During the ride to Hue the sun came out and played for a while. It was the first time in six weeks I had seen anything more than a short glimpse of it and it’s amazing how it lifts your spirits. I had taken the scenic route following the beach and then riverside through some great scenery and taken pictures with my iPhone, which failed to give me any decent landscape images. I would have to address this problem very soon.
My first priority was to get something to eat and then find a hostel, so I headed for the backpacker area, crossing the Perfume River over the Trang Tien bridge and turning north to the south bank area around Le Loi street. There seemed to be more westerners than locals and I knew I would have difficulty finding a dorm in the more popular hostels, which proved to be the case with the first two I tried. Walking down to the end of ‘backpacker alley’ I came across a small hostel called Hue Amazing Homestay, where for $5 I could have a bed, breakfast and a beer. It was a nice family run business with the owners speaking some English and I met up with a group who were staying there, including another Brit, an Irishman and a couple of American girls. We sussed out the cheapest local restaurants and had a couple of meals together. This is what I love about my trip – meeting up with other travellers and sharing stories.
Hue Imperial City and the Royal Tombs
Next morning I planned my tour of Hue, which would start with a walk around the Imperial City. Once again the sky was grey and overcast, but I did manage to get some usable images. I have to say though that I was a little disappointed with the Imperial City, maybe because I’ve been very fortunate in seeing other sites that impressed me more, but I think mostly because many sections were being repaired or renovated and were out of bounds. There was however a great photographic exhibition on display which obviously for me was the highlight!
The stone carvings on the steps caught my eye too, as the detail is amazing. Here’s a small selection of the images I took:
Once I’d finished my tour of the city, it was time to visit the Royal Tombs. I had chosen two distinctly different types of tomb to try and add some variety to my photographs, but having just the iPhone I found I was very limited to what I could capture and the resulting quality was not great. My first stop was Tu Duc Royal Tomb which was built between 1864 and 1867 as a tribute to the fourth Nguyen Emperor. Tu Duc is the longest reigning Nguyen Emperor on record.
The forecourt was lined with a honour guard of stone mandarins, a horse and an elephant (on both sides). The mandarins are smaller than usual – this was on purpose, as the Emperor was a diminutive man.
Tu Duc’s first wife, Empress Le Thien Anh is also honoured in Hoa Khiem Temple.
The grounds surrounding this tomb are very extensive and require a good amount of time if you want to walk around. It’s a nice peaceful spot, even with the bus loads of tourists disembarking regularly. While the architecture is not as striking as the next tomb I visited, I spent an enjoyable couple of hours here wandering in the gardens.
In another part of the grounds I discovered a separate temple (Chap Khiem) dedicated to Tu Duc’s adopted son, Emperor Kien Phuc, who reigned for just 8 months and died in 1884 aged just 15.
The next tomb was a good few kilometres distance away, but not a problem on a bicycle except for the heat, as by now the sun had reached it’s peak in the sky and the temperature was soaring. It was impressive. From the roadside as I peered up through the gates of Khai Dinh Royal Tomb, I knew my decision to choose this particular tomb was the right one.
Khai Dinh’s tomb was purposefully designed to be difficult to visit as the tomb was built on the side of a mountain. Its inner sanctum is reached by climbing up the 127 steps from street level and court officials were required (on pain of death) to climb the steps and pay their respects to the late emperor.
The tomb began construction in 1920 and took eleven years to complete, and was still unfinished when the Emperor Khai Dinh died of tuberculosis in 1925. His son, the last Emperor of Vietnam Bao Dai, finally completed the tomb in 1931.
Another flight of stairs takes you to the elaborate Thien Dinh Palace, which must be entered by a side entrance (on the right) as the front is kept locked.
The Emperor’s successor Bao Dai became the last ruling Nguyen emperor, for a time becoming a puppet head of state for the Japanese, then the French, then finally the South Vietnamese government based in Saigon. The end of the Nguyen dynasty also ensured that Khai Dinh’s Royal Tomb would be the last constructed in Hue.
I had planned on telling the story of my journey to Da Nang and my time spent there in this blog post, but as I have some nice images to show (my Nikon camera was somewhat fixed in Da Nang) and this post is already image heavy, I’ll leave it till next time. More soon…