If the French are proud of the resplendent Seine River, the Hungarians of the romantic blue Danube River and the Russians of the gentle Don River, then people of Hue in Central Vietnam have full right to be proud of the romantic and poetic Huong (Perfume) River. The river is not only a perfect example of nature’s beauty, but also a legendary and mystic river holding so many imprints of the Imperial City of Vietnam during the 1802-1945 period.
Going back in time
On a beautiful day we made a trip by boat down the Huong River to enjoy the fresh and tranquil air along this romantic waterway. The tiny boat was like a little bamboo leaf quietly gliding on the water. The sunshine is as bright as honey, making the water surface glitter like a gold plate. Although we could not get to its upstream point where the two currents of Ta Trach and Huu Trach made up its starting flow, we could discover many interesting things hidden behind this river.
Tuan T-junction is the confluence of the right and left currents. It used to be a station for the patrol guards who were entrusted to defending the western side of the Imperial City of Hue. Our boat travelled downstream. Along its two twisting embankments we saw many sand dunes. The name of the river – Huong (Perfume) – is said to relate to an old record by Van Binh Ton That Luong (1887-1951): “Along the two banks of the river, there is a variety of plants used as herbal medicine for longevity. The plant has such special fragrance that makes the river water scented too. Hence the river is called Huong (Perfume) River.”
The Huong River is not only beautiful, but it also plays an important role as the main water-transport route in the imperial city, creating a firm geographic position for the Nguyen Kings to build the capital. The current to the right that looks like a blue dragon, and another to the left like a white tiger were formed by two sand dunes emerging from the middle of the river, known as the Hen Dune and the Da Vien Dune, which run through the front gate of the imperial city. Due to its significant position, for more than 700 years the Huong River has been the source of inspiration for many architectural and planning projects in the Thuan Hoa-Phu Xuan-Hue area. It was a bustling trading route between the Northern and Southern regions, a training field of the marine troops and a destination of the kings’ and their troops’ inspection trips. Through untold historical ups and downs, along the two embankments there have remained villages, pagodas, temples, palaces, tombs, citadels, etc. which mark the once glorious memorial time of this legendary river.
A connection of the past to the present
Hue has been a Festival City since 2000 and this provides the Huong River with an even more significant role. With its natural beauty, the river becomes an integral art space for artists to realize their ideas. On this natural huge theatre, not only various traditional art forms are performed, such as Hue chanties, boat racing, folk artistic festivals and lantern displaying, but contemporary art forms are also showcased, such as fashion shows, installation art, painting and sculpture exhibitions and street arrangement shows. It can be said that almost all artistic performances in Hue are carefully organized in a close and harmonious interaction with the Huong River . In the end, by this perfume river, the beauty and value of everything seem to be further highlighted.
Visitors to present-day Hue will not only contemplate its space that brings back old memories but will also enjoy the romantic beauty of the Huong River . All year round, on rainy or sunny days, the Truong Tien Bridge is mirrored on the river sparkling with colourful lights. The two embankments are covered with soft, green carpets of grass. On moonlit nights, the barcarolles are heard from here and afar. At cultural festivals, lantern showing festivals and contemporary art shows, tourists from all parts of the country and from abroad come over to enjoy the region’s rich cultural heritage.
With time passing by, the legacy of the Imperial City of Hue has been preserved intact partly because there is the Huong River running nearby – a river with a legacy full of imprints that anyone who ever knew it will forever remember it.