Discovering Hue – Crashing a wedding and raiding the Royal Tombs

The tombs of Hue, VietnamA typhoon had hit the coast of Vietnam and our night train ride from Hanoi to Hue turned out to be a full fledged odyssey. Trailing the storm and the massive amounts of rain it brought with it, it took us more then 24 hours instead of 12 to arrive country’s former capital. It was night time and despite having made the best of the ride, meeting new people, locals and tourists alike, we were tired and only looking forward to get some well deserved rest. The good thing about all of it was that the typhoon had just passed, the rain was gone and the next day looked promising, perfect to go exploring. Hue is full of history having played a central part during the Vietnam war due to it proximity to the border between the North and South. However, it is probably most prominent for its impressive monuments connected to the famous Nguyen dynasty. One of those is the Imperial Citadel with its forbidden city which we wanted to explore on our first day in Hue. After a late but hearty breakfast a the café of Hue icon and photographer Mr. Cu (a definite recommendation to start your Hue trip), we arrived at the Citadel. We were greeted by a display of old war machinery, tanks, airplanes and artillery, and a huge war monument.

War memorial Hue, Vietnam

The war memorial

War remnants in Hue, Vietnam

War remnants – artillery as used in the Vietnam war

An old war plane in Hue, Vietnam

An old jet on display

The wedding crashers
While having a closer look, a trishaw driver informed us, that the citadel itself was closed for a couple of hours around midday. Bad timing but things should turn out good as we would soon find out. From across the road we heard loud music and laughter coming out of a nicely decorated venue. It seemed to be a local wedding and we wanted to have a closer look. As we got closer we soon were approached by a man who, as we later found out, was the brides father. He asked us to come in and join the celebration. A little hesitant at first we agreed and let him accompany us inside. It was a big venue, everything was decorated and the probably more than 200 guests were sitting at round tables having drinks and laughing. As we entered, the beautiful couple just went inside as well and gave a little speech. Red champagne was poured into a dangerously high glass pyramid, music was played and the celebration officially started. Now this was great timing. We were placed at a table with about 6 others, all men, and were animated to drink with them right away. Beer, on ice, and it had to be chugged. Since everyone wanted to drink with me and due to my distinct sense of obligation, it didn’t take long until I was a tipsy. It was around 12 o’ clock.  From walking around Vietnamese war remnants to a fun, authentic Vietnamese wedding – how crazy things can turn out sometimes. Food was being brought out, delicious Vietnamese dishes with a touch of Chinese. In between the couple went to every single table to thank everyone for their attendance and of course to have a drink at each table. I still don’t know how they did it as I myself was getting a bit drunk after having to drink with people here and there. It was a great party with lots of laughter and open stage singing. By the time we left, the party very abruptly finished after everyone was done eating, the Citadel had opened again so in the end the timing was actually perfect.

At a wedding in Hue, Vietnam

Caught the bride in a moment lost in thought.

Champaign pyramid at wedding Hue, Vietnam

Pouring that champaign

The Imperial Citadel – a quiet oasis 
The Citadel is bigger than first expected. It consists of several parts, each built by a different emperor of the Nguyen dynasty which lasted from 1802 until 1945. We roamed across the huge courtyard and discovered the different temples and pagodas inside the citadel. The forbidden city itself was almost completely destroyed during the war but a few buildings are still intact and most of it is currently being reconstructed. The best thing about the citadel is that it is, due its sheer size, quiet and peaceful, a rare commodity in Vietnam. Walking around the pagodas, moats, pavilions, through nicely decorated hallways and checking out small galleries and museums made for a nice and relaxed day.

Courtyard at imperial citadel, Hue, Vietnam

The Citadel’s courtyard

Organized chaos on the streets of Hue
As we walked back around early evening, we passed a lively market just by the perfume river. People were mainly selling local produce and other goods for the locals’ daily needs. As we crossed the river we saw what rush hour in Hue means. Thousands of motorbikes were slowly making their way across the bridge. It was organized chaos, anarchy and constant honking. Walking was definitely the best alternative here but for the next day we planned on getting back on the bike ourselves.

