Roughly half-way down the Vietnamese coast (and a horribly uncomfortable 14-hour bus ride from Hanoi) lies historical city of Hue. This former Imperial City was home to 13 emperors of the Nyguyen dynasty during its reign as Vietnam’s capital from 1802 through 1945, many of whose massive tombs can still be visited today. Beyond the opulent tombs, however, stand many ruins that mark the political and spiritual influence that Hue once held; it is littered with pagodas, palaces, and places a worship, not to mention the massive walled-in Citadel that was once the seat of power. Though time, the elements, and the effects of war have taken their toll on many of the sight, their scale and ambition still shine through, giving the visitors a glimpse of what visitors to Hue would have experienced a century ago.
Before diving into the historic sights (and as a pre-emptive warning, this post will consist almost entirely of pictures of temples and pagodas), you’ve got to get yourself settled in town. Whereas it is quite the cliché to describe a city as a merging of historic remnants and modern influences, Hue stands as a stark example of where this dichotomy actually exists – and with a handy dividing line, too! The town is roughly divided in half by the Song Huong River (or Perfume River), with the former imperial city — the Citadel — lying on the Northern banks and the modern heart of the city lying to the South. Both can be explored readily by foot, but the many pagodas and the tombs of the former emperors are sprinkled along the Song Huong River as it meanders its way outside of town, so other means of transportation are required to visit these. Here are a few pictures from around town:
The Citadel of Hue, otherwise know as Kinh Thanh, serves as the focal point of the city’s political and spiritual history. The massive Imperial city, measuring over 2 kilometers in each direction, was further fortified by a moat surrounding its entire perimeter and secured by a 6 meter high wall running its length and width. Unfortunately, much of the interior structures were destroyed when they were bombed in the American War in the late 1960′s, but ongoing efforts continue to both preserve what is left and to reconstruct what once stood.
After hiking around the Citadel for a day or two, another great option is to head out-of-town to the surrounding countryside, where you can visit any number of Pagodas (places of worship) or the remains of the tombs leftover by the city’s emperors. There are bus tours that will haul you around (along with 3 dozen other travellers) that are available all over town, and even an option to see the sights via boat, but I opted for a bit more customizable option: a motorbike tour! Luckily, the streets aren’t as congested as I witnessed in Hanoi — and my motorbike driver also thought to bring me a helmet to wear – so the ’Danger Index’ wasn’t as high as it could have been.
Along with the deteriorating Citadel and the numerous monumental tombs, another holdover from Hue’s Imperial days is the cuisine. Although it draws in influences from all over Vietnam, the Imperial cuisine emphasizes smaller portions, fresh ingredients, and immaculate presentation. Although I’ve already touched on many of the staples of Vietnamese cuisine with my last post, I’ll just show a few of the specialties of Hue itself:
That’s all I’ve got for now from Hue. After this, I’m stopping again in Hoi An next on my journey south toward Saigon. Cheers!