Imperial Hue – Vietnam

by Dwight Z.

By Thanh Bui

The second of Central Vietnam’s Unesco World Heritage Sites rests largely in the shade of its smaller but more dominant cousin. While Hoi An’s ancient town is a must on any travellers itinerary for Vietnam, Hue is sometimes bypassed especially by tourists on a whistle-stop tour of the country. Whilst it may not have the quaint old world charm of its near neighbour, in the citadel and the royal tombs, Hue does have two of the country’s most impressive sites. As with most good things in life, the deeper you dig the more you find there is to discover.

Protected by 10km long, two meter thick walls and the Perfume Tiver, the immensity of the Citadel is impressive. In front of the walls and facing the river is a 37 meter high flagpole, the tallest in Vietnam.

Like a Russian doll, the citadel consists of a city within a city. Commenced in 1804, the Imperial Enclosure was the administrative centre of the dynasty. At its heart lies the Forbidden Purple City, where only the Emperor, his family, servants and trusted mandarins were allowed to set foot. Although the site suffered greatly during both the French and American Wars, a ruffled charm still engulfs the place

Hue’s other main draw is the royal tombs that spread along the banks of the Perfume River to the south of the city. Accessible either by boat or motorbike, part of the attraction opulence, reflecting the decline of the dynasty that ruled the country from 1802 to 1945.

Thien Mu Pagoda is to the south west of the city. The original pagoda was built in 1601, although it has been rebuilt many times since. It is seen by many as the symbol of Hue.

Beyond the obvious sites, the massive appeal of Hue is simply wandering around the city, crammed with interesting monuments, pagodas and old buildings, often in incongruous settings. Of particular interest are the garden houses.

Designed according to the principles of Feng Shui, the houses offer a harmony between architecture and nature. The ubiquitous expanse of water makes for a very tranquil setting. Many are open to the public on an informal basis, some even offering food or accommodation. Kim Long, the area between the citadel and Thien Mu Pagoda, is a good place for discovering garden houses, including the Temple of Princess Ngoc Son on Nguyen Chi Thanh street. Hue’s temple of Literature is also located nearby

Hue is also famous for its cuisine. Thanks to Emperor Tu Duc, Imperial Hue cuisine has a reputation for being some of the finest in the country. For those on a less than royal budget, the city also has some excellent street food including the spicy noodle soup excellent street food including the spicy noodle soup “bun bo hue” and local rice cakes, “banh beo” and “banh cuon”. One thing is for sure, you will never go hungry in Hue – neither for food nor culture

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