THE HOME OF THE KINGS
We booked the tour of Hue through our Hoi An hotel. This private, all day tour was approximately $60 per persons, and it included a large, air-conditioned car for 7 persons, a driver, a guide, and visits to the Tomb of Khai Dinh, Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue Imperial City, and a boat ride on the Perfume River. The lunch was not included, although we did stop for a lunch before entering the Imperial City.
Tomb of Khai Dinh
There are numerous royal tombs of the Nguyen dynasty emperors scattered around Hue, but the Tomb of the father of the last Nguyen emperor Khain Dinh is the most lavish and popular one to visit. The tomb combines European and Vietnamese architectural styles and is very interesting to observe- it looks much older than it really is (the Emperor died in 1925). The mausoleum is build into a side of a hill, and it rises through three levels. The climb is worth it as the main temple at the summit hides fascinating murals and impressive bronze bust of the emperor. This strange, but unforgettable mix of Versaille meets China's Xian warriors, is not to be missed.
Thien Mu Pagoda
Heavenly Lady Pagoda is an iconic symbol of Hue and it lies on the banks of the Perfume River. The pagoda dates back to the 17th century and is dominated by a seven-story octagonal tower, Phuoc Duyen (Source of Happiness Tower). As you pass the tower and reach the pavilion with a shrine, you will see the magnificent laughing bronze Buddha statue, statues of the 10kings of hell, and holy disciples of Buddha. As with all buddhist temples, you will have to take your shoes off to enter, so on a super hot day, wearing socks may actually help. The pagoda is also famous for a car that was used by a monk who burned himself to death in 1963 in Saigon in a protest against the regime.
Perfume River Boat Ride
After the Pagoda visit, we boarded one of the boats that took us from the pagoda closer to the Imperial Citadel. Perfume River got its name because of strong, wonderful smell of wild flowers that were blooming next to the river (they no longer do). It is a big and impressive river. The boat ride in what we believe is a boat that serves as a house is a nice break from the heat. The family that lived there and that drove us also has items for sale, so instead of leaving them a tip, we bough bunch of souvenirs to support them.
Hue Imperial Palace
Hue Citadel is a vast complex built in the 19th century. It comprises three enclosures- the Civic, Imperial and Forbidden Purple Cities. It is a very elegant complex with a lot of things to see. Highlights include Thai Hoa Palce, the Royal Theatre, and the temple dedicated to Emperor Gia Long's parents. We really enjoyed the old photograph of the last empress that were featured in her chambers and the waiting room- it was much easier to understand the grandeur of this palace when you were able to see people using it for every day or special events.
Hue's palace has the Beijing Forbidden City feel, but is much smaller and more intimate. We visited this after lunch and seem to have succeeded in avoiding large crowds. This is a very big complex but fortunately you can rent a golf cart with a driver for app. $10. It's worth every penny.