Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A day in the imperial city of Hue

Palaces, temples, pagodas, royal tombs, culture and cuisine. This is what Hue is famous for and attracts numerous tourists every year.
Our bus from Hoi An took about 4 hours to reach Hue and immediately we were surrounded by touts telling us about cheap hotels. Checking into the cheapest hotel we could find, we set off on foot to explore the town in the evening. You are always hungry in Vietnam and so first thing we found was a decent restaurant serving vegetarian food. The restaurant had an imperial splendour and food served was straight out of royal cuisine.
The famous Perfume River splits the city in two and we headed towards it. Soon we reached a busy bridge which takes the folks to the other side that houses the famous Citadel and the Imperial Palace within.  The river itself has a vast bank and a strong current. Crossing the bridge and taking the street to the left we saw a bright yellow light illuminating a stone structure and realised that it was the famous Citadel. Crossing a very small bridge we passed under the Citadel entrance. Inside was a tar road running in the Citadel and a few vehicles. Just near the entrance were a few cannons protecting the imperial walls and peace within (well as in turned out, not in reality). In the centre was a big tiled square crowded by kids skating. There were a few people renting out the skating shoes surrounded by the new –comers. We had to watch our way as we traded through this crowd. Continuing on the street within we came across a gate which seemed to be an entrance to Imperial Palace, but it was of course closed since it was past evening. So we took a U-turn and headed back to our hotel.
Entrance to the Citadel

Citadel Centre

Perfume river

The next morning we rented a cycle for a dollar and went to the Citadel once again. The main Citadel is surrounded by a moat in which water flows from the Perfume River, providing first level of defence. The whole Citadel and Imperial palace within were constructed by kings of Nguyen dynasty. Imperial palace is kind of a Citadel within a Citadel. The entrance to imperial palace is USD 5 which includes entire of this inner Citadel (or whatever is left of it after the war) and the museum. Imperial city served as a seat for kings of Nguyen Dynasty. There were palaces, houses and gardens for the royal family. Unfortunately, the most structures of this imperial city were destroyed during the war and only structure remaining is Thai Hoa Palace, a coronation hall. Its roof structure is interesting having two roofs to allow rain water to drain off. There are dragons on the top of the roof. Within are decorated pillars and a small gold plated throne which would have served as a seat for the kings during ceremonies. It’s quite beautiful within, but unfortunately no photographs are allowed here. As you exit the back door of this palace you can see a small documentary digitally recreating the whole imperial city.
Famous Chinese legend of Horse-dragon is present everywhere.

One of the entrance gates to the palace

Thai Hoa Palace


Further out are the remains of what used to be the Forbidden palace. Forbidden palace was the residence for the king and no one was allowed inside except for royal family and eunuchs who were the servants, thereby possessing no threat to his rule. On the left is a hall which gives people opportunity to wear royal costume and sit on the throne. On the right is another hall which showcases actual clothes used by the royal family.
Famous Chinese legend of Horse-dragon is present everywhere. Statues in the square, on roof-tops or paintings on the ceilings and the wall. It was considered to be one of the most powerful force used by old emperors by giving the horse powers of a dragon.

Dressing up the royal clothes

Royal clothes used by kings

Ruins of forbidden city

Ruins of forbidden city

The Imperial palace is huge but as most of it is destroyed there is not really much to do here, other than walking through the ruins and taking photos. Occasionally you will come across workers who are trying to bring the palace to its former glory. The path leads out of another door and once again we were in the outer Citadel. Outside, we went to a museum which has moderate collection of royal clothes, jewelry, pots and arms.
We got our royal lunch at yet another vegetarian restaurant and continued our ride through the afternoon heat to Tu Duc tombs. It was a tiring 7 km ride from the city centre and the road was not flat. As we neared the entrance, the streets became more crowded with road-side shops selling antiques and incense sticks. Sweating our way through, we reached the entrance and parked our cycles for VND 5,000. The entrance to the tombs was VND 80,000. “Constructed from 1864 to 1867, the complex served as a second Imperial City where the Emperor went for "working vacations". Tu Duc's contemplative nature and poetic spirit is reflected in the landscape and arrangement of the 50 buildings that at one time stood here. A vast, sprawling complex set around a lake, with wooden pavilions and tombs and temples dedicated to wives and favored courtesans (Tu Duc had 104 to choose from). The courtesans' quarters are in ruins, with only outlines and crumbling walls left amid waves of overgrown grass and silence, but other areas are stunningly well-preserved. The Emperor's tomb itself, tucked away in the back, is surprisingly modest - the final courtyard is nearly empty with just a stone coffin in the middle.” (Courtesy: Wikitravel)
Courtesan's quarters 

A temple dedicated to Tu Duc

Elephant guarding the main tomb

Soldiers too

The Tomb

This was his wife's tomb

We rode back in the hotel with just 30 minutes to spare before our bus to the Hanoi left. It was a short time in this city, but I think it was quite enough. In just a day you can enjoy the royal palace, royal tombs and royal cuisine!

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