This is the old imperial city of Vietnam. Was capital under the Nguyen emperors from 1802 until 1945. They were of course the last emperors of Vietnam.
To get here, we went via Danang and the Hai Van Pass. The Hai Van Pass is a mountain range which separates north and south climatically (not politically in the 1960s) and we had heard some bad weather reports going up to Hanoi. It is rainy season here. What we found was not bad weather. The odd down pour, but mostly we have found it very hot, and very very humid. A little uncomfortable especially at night. At least we have A/C!
Spent first afternoon around the old citadel, built by the emperors as their city residence and fortress. Unfortunately a lot of the ancient buildings were first ruined by the French, and then completely demolished during the American war. Of the more recent history, Hue was taken by the NVA during the TeT offensive in 1968, and they held it for 25 days. During this time, the citadel provided a modern fortress, but the bombardments by both sides pretty much levelled it all. Much of it now is just fields. Still the citadel walls and entry gates are pretty impressive and much of the imperial enclosure has been rebuilt. The Forbidden Purple City (equivalent of China's Forbidden City) however is now pretty low key. Although, really lovely ponds with lotus flowers in full bloom - much to Nancy's delight. At the end of the slog in the hot sun, it was great to get back to the Perfume River which runs through Hue for a well deserved sundowner!
The big highlight of Hue is to take a boat trip down the Perfume River to visit the tombs of the emperors which are spread out over many kms outside of town. The boat trip itself is a great way to experience life here watching local boatspeople trying to make a living out of dredging. The whole family were involved, and it looked like extremely hard work manually dredging. The mist around the hills here makes it atmospheric, although the mist did turn to very heavy rain at one point.
We visited only two tombs, but they are the most famous ones. Emperor Tu Duc who used his own designed tomb first as his family palace, and then final resting place. (built in 1867). This guy had one of the most lavish lifestyles of any monarchy. He had over 100 wives and countless concubines!! and not sure how true this is, but apparently his body is not where the tomb is, but secretly hidden with treasure. The 200 servants who buried him had their heads chopped off so no one could find out where he is really buried! The palace/tomb is very regal and as with all the tombs in a very beautiful place. With lotus flower lakes and 'pleasure pavilions' as they called them! The pavilions are exquisite wooden buildings.
The even more serene tomb of Minh Mang ((1843) is set in a forest area again with lotus lakes. His tomb was even better as he is buried in a hillside of pine trees and shrub, with the royal buildings, honour guard and lakes leading to it. All the tombs have an honour guard of stone elephants, horses, and cool looking mandarins - like very small versions of the terracotta warriors.
On the way out to the tombs, we also visited one of the most famous pagodas in Vietnam - Thien Mu Pagoda which overlooks the Perfume River. The 21m high octagonal tower is an icon of the country, but it is also for political reasons that this pagoda is famous. And this is for history buffs. This Pagoda was a seat of unrest during the 1960s rule of the South Vietnamese government, and is known as the place that the monk, Thich Quang Doc, left from to go to Saigon where he very publicly self-immolated himself in 1963. Everyone knows the very famous photos of this incident. In fact, his Austin that he drove in to Saigon is still parked out the back of the Pagoda. Nancy and I hunted it out, and there it was still coloured blue, but rusting with photos of the shocking act next to it. If you see the photo again, you will see the blue Austin out the back with the bonnet up. The guy did this to protest the South Vietnamese government's persecution of buddhists, but ironically is now a hero of the socialist/nationalist movement.
One very funny point about the boat we were on was a sign about behaviour on board. We have seen many strange ways of translating into english, but this sign said "Visitors must be well dressed and police." Police meant polite, but it was a bit of a classic. Makes us wonder what we might get when we reach China, with the infamous chinglish.