HUE: A heritage tour for a history buff

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Hue’s architecture

 HA NOI, March 10, 2018Located on the bank of Perfume River, with a long and glorious history through the Imperial Citadel and a complex of grandiose tombs and pagodas surrounding the city, Hue has been one of the top destinations for traveling in Vietnam, especially for history lovers.

Located on the bank of Perfume River, with a long and glorious history through the Imperial Citadel and a complex of grandiose tombs and pagodas surrounding the city, Hue has been one of the top destinations for traveling in Vietnam, especially for history lovers. The place still retains culture heritage and intangible heritage which contains values of wisdom and spirit of Vietnam and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.

Differing from the dynamic and magnificent of Hanoi, Hue has gained a reputation for a tranquil, conservative look of the old royal city. If choose a tailor Hue day tour and travel like a local, you had better spend time strolling and discovering the historic value of Hue by yourselves, instead of relying on completely well- organized tours. No matter what kind of traveling you choose, you still will be astounded by spectacular scenery at the end of the day.

Imperial Citadel by Night
  1. Imperial Citadel – Strolling down the history

Located in the heart of Hue, on the northern bank of the Huong River, and representing for the authority of the Nguyen Dynasty, it is Imperial Enclosure, within 6m-high, 2.5 kilometer high walls with a series of small and large buildings inside.

The first and principal entrance is Ngo Mon Gate, which is opposite with the Flag Tower and has Ngu Phung Lau (Belvedere of the Five Phoenixes) on top of the gate. Crossing the history, the gate was the witness for several eventful occasions of Vietnam, which can be mentioned as the end for the Nguyen Dynasty with the abdication of Emperor Bao Dai in the Belvedere in 1945.

The best approach to the citadel is starting from Ngo Mon Gate and moving anticlockwise around the enclosure. This ancient architecture system is citadel-within-a-citadel and comprises four main citadels: Hoang Thanh (Imperial City) for royal palaces and shrines, Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Purple City) for royal residences, Dai Noi (Inner city) and Tran Binh Dai, with approximately 150 small and large buildings in total.

Map of Imperial Citadel

Unfortunately, most of the buildings were badly destroyed during the Wars and only 20 of them survived until now. Likewise, the signage within the citadel is poor with a lot of broken masonries, rubble, cracked tiling, and weeds. Nevertheless, it is enjoyable as a leisurely stroll and some of the less-visited areas are highly atmospheric. Follow your patient steps, a quintessence of ancient architecture will be unclosed and you may figure out a missing piece of Vietnamese royal history by your own.

Visiting the citadel at night is an excellent option as it is cooler, and the spectacular lighting showcases the best of the historic complex. However, it merely takes place on some specific occasions as Hue festival, which is considered as a nice surprise gift for lucky tourists.


  1. The complex of mausoleums Finding a missing piece of the empire

Situated on both sides of Huong River, royal tombs of Nguyen Kings are considered as the achievements of the landscape architecture. From the ancient belief, in addition to reflecting owners’ personality, tombs are the heaven for owners when they start off entering the afterlife. Gia Long tomb is austere but majestic among mountains. Like Gia Long tomb, Minh Mang tomb also nestles among majestic mountains. Tu Duc tomb formed mainly by the sophistication or human.

Stepping on the mausoleum with a history book of Nguyen Dynasty on hands, what you discover is not only the vivid beauty of the architecture but also the chronicles of a king, a royal family, and a whole country behind. It might take you a day to look up every corner of those tombs. On the whole, why do not we turn off a phone for a while, then free your mind and listen to the stories beyond the walls.

Map of Tourist Place in Hue

a. Tomb of Khai Dinh

According to the Eastern theory, a king desired the preparation of a tomb in anticipation of his death. In the Nguyen dynasty, Khai Dinh was the last member to make that decision and his tomb was the last grant imperial mausoleum of Vietnam. The tomb is located on a steep hill outside of the capital city, and it is much smaller compared to his predecessors. However, being a blend of Western and Eastern architecture, the architecture itself is far more elaborately designed than others of its era. Most of the tomb’s grandiose exterior is covered in blackened concrete, creating an unexpectedly splendid air, while the interior resembles an explosion of colorful mosaic. Emperor Khai Dinh appeared in the history of a short and tragic life story for being the most unpopular king to his people.

b. Tomb of Tu Duc

The tomb, constructed between 1864 and 1867, located on Van Nien Hill in Duong Xuan Thuong village, is the most impressive of the royal mausoleums. Emperor Tu Duc led a life of imperial luxury with the longest reign of any monarch of the Nguyen Dynasty, but for any offspring. Tu Duc began planning his tomb and used it long before his death. The Emperor named his tomb Khiem (Modest).
Coming to the tomb, you will observe the gorgeous architecture systems, which were divided into fifty different pavilions, temples and chambers and bounded by sophisticated-design pine gardens and lotus ponds. From the entrance, there is a path leading to Luu Khiem Lake with a pavilion named Xung Khiem, where gives you a chance to enjoy the royal music. Dress-up photo opportunities and cultural performances are also available here. Interestingly, it is a drab monument and the emperor was never interred here; where his remains were buried (along with great treasure) is not known.

