The People's Republic of Vietnam

Tour 2: Da Nang (Danang) and Hue

I visited Danang on the Thin Red Line tour. You can read comments about my personal experiences there. I will say, though, that Vietnamese in the area proved the most enthusiastic about helping and befriending an American, perhaps due to their much greater exposure during the Vietnam War. The culture here forms a transition between the Confucian-Communist north and the more freewheeling south.

Central Vietnam

As the Vietnamese advanced southward, they encountered two different groups of people: more primitive hill dwelling tribes and the Chams. The hill tribes acheived a particular importance in the central part of the country because, as the map shows, only about twenty miles separate the sea from the hillsides, the traditional abodes of these peoples. However, like the Thais and Khmers, the more advanced agriculture of the Vietnamese, based on intensive cultivation, led to greater numbers. Further, the Chinese had taught them how to fight enemies. Even during the Vietnam War, however, the hill tribes could, on occasion, threaten Vietnam by cutting communications between north and south, and most tribes, like the Hmong, typically opposed the lowland Vietnamese.

The Chams formed a more potent kind of threat. As late as the 16th century they threatened to conquer the Vietnamese, instead of the reverse, and they invaded several times. The Chams borrowed a lot from Indian sources who'd traded with them and equaled that of the Chinese inspired Vietnamese in terms of culture if not in terms of military skill. For a long time, the Chams maintained their capital near Danang, not a good idea as it turned out since the Vietnamese sacked and burned it. When the Vietnamese drove them south, they re-established themselves further down the Mekong.

Da Nang

Da Nang appears most often in books about the Vietnam War. It offered a good jumping off point for American troops and supplies as well as fairly convenient access to the allied hill tribes. The war temporarily pumped up the local economy as well as providing, tragically, the setting for such American movies as Good Morning, Vietnam and Heaven and Earth.


Looking at the map shows the logic of the Vietnamese emperor's selection of Hue as their capital. It sits upon the Perfume River, promised at least some nearby agriculture. It also stands at about the halfway point between north and south.

Unfortunately, the natural geography of Vietnam tends to lead to two countries, one at each end, not necessarily to one country. This leads to a certain fatal logic: If the emperors located in the north or south, they might lose the opposite end of their country; if they located in the center, they might lose both ends since they could rely on neither agricultural or population base. The stronger and weaker emperors, when in control, attempted to rule with a strong underlord in each area. The weaker emperors tended to drift into a kind of stupor, enjoying their court, their many wives, and hoping problems would just go away since they seemed far away.

An aerial view of Hue before Tet


The Cham musuem shows figures like this.

This shows obvious Indian influence.

This shows more of the same, but I have bad lighting.

You more often see bicycles on these streets than samlors.

This shows China Beach as seen from the Purple Mountains. Young Vietnamese like to have their pictures taken here with big, stuffed animals (I don't know why).

These caves, under the Purple Mountains, served as headquarters for the local Viet Cong during the war.

They date, however, from earlier times.

The Chams built here.

Here, the author stands on China Beach.

Chinese and Japanese traders founded the city of Ho An, in the 17th Century to trade with the Vietnamese. The Fukkien built this temple to the Daoist gods of their homeland.

An interior shot shows an altar.

This shows another Ho An temple.

This looks like a model but serves a ceremonial
purpose. I do enjoy the ship's happy smile.

Dragons battle in this drawing.

The sun sets on the "Monkey's Paw," an
abandoned US naval base near Danang.

It appears almost obsessively "preserved," a topic
you can read about in The Thin Red Line .

Danang traffic crowds the streets.


This temple, Chua Ba Quoc sits
near the Perfume River at Hue.

During the Tet offensive, the Viet Cong flag flew over this city Citadel for three weeks as a symbol of defiance.
Meanwhile, however, the "freedom fighters" executed five hundred fellow Vietnamese for treason.

Bao Dai, the "playboy emperor," the last one, abdicated from Ngu Mon, the former Royal Palace in 1946.

Of course, Hue boasts its own "Forbidden City."

Think of it as a scale model of the one in Beijing.

The emperor sat here in this throne.

The Vietnamese cast ceremonial cannons, which
they never fired, in honor of the emperors.

The Chua Tu Dam Temple rests outside the Palace.

Note the Chinese characters used on the Chua Bao Quoc, another Hue Buddhist temple. Modern Vietnamese writing, unlike Chinese, uses a modified Western character set.

The emperors used to yacht on this, the Perfume River.

Okay, Yokohama has one too.

Related Vietnamese Tours:
Back to Tour 1: Hanoi
On to Tour 3: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Cholon

Other Links:
Read The Thin Red Line.
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