Hue : Of grey skies and Kings, Citadels, Tombs and things.

Hue Travel Blog

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The Song Huong 'Perfume' river of Hue

Midday.  In Hue.  It’s a little grey.  Sad to say.  Hey, that all rhymes; “I’m a poet but I jus’ don’t know it!” etc, etc… so yeah, a few hours further north from Hoi An ( “How I miss you already Hoiiiii An!” ) I have arrived at the former Imperial seat of Vietnam, Hue.  The day’s half gone and the weather’s brewing up a little uncomfortably in the grey clouds that frown down from way up There so for once I do just succumb to the haranguing, haggling requests from moto-taxi guesthouse touts and step onto the back of one to get to the accommodation zone in town a coupla kilometres over the river here.  It’s quite fun just to let these guys do the haggling for you.

  Two guys start at $10 a room and with almost no intervention from me have soon battled each other down to $6 for a room in attempt to get my butt on their bike and “not his!”.  Tout A and Tout B slanging it out.  I jump onto the winner ( Tout B).  The vanquished hotelier foe ( Tout A) in desperation throws “5 dollars!” at me, but a third party observer shouts “He lying!” and anyway, a safety rule of travel, don’t always hug the bottom line.  Desperation is often not a good sign.

Nguyen tri Phuong street more or less equidistant from either of the Trang Tien or Phu Xuan bridges over the river, crossing over from the Citadel side of the city.  There’s a tiny street cluster of affordable guesthouses (as little at $3-4 for dorm) so you can always walk away and choose somewhere else following from your free moto-taxi ride.

  My room’s very nice for $6.  I pretty much immediately sign up for a boat ride/ tour trip down the Song Huong ‘Perfume’ river tomorrow ($7) and head on out into the gray looking, gray feeling city as I have only half a day to see this side of town.  I do not intend to stay long in Hue.

The main focal point of sightseeing attraction in the main city of Hue (depending on your taste and prerogatives of course) is the walled Citadel heart of the city.  The outer circuit of the citadel is almost 3 kilometres square but the main Imperial heart of Hue’s citadel is the smaller royal enclosure of the ‘Forbidden Purple City’.  For the right to enter here it’s 50,000VND ($2.85).  An impressively large flag mast and super-size Vietnamese flag flaps in the increasing breeze before the regal main southern Ngo Mon Gateway entrance to the ‘Purple City’.

The main Ngo Mon gate to the 'Forbidden Purple City'.
  Within the precinct of the city a becalmed, often broken and always serene collection of Chinese influenced pagoda temples, Royal habitations, a theatre and pavilions await the visitor.  Spread out over a large square area of grasses and largely over grown areas of flower and shrub.

The ‘Forbidden City’ was the final Imperial seat of the Vietnamese monarchy.  Home for a century and a half only - in the main - to the Nguyen dynasty which ended with Emperor Bao Dai when ruling powers in Vietnam were handed over the to the Vietnamese Revolutionary Government on August 30 1945.  Hue’s Citadel was very badly damaged by American bombing during the Vietnam ‘Conflict’ and it is clear that the heritage recovery process has been a slow and lackadaisical process to date.

Ceremonial robe of the Emperor (detail)
  In large part the eastern and northern sections of the palatial grounds have been left a little broken and tumbled; a few administrative buildings, some pretty water barrays and grasses and plants that have run to seed such as the site itself has in many ways.  A few little museum collections of items pertaining to the Dynastic history of the Nguyen royal family. 

Rain is threatened all of the time today I am in Hue but fortunately apart from mild drizzle, will not fall on my wanderings about the city until much, much later this evening by which time I’m safely tucked away with Mike (my Cambodia pal, parted in Phnom Penh but coincidentally to be bumped into again later today) and a good number of beers.  The greyness and dampness of the atmosphere adds an almost appropriately sombre air to the delicate state of dilapidation that the Purple City exists in right now.

Patterned window.
  I don’t mean to be critical with such statements.  I’ve travelled widely enough now and seen enough architectural wonders to have little of true antiquity or interest to take from the buildings on offer here today, so the mood of the place is the reason for most reflection for me.  There are though some beautifully decorated Chinese gateways with their bright though weather-faded patterns and designs and intricate ceramic-tile depictions of phoenixes and dragons and suchlike.  The Dien Tho residential building of the Queen Mother and the temples to the southwest of the complex are intact or fully restored and impressive looking in being so cared for.

After several hours I depart the inner sanctum of the ‘Purple City’ (I have no idea why it is called the ‘Purple’ city of all colours?) and stroll around the water lilly choked moat exterior circuit of its periphery.

  Strolling out into the much wider precincts of the Citadel.  Most of the citadel, clustered around its few canals and lakes is the vast residential area for modern day Hue.  A purpose it would have always served, keeping King and subject peoples together within the city walls.  The walls now burst by modernity, commercialisation and population expansion.  I enjoy very much getting lost in the cluttered life-flow of the Citadel streets.  There are no other foreigners drifting this far from river quite clearly and this is the most immersed I will feel in a Vietnamese part of a city or town in my time in the country.  A lone flame-haired object for local curiosity (and laughter) to fix upon as I float about the streets.

My following day in Hue also will be concerned with the architectural epitaphs to Vietnam’s former rulers.

