Newest Review: ... can go up into. Once through the gate, you walk across a stone bridge with a river underneath, and some fish towards the Thai Hoa palace. ... more
A day in the City
Member Name: Essexgirl2006
Date: 08/04/11, updated on 08/04/11 (63 review reads)
Advantages: History and fun
Hue, a former capital city of Vietnam is based about half way down this long country, situated on the Perfume River. Outside the city there are lots of opportunities to visit some of the former tombs of the late rulers (see Tomb of Tu Duc review for more info), as well as seeing rural life in the region. Tours are offered by many hotels and other sites (we booked from the cafe next to our hotel - the Thanh Lich). On our last day in Hue, we only had a short time before leaving for our afternoon train, so we decided on the Imperial City and then a cyclo ride, and we had a fabulous day.
The main attraction within the Citadel of Hue is the Imperial City, a square gated area that costs about VND60,000 to get in (US$3 or £2) so is very reasonable. There are four gates but I think you can only get in through Ngo Mon gate, which is the main one. The location was chosen by cosmologists to bring harmony. The whole area took approx 30 years to build, at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The City area has seen better days - paint is peeling, some buildings cannot be entered and parts of it are missing through bad weather. A lot of it is being restored however. The site became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
The vast Ngo Mon gate looks imposing as you arrive outside the Imperial City, there are five entrances, some of which are for the elephants and one for the emperor exclusively. Today there are entrances for locals and international visitors. Above the gate is a pavilion, which I think you can go up into. Once through the gate, you walk across a stone bridge with a river underneath, and some fish towards the Thai Hoa palace. You can't take photos inside the palace, but there are very few artefacts in here now. However the internal décor is very attractive as this was once an important ceremonial room. There is some signage informing you of the sort of thing that went on in here, but is not always in the most obvious place. Thai Hoa means 'Supreme Harmony'. In the back part is a model if the Imperial City as well as a video on a loop about the site, which is worth a watch, it only lasts 7-8 minutes.
When you have finished, exit Thai Hoa Palace at the Forbidden Purple City, the current boundary is shown with a man-made fence as the original has been lost. This enclave was for the royal residential quarters. To the right is the imaginatively named Left House and to the left is the Right House. These open sided buildings are in the process of restoration, the Left House being the most complete, but you get a good chance to see the red and gold lacquer finish as they would have been in the buildings' hey day in the early nineteenth century. Other highlights include the Royal Theatre that has been fully restored and is in regular use. Here you can get a cold drink, and some souvenirs such as books and pictures. Also worth checking out is the Thai Binh Reading Pavilion. You can't go in, as it is not safe, but the gardens have been landscaped recently and make an attractive setting with lily ponds around it. While the external décor of the Reading Room has seen better days, you can still see the detail of the mosaics etc on the roof, which are worth taking time to check out.
Hue was very hot and humid whilst we were there, but I think it is worth planning your day in order to spend a couple of hours meandering gently around the site at your own pace. You can purchase drinks and (I think) ice creams here, and there are toilets (I didn't use them, humidity is dehydrating) and a gift shop. If you want somewhere to eat you will need to leave the site. Overall, this was one of my highlights of my stay in Hue and well worth a visit. A lot of it is being restored, and this will be ongoing for several more years, if not decades, but I don't think this will be hugely detrimental to your visit.
After leaving the Imperial City we decided it was time to experience a cyclo ride. A cyclo is basically a back-to-front rickshaw. The cyclist sits behind the passenger seat. There were four of us, so the two cyclo 'drivers', who were both local men, put a bench across the passenger seat making them split level. This meant someone sat on the proper seat and someone on the bench behind them, with the smaller passenger sitting between their knees. Ideally you would want one to yourself though. The cost of this was VND 100,000 per person which is approx US$5 or £3.35 for an hour. This seemed typical to prices we have been quoted elsewhere and other people paid, so bare this in mind when negotiating with the drivers.
We picked our drivers as we came out of the Imperial City and arranged for our hour trip to take in part of the city walls, some typical city life and return us to our hotel. We did about two sides of the imperial city (which is square) before they took us past the local life. It was nice to be able to see shopping streets and markets that the locals use. In fact we stopped for a five minute break at an indoor market and picked up a few local snacks for our train journey. We also rode down residential streets, seeing houses that would cover most budgets. This was such a unique way to see the city as we would not have wandered as far as this part of town under our own steam. The cyclos allowed us to travel faster than on foot, whilst getting a good feel for the place, that you don't always appreciate on an air-conditioned coach travelling at twice the speed. With the oppressive humidity, our cyclo drivers had to work quite hard and were deserving of their fee and a small tip (typically 10%).
You do share the road with other traffic but it is a lot quieter over the North side of the river where the Imperial City is. Across the river, near our hotel, the roads are a lot busier. The traffic is mainly cycles and motorbikes; there are not many cars or vans. I took a few photos whilst travelling on the cyclo, you will need to use a faster shutter speed in order not to get blurry shots. I found the Sports setting on my Canon to do the job very well.
You can do cyclo rides in any city in Vietnam, and I do think this is a fun diversion for an hour and a unique way to see the city. I do recommend giving this a go if you get the opportunity. On quieter streets you can get out and have a go at cycling too if you wish too!
Summary: An enjoyable last day in Hue.