Located in the Thua Thien-Hue province in Central Vietnam, Hue City served as the capital of the Dang Trong Kingdom and the Nguyen Dynasty. Also known as the City of Romance, Hue sits about 700 km south of Hanoi and 1,100 km north of Ho Chi Minh City.
The Citadel came under fire again in the early morning hours of January 31, 1968, as part of the Tet Offensive a Division-sized force of People’s Army of Vietnam and Viet Cong soldiers. Out of 160 buildings only 10 major sites remain because of the battle, such as the Thái Hòa and Cần Thanh temples, Thế Miếu, and Hiển Lâm Các. The city was made a UNESCO site in 1993. The buildings that still remain are being restored and preserved.
HUE (654 kilometers south of Hanoi, 108 kilometers from Danang and 1,051 kilometers north of Ho Chi Minh City) is regarded as the intellectual and spiritual center of Vietnam. Established in 1687 along the Perfume River, on a coastal plain about 16 kilometers inland from the South China Sea, it was the imperial city of Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945. Over the years it has been the source of much of Vietnam’s literature, music, medicine, astronomy, as well as 1,700 of the 3,000 dishes that make up Vietnamese cuisine. It is also regarded as one of the hottest and rainiest places in Vietnam, with temperatures often topping 100 degrees F, and was the site of some of the fiercest fighting during the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War.
Today Hue City constitutes the cultural, political and economic center of Thua Thien Hue Province and is home to about 340,000 people (2009). Unlike Saigon, and to a lesser degree Hanoi, Hue is a quiet, meditative place where one can relax, reflect and not worry about getting knocked over by motor scooters. Hue contains over 100 major pagodas, palaces, temples and tombs inside and outside its walls, as well as the Vietnam’s most prestigious university and, according to some, its most beautiful women. Hue means “Harmony” in Vietnamese. The areas around the temples, palaces and tombs is still largely undeveloped.
Hue covers about 7,000 hectares. Around the city are green rice paddies and not far in the distance are the shadowy Truong Son Mountains. The Perfume river is often choked with houseboats and sampans. Many historical buildings in Hue are crumbling ruins or bombed out shells, but other display graceful architecture and features shimmering orange, blue and yellow ceramic dragons, dogs and monsters.
Grant McCool & Nguyen Van Vinh of Reuters wrote: “The city of 1.1 million people was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993 to preserve its walled Imperial City and other structures. Some were built by the French, who colonized Vietnam for almost 100 years until 1954. Part of the Imperial compound was bombed in 1968 during fierce fighting for Hue by communist soldiers of North Vietnam against troops of South Vietnam sided by the United States military”. Colin Long, a lecturer in Asian cultural history at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, says the Hanoi government has been careful not to destroy its biggest asset in the region. “There is a belief in Hanoi that they are not just prepared to live on the cultural heritage but also to push for other forms of development,” says Long. [Source: By Grant McCool & Nguyen Van Vinh, Reuters, June 28, 2006 ]
Hue is also an important center of Buddhism. In Hue and its surrounding there are hundred of temples and pagodas. Hue is a place where the royal music originated, and a place with traditional famous dishes and sophisticated handicrafts. Hue Royal Musical (Nha nhac) has been declared as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage since November 2003.
History of Hue
The history of Hue is short but concentrated. Fought over for centuries by local warlords, it became the imperial city of Vietnam in 1802, when Emperor Nguyen Gia Long established a new Vietnamese dynasty here and brought in scholars, poets, philosophers and artists from all over his kingdom. The city was set up out according to principles of feng shui (geomacy) in “the posture of an undulating dragon and sitting tiger” laid out on the river.
Since 1306, after the wedding of the princess Huyen Tran of the Tran Dynasty with Che Man, the Cham King, the territories of Chau O and Chau Ly (comprised of Quang Tri, Thua Thien – Hue and part of Northern Quang Nam today) took the name of Thuan Hoa. In the second half of the 15th century, under the reign of King Le Thanh Tong, the name of “Hue” appeared for the first time. In 1636, the residence of the Nguyen Lords was settled at Kim Long (Hue). In 1687, it was transferred to Phu Xuan – where is the Citadel today. Early in the 18th century, Phu Xuan became the political, economic and cultural center of the southern part of Vietnam. Then, from 1788 to 1801, it became the capital of the Tay Son Dynasty.
Hué served as the administrative center of southern Vietnam in the 17th and 18th centuries. Gia Long, first ruler of the Nguyen dynasty, made it the national capital of united Vietnam in 1802, a position that it held until 1945. It was selected because it is situated in the geographical center of the country and with easy access to the sea. The new capital was planned in accordance with ancient oriental philosophy in general and Vietnamese tradition in particular; it also respected the physical conditions of the site, especially the Perfume River and Ngu Binh Mountain (known as the Royal Screen). The relationship between the five cardinal points (centre, west, east, north, south), five natural elements (earth, metal, wood, water, fire), and five basic colours (yellow, white, blue, black, red) underlies the conception of the city, and is reflected in the names of some important features. The Perfume River, the main axis, divides the capital in two.
The detailed planning was entrusted to Nguyen Van Yen, commander of an army unit specializing in the construction of citadels. Four citadels or defended enclosures made up the city Kinh Thanh (Capital City), for official administrative buildings; Hoang Thanh (Imperial City) for Royal palaces and shrines; Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Purple City) for the Royal residences (the two last-named are known collectively as the Dai Noi or Inner City); and Tran Binh Dai, an additional defensive work in the northeast corner of the Capital City, designed to control movement on the river. A fifth fortress, Tran Hai Thanh (Coastal Bastion), was constructed a little later to protect the capital against assault from the sea.
Planning lasted two years, from 1803 to 1805, and it was not until 1832 that construction was complete. The new capital was much larger than its predecessor, Dong Trang, and encompassed several villages as well. Over 30,000 workmen and soldiers were involved in the work, which involved filling in two small tributaries of the Perfume River and digging new moats and canals. The fortress itself was modeled on the European style of Vauban, the first of its type in southeast Asia, but the complex suffered considerably as a result of military operations in 1885, 1947 and 1968.
From 1802 to 1945, Hue was the capital of unified Vietnam under the reign of the 13 Nguyen Kings. During these years, architectural works of a high cultural and historic value were built: the Citadel, especially the Imperial City (including 253 buildings), 7 Royal tomb compound of 9 kings of the Nguyen Dynasty, the Esplanade of Nam Giao, the Ho Quyen arena and the Hon Chen Temple.
Hue was heavily damaged in an uprising against the French colonial rulers in 1885. In the 1940s, a revolutionary movements against the French were spawned here by the city’s intellectuals, and the city again was badly damaged by fighting between Vietnamese and French. But the worst was yet to come. In the Vietnam War it was nearly wiped off the face of the earth.
James H. Willbanks wrote on HistoryNet.com, Hue’s population of 140,000 in 1968 made it South Vietnam’s third largest city. As Vietnam’s traditional cultural and intellectual center, Hue had been treated almost as an open city by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese and thus was spared much of the war’s death and destruction. The only military presence in the city was the fortified Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 1st Infantry Division headquarters at the northwest corner of the Citadel. The only combat element in the city was the division’s reconnaissance company, the elite Hac Bao Company, known as the “Black Panthers.” The rest of the division’s subordinate units were arrayed outside the city. Maintaining security inside Hue was primarily the responsibility of the National Police. [Source: James H. Willbanks , HistoryNet.com, January 25, 2011.
Located only eight miles south of DMZ, the wartime border between North and South Vietnam, Hue was the site of some of the heaviest fighting of the 1968 Tet offensive. As one observer put it, the Citadel was a “camera-toting tourist’s dream,” but in February 1968 it became “a rifle-toting infantryman’s nightmare.” Hue was captured by the North Vietnamese on January 31, 1968 and held for 24 days before it was retaken by American and South Vietnamese troops. Over 10,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed, and temples and palaces were reduced to rubble. Today you can see holes and marks, produced by tank and artillery fire, in many buildings and walls.
Steamy, rainy weather (Hue receives more rainfall than almost anywhere else in Vietnam, 109 inches a year), flooding, typhoons, moss and mildew, masonry-cracking vegetation, and termites and other boring insects have also taken their toll on Hue’s landmarks. Hue’s climate one Vietnamese official told Smithsonian magazine, is “more destructive than a fleet of American B-52 bombers.”
In 1995, Hue was designated a UNESCO world heritage site. A year later, the Vietnamese government approved a $70 million, 15-year plan to repair the main structures, refurbish royal tombs and restore the city its original positions. In recent years the old city has become very popular with tourists. Phan Thuan An, an elderly scholar told the New York Times he is worried about Hue’s future. “If more people come here, the atmosphere in the city is not good,” he said. “The number of foreign visitors, they destroy the cultural atmosphere in our city. When they go to the pagoda, and to the Imperial City, they wear shorts. I don’t know what to say.“
Tourist information for Hue
Orientation of Hue: Hue City covers 70.99 square kilometers. The complex of Hue Monuments—which includes temples, tombs and palaces—lies along the Perfume River in Hue City and some adjacent areas of Thua Thien Hue Province. The city itself is roughly divided into two parts: the French colonial city, with stucco villas and tree-lined boulevards, on the south bank of the Perfume River; and the moated Citadel, and its accompanying buildings, on the north side of the river.
James H. Willbanks wrote on HistoryNet.com: “Hue is two cities divided by the Song Huong, or River of Perfume, with two-thirds of the city’s population living north of the river within the walls of the old city, known as the Citadel. Once the home of the Annamese emperors who had ruled the central portion of present-day Vietnam, the three-square-mile Citadel is surrounded by walls rising to 30 feet and up to 40 feet thick, which form a square about a mile and a half long on each side. The three walls not bordering the Perfume River are encircled by a zigzag moat that is 90 feet wide at many points and up to 12 feet deep.” Source: James H. Willbanks , HistoryNet.com, January 25, 2011.
