Things I Have Learned In Cambodia

Things I Have Learned In Cambodia

“If you smile at me, i will understand because that is something everybody everywhere does in the same language,” Crosby Stills Nash and Young

The Kingdom of Cambodia is located in the southern portion of the Indochina peninsula in South East Asia. It is bordered by Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the Gulf of Thailand.

Khmer or Cambodian is the language of the Khmer people and the official language of Cambodia.

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In Cambodia, greeting is formally done by joining both the palms together in front of each other and then bowing. This is called Sompeah and is usually initiated by the younger or lower rank of people.

Electricity in Cambodia is in pressing need in the rural areas. It is supplied in the evening only from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM while the business establishments and hotels rely more on generators. It is not uncommon to receive notes in your hotel about power outtages..

The infamous tyrant leader Pol Pot, who took control of Cambodia in 1975, was considered  the most notorious war criminal of modern times.

Over one and a half million people died during the regime of the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot. The exact number is not known . It could be a lot more. One-fifth of Cambodia’s population was killed. They were mostly educated people, priests, and monks. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot wanted all educated Cambodians dead so that nobody would oppose their rule. You don’t see many old people.

Americans do not learn Asian History in school unless it directly affects us. Cambodia is still a traumatized country from the time of the Khmer Rouge and it is good to read about it. I read First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers  written by Loung Ung, a Cambodian author and survivor of the Pol Pot regime – or watch the Killing Fields before you go.

UNESCO has listed Cambodia as the third most landmined country in the world. More than 4 million landmines are still strewn across the country causing a high amount of casualties. It is estimated that it will take a decade before all the land mines are cleared up.

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Cambodia has the highest per-capita percentage of amputees in the world. Each month there are between 300 and 700 amputations due to land-mine injuries.

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Cambodia has the largest inland lake in South East Asia called the Tonle Sap.

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Cambodia has the least Chinese influences among all the other Mainland Southeast Asian nations.

Cows are a part of life in an agrarian economy and you see them all around Cambodia. Often you see children entrusted with the responsibility of walking with them.

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Since motorbikes are cheaper than cars in Cambodia is not unusual to see whole families on one bike.

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Rice is ubiquitous in Cambodian meals. It is served in many forms that include fried, steamed, noodles or dessert. (rice field)

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The relationship between water buffalo and humans in Cambodia is integral to their agricultural way of life. They have no fear of us. I was very close.  He was like “just take the photo already”.

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The official religion of Cambodia is Theravada Buddhism which is practiced by 95% of the Cambodian population.

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Tarantula kebabs are a popular delicacy in Cambodia. Spiders are another delicacy or necessity served in Cambodia,

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Prahok is a national ingredient in Cambodia, and is made of fermented fish.

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Cambodian food is a complex mix of local dishes and various influences such as Thai, French, and Sino-Vietnamese and is really tasty. (amok and morning glory)

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Cambodia’s motto is “Nation, Religion, King.

The Temples of Angor are a great place to take wedding photos.

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The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is an outgrowth of the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea (PRPK), which through the 1980s served as the single party, providing discipline and leadership for the socialist state. It is not clear to what extent the transition to a multiparty democracy has taken place. There is a lot of corruption in the political system.

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Many people in Siem Reap speak English because “the people who know more teach the people who know less.” School is in the morning or the afternoon. Now most of the kids you see working in Siem Reap do it before or after school.

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Hammocks are a lifestyle  in Viet Nam and even more in Cambodia. Maybe it is the heat but they are everywhere.

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Garment export and tourism are two of the main industries that generate revenue for the economy of Cambodia. (I’m hoping garment export doesn’t mean factories with underpaid workers)

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Half of Cambodia’s current population is younger than 15 years old.

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Traditionally, birthdays are not celebrated in Cambodia. Older people might not even know their birthdays.

In Cambodia, the head is regarded as the highest part of the body and shouldn’t be touched even in the nicest way.

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The Cambodian flag is the only national flag that has an image of a building – the Angkor Wat.

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Cambodia is home to the emblematic Angkor Wat temple, which is a silent testimony to how resourceful and artistically brilliant its people are.

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Fly safe,

JAZ

 

Ta Prohm, Cambodia – The Tomb Raider Temple

Ta Prohm, Cambodia – The Tomb Raider Temple

“Indiana, we are simply passing through history. This… this is history.” Raiders of the Lost Ark

I know – wrong movie but it was such a good quote for this. Yes, Ta Prohm is the temple where Angelina Jolie played Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. Disturbingly many more Americans probably know where Angelina Jolie is right now and do not know where Cambodia is. Some may know the Tomb Raider temple is in Cambodia. (The Tomb Raider tree)

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Ta Promh has been left the way it was originally found.

