Cycling To Thanh Toan Covered Bridge, The War History Of The Perfume River Girls Squad, A Restful Lunch In A Garden, And Dong Ba Market, Hue, Vietnam

Cycling To Thanh Toan Covered Bridge, The War History Of The Perfume River Girls Squad, A Restful Lunch In A Garden, And Dong Ba Market, Hue, Vietnam

The Thanh Toan covered bridge is also called the Tile-Roofed Bridge (Cau Ngoi).
It is one of the two covered bridges that remain in central Vietnam today.
The name “Cau Ngoi” is much more familiar to the locals than the name “Thanh Toan”.

It can be said that if you want to discover the ancient architecture of Vietnam during the Nguyen Dynasty, there is no more suitable destination than the Hue Citadel and the surrounding mausoleums.

But if you have extra days in Hue, a day of cycling to see the covered Bridge with its unique architecture can be combined with exploring the surrounding villages and learning about the villagers’ lives, fishing methods, customs and festivals, which seemed to have changed very little in the past several hundred years.

The Tiled-Roof Bridge is only six kilometers west of Hue, on a flat road bordering rice terraces and ponds.

The villages were settled in the 16th century, but it was not until the year 1776 that the bridge was constructed.
One of the members of the sixth generation of the Tran family in Thanh Toan Village donated a large sum to build the bridge.

Besides the bridge construction, Tran Thi Thao also used her money to do many charitable works, so she was adored by the villagers.

The architectural style of “a house above the bridge” is preserved in only a few constructions in Vietnam.
The two remaining bridges in this style are the Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi An and Thanh Toan Bridge in Hue.

The Bridge is made of bricks, wood and ceramic, the most popular building materials in many historical constructions in Vietnam. 
When it was built in the 18th century, the length of Thanh Toan Bridge was 19 meters long and 6 meters wide.

It was destroyed by natural disasters and wars, and was rebuilt four times in 1847, 1906, 1956 and 1971. Nowadays, Thanh Toan Bridge is 16.85 meters in length and 4.63 meters in width.

Most of the parts of the bridge, including the pillars, floor, banisters and platforms are made of hardwood.
The roof has glazed tiles, a kind of tile that is found in the ancient architecture of Vietnam during the Nguyen Dynasty.

On the mossy roof are two dragons flanking the sun, which is a symbol of spiritual power.
There are 7 small compartments in the Thanh Toan Bridge, which are like the 7 rooms of a house.

The central compartment is locked.
It is an altar to Mrs. Tran Thi Dao – the women who built the bridge.
The other 6 compartments offer wooden platforms where visitors sit down and enjoy the surrounding views.
On the day we visited, locals were using these platforms to sit around and chat, or to take naps in the shade.

Nearby, we visited a small museum that showed the old tools used for rice cultivation, cooking and fishing that are still being used today.

For a while, local fishermen stopped using bamboo poles and river traps, and adopted a method of electrocuting the fish with a small car battery that they either made into a backpack or carried in their bamboo canoes.
The old fishermen were upset at this “modernized” method of fishing.

In our continued cycle around the canal, we saw that many of the traditional values and ways of life are still practiced.

The local markets are where villagers purchase their agriculture products, including meat, vegetables, fish, crabs, rice and many other types of foodstuffs.

Our cycle ride took us to a community center in the middle of the rice fields.
It is called the Đình Làng Vân Thê.
It is NOT a place tourists visit often, if at all.
The grounds were used to grow big pots of marigolds, which are often used in festivals.

A toothless woman holding a bamboo stick looked almost upset at our appearance at the building next to her house.
But when we looked around, she showed us a sign that was written all in Vietnamese.
She pointed her stick and pronounced each word slowly, proudly showing us that she could read.

This is what was roughly written on the sign:

The Van Thè communal house was built in the 15th century, as the place to worship Thanh Hong, the founder of the village.

The communal house bears many cultural imprints of historical events.
During the two resistance wars against the French colonialists and the American imperialists, Van Thè communal house was the base of revolutionary activities in Hung Thuy district.

Many important events took place here, including the establishment of the suicide squad of Hung Thuy district, and the Van Thè guerrilla squad of the 11 Perfume River girls.

(The Perfume River girls squad was a top-secret female combat unit formed in 1967 with women who by day, sold conical hats on the streets of Hue, and at night funnelled secrets to Communist army handlers who were poised to launch an assault on the city that would reshape the Vietnam war.

The Perfume River squad was bound by the communist propaganda slogan: “When the enemy comes to your home, even the women should fight.”

The communal house was also the headquarters of the South Wing Command during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

(North Vietnamese made an attack on more than 100 cities and outposts in South Vietnam during the lunar New Year called “Tet” in Vietnam.
Historians estimate that 50,000 troops died during this attack, known as “The Tet Offensive.”

From there, we cycled to a vegan restaurant set in the gardens of a beautiful house.
The daughter of the owners told us that her family has lived there for 400 years.
She told us that as a teenager, she went alone to high school and university in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Her sister did the same in England.

Our lunch at the An Nhien Garden Vegetarian – Nhà Hàng Chay & Cafe, was superb.
We ordered the Pomelo salad, which is one of my favorite Vietnamese summer foods,
a dish of savory black rice dumplings filled with mushrooms and vegetables, and a dish of mixed spring rolls.
It was so restful to enjoy a meal in their garden, which was filled with abstract art.

From there we cycled back to the center of Hue to the Dong Ba market.
It is a historical market along the Perfume River.
The market was originally located outside of the citadel’s Chanh Dong Gate.
The market was burnt down in the summer of 1885.
Two years later in 1887, King Dong Khanh had it rebuilt and named it Dong Ba.

In 1889, King Thanh Thai had it moved to the current location at the crossroads of the Huong (Perfume) River and the west bank of the Dong Ba Canal.

Due to its size, variety of goods and convenient location, the market has always been very popular.
In 1987, the market was enlarged into a total area of 47,614 m2 with nine areas of market, car parking and special parking for motorcycles and bicycles.
We walked our bikes into their special parking lot and went into the market.

Not just a very large-sized market, Dong Ba market remains a center for traditional crafts in Hue, and sells all sorts of conical hats, Hien Luong scissors, bronze articles of the Duc guild, Phuoc Tich pottery, Bao La rattan and bamboo products, Ke Mon jewelry, Nam Thuan sweets, Tuan tea, Huong Can mandarins, Luong Quan-Nguyet Bieu pomelos, and Tinh Tarn lotus tea.

If are interested in Vietnamese traditional food, the market is a good place to try street foods like clam rice, beef noodles, shrimp cakes, rice pancakes, bean puddings, sour shrimps, and My Lai shredded lean meat, which are popular Hue daily dishes.

If you are here on the occasion of the Lunar New Year, you can share the custom of the locals by buying “five-color” cakes, which are small square cakes made of bean and rice powder.

After buying a conical hat and some local lotus tea to take home, we took our bicycles and cycled across the bridge over the Perfume River towards our hotel.

It was getting dark and it was also rush hour.
We cycled among hundreds of scooters, tuktuks and cyclists.
I am not exaggerating, I have never cycled among that many two wheelers in my whole life.

It reminded me of trips that I did in my youth to Rome, Italy, and how I envied the youth on their scooters, confidently zooming through hundreds of other Vespas.

Today, Jules and I cycled amidst the tightest peloton I have ever seen, and I was feeling so exhilarated and on top of the world…. I only hoped that Jules, who was behind me, was OK and was feeling as much joy as I was….

From Hue with love and joy,

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