c. Tomb of Minh Mang

Being renowned for an architecture and sublime forest setting, the Minh Mang tomb is located in An Bang Village, on the west bank of Perfume River, about 12km from the city center. According to the history, Emperor Minh Mang was the second and the most well-known Nguyen Emperor, and his reign represented the apex of Nguyen power over the country and sought balance in his reign, ruling his subjects with a firm but fair grip as well as his determination of being completely rejecting overtures from foreign nations. Spending time strolling around the mausoleum, you will see approximately 40 monuments combined with the majestic between landscaping and architecture, and this assists you to gain deeper insight into the stories of the Nguyen Dynasty’s staunchest Confucians.

d. Tomb of Gia Long

About 14 kilometers south of Hue, there is the hugest but simplest imperial mausoleum located 3 kilometers from the west bank of the Perfume River – the Thien Tho Tomb of Emperor Gia. Without complicated buildings or any extravagant palace, the tomb was impressive by the natural landscape and fenced by 42 natural mountains and hills. The steles for King and Queen are parallel and have the same size with the black-coat roof. Those are simple but elegant like the love and loyalty story of the King and the Queen in war and peace, and being grandiose just like Emperor Gia Long himself – a first and great father of the Nguyen Dynasty.

3. Thien Mu Pagoda – Staying for a potent demonstration

If the Imperial Citadel is considered as the first and foremost symbol of this former royal city, the second symbol is Thien Mu Pagoda. Located on a hill overlooking the Perfume River with 4 kilometers southwest of the Citadel and an octagonal 21-meter-high tower, the pagoda is the perfect combination of artificial architectural work and picturesque nature. The pagoda was originally built in 1601 by Nguyen Hoang, the governor of Thuan Hoa province at this time. Over the centuries, the building has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, but still remains itself as a flashpoint of political demonstrations.
When passing down the triple-gated entrance with the guardians standing at the alert of three Buddhist statues, you will find the temple itself located humbly in the inner courtyard. Behind the bronze laughing Buddha in the main sanctuary, there are three Buddha statues which are present for 3 paths of time: Past (A Di Da Buddha), Present (Thich Ca Buddha) and Future (Di Lac Buddha).

Thien Mu Pagoda

There is two way of approaching Thien Mu Pagoda – driving by car and motorbike or reaching by boat. However, if you are patient enough, you can try to ride head the southwest on riverside Tran Hung Dao, then turning into Le Duan after crossing over Phu Xuan Bridge and enjoying the landscape across the road.

4. Tam Giang Lagoon – Following the nature secrecy

Placed in 24 kilometers long with an area of 52 square kilometers on Huong Tra Commune in Thua Thien Hue, Tam Giang Lagoon is regarded as the third symbol of Hue.

Stemming from Thuan An harbor, you can take a 30 minute-boating trip and sweeps on O Lau river, then coming to Thai Duong Ha the ancient village. In the afternoon at the wharf, tourists can join in a local market in which a plenty of junks and boats come back along with shrimps, fish, and cuttlefish. The village is well-known for its specific culture in decorating such solemn and sparkle temples of Hue. In the village, there have many big churches with unique architecture as a sparkling temple. Thai Duong Ha village often brings surprises for tourists when standing “tombs city” which was built a small villa with beautiful patterns. Some “house” is lit up throughout the day.

After going along this lagoon, tourists can enjoy specialties in this place with such fresh fish, cuttlefish, shrimp caught on the lagoon. The scenery of sunset is the most spectacular beauty in Tam Giang lagoon. The long wavelengths (orange and red) cover the lagoon, which creates the beautiful pictures “Tam Giang lagoon”. This red sunset is a signature scene in Tam Giang lagoon that caught the tourist’s eyes and forces them to stay to take some photos.

Seeing the miracle of the last light on the lagoon is promised to be a nice final piece of a long-but-worthy adventure in Hue for anyone.

Sunset on the Tam Giang Lagoon

According to those above Hue tour reviews, you can see the trip with a variety of places of interest, guidelines and behind stories (based on the history) to follow and of course, you need local advice in order to deeply take part in the cultural and historic flow throughout each place visited in Hue. So to speak, if you want to roll your own itinerary and travel like a local, the better choice is considering sticking with a private Hue tour Vietnam. The tailor-made Hue tour price might cover firmly all transportation and entrance expenses (like fights, cars, and tickets to the imperial citadel and mausoleums) and the cost for accommodation, meals as well as other hospitalities which are flexibly designed as your wish.  There is no need to be too much expensive and it is surely such a worthy investment if you are planning on seeing through the historical beauty in Hue by your own eyes.

Read more:

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