South of the gorgeous Ninh Binh is the capital of the ancient kingdoms, the city of Hue. We arrived early evening and over dinner met some fellow travellers who had just finished with the city highlights and could give us a quick rundown of the worth it-not worth it choices. The interesting thing about Hue was that pretty much everything on the tourist list (of which there are probably only 6 things) they considered to be on the worth it list.
So next morning we set out to visit the main feature of the city, the ancient citadel. The palace of the kings was generally in poor repair but the pieces that were still standing were amazing. It was built in the early 1800’s and unfortunately was bombed again and again, first by the French in the French War of the early 1900’s and again in the “American” (Vietnam) War of the 60’s and 70’s.
We found our way to the main gate and entered through the impressive high walls and ornate entry way. Inside the walled city was the palace grounds of the emperors and their families. There are still quite a few intact buildings to view (either unscathed or restored) amid the rubble of the site in general and we really enjoyed the experience. There were plenty of info boards around to let us know what we were looking at and a great exhibition of historical photographs. It really was impressive and we could really feel the glory of the emperors and the incredible grandeur where they lived. The citadel would definitely rate as well and truly worth a visit.
From the citadel we headed to Thien Mu pagoda beside the beautiful Perfume River. This pagoda was pretty neat because of the tiers of the pagoda stretching up in a small glade of pines but further into the complex we found a lovely temple where prayers were in session. There was the usual bunch of monks chanting and dinging their bells but this group contained a collection of “baby monks”, children who are learning their religion through joining the priesthoods for a period of time. They were just gorgeous and I had a terrific time just watching them all fiddle and shuffle as little children do in any church of the world.
To round out the day we headed to one of the imperial tombs. Everywhere you look in Vietnam there are graves. Either small family plots alongside a field or acre after acre of huge mausoleum type graves. It is quite an eye opener so we figured if the local regular burial practices are so elaborate then the imperial tombs must surely be something else. Well…. Have to say – not so much. They were in expansive grounds undoubtedly but the actual tomb itself was a bit dull. Some of the local gravesites were jazzier. That’s not to say it was not worth the trip to see it because it was, if for no other reason than to get that comparison of emperor and normal people. Emperor definitely bigger but not exactly mind-blowing.
Having ticked off all the major touristic things that interested us we decided to grab a bike and head to the coast road to check out the scenery. Lots of rice paddies and plenty of small towns but definitely some of the most gorgeous beaches. There was no one there (I think we saw 4 other tourists) but I should imagine in peak season it would be fantastic. Just mile after mile of white sand. Little clusters of restaurants and if you go far enough you come upon the real local life of the fishing villages. It was awesome and a lovely way to finish off the northern part of Vietnam.
The citadel – Hue.
Main emperors receiving hall – Hue citadel.
At the Thien Mu Pagoda.
Tu Loc Tombs.
The boat is swiveled back and forth to get it up the beach.
As the fish are taken off the fishing boats they are sorted, weighed and removed by the on-sellers.
Baby octopus inside an egg we found trapped in nets. Very cool!!!!