Inside the Citadel are block after block of row houses, apartment buildings, villas, shops, parks and an all-weather airstrip. Tucked within the old walled city is yet another fortified enclave, the Imperial Palace, where the emperors held court until the French took control of Vietnam in 1883. Situated at the south end of the Citadel, the palace is essentially a square with 20-foot-high, 2,300-foot-long walls. South of the Perfume River and linked to the Citadel by the Nguyen Hoang Bridge is the modern part of Hue. Here is the city’s main hospital, the Catholic cathedral, Hue University and the newer residential districts. During the Vietnam War period it was also the home of the provincial prison and the U.S. Consulate.
Hue City is part of Thua Thien-Hue Province, which covers 5,062.6 square kilometers and is home to 1,090,900 people (2010). The largest ethnic groups in the area are the Viet (Kinh), Ta Oi, Co Tu, Bru Van Kieu and Hoa. The capital is Hue City. This province leans up against the Truong Son mountain range and is washed by the South China Sea, along its 120 kilometers seashore.
Getting to Hue: Transportation by train, road, air and water routes is very convenient. Thua Thien-Hue Province is 654 kilometers from Hanoi, 1,051 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, 85 kilometers from Danang. National Highway 14 that links Hue with Central Highlands. It is also on the National Highway 1A that connects Hanoi and Ca Mau.
There are buses to many places. The bus station is located at 33B An Duong Vuong, Tel: (84 – 54) 3825 070. The Thong Nhat Express trains from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh stop at Hue Railway station. The local trains come to some other provinces.
Touring Around Hue
Cars with a driver can be rented for around $50 a day. Many people visit the temples and the tombs along the Perfume River by sampan. The cost of renting a sampan for the day is about $20. Much of the city and its sights can also be explored by bicycle. Amanda Hesser wrote in The New York Times, “Our guide for several days was Do Ba Dat, a reticent man with dark still eyes and cheekbones like hamburger buns. On our first morning together, we headed toward the Perfume River – some say its name, Huong Giang, should translate as Fragrant River – to board a narrow old wooden motorboat. Bamboo fishing boats crowded the riverbank across from us. Children were jumping into the water from a nearby island. Gia Long, the first emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, ordered the planting of fragrant trees along the river in the early 1800s, and much of the riverfront remains grassy and untouched. As we headed west, Dat said little, except to point out an imposing modern tower on the riverbank. “This is a water purification tower,” he said, proudly. [Source: By Amanda Hesser, The New York Times, September 1st, 2005].
Just as the temperature reached 103 Fahrenheit, we docked upriver and walked into the old Thien Mu pagoda and monastery. In 1963, an elderly monk from Thien Mu, Thich Quang Duc, set himself on fire to protest President Ngo Dinh Diem’s policies of discrimination against Buddhists. The baby blue Austin in which the monk made his fatal trip to Saigon is kept in an open building, where it rusts slowly in the room next to where the monks eat their meals. Atop the car is a grim photo of Quang Duc sitting in the lotus position, his body consumed by flames. A fire extinguisher sits nearby. “The Green Berets were stationed 45 miles from here,” Dat said, in one of his many sudden, oblique references to the Vietnam War (which the Vietnamese refer to as “the American War”).
The war was never far from view (at the Citadel, which once contained the royal palace – a small-scale version of Beijing’s Forbidden City – the walls are still peppered with bullet holes from the Tet offensive, and some of Hue’s nightclubs have names like “Apocalypse New”). But while no one expressed resentment about American involvement in their country’s affairs, no one wanted to talk about it much, either.
Surrounding Hue are a number of emperors’ tombs, many built as summer retreats and eventual burial sights. We arrived at the tomb of Tu Duc, the 19th-century emperor who had the longest reign – 35 years- of the Nguyen dynasty, at noon, when the temperature had soared to a level that I never wish to repeat. Tu Duc spent summers in Hue, and the pond side pavilion where he would write poetry and relax with his concubines – “a boring job,” Dat said – still stands among frangipani trees. Tu Duc is one of the few emperors who left a postmortem of his job performance. On a large stone table near his tomb, Tu Duc criticizes himself for losing to the French and for lacking a direction. He did build a lovely tomb, though. Afterward, we stopped at one of the outdoor cafés along the Dong Ba canal; they are packed together so tightly it’s hard to know which one you’re in.
Imperial City of Hue
Hué represents an outstanding demonstration of the power of the vanished Vietnamese feudal empire at its apogee in the early 19th century. The complex of monuments is an outstanding example of an eastern feudal capital and of the planning and construction of a complete defended capital city in a relatively short period. The integrity of town layout and building design make it an exceptional specimen of late feudal urban planning. [Source: UNESCO]
Located in the center of Hue, along the Perfume (Huong) River’s northern bank, the complex of royal architecture represents and demonstrates the power of the Nguyen Dynasty’s centralism. Contained in this complex are Kinh Thanh Hue (the Hue Capital Citadel), Hoang Thanh (the Royal Citadel or Imperial City) and Tu Cam Thanh (the Forbidden Citadel) clustered together, symmetrically placed along the longitudinal axis and facing to the south. The system of walls combines sophisticatedly both eastern and western architectural styles placed in natural harmony with Ngu Binh Mount, Perfume River, Gia Vien and Boc Thanh islets. Even people implicitly consider these natural landscapes as a part of the complex.
Surrounded by a square wall, almost 600 meters in length on each side, the Imperial City has four gates, of which the south gate (Ngo Mon) is most typical in construction and is widely seen and recognized as the symbol of Hue Citadel. It served not only as the main entrance but was also the place where important events of the dynasty took place. Within the area of the Imperial City, the Forbidden Citadel was the area reserved for daily activities of the royal family.
The main north-south axis, called Than Dao (miraculous road), runs through the three walls of the Hue Capital Citadel, Imperial City and Forbidden Citadel and was marked with the important buildings of Hue Citadel. Hundred of small and large buildings were built symmetrically along this axis in harmony with their natural surroundings gives one a feeling of gentle and serenity. These buildings include Nghinh Luong Pavilion (Pavilion for Fresh Air), Phu Van Lau (or the Pavilion of Edicts was the building where Emperor’s edicts and lists of successful candidates of Thi Hoi (National Examination) and Thi Dinh (Court Examinations) were published), Ky Dai (Flag Tower), Ngo Mon Gate (the main entrance), Thai Hoa Palace (The Throne Palace, or Palace of the Supreme Harmony, was the building for great court’s meetings), Can Chanh Palace (the place for every day working of Emperors), Can Thanh Palace (Emperor’s Private Palace), Khon Thai Residence (Queen’s Private Apartment), Kien Trung Pavilion (the place for daily activities of Emperors).
In the distance, to the west of the Capital Citadel, along the Perfume River, are the famous royal tombs and temples, masterpieces in landscape architecture built by the Nguyen Dynasty. Each royal tomb aimed at creating a living place for royal pleasure before becoming an eternal resting place after the king’s death. This resulted in the architecture of royal tombs in Hue being distinguished by unique characteristics.
Organization of the Imperial City of Hue
The main enceinte, the Capital City, is square in plan, each side measuring 2,235 The defensive walls have six projecting bastions on each side and ten gates. The external defensive works comprise a berm, ditch, and glacis. The buildings inside the Capital City include various former ministerial buildings, the Royal College and the Hué Museum. The Inner City is rectangular in plan and defended by brick walls, supplemented by a moat and wide berm; there is a single entrance on each of the walls. Inside it is divided by walls into a number of zones – the Great Ceremonies Zone, the Worshiping Zone, the residential zone of the King’s Mother and Grandmother, the storage and workshop zone, the garden and school zone for royal princes, as well as the Forbidden Purple City.
The palaces within the Inner City are similar in style and design, set on a raised podium, with wooden trusses (usually ironwood), gilded and painted pillars and rafters, brick walls, and roofs of yellow- or blue-glazed cylindrical tiles. Roof edges are straight, and the decoration, both internally and externally, is abundant. Among the most important buildings are the Palace of Supreme Harmony, the royal reception hall; the Mieu Temple, the royal place of worship; the Queen Mother’s Palace; and the Pavilion of Dazzling Benevolence.[Source: UNESCO].
At the heart of the complex is the Forbidden Purple City, surrounded by brick walls. There is a single gate in the front wall, reserved for the use of the king, and the other walls have several entrances, each with a specific purpose. Originally there were over 40 buildings within the walls, but most are now in ruins and only their foundations survive.
Outside the Capital City there are several associated monuments of importance. These include the tombs of the Nguyen dynasty to the south of the Perfume River. Other structures along both banks of the river are buildings related to the spiritual life of the dynasty, including the Temple of Literature, the Esplanade of the Sacrifice to the Sun and Earth, the Royal Arena and the Temple of the Roaring Elephant, and the Celestial Lady Pagoda.
Each tomb reflects its owner’s life and character: the magnificence of Gia Long’s tomb in the immense landscape of mountains and jungles represents the spirit of a general in war; the symmetry and majesty of Minh Mang’s tomb combiners both man-made and natural mountains and lakes and reveals the powerful will and solemn nature of a talented politician who was also an orderly poet; the peaceful and sombre qualities of Thieu Tri’s tomb reflects the innermost feelings of an outstanding poet who made few achievements in political life; the romance and poetic atmosphere of Tu Duc’s tomb evoke the elegant and subtle tendency of a poet rather than the strong characteristic of a politician.
Perfume River (Huong River) winds its way through the Capital City, the Imperial City, the Forbidden Purple City and the Inner City, giving this unique feudal capital a setting of great natural beauty. Originating in the Truong Son Mountain, the two springs Ta Trach (Left Tributary) and Huu Trach (Right Tributary) meet at the junction of Bang Lang fork and create the Perfume River. From Bang Lang to Thuan An estuary, the Perfume River is 30 kilometers long (The river level is not much above that of the sea) so that the river runs very slowly. The color of the Perfume River is darker when it runs along the foot of Ngoc Tran Mount — the Jade Cup Temple (Dien Hon Chen) — where there is a very deep abyss.
