To be honest we weren’t going to go to Hue. Our original plan had been to visit Hoi Han for a few days, relax on the river front and check out the old town. Unfortunately Hitomi couldn’t find a hotel over the Christmas/New Year period over the Internet. We began searching for a smaller town to escape the hectic pace of a major city like we had just experienced in Ho Chi Minh.
Hue looked to be that smaller city, rich in Vietnamese history as a former capital from 1802 to 1945 during the Nguyen period until Emperor Bao Dai abdicated handing the city over to Ho Chi Minh’s Revolutionary Government. The city has been World Heritage listed since December 1993.
What attracted us to the city is that it was Vietnam’s version of Kyoto or an even better comparison could be to Beijing as each was a walled city in Beijing’s forbidden city while Hue was walled off by the Citadel.
The Citadel lies on the banks of the Perfume River. It is surrounded by a two kilometre by two kilometre wall to help fortify the city and is also ringed by a moat. The citadel was built from 1804 and completed some years later when it was finished, the emperor had a built another set of walls and moat around his palace. The citadel is where the Emperor and aristocrats of that time would have gone about their everyday business in what was known as the Purple Forbidden city. The citadel had been attacked twice once by the French in 1947 and then the remaining was destroyed by the Americans during the TET offense a major military campaign during the Vietnam war in 1968.
Restoration on the Citadel has been slow over the years and even though we entered the grounds by ourselves I would recommend getting a guide to bring the Citadel back to life otherwise you will be walking around the vast grounds without understanding the importance of the buildings that remain. Out of the 160 structures that once stood only ten major sites remain.
For foreigners 105,000 dong cheaper for locals
Opens at 6:30 closes at 17:00
The other major attraction that people come to Hue to see are the elaborate tombs that the Emperors built for themselves on the outskirts of the town along or near the Perfume River. Six tombs dating from the early 19th to 20th century make up the sites where the Emperors rest.
We went to three tombs. You can get to the tombs either by a tour or boat along the Perfume River. We hired a taxi which will take you to three tombs a pagoda and the citadel which we did and then went for a cruise down the river from the pagoda.
Minh Mang’s Tomb
Minh Mang’s tomb is in An Bang village, on the west bank of the Perfume River, about 12km from Hue and is the first tomb that we went to.
This was our favourite tomb and was pleasing just to stroll around its natural setting, surrounded by forests and ponds. The majestic tomb was planned during Minh Mang’s reign (1820–1840) but built by his successor, Thieu Tri with the help of about 10,000 workers and artisans.
To enter the complex you must use the side gates at Dai Hong Mon gates these were used by the mandarins and other members of the royal family. The centre gate has only been opened once to admit the emperor’s body.
Apon entering the gates you will enter the forecourt with its traditional double row of mandarin horses and elephants which at the time I thought were amazing before finding out that these are laid out on all forecourts at each tomb.
From a stone bridge across crescent-shaped Tan Nguyet Lake (Lake of the New Moon), a monumental staircase with dragon banisters leads to Minh Mang’s sepulchre. The gate to the tomb is opened only once a year on the anniversary of the emperor’s death.
Entrance is 55,000 dong
The tomb is open from 8:00 to 6:00pm
Khai Dinh’s Tomb
Khai Dinh’s tomb was the second tomb that we went to and it was very different compared to the other tombs while the other tombs were spread out over expansive grounds this tomb was laid out on top of a hill. It may have been smaller but the design was also unique while it still had a traditional forecourt the tomb was made with modern materials such as concrete and wrought iron. The tomb is also wired for electricity the first in Hue tomb design.
Khai Dinh was influenced heavily by European culture having spent some of his life in France which may have reflected in the tombs opulent design.
The exterior of the building that holds the tomb is covered in glass and porcelain that could be described as baroque while the interior is no less gaudy. The ceiling is painted with nine dragons flying around the clouds.
At the rear of the palace reveals the piece de resistance: a life-size bronze statue of the enthroned Emperor Khai Dinh, sitting under a concrete canopy decorated with a ceramic-and-glass mosaic. The statue was cast in France in 1920; the canopy weighs over a ton, belying its lacy appearance.
Emperor Khai Dinh died of tuberculosis
Khai Dinh never married or had children indicating he may have been gay.
His successor Bao Dai was the last Nguyen to be emperor
The tomb is open from 8:00 to 6:00pm
Tu Duc’s Tomb
Tu Duc’s tomb was built between 1864 and 1867. It was designed as a tribute to the fourth Nguyen Emperor’s long and somewhat sad life. Tu Duc struggled with rebellion, French encroachment, and court intrigues for thirty-odd years (Tu Duc is the longest-reigning Nguyen Emperor on record).
Towards the end of his life, the Emperor retreated into his tomb, creating a fantasy-land where he could compose poetry, hunt, and console himself through his concubines.
No other Royal Tomb in Hue can compare to Tu Duc’s in terms of size however unlike the manicured lawns at Ming Mang’s tomb the laws here were kept long and untidy, the buildings were run down and mostly in ruins or some buildings were slowly being restored. This tomb looks and feels very similar to the citadel in Hue this may be cause this was the only tomb that the emperor and royal members actually lived at.
Tu Duc had over 100 concubines but never had an heir to his throne.
Tu Duc was never buried here. Upon his death servants took his body and buried it in a secret burial spot when they returned they had them beheaded as the could never reveal the location of the body.
The Tomb is open from 8:00am to 6:00pm
Thien Mu Pagoda
The Thien Mu Pagoda is nearly 400 years old and sits on the hill-top overlooking the Perfume River. The pagoda itself is not very remarkable especially if you have seen a pagoda before however it makes a perfect place to board a boat and float back down to the main area of Hue.
You can get to the tombs either by a tour or boat along the Perfume River. We however hired a taxi which will take you to three tombs a pagoda and the citadel which we did and then went for a cruise down the river from the pagoda.