We left the charming town of Hoi An with some sadness, since it was such a lovely place. Took a short (4 hours) bus ride to the old imperial town of Hue, passing through Danang, known as the place where 2 U.S. marine battalions landed in 1965, the first of many that would land on the beaches and airfields of South Vietnam over the next years.
Arrived in Hue on a quiet Sunday afternoon and went to visit the imperial palace, modeled on Beijing's Forbidden City. The site originally covered the area of 8 villages and is enclosed by thick walls and surrounded by moats and canals. Much of it was destroyed during the 1968 Tet offensive but UNESCO is now restoring some of the pavilions and buildings that housed the emperor's family, concubines, eunuchs and servants. The throne room was quite lavish. We also saw our first elephants, who left huge droppings on the square!
Monday was our last day with Nathan, so we rented bicycles to go to the beach, some 12 km away, and were pleasantly surprised to reach a beautiful, undeveloped beach with only a few tourists, locals and fishermen with their boats. The sea was quiet rough, but it was great to be by the South China Sea again, drinking cold beer and relaxing.
Nathan flew off to Ho Chi Minh City and on to Phuket to make his way to Koh Pangang for the full-moon party.
Marti and I then had an awesome day cycling 14 km to the tomb of Emperor Minh Mang. However, it was not flat like the road to the beach, but very hilly! We didn't have a map, the heat was unbearable, but we made it, riding along the river, avoiding the trucks and buses and motorbikes, passing beside rice fields and banana plantations and entering a pine forest. Arriving in the late afternoon, we stepped through the gate into another world. There were few tourists around so we had the place practically to ourselves. It was so still, only the sound of birds chirping and crickets. The site has a perfect symmetry, with ponds, statues and gardens lining the sides of each courtyard and pavilion. I wonder if Minh Mang is resting in peace in such a quiet place? We certainly found it restful after our epic bike ride and the noise and flurry of the city.
Taking a day to recover from heat exhaustion before another (our last) overnight sleeping bus. Enjoying the coffee and the French legacy of pain au chocolat!