On the Perfume River near Hue, on his way to celebrate Tet with the Vietnamese Emperor, W. Somerset Maugham wrote in The Gentleman in the Parlour (1930): “We went along very slowly and the sound of the paddle was the only sound that broke the silence. It was delightful to think that I had all those hours before me to enjoy the sense of well being and I thought to myself how when I was once more in Europe, imprisoned in stony cities, I would remember that perfect night and the enchanting solitude, It would be the most imperishable of my memories. It was a unique occasion and I said to myself that I must hoard the moments as they passed.”
The Perfume River is beautiful sight from its source, and runs among mountains, forest trees, plants, etc, bringing with it fragrances of tropical flora. The river runs slowly through the verdant and shady villages of Kim Long, Nguyet Bieu, Vy Da, Dong Ba, Gia Hoi, Dinh market, Nam Pho, Bao Vinh, mingling with the odors of flowers of Hue.
The river with the shimmer blue limpid color is like a pearl in the sun. Boats are rowed up and down with remote, meditative and deep folk melodies at deep night. It is an eternal pleasure for many generations of tourists who go boating to behold the poetic landscape, to listen to the folk melodies of Hue in tranquil nights.
The views on both sides of the river with the citadel, town, gardens, pagodas, towers and temples, etc. and their reflections in the waters make the already lovable river even more poetic and musical. Many people think that Hue city has peaceful, gentle and tranquil landscapes mostly thanks to the Perfume River. This river brings to the city a meditative poetic characteristics and the harmonious limpidity exhaling from a land of age-old culture.
Ngu Binh Mountain (south of Hue on the Perfume River) works together with the Perfume River to create positive feng shui for the old city of Hue (and hopefully the modern one too). Ngu Binh acts as a front screening elevation. Two sand dunes of The Con Hen and Con Da Vien on the Perfume River are chosen as geomancy condition “dragon on the left, tiger on the right” to protect the capital city.
Ngu Binh Mountain was called Bang Son (Even Mount) and renamed Ngu Binh by Emperor Gia Long. Together with the Perfume River, 105-meter-high Ngu Binh Mount is the second invaluable gift endowed by Nature to Hue. These two mingle with each other creating the Romantic Mountain and river beauty of Hue. For a long time, this beautiful mount and the blue limpid Perfume River have become the symbol of Hue city. Therefore, people often call Hue “The land of the Perfume River (Huong River) and Ngu Binh Mount” or “Huong-Ngu Land”.
Imperial Citadel of Hue
Imperial Citadel(on the north side of the Perfume River in Hue) is a massive fortress surrounded by a moat fed by canals filled with lotus flowers and lilies. Built between 1804 and 1833 and designed by French miliary advisors using principals of fortifications developed in the 17th century, the fortress has a square plan with walls measuring more than 650 meters on each side, enough to encloses about half of the city’s six square miles. Construction of the citadel began in 1804 during the reign of Emperor Gia Long, and it took two decades to complete. Hundreds of craftsmen and 80,000 conscripted laborers were used to build it.
Many of the imperial buildings within the citadel are almost exact copies of Chinese buildings, but they have enough unique features—lots of green and yellow enameled tiles and decorative dragons, phoenixes and planets—to qualify as “Vietnamese architecture.” The citadel fortifications are surrounded by 80 bunkers and a 40-meter trench.
Many buildings have been restored with money from UNESCO and other sources. Some have been reconstructed like a jigsaw puzzle from fragments laying the ground; some have been replaced with copies of the original; and others have ben restructured with parts scavenged from other sites. In one corner of the fortress is a star-shaped ravelin that protected the city’s most vulnerable side from attack.
The city of Hue and the citadel are inextricably bound together. Imperial buildings are interspersed with houses, schools and offices inside the citadel walls, are almost every block has at least one temple. Farmers grow watercress in the canals and moats and cassava and onions in the palace courtyards. In front of many of Hue’s residences are evil spirit-repelling screens made from woven bamboo decorated with bits of broken porcelain retrieved from old buildings.
In 1947, the Communist Viet Minh captured the Citadel and during the fighting nearly every building within the Forbidden City was destroyed. There is still some controversy as to whether the buildings were destroyed by French artillery or a fire set by the Viet Minh.
In the Vietnam War, the citadel was declared off-limits to American GIs until the Tet offensive, when the Vietcong raised their flag there for 24 days. When the Americans launched their counter-attack, the first thing they did was blast huge holes in the citadel walls to allow tanks to get through. During the fighting imperial buildings were looted of tapestries, paintings, furniture and treasures, many of which later ended up in the hands of overseas buyers.
Jane Perlez wrote in The New York Times, “Tourists now pass peacefully through the gates of the 19th-century fortress. They wander around an imperial enclave that was modeled after Beijing’s Forbidden City and occupied from 1802 to 1945 by the often sybaritic Vietnamese kings of the Nguyen dynasty. Inside, visitors find a patchwork of temples and pagodas, and at the very center, the Purple Forbidden City that was the exclusive domain of the emperor, his wives, his concubines and the eunuchs who served them. An old palace that survived intact has been turned into a museum displaying elaborate imperial gowns, weapons and housewares. A large photograph shows the last emperor, Bao Dai, as a man caught between two cultures — he wears a traditional costume with a pair of wrap-around sunglasses. “
The Citadel covers an area of 500 hectares and is made up of a system of three circles of ramparts, namely from outside to inside: Kinh Thanh Hue (Hue Capital Citadel), Hoang Thanh (Royal Citadel) and Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Citadel). Construction of the Kinh Thanh Hue (Hue Capital Citadel) started in 1805 under the reign of Emperor Gia Long and completed in 1832 under the reign of Emperor Ming Mang. Succeeding Nguyen Kings built additional ramparts, palaces and other buildings and defensive structures. Over 140 small and large buildings remain today.
The Citadel is square in shape and has 10 entrances. It is almost 10 kilometers in circumference, six meters high, and 21 meter thick. On the top of the walls that surround it, 24 bastions are established for defensive purposes. In addition, the Citadel has an ancillary gate connecting the Tran Binh Bastion called the Thai Binh Mon (Peace Gate). The walls are made of bricks, four meters high, one meter thick, around which is a moat and a system of protection trench. Access to the Imperial City can be made by four entrance gates.
Also known as Hoang Thanh (Royal Citadel), the Imperial City was established at the center of the Citadel. This contained the highest offices of imperial court and sanctums honoring the cult of decreased Emperors. The Royal Citadel consists of more than 100 buildings divided into different sectors: 1) Sector for the Ngo Mon Gate and the Thai Hoa Palace, used for setting up various grand ceremonies; 2) Sector for worship shrines of the Nguyen Kings : Trieu Mieu, Thai Mieu, Hung Mieu, The Mieu and Phung Tien Temples; 3) Sector for internal affairs office, storehouse for precious objects and workshop for manufacturing various useful articles; 4) Sectors for the Kham Van Palace and the Co Ha Garden, where the princes studied and relaxed.
Restoration of Imperial Citadel :
Jane Perlez wrote in The New York Times, In the early 2000s “Polish workers restored a main temple that was ruined by the fighting and the effects of humid weather and Vietnamese artisans applied the finishing touches of red lacquer and gilt trim. The ground where the most elaborate palace stood is now a barren grassy square and will probably remain so, said Nguyen Van Phuc, the deputy director of the international cooperation department of Hue’s Monuments Conservation Center. “We want to maintain the old as much as possible and to avoid rebuilding completely new monuments,” Mr. Phuc said. “One of the palaces will be rebuilt but it will take a long time because we need to do the research.” So far, Vietnamese researchers have not found photographs of the palace interiors, and documents from the imperial era were scattered in archives in Europe and the United States, he said.
Source: Jane Perlez, The New York Times, February 16, 2004.
The restoration of the Hue citadel has progressed in fits and starts, largely because of disagreements about how to go about it. UNESCO designated the Hue citadel a World Heritage Site, but divisions over whether the citadel should be completely rebuilt or allowed to remain more as-is have left the restoration efforts in limbo. Some heritage experts like William S. Logan, who is a consultant to UNESCO, worry that if the restoration is overdone, the citadel could risk becoming a theme park. But Japanese experts favor rebuilding some temples from scratch. The Japanese have a proposal to rebuild a pavilion on the green field in the center, and Unesco has said not to do it,” Mr. Logan said. “It is an argument between those who want to do more and those who want to do less.”
While the politics of restoration may be fierce, it appears that the politics of responsibility for what happened at Hue have subsided. People in the residential quarters on the south side of the Pearl River, where the 1968 urban fighting took place, shrug off the war as history. Asked which side inflicted the most damage on the citadel in this century, Mr. Phuc, who at 33 was born after the 1968 offensive, was diplomatic.
Ngo Mon (Noon Gate)
Ngo Mon (in front of the Throne Palace and facing the Flag Tower) is the triple-arched main gate of the Citadel. During imperial times only the emperor was allowed to enter it (other members of the court entered through other gates). On top of the gateis a structure called the Belvedere of the Five Phoenix, where the emperors gave speeches and the last emperor, Bao Dai, abdicated on August 30, 1945 to representatives of Ho Chi Minh. Facing the Perfume River, the gate was heavily damaged during the Tet Offensive especially the east wing. South Vietnamese workers repaired much of the damage before the war was over.