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The jungle had completely engulfed the entire complex when it was discovered in the last century.

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It was amazing to see how the massive trees have grown around and atop the structures, their roots seemingly strangling and holding up the temple’s towers and other buildings.

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At Ta Prohm you can start to appreciate what the first explorers saw when they re-discovered these temples.

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It is easy to relive the emotions of the French naturalist Henri Mouhot when he came across it hidden in the jungle in 1860.

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Ta Prohm was dedicated to the family of Jayavarman VII as shown by the inscriptions on the stele ( stone monument) The inscription lists many of Jayavarman’s ancestors, as well as giving details of the construction. Perhaps most compelling though is the information the stele gives about the people whose lives revolved around this site. Nearly 80,000 people were involved in serving the temple, coming from over 3,000 surrounding villages. The stele also mentions that there were 102 functioning hospitals in the Kingdom. Numbers like this give a fantastic insight into the sheer scale of the Khmer empire at that time.

The structure measures 145 by 125 meters and has a maze of courtyards and galleries, many impassable because of the dense overgrowth of creepers and roots.

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I had to put this photo in of a Cambodian butterfly at Ta Prohm Temple. Thanks for taking this Kim. I needed to use at least one of your “National Geographic photos”. Most of the photos atTa Prohm were taken by Wong Kimsian.

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The “jungle temple” is best visited early in the morning when everybody else is at Angkor Wat to get your best photographs of the ongoing battle between nature and architecture.

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Fly Safe,

JAZ

Phu Quoc, Viet Nam

Phu Quoc, Vietnam

“To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.” Isaac Newton

By the time I arrive on the island of Phu Quoc, I had traveled for a few weeks and covered a lot of interesting sites. Phu Quoc island is located in the Gulf of Thailand and closer to Cambodia than Viet Nam, It is not a very well-known destination outside of Viet Nam.

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The sky was blue and it was hot. There was a beach with lounge chairs and umbrellas, clean water to swim in, a book about the Viet Nam War that I wanted to read and a beachfront restaurant and bar.

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Though there were things I wanted to see on this island, I suddenly had no pressing need to go anywhere.

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I mustered up the energy to walk down the beach and explore my surroundings. I was in the tourist area.

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There were many hotels. In fact, I got lost on the way back and had to ask which one was mine, There were a lot of tourists but I did not hear any American English. The non-English speaking Vietnamese waiters would say things like “‘wunderbar or nostrovia when appropriate. They were used to throngs of German and Russian tourists.

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Beds were set up along the beach competing for cheap massages, manicures, pedicures, threading, (hair removal – which hurts by the way).

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It was really funny to do that on the beach.

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There was definitely a separation of tourists and locals on this resort beach. In a few years I fear it will run the risk of being another “anywhere beach.”

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Five star resorts do a really good job of separating you from the culture of a country. There were all kinds of resorts in all price ranges on this beach which gave it a funky quirky atmosphere.

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Further south on the island there are quiet beaches with local fishermen, white sand, kids , crabs and shells that are easy to get to by boat.

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The hotel I stayed at was La Veranda. It  is a French colonial style hotel on the beach. A lot of the staff doesn’t speak English but they are so charming and helpful. The front office deals most efficiently with the language barrier. It’s nice to stay at a hotel that gives jobs to the local people .

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I think it is the staff which makes La Veranda so wonderful. From the moment I arrived Lian was making sure all my requests had been taken care of.

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I had the best morning yoga classes on the beach and best massage of a vacation ever with Tham from the spa.(going to yoga 7am)

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Definitely book him advance when you go.

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The manager is always visible talking to guests, getting feedback and making sure everyone is having the best experience there. The level of care at La Veranda is amazing.

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Watching the sunset on Phu Quoc, I can really feel the miracle of a day. I am grateful that I lived these days on a beautiful beach.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

Hoi An, Viet Nam

Hoi An, Viet Nam

“My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been” – Diane Arbus

Hoi An is one of the most charming cities in Viet Nam.

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It was a commercial district for Japanese and Chinese traders in the sixteenth century and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

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Hoi An’s Old Quarter is lined with two-story old Chinese buildings that now house shops with elaborately carved wooden facades and moss-covered tile roofs.

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Colorful guildhalls, founded by ethnic Chinese from Guangdong and Fujian provinces, stand quietly as a testament to the town’s trading roots.

