We only had one full day in Vietnam’s last imperial capital city Hue. We booked a taxi to take us to Emperor Khai Dinh’s tomb, Emperor Minh Mang’s tomb, Thien Mu Pagoda and the walled Citadel with its Purple Forbidden City.
We booked our taxi tour through the hotel, Hue Serene Palace Hotel, it was on the expensive side at $30 but there aren’t a lot of options in Hue and the distances would have been too far by bike. We had a big delicious breakfast at the hotel then met our driver outside the lobby.
We visited the first monument which is Khai Dinh’s tomb. This tomb is the more modern of the two tombs we would see on our tour today. It borrows influences from Europe, notably the French colonists. We walked around the very busy complex and were out in about half an hour.
Two identical-looking girls instagramming. Notice a third clone close behind them.
I saw a stone elephant and had to take a picture with it.
We each posed with the emperor’s mandarins.
Stone lions with disturbingly creepy eyes guarded the stairways.
Inside the large hall furthest from the site’s entrance is the emperor’s throne room richly decorated with dragons and other symbols.
Then we drove to the second site which is Minh Mang’s tomb. It had much larger grounds with beautiful lakes, ponds and small gardens. Both of us preferred the natural beauty of this older tomb / summer palace to the staid dark grey stone of Khai Dinh’s. Less tourists were here and we had more beautiful pictures to take. We lingered at this site for longer until around 11 am, it reminded us of the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace in Beijing. More so than Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, Vietnam shares a lot of similarities with China, here it was evident in the architecture.
We saw a wedding party taking pictures too with the women in colorful traditional long Vietnamese dresses or ‘ao dai.’
I took some notes for how I would want to design my own future summer palace!
Next, our driver took us to the third site, the Thien Mu pagoda. This site was free unlike the two tombs. The receptionist at our hotel told us that all pagodas and religious places are free in Vietnam. On the way there we saw more rice paddies and water buffalos.
The grounds were also filled with gardens and other small buildings / structures.
It had a large courtyard filled with large bonsai trees arranged on pedestals.
Here we also saw the car taken by a famous Buddhist monk that self-immolated in protest against Vietnam’s repression of Buddhism.
The pagoda is situated along a peaceful stretch of Hue’s Perfume River.
We then asked our driver to drop us at the train station where we bought our sleeper train tickets to Hanoi for tomorrow. From there we walked about 2 km to reach the Citadel. We walked across a bridge over the Perfume River to the north side of Hue. Then we walked over a bridge across a moat then through the Citadel’s outer walls. Inside the outer walls of the Citadel, we were surprised to see local shops and residential buildings. Basically, it looked just like the rest of Hue, there was nothing particularly imperial about this area.
We looked for a restaurant and decided on Les Jardins de la Carambole, a fancy French Vietnamese restaurant. It was one of the few well-reviewed restaurants within the Citadel’s walls.
We ordered two pizzas due to lack of vegetarian options but we didn’t regret it, they were rather delicious! Paid 400,000 VND which was pretty good considering this is a place on the fancy side. We finished lunch at 2:30pm.
We then walked to the Citadel’s inner walls which enclose the imperial Purple Forbidden City. We took a photo with this couple who were out for an engagement photoshoot.
Then we entered through one of the Citadel’s imposing southern gates.
At the first pond upon entering, we bought some fish food and fed the rambunctious koi.
A small courtyard was lined with pairs of bushes shaped as all different kinds of animals. I posed with the elephant bush.
Although not quite as big as Beijing’s Forbidden City, Hue’s version was filled with quiet nooks and crannies for us to explore away from other tourists. Something you would never see in Beijing!
We stumbled across the emperor’s personal performance hall.
We loved strolling through the various large and small gardens belonging to the emperors, empresses and dowager empresses.
A stylish way to travel around the complex is by a horse carriage as the emperor was likely to do.
Some parts of the Forbidden City were in need of repair. During the Vietnam War, a large part of it was destroyed.
We left the Forbidden City from its East Gate and walked the 2km or so back to our hotel.
On the way, still within the outer walls of the Citadel, we saw a small open air exhibit of tanks, helicopters, fighter jets, which we visited.
Then we stopped by a small mall with a supermarket to buy water and snacks for our long train ride tomorrow. Then crossed the bridge back to the other side of Hue. We saw a small parade with lion dancers that unfortunately left just as we arrived.
Still on our long walk back to the hotel, we bumped into girls promoting traditional Vietnamese dresses. They told us the parade which we had seen before was going to come in 5 minutes so we waited with them.
It was worth waiting for. We almost got hit by motorbikes standing in the middle of a busy intersection but we got a very nice view of the small parade. They had music and beautiful girls wearing traditional dresses sitting on cyclos.
As we left we tried to find a barbershop for Maurice to finally get a haircut but we missed the street to turn onto and then couldn’t find the path back. We decided to give up and just go for dinner. We followed the recommendation of our receptionist and went to Lien Hoa Vegetarian Restaurant. We walked there and grabbed a table. The place is cute but the service is absolutely horrendous. The menus had really bad English translations that made it challenging to order as well! After 15 minutes of waiting for the waiter to notice us, we finally placed our order. It was 7:30pm then. The food did come extremely fast (a few minutes) however to their credit.
After dinner we walked back to the hotel, at that point my feet were killing me. We capped off the night with more yolomimo work and planning logistics for the Hanoi and Halong Bay parts of our trip – having an extra computer in the room was an amazing perk in this instance.