Entering the lost world of Hue

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A fashion show highlights 1,000 ao dai at the Thuong Thu gate to the Royal Citadel and Palace for 2010 Hue Festival

The Hue Festival offers a chance to get lost in history, culture and tradition.

Whenever I visit Hue, I'm struck by what many modern Vietnamese cities lack: a respect for nature and the preservation of open spaces that allow people to work, relax and enjoy their surroundings at the same time.

A modern city should not make people want to escape it over the weekend. Hue has so much to offer the city dweller: the legendary Huong River, palaces, royal tombs, beautiful gardens, lakes and trees. And everywhere is the charm and peaceful way of life of Hue's people.

For 2010 Hue Festival, organizers have lifted the veil between present and past to transport visitors to the long-lost way of life for former royalty inside the gates of the Nguyen kingdom's palace.

On the night of June 8, the doors to the former royal palace in Hue were thrown wide open for Dem Hoang Cung (Royal palace night)

The event transferred visitors to the lost world of the Dai Noi, where Vietnam's last royal family, the Nguyen, lived for centuries.

From the late evening and into the night, actors and models presented life as it was a hundred years ago in the palace, mimicking the daily rituals and activities of royalty, mandarins and everything else inside the sacred walls.

Visitors were allowed to wander through at their own pace, walking in and out of the palace rooms and gardens as they pleased, all the while viewing and enjoying the culture of a forgotten world. The palace was decorated immaculately in the same fashion it would have been had this been any other night in the life of old Hue.

Unforgettable fete

Dem Hoang Cung was full of surprises and reflections about life and the past. It reminded me of the fact that we now pay more attention to business and making money while forgetting to enjoy nature and the simple joys of everyday life.

Entering the Dai Noi (the living quarters of the Nguyen royal family), beautiful gardens, lotus ponds, playgrounds and luxurious rooms made me feel like a queen in my own kingdom waiting for a secret rendezvous when night falls.

Both revelatory and mysterious at the same time, Dem Hoang Cung showed light on history with warm lanterns guiding our way through the legends of the past.

I entered at the illustrious Ngo Mon gate and passed a lotus pond surrounded by a wall where the wind blew refreshingly over me and my surroundings. The tranquility of the dark night and the fragrance of Dai and lotus flowers transported me to another world.

The path then became a bit brighter and from a distance I saw a dozen beautiful ladies who represented the mistresses of Nguyen King at the Lau Ngu Giac (a small open house in the royal garden). The women flanked me as I walked by, each one waiting to see if the king would pick them as his companion for the night.

The lanterns then lead me to a large playground where guards in authentic uniforms from the period were lined up to take care of the palace.

Here, young ladies and gentlemen dressed in what was the height of traditional fashion at the time and played traditional games popular during Nguyen Dynasty. Groups of visitors gathered to watch and join the games.

Before I reached the main stage area, I passed a smaller stage where dancers danced freely in pink lotus ao dai. Next to the stage, two guards looked like statues guarding the path to the main stage, where the king and his family were enjoying the music and dancing as a fine farewell to the day.

Before long, the main stage lit up dazzlingly with a banquet of a hundred traditional music artists and dancers performing while waiters and waitresses served a feast for a royal ceremony.

Various traditional dances and songs were played in the styles of Tuong Hue (Hue opera) and Nha nhac (Royal music).

The royal party went on into the night and we enjoyed the most refined of Hue's culinary offerings, enjoying a time and place that has all but vanished.

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