Travel Tip 101: Imperial City, HUE {tips} + my POV

If there’s one place that has etched its way into my brain in Vietnam, it will be Hue (pronounced Hway). Not only is Hue culturally and historically significant – being Vietnam’s Imperial City and later the country’s capital under the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945), it has a mysterious way about it with somber undertones. Slightly drawn to goth, I’d like to think that this is perhaps an after effect of lingering souls from the early 60s violent Buddhist demonstrations against the repressive Diem regime! 

{ok – just kidding, but if you are game and when you’re standing amongst one of the ruins, stretch your arms out, look up towards the sky, take deep slow breaths and just take in the surrounding in silence for 5-10 minutes … spooky na?}

Upon arriving at the train station from Hanoi with the Train Vietnam Unification Express SE3 (HAN 11:00 pm  – HUE 10:39 am +1day) there are three things to note about Hue:

ONE It rains all the time, lending the place with a misty overcast look that suit me and my love for puddles. For you, this deliberate mention means: be prepared for the rain. Pack yourself a light raincoat.

TWO You are never alone in Hue. No no. Not the ‘ghost’ and spirit thing again. {but that too :p}
Hue is always bustling with tourist and is literally on every tour company’s itinerary which means one or the other: (1) you can easily find and haggle for an affordable guide for a day, and the not so appealing news is (2) you’d be saying “No. Thank you” at least a thousand time in the day as it’s impossible to walk for more than 10 feet without being hassled by someone wanting to sell you something. The upside to this is you are usually accosted somewhere where you can get free confirmation on the direction, ruin, monument you are heading towards (assuming you did not take a guide); Coca Cola has a hand-to-hand delivery service in Hue!; you are being furnished with information on the best shopping bargains, tastiest food, pretties girl … Hue is “legendary” to be numero uno on every count, but who am I to argue? I was only at the tourist attractions.

THREE Things come in 3s…
3 things to look at in Hue: 1- Imperial City & Citadel | 2- Imperial Tombs | 3- Temples
3 mode of transportation MUST be used: 1- Legs | 2- Bicycle / Cyclo / Bikes (you being the pillion of course!) | 3- Boat

Ho Chi Minh Museum
Well, since it’s right across the train station and admission is free, why not?
Sure, every city’s got a Ho Chi Minh Museum, perhaps its a nation that lacks national heros to showcase. In any case, I found this one quite interesting. For one, its built in a large rotunda which brought a smile to my face as I recalled the round church in Cambridge. Secondly, it features photos and memorabilia (don’t all museum?) of Ho’s early life in poverty that stresses on the years he spent in Hue during his father’s tenure in the university. There’s also a photo of him as a kitchen hand in Castleton Hotel, London – a pivotal time in his life where his ideals about Marxism and revolution blossomed. Being small enough, it justifies a quick stop over unless you are extremely pressed for time … which does not seems to exist in quaint Hue, unlike Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.

(Note: closes on Monday. Spend 20-30 minutes max! There’s a lot to cover in Hue)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –


With many 19th Century ruins, royal tombs and an excellent museum, Hue is  a historian’s dream come true. Dominated by the Imperial City & The Citadel, a moated, walled fort, constructed by Emperor Gia Long beginning in 1804 based on the ancient practice of geomancy, this ‘city’ was the palace grounds like Beijing’s Forbidden City. This ‘city’ encompasses three walled enclosures: the Exterior Enclosure or Citadel; the Yellow Enclosure, or Imperial City, within that; and, in the very center, the Forbidden Purple City, where the emperor actually lived.

The ‘city’ was the scene of the 1968 Tet Offensive that witnessed brutal fighting and staggering casualties, when the North Vietnamese held the fort for 26 days. As a result, most of the site comprises of crumbling stone buildings and walls that has been overtaken by trees and plants.

Restorers have moved in aggressively since Vietnam ‘opened’ its doors in the 1990s, with the most evident  restoration work done to the inner palaces and buildings. The results? Kitschy.  Juxtaposed against parts that are still in natural disrepair exuding an air of authenticity, heritage and history – extremely kitschy.

Nonetheless, the forbidden Purple City is notable for its beautifully landscaped surroundings that includes a small lake with stone sculpture, and the ceramic and glass mosaic detailing on the roof and pillars of the Thai Binh Reading Pavilion.

Photograph | The Citadel, Hue

8 thoughts on “Travel Tip 101: Imperial City, HUE {tips} + my POV

  1. hmmmm… are we seriously friends? you sure?ok Anon, I am somewhat thorough. Or anal (depending). :)I don't generally take notes during trips but I do thorough research and make very detail itinerary and keep them. So, I refer to them when I write. Also I jot down funny anecdotes and take silly photos – so I remember.:)

  2. My dear you are so thorough!Do you take notes down or you just have this amazing memory?Thanks for the informative insights. Nice to always have a personal account.

  3. Can be your guide/planner for free. If you still haven't noticed I am anal about this and will only allow WT to take charge if things goes wrong. :)But since tehre's no such thing as a free lunch, you got to carry my camera equipment – lolOh, and haggle when I want to buy things…Plus keep the scammers at bay.

  4. mesmerizing babey! there r these 3-4 places which r always at the back of my mind…Hue, Hoi An, the DMZ and Nha Trang/Dalat!! dude, lets seriously consider doing a north-south(vv)and u can be my guide, i malas dah. i pay u…1 US DO-LLAH a day. WAN NA WAN NA? lol.

  5. By the way girl, I think we should ALL organise a photo trip together since you've got all the itinerary sorted out.Maybe you can wring together some sponsorship?*wink*

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