand and in the process amassed fabulous wealth. The Nguyen imperial court modelled itself on the much more ancient dynasties of China. The courtly language and script was basically Chinese, government was conducted along Confucian ideals and the new imperial capital in the centre of the country at Hue was built around a huge citadel with, at its heart, a forbidden city full of treasures and inhabited only by the emperor, his wives and eunuchs. And, like the Chinese emperors, those of Vietnam survived the growing power of the European colonisers but ultimately lost their thrones in the 20th century as the new communist regimes became established.
The fabulous palaces and imperial buildings of Hue were badly damaged in the Vietnam War Tet offensive but much of the citadel and forbidden ‘purple’ city has been repaired or reconstructed recently (the work is still continuing) and is a must-see for anyone visiting Vietnam. And apart from that, the Nguyen emperors left another legacy in the shape of elaborate tombs some distance outside the city of Hue and surrounded by acres of stunning parklands. All were built according to strict rules of geomancy, which often involved making substantial modifications to the landscape to ensure that the orientation of the constituent elements complied with celestial and supernatural forces. Several of the best-preserved of the tombs are very much part of the tourist itinerary and I had already seen the three most visited, the majestic tomb of Emperor Minh Mang, the elegant charm of that of the ‘poet Emperor’ Tu Duc and the ornately decorated tomb of Khai Dinh.
Quoc Le Hung: Guide/Companion in South-East Asia
If the adventure below whets your appetite to explore Vietnam (off or on the beaten track), lustral Vietnamese boy Hung offers a full guide/companion service around his country including planning your trip, booking all required accommodation & internal travel and accompanying you at every stage of your journey. He speaks fluent English and good French & Flemish/Dutch; he can also guide you around neighbouring Laos and Cambodia in addition to Vietnam.
Hung is currently spending part of the year in Antwerpen, Belgium. If interested in discussing ideas and possibilities further with him, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text on his Belgian phone number: 0032 4 77 72 35 63.
Look out for more of William's adventure next month.
Join our mailing list
- February 14th, 2017
- December 30th, 2016
- December 30th, 2016
- December 30th, 2015
- March 9th, 2015
- February 9th, 2015