Market in Hue, Vietnam

Having fun at work

Boy in Hue, Vietnam

Relaxation in the trishaw

Traffic in Hue, Vietnam

Crosstown traffic in Hue

Raiding the tombs of Hue
For the next day we had arranged a motorbike at Mr. Cu’s place. Our plan was to drive all the way down to Hoi An with a stop in Danang. Mr. Cu was super helpful and arranged everything. It was a one way rental, three days for only 30 dollars. After another good breakfast to start the day, we headed out of town to explore some of Hue’s most popular monuments – the Emperors’ Tombs. The six tombs mostly date from the late 19th or early 20th centuries and are, despite the rather expensive fee of 80.000 VND, worth a visit. You should pick a few good ones though as some of the others were said to be mostly in ruins. The ones we visited were the tomb of Kai Dinh, Tu Duc and the tomb of Minh Mang. Each one of them reflects the distinct personalities of the buried emperor and are hence very different. The tomb of Kai Dinh is for example totally over the top. It features a big courtyard complete with statues, warriors and elephants, and dragons leading up to the tomb. The inside of the actual tomb is decorated with opulent and shiny mosaics.

The tomb of Minh Mang, who is said to have loved nature and the countryside, is a total contradiction to the extravagant tomb of Kai Dinh. The huge complex consists of woodlands and two lakes with beautiful temples and pavilions arranged around them. Bridges lead from one small complex to another. It is a quiet and contemplative place which is good for an hour of relaxation. And that’s exactly what we did before getting on the bike again and hitting the road. We still had quiet a ways to go, across the famous Hai Van pass, and to the upcoming city of Danang.

One of the temples at the Tomb

One of the temples at the Tomb of Minh Mang

Last thoughts …
Despite our little odyssey the stay in Hue was very enjoyable. It is a nice and authentic city and the sites it features are great to explore. However I think that a stay of two days is enough to take in all the monuments in and around Hue. Mr. Cu’s café is a good point of reference if you want to orientate yourself, get some ideas or if you want to arrange tours. He was a big help concerning our motorbike trip to Danang. Everything worked out perfectly considering the fact that it was a one way rental which is usually not so popular. He is also a great photographer and just to check out his pictures is worth a visit. The motorbike ride from Hue to Danang and Hoi An is another thing that is worth considering. But more on that later ….

Categories: Culture, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Discovering Hue – Crashing a wedding and raiding the Royal Tombs

  1. Great post. I haven’t thought about Hue much since the 3 days I spent there, but you did a great job capturing everything and taking me right back. Hope all is well – Susan

    • Hi Susan, how are you? So you also spent time in Hue? How did you like and what did you do and see there. I bet there is more to explore but we were kind of in a rush to make it to Danang after having wasted a day due to the storm. By the way, I reeaalllyy liked Danang. Very underrated city with a nice flair. Unfortunately all the great pictures I took there got lost with the theft of my camera. Gotta go back 😉 …..

      • Hey Phil, I’m doing good. How have you been? I did go to Hue and think I spent the perfect amount of time sightseeing all things considered. I went to the Citadel and the exact same tombs as you, but I added the Thien Mu Pagoda to my motorcycle tour (on an American Harley ironically) with Bill from the Stop & Go Cafe as my guide. I liked everything I did, especially the Citadel because there was so much to see and explore. I actually didn’t go to Da Nang…. I spent an entire week eating BBQ and laying on the beach with friends in Nha Trang and decided to skip Da Nang and Dalat in order to add a trek to Sa Pa on the itinerary instead. I kind of regret the decision in hindsight, but have decided to look at it as extra incentive to go back to Vietnam one day.

    • Hi Susan, it is always good to come back. I stayed only day in Nha Thrang. It was just to touristy and the the massive amount of Russians was a little too much for me. Dalat by the way was also really nice. I did canyoning there and explore the countryside by motorbike. It was very interesting with a lot of traditional workshops and attractions along the way. I took some really good pictures there but also lost those. Damnit. But yeah, you can’t do everything, not even if you spend a month in the country and probably not even if you spend two. I also want to go back some day and retake the pictures I have lost 😉

      • Your right, Nah Trang was really touristy and there were way too may Russians, but I was only there for the beach and to see my friends, so it was worth a tan and a week of my life. I really wish I’d gone to Dalat, because everyone I’ve talked to about it says the same thing about how pretty and unique it is, but you’re right about it being impossible to see everything a month. Hopefully you’ll be ale to go back sometime and make it out with both photos and a camera and I’ll be able to go back for the sake of going.

    • Sounds like a plan! Let’s go together then 😉

    • Deal. But there way more disgusting things to sample in Vietnam than ant soup…. just saying hehe.

  2. Sadly didn’t get the chance to visit Hue on our whistle stop tour of Vietnam next year. A reason to go back for sure. Great post.

  3. Thanks Chili, had a good time there. Did you by any chance stop in Danang? That was our next stop after Hue and I really like it. Underrated and not as touristy but still a very nice atmosphere there. I really enjoyed that place…even went surfing hehe

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