Hue – Imperial Vietnam
Located on the brink of the Perfume River in the central area of the country, Hue is a mandatory destination for those interested in the Imperial history of Vietnam. A small, easy to walk downtown governed by a marvelous Citadel and Imperial City, and very nice surroundings where tombs from many of the emperors and an unforgettable pagoda can be seen. We really enjoyed our visit to Hue, as it is completely different to other locations in this country.
Hue was established as the Capital of Vietnam in 1802, and was not only the political but also the cultural and religious centre under the Nguyen Dynasty, the last royal dynasty of Vietnamese history. If Nguyen sounds familiar to you, as it happens to us, it is probably because of the fact that lots of Vietnamese immigrants in the Western Countries have that last name. Both of us worked and knew many Nguyens before visiting Vietnam, so this was kind of an explanation.
We´ve heard that Hue would remind us of China, mainly because, as some people say, the Imperial City is Vietnam´s version of Beijing’s Forbidden City. Please do not follow this idea. Even though Chinese influence is really strong in Vietnam (see our comments about Vietnamese history), Hue has it´s very own personality.
This is our suggested plan for a day in Hue. We consider it to be enough to see the city, but you probably need to hire a car with a driver to show you the tombs that are outside the city center. Before starting, consider that for the places we will mention, you might prefer to buy the “in group sites ticket”, that include the city as well as the tombs. Discounts are not really huge, but you can save a few dollars. See details in the following link.
Let´s begin with accommodation. We stayed in the lovely Jade hotel, which represented great value for money, offering big rooms, a nice location and a good breakfast included. It is located in the city´s downtown, from where you can start your day walking to the Imperial City. To do this, you have to cross the Perfume River on “Cầu Trường Tiền” bridge. By seeing the river you will probably ask yourself about the reason for its name. In the autumn, flowers from orchards upriver fall into the water, giving the river a perfume-like aroma.
Once you have crossed the river, you will see the Citadel to the left, governed by a huge Vietnamese flag. Entrance is right behind the flag. The Imperial City is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and was built in the 17th Century mandated by Emperor Gia Long (born Nguyễn Phúc Ánh). Plan for a visit that will last 2 to 3 hours.
Once you enter the building, you will be able to see places such as the Imperial City and the Forbidden City. Spots not to miss are Hung Mieu Temple, the Residence of the lasting longevity (where mother Queens resided), the Temple of the Generations and the Hien Lam Pavilion, which is the tallest of the entire Citadel, since the Emperor issued as a standard that no other building would beat it in height. Finally, if you want to see the throne of the Nguyen emperors, you will need to go to the Palace of Supreme Harmony.
Within the area known as Forbidden City (as only the emperor, his mother, concubines, servants and court eunuchs were allowed there), the nicest thing remaining to be seen are the ponds covered by Lotus flowers. The Forbidden City was badly damaged during the Tet offensive in 1968.
Time to see the tombs!
After you have finished at the Citadel, it is time to see the Tombs in the surrounding area. Best is to hire a driver to take you there. We explained in detail to the staff in our hotel which places we wanted to visit, and they called the driver for us and explained exactly where to take us.
We visited three tombs: Khai Dinh, Minh Mong and Tu Duc. Keep in mind that all of them close at 17.30, so plan ahead to make it to all. While my favorite was Khai Dinh, especially because of the sculptures that can be found in front of it, the three of them are worth a visit. Minh Mang has a very nice pond, and Tu Duc is possibly the nicest one to walk around. The drive to see all of them should take you between 3 and 4 hours.
You can also include at the end the visit to the Thien Mu Pagoda. It is located closer to the city, on the Northern Bank of the Perfume River. It has seven stories and is considered as an unofficial symbol of the city.