Tour Boat Veterans for Truth (Hue, Pt. 4)

Now, where were we?

Oh right, somewhere on the Perfume River:

Our next stop was to be the Tomb of the Emperor Tu Duc, who reigned from 1848 to 1883. The Imperial Tombs in Hue are gorgeous, but betray a more-than-a-little morbid side to the Nguyen Dynasty’s emphasis on ancestor worship. Essentially, the Imperial Citadel in Hue was the Emperor’s main castle, and they might have a summer residence or two, and then there was the tomb: their after-death castle. Built during the lifetimes of the emporers they house, some of the tombs did double duty as vacation homes and administrative offices for the emporers while they lived. Nothing like having your own sepulchre be within walking distance of your office to motivate you to get to work in the morning, I guess.

Tu Duc’s tomb is a sprawling complex over several acres of mountainside forest, set back from the banks of the Perfume River by about 2km. Since we were on the four-stops-and-out-in-a-day tour (baaa. moooo.), a leisurely walk up the path from the boat dock to the tomb gate was out of the question, which meant… a honda taxi ride. With dozens of tour boats coming up the river every day, this is something of a cottage industry around Hue, and apparently anyone with a working scooter. an inclination to make a few dollars and no other regular means of employment can be found congregating at the boat moorings, waiting to ferry tourists over to the tomb. Also found there was a cow, for reasons only it knew:

When we’d bought the ticket for the tour, the desk clerk at the hotel had make a point of warning us about the scooter taxis at the tombs: “Only pay one or two dollars. Do not pay them until they take you back. If you pay before…” (here, he made the universal hand gesture for “buh-bye, sucker”) “…your driver gone, then you pay again to go back.” Sure enough, once we had climbed up the stairs from the moorage to the path, a dozen or more scooter drivers all crushed in, demanding $5 in advance to take us there. Negotiation was a pretty word for what ensued: the basic requirement was to just bullheadedly keep repeating “20,000 dong — pay on return” until one of the drivers finally gave in, at which point the whole crowd would go along with the new price.

Once the haggling was done, the ride was actually fun: about three minutes of high-speed derring do along partially paved roads, dodging other scooters and the occasional hay truck.

Some shots from Tu Duc’s Tomb:

(Click on any to enter full gallery)

After about an hour poking through the tomb, we marched back into the arms of our waiting motorcyclists, who zoomed us straight back to… well, not quite the boat, first. First it was time for a scam that the hotel hadn’t warned us about. A few hundred meters from the boat, there was a small open-air refreshment stand, selling soda and water. My driver pulled up in front of the stand, the proprietor of which immediately rushed out to greet him with a bottle of cold water in each hand. She quickly pushed a bottle into the driver’s hands, and attempted to hand one to me. Since I had a bottle of my own in my pack, I waved it off, and was a little confused when she kept asking “You buy water?” After a few seconds of gesticulating, the idea became clear: I was being asked to buy my driver a small bottle of water. For 10,000 Dong.

Now on one hand… d10,000 is barely 60 cents. On the other hand, the bottle in question was barely 10 ounces, and the going overpriced-for-tourists rate for that size bottle was d5,000. At a guess, I’d suspect that the local price was probably closer to d1,500 if even that. This struck me as a bit past what general good-naturedness required: I fixed a benign smile on my face and said “sorry, no.” This took a few repetitions, and then finally the stand owner made an “enough of this nonsense” noise and I was whisked back to the boat.

The next stop was a tiny Buddhist monastery built into the steep mountain walls overhanging the river. Hon Chen Temple was small: so small that neither Lonely Planet nor the Rough Guide saw fit to mention it. It was nonetheless charming; we’d arrived just before lunch time, and the monks and nuns were placing the noonday meal as offerings at the various altars. (After a time in front of the altars, the meals would be taken back and eaten.)

Some shots from Hon Chen Temple:

(Click on any photo to enter the full gallery.)

After we’d spent a few minutes poking through the temple, we were herded back onto the boat, which had retrofitted itself as a floating cafeteria: long tables had been brought out, and our chairs arranged around them. The included was aggressively minimal: rice and steamed vegetables for the most part. Miranda and I had ordered a plate of spring rolls to supplement it, and ended up having to playfully fend off the vulturing of our tablemates.

After lunch was done and we were sitting around waiting to get to the next location, someone looked out the side of the boat and said “Hey, look at those statues of elephants across the river.” Miranda and I hustled over to look, and one of the statues moved. Not statues. Elephants:

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