The Ngo Mon (Noon Gate of the Forbidden City) was principal gate and main entrance to the Imperial City. Ngo Mon is a huge building, U-shaped and consisting of two parts: below is a foundation made of brick, Thanh and Quang stone, above is a pavilion made of wood and roofed with tiles. The longest and widest sides of this 5.2 meters high foundation are 50 meters and 27 meters respectively. Ascent to the top can be made by two open stone staircases on both sides. There are five entrances, the main one being Ngo Mon, paved with Thanh stone, and with red-lacquered doors reserved for the Emperor. The two side-entrances, the Left and Right Gates, were for civil and military mandarins and, inside the branches of the U, are two more gates used by soldiers, elephants, and horses on the royal procession. The upper part is the Ngu Phung Pavilion (Pavilion of Five Phoenixes) in the middle, flanked by two wing belvederes of two stories.
Viewed from above, the pavilion resembles a group of five phoenixes with beaks joining and wings widespread. They form two rows, two roofs each surrounded with a roofed gallery. The middle section of the roof is covered with yellow enameled tiles and others with dark green ones. Along the roof ridges are designs of head-turning dragons, banian leaves and bats with golden coins. Panels along the eaves are decorated with ceramic mosaics of prunes, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo. They are bright and harmonious, and very resistant against the rains, typhoons and the passage of time.
The upper story is supplied with wooden partitions and was exclusively reserved for the Queen Mother and the Emperor’s wives. They could look through windows shaped like circles, gongs or fans, but blinds prevented them from being seen from the outside. The lower story was left open except for the middle room which is paneled and supplied with glass-doors. There sat the Emperor on festive occasions. Behind his seat were a big bell and a large drum, which enhanced the importance of the ceremonies. Besides, the drum was often used to herald closing-time of the Imperial City. At this signal, sentries would fire the cannons of the Flag Tower and close, or open, the gates of the citadel. Two Chinese characters meaning “Ngo Mon” on the front of this building had originally been gilded with genuine gold. All structural components such as partitions, columns rafters doors and banisters are lacquered red and yellow.
Ngo Mon was also the site where the Emperor received homage from his subjects and ceremonies took place such as: Ceremony of Proclamation of Doctor Lists (successful candidates in the national examination), Calendar Offering Day On the side of the road passing the Ngo Mon stand two stone steles inscribed with “Tilt Your Hats and Dismount” reminding passers-by to tilt their hats and get off horses when passing this sanctum.
Flag Tower (near Ngo Mon) is also called the Kings Knight. A focal point of Hue City, it looks like a simple flagpole from a distance, but viewed from the Imperial City; it is really a huge structure of three flat-top pyramids, one lying on top of another. The Flag Tower It was built during Emperor Gia Long’s reign, in 1807, and later improved by his son, Emperor Minh Mang. According to the Thuc Luc (Nguyen Dynasty’s Chronicle), the flag-tower is 17.40 meters high and consists of three terraces. The first is 5.60 meters high, the second, 5.8 meters, and the third, six meters. The higher the terrace is, the smaller its surface is. On the third terrace, are 8 little buildings housing one canon each and two sentry-boxes at opposite ends.
The 29.52 meters flag-staff was originally made of wood. It was replaced by a new one in 1846 by Emperor Thieu Tri and again in 1914, with French assistance, with a cast-iron one after having been destroyed by a typhoon. Forty-three years later, after the return of the French colonialists (1947), the staff was again destroyed. So it was in 1948 that a 21 meter concrete staff was erected. In feudal times, a yellow flag flapped everyday on top of the staff. It was replaced with a larger one on festive occasions (The Nam Giao Offering Ceremony, for example). Made of wool or velvet, this four meters by 3.6 meters flag was brocaded with a dragon design in its center and fringed with serrated lace. Today, the 212-foot-high flag tower is the tallest in Vietnam.
Palace of Supreme Peace (Throne Palace)
Palace of Supreme Peace (inside the Imperial City, facing the Ngo Mon Gate) lies right on the central axis of the Hue Citadel and was where the emperor held meetings and met foreign dignitaries. Situated behind a large courtyard known as the grand reception Plaza and reached by crossing a small lake on the Bridge of Golden Waters, it features a slightly careworn reception hall, supported by carved and lacquered columns. Coronations, major celebrations and receptions were held here. On a large dais in the palace is the red and gold imperial throne, inlaid with mirrors to keep bad spirits away.
The courtyard is divided into nine areas, each corresponding with a military and scholarly mandarin of a different rank. Behind the palace are two smaller halls for the mandarins, with doors and walls damaged by bullets and bombs during the Tet offensive. During the offensive the North Vietnamese army set up a command post within the Palace of Supreme Peace, which was heavily shelled by American forces. leaving behind grenade-singed walls and mortar-torn roofs. Even the throne hall was not speared. Its exquisite columns were badly damaged. Most of the damage has been repaired.
Throne Palace (Dien Thai Hoa), also known as the Palace of the Supreme Harmony, was constructed in 1805 by Emperor Gia Long and used later in 1806 for his coronation. In 1833, it was moved onto a foundation of 2.33 meters high by Emperor Minh Mang. It is 44 meters long, 30.50 meters wide, 11.80 meters high and contains a 5-room, two-bay main building connected with a 7-room, two-bay front building. The columns are lacquered red and decorated with golden dragon designs. On the roof ridge rest two dragon designs paying homage to the moon. Eaves and roof corners are ornamented with head-turning dragon designs. These and the moldings along the eaves are inlaid with multicolored ceramic chips. The roof is covered with yellow enameled tiles.
Over the middle room hangs a carved board with big Chinese characters “Thai Hoa Dien” (Palace of Supreme Harmony). Inside is the throne, covered by a golden canopy with brocaded circular dragon designs. Above each room hangs a colorful glass-sided hexagonal or octagonal lantern. In 1839, in an attempt to adorn this historic monument, Emperor Minh Mang ordered the framework to be lacquered red and gold. It was later supplied with European-styled paving by Emperor Thanh Thai, in 1899, and colored glass door on front and back sides by Emperor Khai Dinh, in 1923. (It was originally left open and shaded with blinds only).
The interior decorations include some jugs and other antiques. On the court stands a line of carved pedestals, each with a vase for rare plants. Constructors of the Throne Palace have succeeded masterly in creating two contradictory features: cool in summer and warm in winter. From the throne in the center, one can also distinctively hear sounds made anywhere in the palace. Of this phenomenon, no researcher in acoustics or architecture could ever give an exact explanation.
The great court in front of the palace, known as the Great Rites Court (or Esplanade of Great Salutation), is paved with Thanh stones and consists of two terraces: the upper was reserved for high-ranking civil and military mandarins. On both sides of the court are two rows of small steles called Pham Son showing the positions mandarins should take according to their ranks. The lower terrace, beside the Trung Dao (Central Path) Bridge, is for elders and village authorities in ceremonial occasions. At both corners of the court stand two bronze Kylins. Kylin is traditionally a harbinger of peace and a reminder of ritual solemnity.
Between Ngo Mon Gate and the court is the Thai Dich Lake (Grand Liquid Lake), dug in 1833 and spanned by the Trung Dao (Central Path) Bridge. The bridge, secured by iron banisters, connects the two monuments. At both ends we find a gateway elaborately carved with five-clawed dragon designs in high relief (dragons among clouds on bronze columns). Though symmetrically built, the two columns with two dragons, one slithering down and one soaring up really create an attractive liveliness.
The Throne Palace is the site where solemn ceremonies took place such as: the Coronation Day, the Crown Prince Coronation Day, the Ambassador Receiving Ceremony, Emperor’s Birthday Anniversaries, etc. Great meetings were held here twice a month while regular ones took place in the Can Chanh Palace (Palace of Audiences) behind the Great Golden Gate. The Palace was seriously damaged in 1968 during the American bombings. Typhoons, rains and floods have aggravated the calamity and thus deprived the monument of original appearance.
Forbidden Purple City
Forbidden Purple City (inside the Imperial City, behind the Throne Palace) was reserved for Emperor and his family and was built as a scaled down version of China’s Forbidden City in Beijing. Known in Vietnamese as Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Citadel), it was established early under reign of Emperor Gia Long in 1804 but built mostly by Emperor Khai Dinh and occupied until the 1940s by his son, Bao Dai, the last Emperor of Vietnam.
Like its counterpart in Beijing, the Forbidden Purple City was forbidden to everyone except for the emperor, the immediate royal family, their servants and concubines, and select imperial members of court. Much of it was destroyed during wars with France and United States. A short stairway, a couple brass cannons, empty pedestals and a few floor tiles is virtually all the remains of the former palace. The library has been restored but buildings such as theater, the tea pavilion are little more than crumbling free-standing walls and foundations, which have been engulfed by vegetable and cassava fields and are home to a couple of wandering cows.
After Bao Dai abdicated, he, his wife and their five children left the Forbidden City and moved to Paris. Doan Huy, the Queen mother, wife of Khai Dinh and mother of Bao Dai, stayed in Hue after the abdication. She moved out of the Forbidden Purple City into a two-story stucco house. She stayed on in Hue to attend the tombs of her ancestors. “I am very sad, exceedingly sad. When I was young, Hue was so beautiful, She told an interviewer in 1974, Then it was ruined.” She died in Hue at the age of 91 in 1980.
The compound is surrounded by brick walls: 3.72 meters high, 0.72 meters thick, about 1,230 meters in circumference. The front and back sides are 324 meters each while the left and right side are more than 290 meters. There were 50 buildings of different sizes and seven gates. Dai Cung Mon (the Great Palace Gate) is in the front side. It was reserved for the Kings. Important buildings include Can Chanh Palace (the office and place for daily working of the Emperors), Can Thanh (Emperor’s Private Palace), Khon Thai Residence (Queen’s Private Apartment), Duyet Thi Duong house (Royal Theater), Thuong Thien (the kitchen for the Kings’ food) and Thai Binh Lau (King’s reading room).
Royal Library (Thai Binh Lau) (in the Forbidden Purple City) was the only monument undamaged in the Forbidden Citadel after the reoccupation of Hue by French troops in early 1947. It is the pavilion where the Emperors Nguyen came for reading and resting.In 1821, by order of Emperor Minh Mang, a building was erected west of the Thieu Phuong Garden (Garden of Lingering Aroma), called the Tri Nhan Mansion (Mansion of Intellect and Mercy). It was later improved and renamed Thanh Ha Thu Lau (Writing Pavilion) by Emperor Thieu Tri, and then, by Dong Khanh as the Royal Library.