  At about 8.30am I am moto-taxi’d to the river side from where I will take one of the many tourist-floating ‘Dragon Boats’ down to the concourse of the Song Huong River, visiting temples and Kings’ tombs along the way.  These ‘Dragon Boats’; brightly coloured and pretty tacky in look and feel are more like floating summer pavilions than boats.  Plastic chairs arranged inside to house a good number or predominantly middle-aged passengers.  A viewing platform at the prow and a ‘kitchen’ area and toilet in the disquieting proximity of spatial necessity to the rear.  At lunch time tables and chairs will be re-arranged artfully into the middle of the ‘pavilion’ for a communal meal.  Lunch is ‘included’ on this trip but the ‘included’ food (the usual rice, tofu, greens and papaya-salad combo) can be a little scanty so other priced up additional meals are available and your business therein strongly encouraged.

There seems to be an unusually large contingent of Brits on board today.  Of course the inevitable flood of French too to be found all over Vietnam for obvious reasons of colonial nostalgia.  A middle-aged couple (who will strangely not enter one single site we visit the whole entire day long?!) sit and chew the fat, whinging and talking cr*p behind me in a highly grating cockney accent provide me with one of my most amusing eaves-dropped conversations for a while : 

Mrs [Reading with studious difficulty but enthusiasm from her guide book] : "...' this was the site of a pivotal battle in the war.'  Pivotal?  Pi- vo -tal?  I never 'eard of it!"

Mr : "Pivotal?"

Mrs : "Yeah, says 'ere, Pivotal.

  Apparently Pivotal 'appened in 1967 and '68."

So there you have it my friends and TB pals.  Your history lesson for the day.  The little known (but presumably pivotal) battle of Pivotal.  It's okay, I know stupidity is mercifully not unique or confined to my home nation LOL

First stop (if you exclude some random martial arts show that I decline to pay to enter) is the Thien Mu Pagoda.  The only sight on the trip that does not come with an entrance fee so grab this one whilst you can.  It’s pretty enough with its seven-tiered pagoda tower.  The main sites on the float down this river though are the various tombs of the kings that range along the river bank lands here to the southwest of the city.  Bear in mind when you do your research that each of these carries and entrance fee of 55,000VND ($3.

20) so for reasons of cost (or repetition) you may not want to visit all of the three that will be on offer. 

I visit the first tomb, the tomb of Minh Mang (ruled 1820 - 1840) and the last tomb of the day the interesting and impressively landscaped grounds of the tomb of the artistic, decadent and strategically unsuccessful Emperor Tu Doc (not sure of dates?).  The frangipani covered grounds containing a pleasant lake and lakeside theatre (as well as private hunting, island zoo) where he would take time away from his hundreds of wives and concubines to lead a life of leisure.  Fishing and suchlike.  The hard life of an Emperor.  The weather bursts lacklustre rain on us from time to time but nothing too troubling.  After 7 months and more on the road though today is only about the third time I’ve had call to consider taking my waterproofs from my backpack.

Ceramic tile phoenix (one of 4 mystical creatures of Vietnam, the Dragon, Unicorn & Tortoise making up the posse).
  Still, I haven’t been carryin’ ‘em all this time for nothing’ I guess!

Back in town.  A bit of a snack and getting back together with Mike.  Here too, ever so briefly we are reunited with my South Korean pal Gray (whom I’ve had sporadic contact with in Hoi An and now here) and whom I will not see again on my travels in Vietnam.  One of the nicest, and by far the longest standing travel companion I have had on my journey so far.  All good people I am lucky to be meeting.  Onwards to Hanoi for Mike and I.  We board the amazingly arrayed bed-scape of the night bus.  It’s cramped but it’s okay.  The beds are Stevie sized so I shall doze along the way!

sheba124 says:
Sigh... Vietnam was where I was planning to travel to this year... maybe next year, hopefully, if I find a new job
Posted on: May 01, 2009
marloesetman says:
Yes it's absolutely worth it! :) I haven't been in Vietnam but I've been in Cambodia for a month and it looks a bit the same, I love that part of Asia. :)
Posted on: Apr 08, 2009
Stevie_Wes says:
Thank you Marloes! It's comments like that that make the bleeding tips of my typing-tired fingers seem all worth while LOL Have you travelled in Vietnam yourself?
Posted on: Apr 08, 2009
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The Song Huong Perfume river of …
The Song Huong 'Perfume' river of…
The main Ngo Mon gate to the Forb…
The main Ngo Mon gate to the 'For…
Ceremonial robe of the Emperor (de…
Ceremonial robe of the Emperor (d…
Patterned window.
Patterned window.
Ceramic tile phoenix (one of 4 mys…
Ceramic tile phoenix (one of 4 my…
Stepping inside the Forbidden ci…
Stepping inside the 'Forbidden' c…
The large Vietnamese flag within t…
The large Vietnamese flag within …
Greenery choked citadel moat.
Greenery choked citadel moat.
Water ways and fields within the w…
Water ways and fields within the …
Life inside the Citadel 1
Life inside the Citadel 1
Life inside the Citadel 2
Life inside the Citadel 2
Bye bye! We are waved on our way…
"Bye bye!" We are waved on our wa…
The Song Huong Perfume River
The Song Huong 'Perfume' River
The Thien Mu pagoda.
The Thien Mu pagoda.
Smiling Buddha (detail)
Smiling Buddha (detail)
Austin (detail): Rage Against the…
Austin (detail): 'Rage Against th…
Dragon Boat prow.
'Dragon Boat' prow.
Our pavilion style Dragon Boat f…
Our pavilion style 'Dragon Boat' …
Tree Print (Hue)
'Tree Print' (Hue)
A solid marble epitaph stelae for …
A solid marble epitaph stelae for…
Royal vase (detail)
Royal vase (detail)
The outer grounds of the tomb of T…
The outer grounds of the tomb of …
The last photo I take prior to lea…
The last photo I take prior to le…
photo by: Paulovic