May 17, 2011

Of Ancient Palaces and Eternal Resting Places: Hue

The 5th stop on our journey northward was Hue.  An easy 4.5hr bus ride from Hoi An, it’s located inland on the banks of the Perfume River in the Central Vietnam, just south of the former border between North and South Vietnam prior to unification.  We were tempted to give Hue a miss on our busy itinerary, but after our 2.5 days here we’re glad we didn’t.

Hue was the former political capital city during the Nguyen Dynasty between  1802-1945.  Nowadays the ruins of once grand palaces and imperial tombs belonging to the 13 emperors of the Nguyen family are the ‘big draw’ for tourists to Hue and are protected under the World Heritage Listing.  Unfortunately though much of the Imperial City itself, the Citadel, and specifically many of the buildings of the ‘Forbidden Purple City’ which was the inner sanctum of the Emperor and his family, was destroyed during bombings in WWII .  But it was still very intriguing to explore and to imagine how an Emperor lived.  The girls loved the big open spaces to run around in, despite the heat!

The Citadel

The Palace in the Citadel (at rear)

What's left of the Forbidden Purple City (in background)
A Pavillion inside the Forbidden Purple City (restored)

It seemed that generally each Emperor also constructed elaborate ‘eternal resting places’ for themselves during their lifetime. Often these were not just tombs, but entire palaces where they resided created in among natural settings, surrounded by lakes and forests.  They often spent time here with their family and concubines, writing poetry and just contemplating nature.  After their death, they would be entombed at the rear of the property.  Around Hue, many tombs are still fairly intact and open to visitors.  We visited the tombs of Emperors Tu Duc and Minh Mang, the latter we found to be a real beautiful and serene site situated on a side of a hill.  It was worth the long and dusty drive on the scooter to get there!

Tu Duc:  The Pavillion where the Emperor composed poetry

Tu Duc's 'Stele'

At Emperor Minh Mang's Tomb

Minh Mang's Tomb site

Apart from its very historical significance, Hue is quite a very beautiful city.  The streets are tree-lined.  The Perfume River, which separates the Citadel from the rest of the ‘new’ city, runs alongside.  Covered Dragon Boats are available for hire to cruise the river.  There is a lovely riverfront promenade park which becomes lively at night with vendors and strollers.  And there is a good mix of restaurants and shops and parks.  The hoteliers and restaurant owners were even friendlier and more flexible here and prices were actually a bit lower than in the other areas which we'd been in thus far.  We again hired a scooter and found exploring the countryside very rewarding.  The only downside to our time in Hue was the heat and humidity--we’re getting into the ‘hot’ season now folks!  The daytime temps were generally in the low to mid 30’s, but with the humidity --??  HOT and SWEATY!  One last night bus on our Open Tour ticket will take us now from Hue to Ninh Binh, which is located about 2hrs south of Hanoi.

Streets of Hue

Near Minh Mang Tomb
The Perfume River

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