This pavilion, elaborately decorated with ceramic mosaics, faces a square-shaped pond with a lovely rock-garden. Left of the pavilion stands the Tu Phuong Vo Ngu Pavilion (Pavilion of No Worry) and right of it is the Hoa Nhat Thu Truong Gallery (Gallery of the Nourishing Sun). On the left of the Bat Phong Pavilion (Pavilion open to Eight Directions) is a small structure called the Luc Tri Than Thong Belvedere and on the right is the Than Tu Room (Morale Improving Room). North of it is the Luc Giac (Hexagonal) Pavilion with Trach Trung Tasist Temple (Temple of Just Conduct) on the left. In front of this temple is the Duc Vien House (House of Full Virtue). Bridges and galleries are together connected, lakes and ponds smoothly flow into one another in a very poetic scenery.
Royal Theater (Duyet Thi Duong) (east of the Quang Minh Palace (Palace of Brightness) in the Forbidden Purple City) was built by Emperor Minh Mang in 1826. It was large, rectangular-shaped with curved eaves, similar to those of Hue pagodas and communal houses, supported by two rows of iron-wood, red lacquered columns decorated with intertwined dragon and cloud designs. On each column hung a painting of Hue scenery in a golden frame, carved with dragon designs. The sky-blue ceiling above was painted with figures of sun, moon and stars, symbolizing the universe. The building was connected with the royal living quarters by snaky roofed galleries.
Theater was closed after the end of the monarchy in 1945. During the U.S temporary occupation it was used by the South Government for the Hue Music College (present-day Hue Art University). A square-shaped stage occupied the central part of the floor. No decoration was used to distinguish the real world from theatrical one. Behind the stage were two doors. Actors and actresses made their entrances from the right-side and exited on the left. Behind the wall was a large room for storing scripts, theatrical headgear, footwear and props. The highest position of this room was occupied by an altar dedicated to two founders of the court opera theater. The room opened onto the court east of the Forbidden Citadel (this entrance was used by actors and actresses).
Across the stage was a high tower of two levels. The top level, next to the western wall, was reserved to the queen, concubines and maidservants. On the ground level was a carved chair for the Emperor. These two levels were kept separated by a bamboo blind which offered the spectators a good view of the outside, preventing them from being seen. Only the fluttering sounds made by fans, such as birds’ wings, or giggles could sometimes be heard. On both sides of the Emperor’s carved chair were other chairs for State guests. There sat the Governor General and the Superior Resident sometimes during the French occupation.
Nine Holy Cannons (housed in two buildings beside the Nhan and Quang Duc Miradors in the Citadel) were originally positioned in front of the Ngo Mon Gate, at the foot of the Royal Citadel wall, but later on, they were moved by order of Emperor Khai Dinh to the present-day location. The cannons have never been used for military purposes and just play a symbolic role as guardian spirits for the Citadel.
Each cannon is 5.10 meters long and weights more than 10 tons. Their barrels are elaborately inscribed with the titles, position order, weight, instructions, and writings on fights against the Tay Son Dynasty. On January 1st 1803, Emperor Gia Long ordered all bronze wares of the Tay Son Dynasty to melt into nine cannons. The work was completed at the end of January 1804. The cannons were named after the four seasons and the five elements: Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth. They are the “Holy Invincible Generals”.
Interesting Sites Outside the Imperial Walls of Hue
Interesting Sites Outside the Imperial Walls include the Terrace for the Sacrifice to Heaven and Earth, where the Emperor went once every three years to report on the state of his country to the highest spirit in the sky; Linh Mu pagoda, a 390 year-old temple overlooking the River of Perfumes where Vietnam’s senior monk has his seat; and the Serenity of Heart Lake, a lovely body of water surrounded by pavilions, where the Emperor’s went for rest, relaxation and pleasure. The Everlasting Longevity Palace is another impressive religious building.
Ho Quyen (Tiger Arena) (on the south bank of the Perfume River, four kilometers from the Hue Citadel) was built in 1830 for duels between elephants and tigers that were arranged for the entertainment of the Emperor, the royal family and mandarins. In the old time, the duels at Ho Quyen were held once a year. The last one was organized here in 1904 in the reign of Thanh Thai.
The arena has is a unique structure, open air and solidly built as a citadel. The coliseum consists of two concentric circles built with bricks and mortar. The first staircase with 20 steps was exclusively reserved for the Emperor and royal family leading up to the rectangular tribune with the surface of 96 meters, the height of 1.5 meters. Looking down from the tribune, people can see the cavity with the coliseum. The second staircase, with 15 steps was used by the soldiers and the common people leading up to the earthen part. Between the two staircases is a big entrance 1.9 meters wide and 3.9 meters high for the elephants to enter the coliseum.
The way running around above this curved door is narrowed into a small bridge across the curved door. Under it is a big two-wing wooden door with stone hinges which still remain undamaged. Opposite to the tribune for the Emperor on the other side of the arena are five cages for tigers and leopards. Above the middle cage is a stone sign inscribed the two Chinese words “Ho Quyen”.
Pavilion of Edicts (Phu Van Lau) (in front of the Flag -Tower and by the National Highway No.1A which crosses Hue City) is a delicate pavilion with a south view. In front of the Pavilion is a large court leading to the Nghinh Luong Pavilion (Pavilion for Fresh Air) on the Perfume River bank. A tiger – elephant duel was held on the pavilion grounds in 1829 to entertain Emperor Minh Mang. In his fortieth and fiftieth birthday anniversaries, many entertainments were also held there. These practices were maintained by Emperors Thieu Tri and Tu Duc in their birthday anniversaries. Emperor Thieu Tri listed the Perfume River and the Pavilion of Edicts among 20 most beautiful sights of the capital city of Hue. It was him who ordered in 1843 the construction of a stele house on the right of the pavilion for engraving his poem “Morning Boating on the Perfume River”.
The Pavilion of Edicts is where Emperor’s edicts and lists of successful candidates of Thi Hoi (National Examination) and Thi Dinh (Court Examinations) were publicized. Though built early in Emperor Gia Long’s reign (1819), it was first decided by Emperor Minh Mang to be the site to publicly display his important edicts. After having been announced at the Throne Palace or the Ngo Mon, the edict was put in a canopied palanquin and carried by soldiers to the pavilion. On that occasion, the Thua Thien Province mandarins and thousands of local elders crowded to pay homage to the edict. Since 1821, after the Proclamation Ceremony, lists of successful candidates were posted there. In order to enhance the significance, two stone steles were erected on both sides of the pavilion, inscribed with Chinese characters meaning “Tilt Your Hats and Dismount” reminding passers-by to tilt their hats and get off their horses when passing this monument. The pavilion was destroyed by a typhoon in 1904 and restored later by Emperor Thanh Thai.
Hue Royal Fine-arts Museum (on 3 Le Truc Street, Hue City) contains collections of bronze, pottery, chinaware, Phap Lam enamel, court robes, head-gear and personal belongings of former Vietnam Emperors. The museum is housed in a 7-room, 2-bay building constructed in the “double” architecture, originally called the Long An Palace (Emperor’s Security) in the Bao Dinh Residence of Tay Loc precinct. When French troops took Bao Dinh Residence for their headquarters in 1885, Long An Palace was emptied and materials were stored in it. In 1909, by order of Emperor Duy Tan, the palace was moved to its present-day site (3 Le Truc St.) The building served later as the Khai Dinh Museum in Emperor Khai Dinh’s time, in 1923. The building (former Long An Palace) housing the museum itself is a monument of remarkable value. The wooden panels are covered with 35 poems and essays composed by Emperor Thieu Tri.
Thanh Toan Tile-Roofed Bridge (eight kilometers east of Hue City) crosses a canal flowing from the beginning to the end of Thanh Toan Village, Thuy Thanh Commune. It is an arched wooden bridge, 17 meters long and four meters wide. On both sides of the bridge length are 2 rows of wooden flat forms and parapets for people to lean their backs. The bridge is roofed with curved tiles.
Thanh Thuy Village was established in the 16th century. Among the emigrants from Thanh Hoa following Lord Nguyen Hoang to Thuan Hoa, there were 12 family heads who settled down there to be the 12 initial families of the village. One niece of the sixth generation of the Tran family – Mrs Tran Thi Dao – offered the fund to the village to build a wooden bridge so that the villagers on both sides of the canal could transport conveniently and benighted travellers could rest on their way. Mrs Tran Thi Dao was a childless wife of a high-rank mandarin in Le Hien Tong reign. She wanted to use her money for charity. In Canh Hung’s 37th year, Emperor Le Hien Tong granted the village a document to praise Mrs Tran Thi Dao and exempted the villagers from many taxes for them to remember her and to live after her example. In 1925, Emperor Khai Dinh also granted a document to bestow her “Duc Bao, Trung Hung Linh Pho” and to order the villagers to set up an altar on the bridge to worship her.
A researcher into Vietnamese ancient aesthetics – Louis Bezacier – classified Thanh Toan a rare and the most aesthetically valuable bridge among those of Vietnam. In the first half of the 20th century, there were the two most famous bridges of this style Phuc Toai and Phu Khe in the North, Thanh Toan in Hue and Nhat Ban (i.e. Lai Vien Kieu, also called Chua Cau) in Hoi An. The roofs of the bridges in the north are made of flat tiles, in the center are made of tube tiles.
