Imperial Tombs, Prayer Pagodas, and Bun Bo in Hue

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:

Streets of Hue

A colorful variety of incense options (the different colors indicate different scents)

The bridge over the Song Huong River, merging the old and the new

The streets of the town from above

The Toan Tile Bridge, a favorite hangout for sleepy taxi drivers with little motivation to find any fares

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.

The Ngo Mon Gate, the “front door” to the Citadel, so to speak

Striding along the same hallways that emperors once paced only a century earlier

The Imperial Enclosure — also known as the Forbidden Purple City — is yet another, more secure layer that lies within the heart of the already walled-in Citadel

Outside of the main temple areas, however, the rest of vast area that the Citadel covers has been reclaimed as either agricultural land or repurposed into residential quarters

It has nothing to do with the history of the area, but here’s a quick shot of an art exhibit on a lake within the Citadel that I thought was pretty interesting

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.

I know it is a terrible idea to attempt to take pictures like this, but I couldn’t help myself. That’s me riding on the back of the bike (which, on a side note, only cost about ten dollars for both the bike and the driver/guide for the entire day. Gotta like the exchange rate here).

The endless rice paddies that consume virtually any usable plot of land outside of the cities

Khai Dinh Tomb, my personal favorite

The interior of the Khai Ding tomb is an exercise in excess, as decorations and ornaments were imported from Japan, China, Korea, and virtually any other far-flung destination on the continent that had something beautiful and ornate to offer

The Thien Mu Pagoda

I have no idea how this tree hasn’t fallen over

The view back over the river from the Thien Mu Pagoda

Tu Duc Tomb

Even the roof tiles have the ornate characteristics that decree, “Here lies an Emperor”

Tu Hieu Pagoda

A peaceful pond at the base of the Tu Hieu Pagoda where one can meditate upon the eternal truths of the world, or simply contemplate what delicious delicacy they’d like to enjoy for dinner that night (note: shameless segue into the food portion of this post)

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:

Bun Bo Hue – the most famous of Hue’s dishes. Vermicelli noodles drowned in a spicy beef broth (and sometime including pork knuckle, as well) that carries a predominant lemongrass flavor.

Imperial Tea of Hue – a delightfully sweet brew of various flowers and tisanes

Goi Cung Dinh Hue (or Imperial Salad of Hue) – a salad of shrimp, pork, squid, carrots, and various greens and herbs

Banh Nam – Shrimp and Pork mixed with rice flour and steamed in banana leaves

Banh Khoai – a fried pancake stuffed with shrimp, bean sprouts, and various veggies

Although a massive walled-city surrounded by a moat, a series of monolithic tombs, and more pagodas than one can count are nice and all, a city can’t really define itself as “historically significant” unless it has its own beer, too!

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!

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

9 Responses to “Imperial Tombs, Prayer Pagodas, and Bun Bo in Hue”

  1. I have checked your post regularly as I found many interesting scenes and ur lovely observation. Now you have come to VN. That’s so great. Hope you enjoy the trip. Cheers!

  2. I remember mention of Hue during the war and am glad to see that its cultural history appears to have been undamaged.

    • You are correct about it being a key location during the American War. Outside of town, there are quite a few historical war sites, as well as Vietnam’s DMZ zone, but given my limited time in the city, I was forced save these for next time.

  3. I never thought that Hue is that interesting. The Citadel and Khai Dinh Tomb seem like the places not to be missed while visiting Hue. And as usual, mouth-watering foods pictures! 🙂

  4. Gorgeous pics & wonderful stories… I wish I planned Hue into my upcoming journey to Hoi An…..regret……….

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