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The Japanese Bridge was originally constructed to connect the Japanese community with the Chinese quarter – separated by a small stream of water – as a symbolic gesture of peace.

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The food market reminds visitors of another era when it was filled with goods from all over the Asia. (mangos, rambuchan, snake wine)

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Hoi An is a place where you can get clothes and shoes made at a reasonable price as long as you have a picture.

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There is a plethora of tailors and cobblers to choose from.

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It is also one of the best eating cities in Viet Nam and known for cooking classes and especially delicious food. (Mango Rooms – yes everything has mango, White Rose dumplings at Cafe De Lys – only one Hoi An family has the recipe, and thus a monopoly on their production– rose-shaped shrimp dumplings topped with fried garlic and onions.)

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Away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Hoi An, the Nam Hai all-villa resort, sprawls on quiet Hoi An Beach. The contemporary architecture is welcoming and eye-catching as feng shui mingles with strong modern lines.

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The Spa at the Nam Hai is truly something wonderful. Composed of 8 villas, floating around a lotus pond, it is the ideal location for a relaxing massage, steam shower and herbal tea! The people who work there are most helpful and always want to practice their English.

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Hoi An has a lantern festival every full moon.

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All the lights are extinguished and the town is lit with lanterns.

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You can buy water candles from children on the river and make a wish and set them afloat. Incense is burned everywhere for the dead ancestors.

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Hoi An is a photographer’s city.

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You respond to a face of an old woman under her triangle hat walking to sell her fruit or the way the light hits the old Chinese buildings or the lanterns lighting up the city at night.

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You move on to your next destination and your photographs become a testimony that you were there.

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I have to truly thank Ms. Anh Mai (Jina) from Trails of Indochina for helping me plan this trip. You have no idea how many emails I have sent her.  I do a lot of pre research about what cities i want to visit and made many changes  (including countries) till we got it right. Many people take cruises through Viet Nam but after going I would recommend doing it on land because you miss a lot. Jina never made me feel like I was a bother and always answered my questions politely and offered her own suggestions. Once in Viet Nam and Cambodia everything was taken care of beautifully. It is my first time traveling with this company and I was very impressed. I will definitely use them again and highly recommend JIna and Trails of Indochina for Southeast Asia. anh.m@trailsofindochinagroup.com

Fly safe,
JAZ

There Are A Hundred Ways To Catch A Fish In The River In Hoi An, Viet Nam

There Are A Hundred Ways To Catch A Fish In The River In Hoi An, Viet Nam

“Having ideas is like getting fishing net; you must cast it. The broader you cast it, the greater your likelihood of achieving more!” Israelmore Ayivor

For the fishermen in Viet Nam, fishing has been a way of life for generations.

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Now they send their children to school in the hopes that they will have a better life. Fishing is not an easy life. Fishermen set their nets at night and return home to sell their fish to wholesalers at the market in the morning.

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They don’t worry about illness, or government fishing regulations.They worry about catching enough fish to feed their families all year round.

All fishermen are very superstitious and in Viet Nam it is the same. The boats have eyes in front of them – to see for their safety and to scare away the evil spirits. There are different eyes in different parts of the country. In the South the eyes are rounder than in the North.(boat in the Mekong Delta)

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The boats in the dock with eyes watch for the safety of the smaller fishing boats.

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The fishermen go to fortune tellers to find out what days are good for them to go out and catch many fish. Lucky numbers are 1, 5, 7 and 9. You can spend a lot of money to have the number nine painted on your boat.

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The fishermen use all kinds of tools to catch fish. Fishing nets, fishing camps (traps) and instruments made from bamboo to raise and lower large nets are some of the ways to catch fish.  I tried a few of the different methods.

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They are hard work. It is probably even harder when you’ve lost your foot on a landmine as a child.

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We sailed to a bamboo construction that was operated with your  arms and legs like gym equipment.

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It raises a very large fishing net that had been set during the night. it was heavy.  I needed help but the fishermen do it alone. (that was so cool to make  that come up)

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Then you go out to the net and retrieve the fish.

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The hat is not decorative. It is so the fish don’t fall on your head.

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The round bamboo basket boats with tar or varnish to waterproof them will catch your eye as soon as you reach the Viet Nam coast. It is truly a remarkable boat -cheap and resistant to various water hazards.

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We took it to go through the underwater palm forest filled with water coconuts that boats can’t go through. It’s a good area to find crabs.

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The Viet Cong hid here during the war. Hoi An is in central Viet Nam between the North and the South.

