The city of Hue is rather unimpressive at first glance. It looks like any other city in Vietnam, but somehow seems to have a small town feel and a lot less going for it entertainment and shopping wise. I couldn’t find a convenient store to save my life, let alone a family owned shop that sold any sort of food. Eventually I discovered a large grocery store in town and resorted to purchasing enough food to last me a few days. Since it was afternoon, yet again, when I arrived I didn’t do much more than walk around and shop for groceries. I’m living the dream folks.
I ended up not feeling so great so I spent most of the day indoors. Luckily I had purchased that food the day before, otherwise I would have been forced to leave the room while praying for a bathroom the entire time. It’s not a pretty image, I know, but sometimes this part of travel is ignored in order to show people some glamorous image of travel which began on my third official day in the city of Hue.
Since I was feeling better, I woke up early and headed on foot towards the Citadel – or Forbidden Purple City depending on which title you prefer. I was only about 20 minutes away, and feeling incredibly cheap as the price of a tuk tuk seemed insane given its close proximity to where I was staying. Now this place having two names was getting a little confusing for me, so I did a little research and discovered that technically the Citadel and Forbidden Purple City are two different things despite being in the exact same location. The Citadel is the actual Imperial city left over from the 19th century when the Chinese ruled what is now Vietnam. Inside this Imperial city is an Imperial enclosure named the Forbidden Purple City. This is where the Emperor and his family resided and now-a-days, when you’re inside the walls wandering around without a map (they don’t give you one) it all looks the same.
This place is exactly the kind of thing I love… rundown! It’s y falling apart in some area, while others look like they are being fixed up, but mostly this place is like paying to walk through abandoned places, where if you hadn’t seen the people in front of you go inside, you’d think no one had been there in years. I spent most of the day walking around and chatting with various people along the way, and by the end I was ready to crash, but I walked back the same way I came, refusing to accept the ride of the many tuk tuk drivers creepishly stalking me along the way.
I had already purchased my train ticket to leave later this evening, but I still had a few more things to fit into my tour schedule, so the day before I booked an easy-rider tour with a very nice guy named Bill who (I believe) owns the Stop & Go Cafe located in town. He arrived bright and early to meet me, and agreed to rush the tour a little so I would have plenty of time to spare before catching my train. Our first stop was the Thie nMu Pagoda, and before he gave me a chance to have a quick look around (it doesn’t take that long) he told me a story about the Pagoda, which I’ve since forgotten, and generously agreed to take a photo of me standing in front of the tower.
Just opposite the Pagoda is a beautiful view of the Perfume river, which I couldn’t help but admire as I walked about the grounds. The Pagoda was busy, which isn’t unusual, but on this day it was full of Monks posing for photos and sitting graciously with children. I left them alone and opted to go find Bill, who was visiting among a few people he knew down by the bike. It was off to the second place on our tour: The Tomb of Khai Dinh.
It was a long ride from the Pagoda to the Tomb, and it was getting hotter outside every second. I had applied some sunscreen (having learned my lesson in Hoi An), but I was still worried about the blazing hot sun beating down on me. When we arrived at the budy tomb, Bill told me another story I don’t remember and informed me that Emperor Khai Dinh had visited Versailles a fun times during his reign, and wanted his tomb to reflect the beauty and architecture he had seen there. At first glance you’d think he both failed and succeeded at the same time. This tomb is set on top of a hill, so you have a large set of stairs welcoming you and a grandiose building looming overhead, but the black stone facade leaves for little elegance.
Once you find yourself inside the tomb, your perspective on how Versailles-like it is changes. There is more gold and decorative tile in here than the eye can take in. It reminded me of the temples in Thailand that are covered in the stuff. I had to give the guy credit, he might not have had a large over-sized building to work with, but man did he make his tomb look just as fancy as a room in Versailles. I went into all of the rooms I could, but soon found myself walking back down the stairs and searching for Bill. I think its hard to miss a normal sized Vietnamese man on a large bike.
Our final stop of the day would be the Tomb of Minh Mang, which ironically isn’t even being used as a tomb. He’s buried somewhere else. Instead, it serves as a sort of tribute to him and his wife who are obviously now both deceased. Anyway, the most surprising thing about the ride out to the tomb was that we drove through the largest cemetery I have ever seen. We are talking probably a million burial plots taking over the land around us. It was one of the most eerie and beautiful things I had seen in Vietnam. There was so much thought and color put into these burial plots, and an obvious respect seemed to be constantly paid to them.
By this point in the day, it was deathly hot outside, and this tomb is the largest of the two I visited. It sprawls out over acres and has multiple gates, buildings, and sections including a forest and a lake. It might have been the heat, the Australian couple I spent quite a bit of time gabbing with, or the flocks of Chinese tourists constantly in my way with their umbrellas, but I didn’t seem to be interested in taking as many photos at this sight. I’m still not sure why… it was a beautiful place to end my tour at. Never the less, I found myself trudging along in the heat looking forward to zooming back through the streets towards my hotel.
Later that evening, Bill graciously gave me a ride to the train station on his easy rider and even gave me a bottle of soda he had purchased for me as a goodbye gift. He really is a nice man, and a pretty good tour guide, and I for one couldn’t have asked for a better person to spend the day on a tour with.