The Thanh Toan tile-roofed Bridge is not only an ancient architectural remain with highly historic and cultural values but also a tourist attraction. The bridge was built over 2 centuries ago and damaged many times by storms, floods and wars. However, after the bridge was destroyed, the villagers always contributed to repair, renovate and preserve it. The Thanh Toan Bridge with its tile-roof has entered into the moods and aspirations of many generations as well as inspired the poetic souls of the local people and visitors, their contents are still handed down among the people or engraved right on the bridge. In September 1991, the bridge was greatly renovated according to the old design and officially accepted by the Ministry of Cultural and Information as national remains, a rare and appreciated beauty-spot of the whole country.
Ho Chi Minh Museum—Hue Branch (on No.6 Le Loi Street overlooking the Perfume River) is housed in a two building. Many exhibits and pictures about the life and revolutionary activities of President Ho Chi Minh are displayed here, with a focus on the ten years he lived in Hue. The museum opens at 7:30am).
Temples and Pagodas Outside the Imperial Walls of Hue
Dieu De Pagoda (100 Bach Dang Street, Phu Cat Ward, Hue City, between Dong Ba and Gia Hoi Bridge) includes a main sanctuary with two statues of the Deity Eight Vajra. Dieu De Pagoda was built by King Thieu Tri in 1844 on the platform of 5,000 meters in his old residence, where he was born in 1807. It was constructed on a large scale, but was badly damaged during the successive wars. In 1889, Monk Tam Truyen was granted fund by King Thanh Thai to restore the pagoda, but once again, it was badly damaged during a storm, in 1904. The present building was made in 1953. Behind the pagoda is a guest-room and a kitchen. In the courtyard stand a stele house and a bell tower. The two-storey entrance gate is topped with Dhamma Guardian’s pavilion. Dieu De Pagoda was the third site listed by King Thieu Tri in the 20 beauty spots of Hue.
Thien-Mu Temple (on the left bank of the Perfume River, in Huong Long Village, five kilometers from Hue) is the most impressive pagoda at Hue. Built on Ha Khe Hill—small hill overlooking the river—this 90-foot-high octagonal tower was erected in 1601 on the brick foundation of a Cham building and has seven stories, each dedicated to a different manifestation of Buddha. According to legend, it was constructed from plans given to a Nguyen Lord by an old lady in green trousers and a long red dress. The old woman appeared on the hill where the pagoda stands today. She told local people that a Lord would come and build a Buddhist pagoda for the country’s prosperity. The old woman was instructed by a beautiful fairy maiden. After the old lady delivered her plan, she disappeared into a cloud. On hearing the story Lord Nguyen Hoang, ordered the construction of the pagoda of the “Heavenly Lady”.
Inside Thien-Mu temple (the Temple of the Fairy Lady) are ten red-and-gold alters, each representing the spirit of a dead emperor. Outside are nine beautifully-carved stone dynastic urns. Enshrined nearby is the Austin automobile that took the monk Thich Quang Duc to Saigon where he doused himself gasoline and set himself on fire in 1963. The famous photograph of the burning monk has been attached to the grill.
Thien Mu Pagoda was renovated by Lord Nguyen Phuc Tan in 1665. In 1710, Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu had a great bell (2.5 meters high; 3,285 kilograms) cast and in 1715, he had a stele (2.58 meters high) erected on the back of a marble tortoise. Several kings of the Nguyen Dynasty such as Gia Long, Minh Mang, Thieu Tri and Thanh Thai, all had the pagoda restored. Phuoc Duyen Tower (at first called Tu Nhan Tower) was erected in 1884 by King Thieu Tri. This octagonal tower has seven storeys (21 meter high). Dai Hung shrine, the main-hall, presents a magnificent architecture.
As well as bronze cast statues, the pagoda shelters some precious antiques: a bronze gong cast in 1677, a wooden gilded board with Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu’s inscriptions (1714). On both sides of the pagoda are a room for the monks and a guest-room for visitors. The pagoda is surrounded by flowers and ornamental plants. At the far end of the garden stretches a calm and romantic pine-tree forest. The pagoda was heavily damaged in 1943. Monk Thich Don Hau organized a great renovation of the pagoda that lasted for more than 30 years. Nowadays the pagoda is very well-maintained and very welcoming to all visitors.
Hon Chen Temple (on the bank of the Perfume River 10 kilometers upstream from Hue) was built for the cult of Po Nagar, the Goddess of the ancient Cham people. After the Cham empire collapsed the Vietnamese continued the cult and named the Goddess as Heaven “Goddess Y A Na.” This temple for Goddess appeared in this place centuries ago, but with a very simple design, and after then, reconstructed with a larger and more beautiful architectural scale in 1886. Hon Chen Temple is situated at a lovely site seated on the slope of the mountain Ngoc Tran (Jade – cup) with sheer cliff facing the Perfume River.
Hue Temple of Literature (on a low hill beyond the Thien Mu Pagoda, on the left bank of the Perfume River) faces south and is mostly ruins now. All main buildings were built on the top of the hill, three meters higher than the surrounding land. In front of it was the Perfume River, in the back was villages, hills and mounts spreading from Truong Son Range. All items of Hue Temple of Literature were erected on a square surface of 160 meters long on each side enclosed by La Thanh (surrounding wall). There was once a complex of 50 big and small structures including 32 steles which bore names of doctors and four other steles.
Formerly, various Temple of Literature were built by the Nguyen Lords in the capital and moved to three different places: Trieu Son Village, Luong Quang Village and Long Ho Village. Characteristic: The Temple of Literature is a worship temple founded by the Nguyen Dynasty to dedicate to celebrated scholars of Confucianism. In 1808, Gia Long and his Imperial Court decided to choose a low hill beyond the Thien Mu Pagoda, on the left bank of the Perfume River, i.e. the current position, to built a new imposing and striking Temple of Literature. The construction of the Temple of Literature was commenced on April 17th, 1808 and finished on November 12th, 1808.
The Temple of Literature was renovated many times and many additions were built, especially in Minh Mang and Thieu Tri’s time. From Minh Mang’s time onwards, National Examinations were held so that steles bearing the names of successful candidates were erected here. These “Tien si de danh bia” – “Steles bearing doctors’ names” were gradually erected on the yard of the main temple from 1831 to 1919, the year in which the last National Examinations was held in Khai Dinh’s time.
Because of war and weather, mostly what remains of the Temple of Literature is the 34 steles of great cultural and historic value. On these steles are names, ages and places of birth of 239 successful candidates in National Examinations organized in the Nguyen Dynasty.
Dynastic Temple (The Mieu)
Dynastic Temple (The Mieu) (southwest of the Hue Citadel and facing south) is dedicated to ten Emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty. Built by Emperor Minh Mang in 1821, it consist of a nine-room main building and a 11- room front building, together connected in the “double” architecture with two bays on east and west sides. The Mieu is roofed with yellow enameled tiles and on the ridge rests a wine gourd decorated with Phap Lam enamel. It once had seven red and yellow lacquered altars (one in the middle, three on either side). The middle altar was dedicated to Emperor Gia Long and his two Queens (Thua Thien and Thuan Thien).
East of The Mieu is the Canh Y Palace. West of it is a square-shaped chapel for the worship of the God of Earth. A wall runs all around The Mieu with the Khai Dich Gate (Gate of Bringing Up) on the east, the Sung Thanh Gate (Gate of Peace Honoring) on the west, the Hien Huu Gate (Gate of Recognizable Assistance, left) and Doc Huu Gate (Gate of Genuine Assistance, right) at the back. In the yard of The Mieu stand the Nine Dynasty Urns. Behind them is a wall with the Hien Lam Pavilion (Pavilion of Glorious Coming) in the middle. Left of this pavilion is the Tuan Liet Gate (Gate of Grandness) topped by a belfry and right of it is the Sung Cong Gate (Gate of Honorable Achievements) with a drum-tower atop (The temple is architecturally similar to Thai Temple). Outside of the Hien Lam Pavilion are the Left and Right Houses, dedicated to meritorious mandarins who had devoted themselves to Nguyen Anh (later known as Emperor Gia Long) and his successors.
On January 25th, 1959, at the request of the royal family and the people, a ceremony was held to admit to The Mieu mortuary tablets of Ham Nghi, Thanh Thai and Duy Tan, three anti – French Emperors. So today there are three additional reddish-lacquered altars for them in The Mieu. Many personal paraphernalia of great value which belonged to the Nguyen Emperors are kept in The Mieu. On each altar were once dozens of gold ingots. Fortunately, The Mieu has suffered the least damage through the numerous wars and today visitors can see it as it was originally built.
Hien Lam Pavilion (Pavilion of the Glorious Coming) (at the center of the Dynastic Temple’s courtyard, southwest of the Hue Citadel) was built in 1824 by Emperor Minh Mang, at the same time as the Dynastic Temple. Hien Lam Pavilion has three stories and stands on a 21 meter by 13 meters square-shaped foundation. The area amounted to 300 square meters including the roof overhang. In front, on the stairs (9 steps each) joining the court, each flight is divided by two slithering dragon designs into three passages, the middle one being exclusively reserved for the Emperor. The ground floor is paved with Bat Trang bricks. It has three rooms and two bays surrounded with plastered brick walls. These are ventilated by windows similar in shape and decorated with enameled open-work bricks. The three rooms are left open and garnished with ornamental wooden banisters. Systems of rafters and panels are exquisitely engraved with floral designs.
Hien Lam Pavilion can be considered as a memorial to those who had devoted their lives to the establishment of the Nguyen Dynasty. The Emperors Nguyen are honored in the Dynastic Temple while meritorious mandarins are honored in the Left and Right Houses on either side of the Hien Lam Pavilion. Because of the holiness of the Pavilion, the Emperors Nguyen had decreed that no other building built in the Citadel should be higher.
