About 200 years ago, the wealth and power of Vietnam emanated from the Forbidden Purple City of Hue, the imperial capital of the Nguyen Lords. From its highly ornate and heavily guarded palace reigned a feudal government that ruled a nation of 127,000 square miles.
Located on the banks of Perfume River, Hue snatched the seat of power from Hanoi during the rise of the Nguyen Dynasty between 1802 and 1945. It was the capital of the non-communist unified Vietnam that thrived through the times of the colonial French regime and the brief Japanese occupation during World War II. However, Hue drowned its historical significance when the capital was moved to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh) in 1949 upon its declaration as a full state.
While Hanoi may have been the cradle of Vietnam’s civilization, much of what defines its nation today owes it greatly to the political, cultural and religious traditions that flourished from Hue. The royal lifestyles greatly influenced much of the nation’s customs such as the famous ao dai, the Vietnamese national costume that were worn in the courts of the Nguyen Lords. Buddhism, which forms part of its most popular religious practice of combined Confucianism, Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism (Tam Giao) is practiced more piously here than anywhere else in the country. Vietnam’s famous noodle soup traces back its origins to Bun Bo Hue, a distinctive beef noodle staple that marks its culinary prominence.
The expansive citadel of Hue was laid out in a symmetrical division with the Imperial City as its outer lying fortress. Further inside is the Forbidden City where the Nguyen Lords, select members of the court and the concubines resided. Heavily influenced by its Chinese ancestry, the ornate palace and courtyards speak of its early 19thcentury grandeur.
However, much of the walled city lost its splendor to World War II and Vietnam Wars leaving most of its structures in ruins. Today, massive reconstructions are ongoing to restore its historical and architectural glory. The Citadel of Hue is listed as one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a recognition that draws the tourists to make it as one of important stops in the pan-Vietnam itinerary.
Outside the walls of the Imperial City are other interesting sights in Hue. Thien Mu Pagoda, the city’s official symbol is the largest pagoda in Hue and overlooking on the scenic Perfume River. The tombs of its famous emperors and the Hue Royal Antiquities Museum are also sights not to be missed.
Alongside Hue’s ancient monuments are the fast rising international hotel brands and stylish commercial buildings. On its streets race the seemingly ubiquitous scooters, rickshaws and luxury cars. At night, lanterns flicker with the glitzy neon lights of western pubs and restaurants. As Hue struggles to keep up with modern lifestyles, still much of its old charm is never lost.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Saigon or Hanoi
Hue is linked to both major cities by an airport where most domestic airlines regularly fly in and out. Check your travel operator for schedules and airfares.
Buses and the Reunification Express Train also regularly ply this route. Open bus tickets or one-way train tickets are widely available for Hue.
Getting around Hue is best on rented motorbikes.
Hotels normally offer free transfer from bus or train stations if you book them.
Bin Doung Hostel is one of the recommended budget accommodations close to the town center.
There is no need to hire a guide to go around town as much of its sights are neatly laid out on any tourist maps and are easy to follow.
For your onward travel destinations around Vietnam, your hotel may arrange it for you.
Betwixt and between the arthritic 40 and a horrendous body mass index of positive 30, escapism and yummyeology are my real-life double post-graduate degrees conferred with the highest honors.
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