Huế is the capital city of Thua Thien – Hue province, Vietnam. Between 1802 and 1945, it was the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty. Its population stands at about 340,000.
One place you just have to visit in the city of Hue is The Imperial City.
Imperial Citadel (Đại Nội)
The former imperial seat of government and Hue’s prime attraction, this is a great sprawling complex of temples, pavilions, moats, walls, gates, shops, museums and galleries, featuring art and costumes from various periods of Vietnamese history. Thanks to its size, it is also delightfully peaceful – a rare commodity in Vietnam.
The citadel was badly knocked about during fighting between the French and the Viet Minh in 1947, and again in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, when it was shelled by the Viet Cong and then bombed by the Americans. As a result, some areas are now only empty fields, bits of walls, and an explanatory plaque. Other buildings are intact, though, and a few are in sparkling condition. For the rest, while restoration has been going on for 20 years, there is still quite a long way to go. Allow several hours to see it properly. Entry 80,000 dong (for foreigners, less for locals of course) and it is open 06:30-17:00. Inside you can pay $1.50 (30,000dong) to dress up in the King or Queen’s clothing and sit on the throne for a fun photo opportunity.
Tombs of the Emperors
Group tours usually cost about US$2, which includes an excellent (really!) lunch aboard the boat, but does not include admission to the tombs (80,000 dong apiece for foreigners – ensure you count your change carefully if paying by large denomination note as short-changing can occur) or the cost of a motorbike from the wharf to each tomb. If you’re with a group, the price should be set by the tour company at roughly 25,000 dong for each round-trip. Choose a tour with as few stops as possible. Some companies lard up their itineraries with visits to silk farms and a few pagodas, promising to fit everything in neatly, however tour companies aren’t noted for their time management, and you’ll wind up rushed along and frustrated for at least one of the tombs.
If you’re travelling on your own, boat hire or a motorbike and driver should cost somewhere around US$20, again not including tomb admissions. All of the tombs can be walked to from the wharfs in anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour. The paths are mostly obvious, but you still probably shouldn’t try it without a map or a terrific sense of direction. Most of the tombs are open from 7:30AM or 8AM to 5:30PM, depending on the season; note that the tour groups arrive around 10AM and leave around 3PM in order to get back before dinner, so plan accordingly to avoid the crowds. You’ll be glad you did.
The tombs are also easily reached by bicycle, although there is a shortage of good maps of how to reach them. Ask your hotel about bicycle rentals and maps, and be cautious on the crowded and potentially potholed roads. This is probably the most inexpensive (and enjoyable, if you enjoy cycling) way to reach the tombs. Along the way you will meet many darling Vietnamese children who like to practice their English by shouting “F— you!” and other English expletives at passing foreigners.
The tombs themselves are worth the cost and effort. They mostly date from the late 19th or early 20th centuries, when the Emperors had been reduced to figureheads under French colonial rule and had little else to do than build themselves elaborate tombs. The finest of them are the Tomb of Tu Duc, the Tomb of Minh Mang and the Tomb of Khai Dinh, all of which are excellent examples of Vietnamese Buddhist aesthetics and architecture. The older ones have been allowed to crumble into picturesque semi-ruin, although some are now being restored.
Where we stayed
Asia Hotel. Opened only in December 2004, but despite the token modern TV, the fittings seem much older. The rooms are well enough equipped though and the rooftop restaurant and pool have nice views. Rooms from a slightly overpriced US$30, including a decent buffet breakfas