Nine Dynastic Urns (near the Hien Lam Pavilion, in front of the Mieu Temple) are the greatest bronze urns in Vietnam They were cast by Emperor Minh Mang in 1836 to symbolize the sovereignty of the dynasty. Each of them is named after the posthumous title of the emperors worshipped in the Mieu Temple. For example, Cao Urn is named after Emperor The To Cao (Gia Long), Nhan Urn after Emperor Thanh To Nhan (Minh Mang), Chuong, Anh, Nghi, Tuyen and Thuan Urns after Emperors Thieu Tri, Tu Duc, Kien Phuoc, Dong Khanh and Khai Dinh respectively. (Until 1958 only seven altars were established in The Mieu Temple corresponding to seven urns. Du and Huyen Urns did not exist yet).
After their casting, the Nine Dynastic Urns were placed in accordance with the disposition of the altars in the Temple. Cao Urn stands in the center, alone in the first row. The others line behind and are placed symmetrically on both sides. On each urn are 17 traditional Vietnamese patterns like stars, rivers, mountains, seas and oceans, vehicles, valuable forestry and sea products, etc. The 153 patterns on the 9 urns constitute a real encyclopedia on the country. This precious cultural heritage is incredibly well-preserved in spite of the harsh weather and the numerous wars.
Imperial Tombs of Hue
Imperial Tombs (up the Perfume River from Hue) are the final resting places for eight of Vietnam’s thirteen Nguyen Emperors. Each Emperor has his tomb in a different spot and several tombs are modeled after Chinese tombs. The tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh, for example, is guarded by stone figures that are reminiscent of the those in Xian. The only difference is that faces of many of the figures bare an uncanny resemblance to Ho Chi Minh. Since most of the fighting on the wars with France and the United States were in Hue itself, the tombs were not badly damaged.
Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh (on the slope of Chau Chu Mountain, also called Chau E, 10 kilometers from Hue) includes a bronze statue of the Emperor placed on an spectacular platform decorated with colorful pieces of porcelain and glass. The seated statue is set on top of the emperors remain. Around a purple alter are brass cranes which represent hard work and turtles that symbolize longevity. The walls are lined with columns strangled by twisting polychromatic dragons. The tomb was built between 1920 and 1931.
In comparison with the tombs of preceding emperors, Khai Dinhs tomb is much smaller in surface (117 meters x 48.5 meters) but it is very elaborate. It is the result of many architectural trends: European and Asian, as well as ancient and modern. The construction of the tomb was started on September 4th, 1920 and lasted for 11 years. The overall construction of the tomb is an emerging rectangular structure with 127 steps, leaning against the mountain.- Entering the tomb area, one should climb a 37 steps gate with the biggest dragons in the country forming the side walls. In the courtyard, line two rows of left and right altar built according to traditional configuration of “double storeys with eight roofs”, but all the rafters are made of reinforced concrete.
Climbing 29 further steps, one is reaching the imperial audience court, in the center of which stands the octagonal stele monument also made of reinforced concrete. On both sides of the courtyard, two rows of statues are facing towards the court center. In addition to these statues, similar to those of the other tombs, there are six more couples representing bodyguard soldiers. These statues are made of stone, a material very rare in Khai Dinh’s tomb. The courtyard is flanked on both sides by two high and imposing pillars. Visitors have to go up three more levels in order to reach the altar monument. The Khai Thanh Palace is the main room of the Thien Dinh Palace, which contains many connecting rooms. The walls are densely decorated and inlaid with elaborate glass and porcelain designs. The floor is covered with enameled flowers bricks and the ceiling is painted with nine dragons, appearing in fine fleeting clouds. The rear room of the Khai Thanh Palace constitutes the main temple, which contains the statue of Khai Dinh, his grave and his altar.
Tomb of Emperor Minh Mang (12 kilometers form Hue, on Cam Ke mount, near Bang Lang fork, on the west bank of the Perfume River) is a lush haven of beautiful gardens, courtyards, moats, patches of jungle, ponds filled with lotus blossoms, and several temples positioned in a straight line near two large lakes. The most impressive structure, the Minh Lau pavilion, is situated on three platforms which symbolize the three great powers of the universe: the heavens, earth and water. The Pavilion of Light is also lovely. Minh Mang ruled Vietnam from 1820 to 1840. He is regarded as a reformer. He created an assembly of mandarins that advised him on important matters and approved royal decrees.
The Tomb of Minh Mang is a complex of 40 structures (palaces, temples, pavilions, etc.) designed on an symmetric axis running from Dai Hong gate to the foot of La Thanh (Surrounding Wall) behind the Emperor’s tomb. In September 1840, the construction of the tomb began. In January 1841, while the work was implemented, Minh Mang was sick and passed away. Emperor Thieu Tri, his successor to the throne, continues this task according to his fathers plans. Emperor Minh Mang’s corpse was buried in Buu Thanh on August 20th, 1841. The building was fully completed in 1843.
The buildings are distributed into three main parallel axis of which Than Dao path is the centre. Dai Hong Mon is the main gate to enter the tomb. The gate presents three paths with 24 heaving roofs covered with beautiful decorations. The gate was opened only once to bring the Emperor’s coffin to the tomb, and had been tightly closed since then. Visitors have to use the two side-gates Ta Hong Mon (Left Gate) and Huu Hong Mon (Right Gate). Behind Dai Hong Mon (big gate) is the Honor Courtyard (Bi Dinh) with its two rows of mandarins, elephants and horses statues. Bi Dinh (Stele Pavilion) is on Mount Phung Than. Inside is the stele “Thanh Duc Than Cong”, inscribed with the Emperor’s biography and merits written by his son Thieu Tri.
The Salutation Court is divided into four steps – The Hien Duc Mon (gate) leads to the worship place. In the center is Sung An Temple surrounded by Ta, Huu Phoi Dien (Left, Right Temples) in the front and Ta, Huu Tung Phong (Left, Right Rooms) in the back. The Emperor and Queen Ta Thien Nhan are worshipped in Sung An Temple. Then, Hoang Trach Mon (gate) leads to the Bright Pavilion (Minh Lau), built on Tam Tai Mount. It is a square pavilion with two storeys and eight roofs. On both sides of Minh Lau, two obelisks stand on the hills. In the back of Minh Lau are two flower gardens designed as the character “Longevity”.
Tan Nguyet (New Moon) crescent Lake embraces the circular Buu Thanh (The wall surrounding the grave). There are three bridges on Tan Nguyet Lake. Visitors have to climb 33 Thanh stone steps to reach the sepulchre of the Emperor. Besides nearly 60 word boxes of carved poems in the Stele Pavilion, Hien Duc gate, Sung An Temple, and Minh Pavilion are also remarkable and constitute an anthology of chosen poems of Vietnam’s early 19th century.
Tomb of Gia Long (16 kilometers from the center of Hue, on the top of the Thien Tho Mountain, on the west bank of the Perfume River) is in fact a group of tombs including those of the Emperor’s relatives. The whole compound is spread on a joint mountain with 42 small and big mounts, amongst which Dai Thien Tho is the biggest. To visit Gia Long’s tomb, tourists can go by boat about 18 kilometers along the Perfume River and then land directly at the wharf of the tomb, or they can go about 16 kilometers by car to Kim Ngoc wharf, take the bac from there and walk for some more kilometers. The Emperor’s Tomb is located on a flat, big hill. In the front, Thien Tho Mount forms a natural screen, and in the back seven hills raise like natural defenses. On the left, 14 peaks form the “left blue dragons” (Ta Thanh Long), and on the right, another 14 form the “right white tigers” (Huu Bach Ho).
The tomb complex is composed of three areas: 1) In the middle: There are the double-grave tomb of the Emperor and Queen Thua Thien. Passing the Honor Court, visitors can see imposing stone statues. Seven steps of the worship-yard lead to Buu Thanh on the hill top. Inside Buu Thanh, the stone double-grave is built according to the concept of “Can Khon Hiep Duc”, a symbol of happiness and loyalty. 2) On the right: The main monument is Minh Thanh Temple, dedicated to the Emperor and his first Queen. Formerly, it used to contain many artefacts related to Gia Long’s military life. 3) On the left: The main monument is the stele pavilion. Nowadays, only the stele is left, minutely inscribed with Emperor Minh Mangs singing of the late Emperor’s praises.
To move along the paths among the grass and wild flowers, under the fresh shady pines, tourists can visit other neighboring tombs in this section such as Quang Hung Tomb (the second wife of Lord Hien Vuong Nguyen Phuc Tan (1620- 1687), mother of Lord Nguyen Phuc Tran), Vinh Mau Tomb (the wife of Lord Nguyen Phuc Tran (1650-1691); Thoai Thanh Tomb (the second wife of Nguyen Phuc Luan and mother of Emperor Gia Long). The most noticeable one is the tomb of Queen Thuan Thien, mother of Emperor Minh Mang. Next to it is Gia Thanh Temple, dedicated to her.
Tomb of Tu Duc (8 kilometers from Hue) is located in a narrow valley in Duong Xuan Thuong Village (currently Thuong Ba Village, Thuy Xuan Commune, Hue City). It is built on the site of the pleasure palace where Emperor Tu Doc, the forth Nguyen emperor, composed verse, made love with his 104 wives, drank tea made from dew condensed off lotus blossoms and ate meals consisted of 50 dishes prepared by 50 chefs. Set among frangpani trees, bamboo groves, lotus and nenuphar ponds, and pine forests and surrounded by an octagonal wall, the tomb grounds, which the emperor designed himself, contains a theater, various bridges, hunting ground, and numerous stone mandarins and generals.
Construction of the tomb began in 1848, while the emperor was till alive. Over 3,000 workers labored for three years to build this 30-acre, 50-monument tomb, which has two axises: one for the mausoleum and the other for the palace. Many of the laborers died from overwork; there was even a workers revolt. A poem written while the tomb was being built goes: “Ten thousand years, ten thousand years. A tomb built for eternity/ the bones of soldiers garnish the ramparts/ The blood of the people fills moats and ponds.”
