It may be one of VIetnam’s most beautiful cities, but miserable conditions are all too common in Hue. The country’s former imperial capital has a reputation for bad weather meaning that a mission to reach the resting place of Emperor Gia Long, the oldest of the royal tombs scattered erratically along the banks of the Perfume River, during the winter months is often shrouded in mystery as thick as the freezing cold mist that regularly envelops the city. Indeed, the thick cloying mud and the cavernous puddles that pockmark the road to the tomb are enough of a deterrent for some local guides to feign ignorance of its whereabouts when quizzed by overenthusiastic tourists.
Such amnesia is common in a part of the world that has grown weary of dwelling upon its past. After decades of war and deprivation, the former colonies of IndoChina have each emerged, in very distinct ways, as prime tourist destinations. In Vietnam, there is a sense of lightning progress and blockbusting attractions, such as the limestone karst-studded wonderland of Halong Bay. In Cambodia, the darkness of the recent past is being countered by increased investment and growing confidence. Meanwhile, in sleepy Laos, a booming contingent of lotus-eaters from around the world have found themselves helplessly seduced by the country’s languorous charms.
Vastly different as they may be, the three countries have more links than a traumatic history and optimism for the future. Until the cancer of conflict disfigured these locations, a king ruled each one. And today the royal legacy of each of these destinations endures as an echo of its former self.