Top cultural and historic sights in Hue

Hue owes its charm partly to its location on the Perfume River – picturesque on a clear day, atmospheric even in less flattering weather. Today the city blends new and old as sleek modern hotels tower over crumbling century-old Citadel walls.

1. Imperial Enclosure

wanderlust-tips-top-cultural-and-historic-sights-in-hue2

The Imperial Enclosure is a citadel-within-a-citadel, housing the emperor’s residence, temples and palaces, and the main buildings of state, within 6m-high, 2.5km-long walls. What’s left is only a fraction of the original – the enclosure was badly bombed during the French and American Wars, and only 20 of its 148 buildings survived. This is a fascinating site easily worth half a day, but poor signage can make navigation a bit difficult. Restoration and reconstruction is ongoing.

Expect a lot of broken masonry, rubble, cracked tiling and weeds as you work your way around. Nevertheless it’s enjoyable as a leisurely stroll and some of the less-visited areas are highly atmospheric. There are little cafes and souvenir stands dotted around. It’s best to approach the sights starting from Ngo Mon Gate and moving anticlockwise around the enclosure.

2. Thien Mu Pagoda

wanderlust-tips-top-cultural-and-historic-sights-in-hue7

Taking up the southwest corner of the Imperial Enclosure, this highly impressive walled complex has been beautifully restored. The imposing three-tiered Hien Lam Pavilion sits on the south side of the complex; it dates from 1824. On the other side of a courtyard is the solemn To Mieu Temple, housing shrines to each of the emperors, topped by their photos. Between these two temples are Nine Dynastic Urns (dinh) cast between 1835 and 1836, each dedicated to one Nguyen sovereign.

3. To Mieu Temple Complex

wanderlust-tips-top-cultural-and-historic-sights-in-hue13

Taking up the southwest corner of the Imperial Enclosure, this highly impressive walled complex has been beautifully restored. The imposing three-tiered Hien Lam Pavilion sits on the south side of the complex; it dates from 1824. On the other side of a courtyard is the solemn To Mieu Temple, housing shrines to each of the emperors, topped by their photos. Between these two temples are Nine Dynastic Urns (dinh) cast between 1835 and 1836, each dedicated to one Nguyen sovereign.

 4. Tomb of Minh Mang

wanderlust-tips-top-cultural-and-historic-sights-in-hue12

This majestic tomb is renowned for its architecture and sublime forest setting. The tomb was planned during Minh Mang’s reign (1820–40) but built by his successor, Thieu Tri. Minh Mang’s tomb is in An Bang village, on the west bank of the Perfume River, 12km from Hue.

The Honour Courtyard is reached via three gates on the eastern side of the wall. Three granite staircases lead from the courtyard to the square Stele Pavilion (Dinh Vuong).

Sung An Temple, which is dedicated to Minh Mang and his empress, is reached via three terraces and the rebuilt Hien Duc Gate. On the other side of the temple, three stone bridges span Trung Minh Ho (Lake of Impeccable Clarity). The central bridge was for the emperor’s use only. Minh Lau Pavilion (Pavilion of Light) stands on the top of three superimposed terraces that represent the ‘three powers’: the heavens, the earth and water. To the left is the Fresh Air Pavilion, to the right, the Angling Pavilion.

From a stone bridge across crescent-shaped Tan Nguyet Lake (Lake of the New Moon), a monumental staircase with dragon banisters leads to Minh Mang’s sepulchre. The gate to the tomb is opened only once a year on the anniversary of the emperor’s death.

5. Tomb of Khai Dinh

wanderlust-tips-top-cultural-and-historic-sights-in-hue9

This hillside monument is a synthesis of Vietnamese and European elements. Most of the tomb’s grandiose exterior is covered in blackened concrete, creating an unexpectedly Gothic air, while the interiors resemble an explosion of colourful mosaic. Khai Dinh was the penultimate emperor of Vietnam, from 1916 to 1925, and widely seen as a puppet of the French. The construction of his flamboyant tomb took 11 years. The tomb of Khai Dinh is 10km from Hue in Chau Chu village.

Steps lead to the Honour Courtyard where mandarin honour guards have a mixture of Vietnamese and European features. Up three more flights of stairs is the stupendous main building, Thien Dinh. The walls and ceiling are decorated with murals of the Four Seasons, Eight Precious Objects and Eight Fairies. Under a graceless, gold-speckled concrete canopy is a gilt bronze statue of Khai Dinh, who is presumed to have been homosexual, though he did produce one heir. His remains are interred 18m below the statue.

6. Tu Hieu Pagoda

wanderlust-tips-top-cultural-and-historic-sights-in-hue11

Nestled in a pine forest, this popular pagoda was built in 1843 and later co-opted by eunuchs from the Citadel. Today 70 monks reside at Tu Hieu; they welcome visitors to the twin temples (one dedicated to Cong Duc, the other to Buddha). Listen to their chanting daily at 4.30am, 10am, noon, 4pm and 7pm. Tu Hieu Pagoda is about 5km from the centre of Hue, on the way to the tomb of Tu Duc.

Tu Hieu is associated with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, who studied at the monastery in the 1940s, but lived in exile for more than 40 years and was only permitted to return to Vietnam in 2005.

7. Royal Theatre

wanderlust-tips-top-cultural-and-historic-sights-in-hue5

The Royal Theatre, begun in 1826 and later home to the National Conservatory of Music, has been rebuilt on its former foundations. Even when performances aren’t on, it’s free to sit in the plush chairs or examine the fascinating display of masks and musical instruments from Vietnamese theatre, with English descriptions.

Cultural performances here last 45 minutes. Southeast of here almost nothing remains of the Thai To Mieu temple complex (it’s now a plant nursery) and the former University of Arts.

8. Halls of the Mandarins

wanderlust-tips-top-cultural-and-historic-sights-in-hue8

Located immediately behind Thai Hoa Palace, on either side of a courtyard, these halls were used by mandarins as offices and to prepare for court ceremonies. The hall on the right showcases fascinating old photographs (including boy-king Vua Duya Tan’s coronation), gilded Buddha statues and assorted imperial curios. Behind the courtyard are the ruins of the Can Chanh Palace, where two wonderful long galleries, painted in gleaming scarlet lacquer, have been reconstructed.

9. Dien Tho Residence

wanderlust-tips-top-cultural-and-historic-sights-in-hue4

The stunning, partially ruined Dien Tho Residence (1804) once comprised the apartments and audience hall of the queen mothers of the Nguyen dynasty. The audience hall houses an exhibition of photos illustrating its former use, and there is a display of embroidered royal garments. Just outside, a pleasure pavilion above a lily pond has been transformed into a cafe worthy of a refreshment stop.

10. Thai Hoa Palace

wanderlust-tips-top-cultural-and-historic-sights-in-hue-111

This 1803 palace is a spacious hall with an ornate timber roof supported by 80 carved and lacquered columns. It was used for the emperor’s official receptions and important ceremonies. On state occasions the emperor sat on his elevated throne, facing visitors entering via the Ngo Mon Gate. No photos are permitted, but be sure to see the impressive audiovisual display, which gives an excellent overview of the entire Citadel, its architecture and the historical context.

Lonely Planet | Wanderlust Tips | Cinet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.