The Tomb of Tu Duc is regarded as one of the most beautiful works of royal architecture of the Nguyen dynasty. Not only that it is beautifully set among romantic scenery of mounts and lakes. The tomb lies in a pine forest and was built between 1864 and 1867. On an area of about 12 hectares wide, nearly 50 buildings and structures were built on terraces of various levels (about 10 meters difference). All buildings include the word Khiem (Modesty) in their names. The tomb is divided into two main parts: The temple area and the tomb area.
The temple area: Entering the Vu Khiem entrance, you come to Luu Khiem Lake. On the lake are Xung Khiem Pavilion and Du Khiem Pavilion where the Emperor used to come to admire flowers, compose poems, read books, etc. Then, three Thanh stone steps to Khiem Cung Gate lead to Hoa Khiem Palace, which used to be the Emperor’s working place, and is now the altar devoted to the Emperor and the Queen. On both sides are Phap Khiem House and Le Khiem House for the military and civil mandarins.
Behind Hoa Khiem Palace is Luong Khiem Palace, which was also the Emperor’s resting place, and was later used to worship Mrs. Tu Du (Tu Duc’s Mother). On the right of Luong Khiem Palace stand On Khiem Palace, where the royal utensils are kept. On the left of Luong Khiem Palace is Minh Khiem Theater. Then, comes Chi Khiem, the altar to worship the Emperor’s wives, Tri Khiem Palace and Y Khiem Palace were the accommodations of the Emperor’s concubines.
The tomb area: On the left of the temple is the necropolis itself slopping upward with the Honor Courtyard, the Stele Pavilion, and the sepulture. Right behind Bai Dinh (Honor Courtyard), with two rows of magnificent military and civil mandarins, is Bi Dinh (Stele Pavilion) with the biggest stone stele in Vietnam. It is inscribed with Khiem Cung narrative, composed by the Emperor himself, writing about his life and imperial cause as well as his misadventures and diseases, etc. On the hill, opposite the semi-circular Tieu Khiem Tri Lake is the Buu Thanh brick wall, in the middle is a stone house, where the Emperor was buried.
Tomb of Thieu Tri (8 kilometers from Hue lies in Chu Chanh Village, Thuy Bang Commune, Huong Thuy District), with its simple and intimate beauty, leans against the foot of Thuan Dao Mount. In front of the tomb stretches a flat land with green trees and rice-fields ranging from the Perfume Rivers bank up to Lim Bridge.
After being on the throne for seven years, Emperor Thieu Tri was sick and died on 4 November 1847 at the age of 41. In his lifetime, the Emperor neither thought of his death nor wanted the people and soldiers to waste so much labour and property for him, so he did not have his tomb built. As soon as coming to the crown, his son Emperor Tu Duc had the royal geomancers to seek land for his father’s tomb. On February 11th 1848, the construction started, and 10 months later, it was completed.
Thieu Tri’s tomb, can be divided into two parts: the tomb area and temple area. The tomb area: On the right with Nhuan Trach Lake is the bronze gate leading to big Binh Dai (Honor Courtyard). The two rows of stone statues on the left and right of the court are typical of the sculpture art in the first half of 19th century in Hue. Then, one can see Bi Dinh (Stele Pavilion) and Duc Hinh Tower on a tortoise-shell-shaped hill. Ngung Thuy Lake looks like a crescent moon barring in front, the walls of the tomb itself (Buu Thanh). Across the lake are three bridges: Chanh Trung (in the middle), Dong Hoa (on the right), Tay Dinh (on the left) leading to the stairs going to Buu Thanh.
The temple area: It was built separately, 100 meters from Duc Hinh Tower, on the left. After passing the marble gate and another three steps leading to Bieu Duc temple, visitors will go through Hong Trach gate. In the middle is Bieu Duc temple, where the funerary tablets of the Emperor and the Queen Tu Du are worshipped. In the main temple, on the edges of the roof and Hong Trach gate, are engraved over 450 word boxes including poems with educational and literary values. All the dependent works gathered around Buu Duc Temple such as Left and Right Temple (in the front), Left and Right Houses (in the back), increase the nobility of the main temple.
Tomb of Dong Khahn (Thuong Hai Village, Thuy Xuan Commune, Hue) like the other tombs was supposedly built to last for 10,000 years, but already after slightly more than a century it is showing quite a bit a wear, nevertheless, with its vast stone courtyards, stone mandarins and elephant, and grand pavilion it is still a sight well worth seeing.
The construction of Dong Khanh’s Tomb lasted through the lives of four Emperors (1888-1923). That’s why it bears the stamp of two architectural inclinations of two different historical periods. After being crowned, Dong Khanh had a temple built beside his father’s tomb named Truy Tu to worship him. In February 1888, during the construction, Dong Khanh got sick and died. Emperor Thanh Thai came to the crown. He had to use Truy Tu Temple and renamed it Ngung Hy for the cult of Emperor Dong Khanh. His corpse was buried simply on a hill named “Ho Thuan Son”, 30 meters to the west of Ngung Hy Temple. The whole tomb area was called Tu Lang. In 1916, when Khai Dinh, Dong Khanhs son, was crowned, he had the temple renovated and the tomb built for his father. In July 1917, the tomb was accomplished. Ngung Hy Temple and its dependent houses, in particular, continued to be repaired and were finished in May 1923.
Sights Outside of Hue
Thua Thien-Hue Province offers a diversified and beautiful landscapes. The main destinations are Bach Ma (White Horse) National Park and other attractive beaches such as Thuan An, Lang Co and Canh Duong. Mineral Stream of My An (in Phu Duong Commune, Phu Vang District, seven kilometers east of Hue, on the way to Thuan An Beach) has been compared to well-known mineral streams, such as Koundour (former Soviet Union) or Pavel Banis (Bulgaria). Vong Canh Hill (600 meters from the tombs of Tu Duc and Dong Khanh, seven kilometers from Hue) is a place where tourists can enjoy the lovely panorama of Hue especially the Kings Nguyen’s tombs.
Bach Ma National Park (50 kilometers south of Hue City) embraces a hill station has a temperate climate much like that of Dalat, Sapa and Tam Dao. However, since it is located so close to the sea, the temperature in winter never goes below 4 degrees C (39 degrees F) and the highest temperature in summer never exceeds 26 degrees C (79 degrees F). Bach Ma (White Horse) Mountain is is about 1,450 meters high and is situated in a transition zone of the northern and southern climate. From the top of Bach Ma, people can view landscapes of Hai Van Pass, Tuy Van Mount, Cau Hai Lagoon, Hue city and the Eastern Sea. The best time to visit Bach Ma is from February to September.
Admission is 10,000VND. It is open from 7:00am to 5:00pm.
The French transformed Bach Ma into a summer resort in the early 1930s. In the late 1930s and early 1940s a total of 139 villas were built under the foliage of old trees and by sheer cliffs. Today it is kind of ghost town with abandoned villas, auxiliary buildings, a post office, a bank and tennis court, etc. Unfortunately, the war and lack of maintenance have significantly affected these buildings. In 1986, after 10 years of reunification, the State established a network of 87 natural reserves including Bach Ma. On 15 July 1991, the Bach Ma National Park was officially founded.
Bach Ma has breath-taking natural landscapes. The highest peak is Hai Vong Dai (Sea Observation Post), 1,450 meters high, where people can have a panoramic view of the immense sea and surrounding scenery. Do Quyen Waterfall is astounding and huge in the wooded mountain. It is more than 300 meters high and 20-30 meters wide. It is amazing to watch the silver water running into the bright red of water-rail flowers. Bac Chi Waterfall, about 20 meters high, roars all year round. Five lakes – a system of large lakes – has clean and cool water, created by the block of black granite stretching along Kim Qui Spring. This is a good place for camping, bathing, and outdoor activities.
The national park houses 931 species of animals of which 83 wildlife species, including tigers and monkeys. It is also home to 333-odd species of birds known to inhabit Vietnam. More than 1,406 species of plants have also been identified. In the summer, rhododendron flowers blooming on the hiils and besides waterfalls.
Beaches Near Hue: Lang Co Beach (in Lang Co Town, Phu Loc District, next to National Highway 1A, near Hai Van Pass) is about 10 kilometers long. It was named one of the “World’s Most Beautiful Bays” by World bays Club in 2009. Thuan An Beach (15 kilometers from Hue) is situated in Phu Vang District, near by Thuan An Mouth, where Huong River runs to Tam Giang Lagoon and then to the sea. Small fishing boats, junks drift up an down a river sided houses, temples, pagodas, rice field, and gardens.
Best time to visit
Unlike northern Vietnam that has four seasons, central Vietnam only has two – wet (Sept-Jan) and dry (Feb-Aug). Hue has a similar climate to Hoi An and Da Nang so the best time to visit, in terms of the weather, is from February till April.
I went to Hue in early- to mid-September which is just at the start of the rainy season. It didn’t rain when I was there but it was overcast on multiple days and still fairly hot.
DRY SEASON: Hue’s dry season is from February till August. May till August is the hottest time of the year with temperatures often rising above 33°C (91.4°F). On top of that, August is a peak month for domestic tourism. February till April are the driest months and the best time to visit Hue. Humidity is low and temperatures hover at a more tolerable 23°C (73.4°F).
WET SEASON: The rainy season in Hue starts around September and goes till January. It’s one of the rainiest cities in Vietnam with the heaviest rainfall coming in October and November. This isn’t the best time to visit Hue.
Climate is hot and humid and dominated by the tropical monsoons yet it still has four distinct seasons: 1) fresh spring, 2) very hot summer, 3) mild autumn and 4) windy, cool winter. The dry season lasts from March to August. It is hot with temperate sometimes nearing 40 degrees C. The rainy season lasts from September to February. It can be cool then with an average temperature of 20 degrees C, but sometime drops to around 9 degrees Celsius. At this time, it rains a lost, sometime the rains last all day.
Another factor to consider when planning a trip to Hue is the Tet holiday or Vietnamese New Year celebration. This is held sometime between the end of January and early February. Many businesses will be shuttered during this time and hotel rates will be at their highest.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.