A 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ….