After an early start from Hanoi, taking a rickety old local train along the way from Danang (incidentally one of the most picturesque coastal routes in Vietnam), I arrived in Hue, the former ancient capital of Vietnam. Feeling completely exhausted from the poor sleep I had on the overnight train before, I had an early dinner and crashed quite soon after, wanting to be fully rested for the next morning.
I only had one full day to spend in Hue and wanted to make the most of it. Although the Imperial City of Hue (the Citadel) is accessible by walk from the main accommodation area of Hue, the Royal Tombs are located a little further out and require travel by either a car, motorbike or bicycle. Because of this, and partly due to my longing to meet other travellers, I decided to go with a group tour, costing US$12. For US$2 extra, I could’ve gone with a private motorbike-taxi driver/guide but I really didn’t want to spend the day by myself and decided to sacrifice flexibility for companionship. 😉 [Note that these prices exclude the entrance fees to each of the monuments which cost around VND80,000 each.]
Royal Tomb 1: Minh Mang Tomb
Our first stop was the Minh Mang Tomb, the final resting place of the 2nd emperor of Vietnam. This tomb is special in the way its architecture blends in seamlessly with its surroundings and landscape (Minh Mang was a staunch believer in Confucianism).
Royal Tomb 2: Khai Dinh Tomb
Though difficult to access (the tomb itself is located 127 steps from street level), this elaborate tomb is well worth a visit due to its mix of architectural styles. Khai Dinh, the last emperor, spent a lot of time in France which is reflected in some European influences on his tomb. The complex also features an imperial audience court featuring twelve stone “bodyguards”.
Kung Fu Show
After exploring the two tombs, we were given a short break in the form of a pretty impressive kung fu show. Whilst not a “must see”, it served as a welcome resting spot before we were taken to explore the third and final tomb.
Royal Tomb 3: Tu Doc Tomb
This tomb was built for the fourth emperor of Vietnam. Incomparable in size and luxury, the sprawling complex was also used as the Emperor’s second home.
Street of colourful incense and conical hats
This was a quick, drive-by stop pre-lunch where we were given a 5 minute explanation on how incense sticks are made, along with being introduced to the “poetry” conical hats that are unique to Hue. I didn’t buy any souvenirs, but I did enjoy taking photos of the colourful incense sticks on display.
Imperial City of Hue aka the Citadel
Despite being heavily bombed by the Americans, the Citadel still stands impressive and is definitely one of the highlights of Hue. This attraction will just get better and better as the government has been restoring destructed buildings within the imperial city walls. The grounds are huge, and you can spend a fair few hours wandering through the gardens, lakes, ruins and buildings. Our group were only shown the highlights in under an hour, which to be fair, was probably welcome by most as we were coming to the end of a long day.
Thien Mu Pagoda
The last stop of the day was the Thien Mu Pagoda, the tallest pagoda in Vietnam and one of the most iconic symbols of the old capital. We were rather lucky in that our arrival coincided with prayer time for the Buddhist monks, whose chanting really brought the temple to life and made it stand out amongst the now numerous number of pagodas I have come across so far in Vietnam.
Our ride back was on one of the dragon boats, sailing slowly back down the Perfume River towards the south bank.
Though the relative quiet and chilled out atmosphere of Hue was very much welcomed after the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, upon reflection, I would say that Hue is not a must-see stop within Vietnam. Have you been to Hue? What did you think?