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The river is life to a fishermen – always there, always changing. As the rivers become more polluted, there are less fish and their income is always unstable.

Spending the morning with the fishermen in Hoi An for me was a very special thing to do. Being on the river is incredibly beautiful and it made me appreciate how much the fishermen of the world do for us – especially when I was eating the fresh catch of the day. (squid and prawns)

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Thanks to the fishermen and everyone from Hoi An Agritravel for a very interesting and delicious morning. Special thanks to Mr Nguyen Phuc Tan for his wonderful stories and expertise in teaching me about the Vietnamese fishermen.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

Driving From Hue to Hoi An, Viet Nam

Driving From Hue To Hoi An, Viet Nam

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me as is ever so on the road.”Jack Kerouac

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American bunker with bullet holes near Da Nang

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China Beach, Da Nang

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American hangars in Da Nang

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Vietnamese coffee

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

 

Where Are The Kings Of Hue? (Viet Nam)

Where are the Kings of Hue? (Viet Nam)

“And so sepúlchred in such pomp dost lie, that kings for such a tomb would wish to die”  John Milton

Between 1802 and 1945 Hue was the imperial capital of the Nguyen Dynasty which had thirteen kings.  Huế was the national capital until 1945 when the last king abdicated and the new capital was Saigon in the south.

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The Imperial City at Hue is the best-preserved remnant of a vast citadel and royal quarters that once existed on the site.

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In the early nineteenth century the first King Gia Long wished to build a replica of the Forbidden City of Beijing.

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The King decided to locate his own palace within the walls of the citadel of his “Forbidden City”along the east side nearest the Perfume River.

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The “Purple Forbidden City,” was where the Emperor built a network of palaces, gates, and courtyards that served as his home and the administrative core of the Empire. The occupants were many concubines, wives, eunuchs and children.

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The ruins of the Imperial City are both old and more recent.

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In 1968 the Viet Cong launched an attack on the city of Hue. It was the Tet Offensive and the largest and bloodiest military action of the war up until that point. The fighting went on for a month and the Viet Cong massacred many people. This resulted in the destruction of the city by U.S. forces. The Viet Cong hid in the Imperial City fighting the US until they died from lack of supplies.

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Though the city was in ruins, long before the US bombed it, there was a lot of war damage to the historic buildings and many were reduced to rubble.

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Even so, the remaining buildings are enough to give the visitor a sense of how the Vietnamese interpreted Chinese imperial architecture and adapted it to their culture.

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The Nguyen Dynasty lives on in Hue if only through the Tombs of the Kings. The best and the worst of the line are commemorated through their imposing tombs, scattered through the hills of Hue.

Only seven of the thirteen kings have tombs in Hue. Each tomb began construction during each kings lifetime, and was completed after his death with a stone inscribed with the dead king’s biography. A few of the actual bodies have never been found and their tombs remain intact. All the tombs are equipped with statues and monuments in perfect “Phong Thuy” (Feng Shui) harmony to create a natural setting, in the architecture of which the king’s philosophical tendencies are often reflected.

The respective tombs of Tu Duc and Khai Dinh reflect the absolute extremes of tomb design. Tu Duc’s tomb is expansive and poetically beautiful in its layout.

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Khai Dinh’s is done in a more monumental style – crafted of concrete, the grayness outside broken on the inside with pieces of broken glass and porcelain.

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Khai Dinh is said to have intended for his tomb to be built at the top of a long series of stairs, so courtiers would have to exert extra effort to pay respect to his memory.

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His tomb took 11 years to complete.

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His enduring unpopularity is due in part to his heavy taxation on peasants to finance the construction of this edifice.

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Once the capital of Vietnam and an inspiration for poets and artists alike for centuries, Hué is divided by the waters of the Perfume River, which separate the city’s 19th century citadel from the suburbs that radiate from the eastern shore. The second half of Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket takes place primarily in and around the bombed-out ruins of the city of Huế.

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It is a very Buddhist city with many monasteries and vegetarian restaurants. The food in Hue which is in central Viet Nam is spicier than the north and south.

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Thich Nhat Hanh, world-famous Zen master originates from Huế.

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Hue was declared “ a master of urban poetry” and a Unesco site in 1981 due to its history and cultural heritage.

My guide in Hue and Hoi An was Mr. Ngo Duc Huan. Huan had a huge amount of information about the Kings of Hue. I hope I retained some of it. Huan was fun, knowledgeable and kind.  My time in Central Viet Nam was definitely better because of him and I learned a lot. Thank you so much for the wonderful time I had in those cities.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn

JAZ