The ancient capital of Hue is elegant at all times, having retained its many splendid characteristics for centuries.
Published on Vietnam Traveller Magazine, Jul-Aug 2015. Click here to view .dpf file (bilingual).
Following the emperor’s footprints
Hue became the capital of the unified Vietnam when Nguyen Anh took the throne in 1802. It was said that an old woman on Ha Khe Hill had predicted that a lord would come to build the temple and defend the country. In 1601, Lord Nguyen Hoang built a temple on the hill, named “Thien Mu”, meaning “Heavenly Lady”. The old temple not only witnessed the Nguyens’ footprints when they expanded Vietnam’s territory in Cochin but is also seen as the most solitary and sacred place in Hue. It stands at the foot of the seven floor Phuoc Duyen tower with its panoramic view of the smooth Huong river, dotted with red blooms.
Five kilometers from the temple, along the river and Kim Long street, I visited Hue Citadel, where 13 kings of the Nguyen dynasty reigned over more than 140 years. The Citadel consists of the Imperial City and Purple Forbidden City with more than 100 fascinating architectural works. The Imperial City and all its surroundings were the most critical area of the court, strictly organized into sections, and followed such principles as “males to the left, females to the right.” Located in the heart of the Imperial City is the Purple Forbidden Citadel – a microcosm of the royal family with complete living amenities and recreational activities.
Downstream along the Huong river, we looked for the most famous tombs of the Nguyen dynasty including the tombs of kings Minh Mang, Khai Dinh, and Tu Duc. Fluctuations in economic and political fortunes led to the fact that there were only seven royal tombs built among the thirteen Nguyen kings. Each tomb carries its own architectural style and remains unique until the present day.
The mausoleum was not only “the last stop” of an emperor but also a relaxing retreat for the active king. Therefore, there was always a compromise between the charm of nature and architectural sophistication. If the tomb of Minh Mang incorporated the wild mountain of Cam Khe into its design with its majestic symmetry, Tu Duc’s tomb has a very sophisticated feel, situated among the immense pine forest and lakes reflecting the king’s romantic soul. Although more petite than the other tombs, Khai Dinh’s had the most unique and delicate style, a perfect balance between Eastern and Western culture.
Hue ended its reign as Vietnam’s capital in 1945 with the abdication of Bao Dai. It became the old capital, but the people and landscape retained its grandeur and ethereal qualities into the 21st century.
Lush green garden houses
Staying in the ancient capital without a visit to Hue’s traditional garden houses is definitely not advised. The beam houses surrounded by gardens always exude an elegant beauty, the properties generally belonging to court staff or rich merchants in the Kim Long area along the river. To be called a garden house, a house must meet several criteria in terms of size, the density and types of vegetation, the harmony between the garden and the main house, the family’s history, and the home owner’s personality.
One of the most beautiful garden houses was An Hien, also known as the garden of Mrs Tuan Chi – Principal of Dong Khanh Female Secondary School from 1952 to 1955. Overlooking the dreamy and peaceful river, An Hien Garden House has become an endless source of inspiration for many poems.
After visiting An Hien Garden House, I took a cyclo to Vy Da Xua cafe on Nguyen Sinh Cung. Watching the girls in their long white dresses and charming hats on the way home after school, I recalled a romantic song written by Trinh Cong Son during his period in Hue. The late day rain seemed to make the willow trees greener, just enough to submerge someone into a deeply pensive mood.
The most frequent gift of Hue for visitors from afar is the rains, but that does not lessen its famously dreamy spirit. The old capital has it all: beautiful scenery, rich culture, and gorgeous cuisine.
Tips for Travelling
– From Hanoi to Hue, you can take a train or Hung Thanh and sinh Café open buses for around Us$5. vehicles normally depart from 5:30pm to 6:00pm and arrive in Hue at 8:00am the next morning. in Hue, you have plenty of options to move around such as taxis, motorcycles, bicycles and cyclos, which are all very affordable.
– Most hotels are located in the city center, especially the streets of le loi, ngo Quyen, ly Thuong Kiet, nguyen Tri phuong, and Hung vuong.
– The two highest rated travel agencies for historical and mausoleum tours are DMZ and Kim Travel.
– For a Hue singing tour along the Huong river, select big boats to enjoy better service.
– Don’t forget to taste royal cuisine and street food such as Com Hen (rice with Mussels), Bun Bo Hue (Hue style Beef vermicelli), Banh Beo (Water fern Cake), Banh Khoai (pancake of pleasure), and Che Hem (sweet soups).
– Visit hueworldheritage.org.vn for more information about Hue tourism.