Outside the gates of Hue’s historic citadel, a flock of young women pass by on bicycles wearing impossibly white and pristine ao dai.
Students and workers stop to buy banana-leaf-wrapped packages of sticky rice. Shopkeepers survey the traffic then walk back inside holding steaming bowls of noodle soup.
I often felt that life in Vietnam carries on regardless of history or politics, and particularly so in the ancient capital of Hue.
The Nguyen dynasty built their Forbidden Purple City (based on the one in Beijing) when the feudal lords held sway from the 17th to 19th centuries but now only shattered remains sit peacefully in a grass-grown garden, surrounded by a teeming, nearly million-strong Vietnamese city.
This battle-scarred Unesco World Heritage site is punctuated by bullet holes from the fierce battles of the 1968 Tet Offensive.
A slow process of restoration is underway in the walled citadel and there are a handful of reminders of what must once have been glorious.
Fantastical enamelled creatures decorate the roofs of temples and residences.
Reconstructions of statues of Nguyen Lords inhabit now-empty courtyards.
From Hue I took a small boat cruise up the fabled Perfume River. The brightly-painted wooden boat putt-putted slowly up the jungle-lined waterway and leaving the hot Vietnamese city behind for these lush hills was a wonderful retreat to paradise.
That was the idea for the Nguyen lords anyway. We visited the tombs of emperors set beside the river. They are much more than just mausoleums but whole living spaces and exquisite gardens with lakes and other water features.
The Minh Mang mausoleum has a pleasing processional pathway from gateway through courtyard and temple to a pavilion of pure light reached through a cloud of frangipani trees. Gardens bisect the lake and rise ultimately to the funeral mound of the emperor.
The foppish poet emperor Tu Duc spent much of his time writing and enjoying his elaborate pleasure ground, even though it would ultimately become his mausoleum. The attached village of 104 wives and concubines was another drawcard away from the pressures of court life in Hue.
You can see here the powder-blue Austin in which monk Thich Quang Duc travelled from here to Saigon in 1963 to burn himself to death as part of this protest movement against restrictions imposed on Buddhist and Catholic Vietnamese.
Back in Hue, a woman collects greens from the moat surrounding the citadel. Hue was the capital of Vietnam right up until the communist government set up in Hanoi. For the people, life goes on.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you travelled to Vietnam? Did you visit Hue?