Hue, Vietnam’s former Royal Capital, still remembers good “old and gold” days of the last emperors. Even though, every other Vietnamese you meet is “Nguyen” by default (the most popular surname in Vietnam), the actual dynasty is long gone. The last of the emperors abdicated after Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, but it seems that in small and humble Hue you can still feel that amazing imperial atmosphere.
The Citadel. Apparently the “one and only” Hue’s attraction. For nearly a century and a half, from 1802 to 1945, those walls protected the royal capital of Vietnam’s Nguyen dynasty. Within the Citadel, was the Purple Forbidden City – an inner sanctum, once lavish and opulent, with ornate gardens and intricate pagodas reserved exclusively for the royal family. If it hasn’t been for the war, that could be on of the most spectacular places in Asia. Maybe it is the only attraction in Hue but… what an attraction!
We gave Vietnam the C-section, we cut it half. The Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone, a line dividing country into North and South Vietnam was just a hundred kilometers north of Hue so you can imagine how much the city suffered during the war. Most of the buildings were completely destroyed. What you can see today is a very good reconstruction. It doesn’t matter to me. With a bit of imagination you can easily travel back in time. And I’m a 100% dreamer myself.
(Not so) royal welcome.
We get to Hue by a night train from Hanoi – it’s our faveourite way of travelling – you can sleep the whole night and if you’re lucky you will meet interesting fellow travelers and exchange stories. The curse of those trains is the air con. Excuse me mr Huyen, is it still Vietnam or are we already aproaching the North Pole? I put on all the clothes I can find in my backpack (and it’s not a lot as I always tend to travel light!) and next morning I can wake saying – good morning Hue! We get out of the train not knowing which direction to go when suddenly we notice a small cafe. The owner smiles and waves at us. – Breakfast? – she says. We are not hungry but…
We are always in for a cup of delicious Vietnamese coffee. The Italians are liars. They were telling us their coffee is the best in the world and yes, it’s true but on a beginners level. Speaking about small, roasted, powerful grains Vietnam crashes every opponent. A typical Vietnamese coffee is strong and sweet, because they add a lot of condensed milk. It’s freaking good. I absolutely love it.
We order a coffee and after a short small talk with the owner we also end up buying our bus tickets to Hoi An. Of course we overpaid, but it’s the beauty of travelling. I’m not so sure if the Polish guy, who we met a day before thinks the same. He just happened to pay half million dongs for a bottle of water. It’s like 15 euro. Say whaaat? But before you think – what an idiot! – you have to know that the banknotes in Vietnam can be pretty tricky. Higher and lower notes can be the same colour. You get distracted for a second and you end up paying 15 euro instead of 1 so be careful!
I don’t understand why the woman at the bar can’t take her eyes of me. She is literally staring at my face as if I was some kind of attraction here. Suddenly she touches her nose with her index finger and then point it at me. She smiles and shows me thumbs up. I’m not entirely sure if it’s a compliment for me, but what to do. You can’t choose your mug (nor your caucasian noozle) can you? But no one has ever admired it so openly before.
We get to our hotel, but it seems no one speaks English here. They try to tell us something but we can’t figure out what is it about. It looks like there’s been an issue with our booking (we made it yesterday). More precisely they don’t have it. Fortunately they do have free rooms (don’t ask me how we know all of that without speaking Vietnamese – body language does work!). The lady from the reception asks us to follow her. She takes a big torch and we start climbing the stairs (do you remember that in Vietnam the building are usually very tall and narrow? I was writing about it in my previous post about Hanoi.) It’s already pitch black when we get to the 3-rd floor.
The receptionist opens the door to one of the rooms and she is vanishing in the darkness just to appear again in the weak light of her torch couple of seconds later. So here’s the situation – we can have the room, but there is no electricity, air con is not working and there is no window. Great. It’s a real hovel. Is this how Hue welcomes us? Not so royally, indeed. 😉
Is it a joke? We are about to leave that place (coz how can a European posh white ass sleep in something like that?) but after managing to get downstairs in the complete darkness, the owner of the hotel is already waiting for us. He is so caring and sweet that we simply can’t go away. There was no electricity on the whole street and he promised to fix it by the evening. As we only need a bed to crash on for one night and the price is good (we even got a 1 dollar discount – crazy!) we decide to stay. We can’t afford to waste more time on looking for a place to sleep. It’s not our first “room without a window” and believe me, it can be a blessing, especially if you stay in a hotel located on the main street. Particulary for me as I’m a light sleeper.
Before the sightseeing we need to get some food. On the way to the citadel we go for a quick noodle. In central Vietnam try deep fried noodles. They are thin and crispy (check out the below pictures!) and you won’t find them in the North. We stumble upon a cool place to eat, it seems to be popular among the tourists as the walls are covered with “thank you” notes. I find quite a lot of them in Polish. Fellow countrymen know what’s good. The food here is a top-notch – simply delicious. We are ready now to meet the last emperors of the Nguyen dynasty. 🙂
The Citadel Complex of Hue, set up by Nguyen Dynasty from 1805 to 1945, is now one of the relics of the Hue ancient Capital – the World Culture Heritage, capturing much of tourists’ attention. I’m so proud that most of the building have been reconstructed by a Polish guy – Kazimierz Kwiatkowski. He did a really good job. Don’t wait too long, enter the main gate, touch the golden ornaments and close your eyes to travel back in time. Step into a piece of Vietnam past, a past prior to the war that somehow significantly defines this beautiful nation. Vietnamese monarchs ruled the country for almost 400 years. It’s way more than the French domination or the war took, yet somehow I think that people are less interested in that particular part of Vietnam’s history.
“Imagine a maze where you need to enter many doors and cross many gates just to find your way towards the center of the seat of power” is how to best describe the Imperial Citadel. Years of amazing history!
You could consider hiring a guide or taking a good guide-book with you as there is a huge potential to get lost inside the 520 hectares citadel particularly when you are exploring alone. We were a bit frustrated at the beginning not knowing where are we but hey, you won’t remember the names of all the pagodas so you may as well want to ditch the piece of information in your hand and cover every inch of the place with no sense of direction. We did it, so I won’t tell you what to see there, I won’t describe all the building or get into the historical details. What I want today is to show you the charm of the Imperial Enclosure, its uniqueness and beauty. I am sure that Mario’s beautiful pictures will make you fall in love with Hue.
After our power-walk around the Citadel we are knackered. We stroll along the river bank admiring the beautiful sunset and the night life that slowly starts to blossom. Locals meet their friends, go out for a meal or simply have a rest after a very hot day. The temperature is really nice, we can breathe again and finally no one is pestering us with a constant “boat ride, sir“?! Hue is not very exciting, couple of streets, a bunch of hotels and guesthouses, some restaurants and bars. If you stay longer than one day you can visit some pagodas outside the city – apparently they are very beautiful. We grab a beer and slowly walk back to our hotel. It’s no longer a cave as they fixed the electricity. Yupi! It’s funny how little annoying things can later turn into the-best-post-holiday-pub-story or an inspiration for a new blog post (just to show you that travelling is not always a bed of roses guys!). We don’t care about the luxury when we are on the road. Memories are far more important.