Hue Diary #1: Imperial City, Royal Palace & Mausoleum

Last weekend, my sister and I took a trip to Hue, a city in Central Vietnam and our former capital from 1802 to 1945. It was partly to celebrate our birthdays (our birthdays are close to each other so we tend to combine the celebration) and partly to give my niece and nephew a much-needed vacation. My sister and I have been to Hue before, but that was ages ago, and this was our first big trip since the pandemic, so naturally we were all excited. However, there was a recent spike in the number of COVID cases, so we could only get away for 3 days. Still, that was definitely enough to check out all the important sites of this lovely little city (if you love history and city exploration though, I’d recommend a week.)

Our first stop was the Imperial City, home to the Nguyen dynasty, the last feudal dynasty of Vietnam. Our hotel is within walking distance of the citadel, and there are so many trees that despite the hot sun, it was quite a nice walk. The citadel was neglected after 1945 and heavily damaged during the two wars, so there are still many empty/ruined places, but it gives the place a melancholic feel that I quite like. Another big plus is that there weren’t many people around. The main attraction – Thai Hoa palace, where the Emperor held court – being under renovation may account for the lack of tourists. We went to Dien Tho palace and Truong Sanh palace (residences of the Empress and Dowager Empress) and hardly saw anybody.

The main gate of the Imperial City

The temple dedicated to all 13 Nguyen Emperors

Inside the temple

A typical traditional outfit for Hue women (this particular shade is known as “Hue purple”)

The gallery surrounding Can Chanh Court, where the Emperor worked

The court itself was sadly destroyed in 1947 – this is all that remains

Later that day, we went outside the city to visit the Mausoleum of Emperor Tu Duc – there are four noteworthy mausoleums in Hue (those of Emperors Gia Long, Minh Mang, Tu Duc, and Khai Dinh) but Tu Duc’s is the best both in terms of style and scope. Set on a hillside and surrounded by pine trees, it is not just a place of burial but also a place of rest and relaxation for the Emperor while he was alive.

The mausoleum’s grounds

The main entrance

The entrance to the Emperor’s tomb (but not where he was actually buried. For superstitious reasons, most of the Nguyen emperors were buried in secret places)

If you have the time, the Mausoleum of Emperor Khai Dinh is also worth a visit for its wild mix of French and traditional Vietnamese styles, but since my sister and I have both been there before, we decided to check out a lesser-known site – An Dinh Palace. It was built by Khai Dinh in 1917 while he was the Crown Prince, and later became the residence of his son, Bao Dai, the last Emperor of Vietnam. It has the same mix of architectural styles, and there is still some original furniture to give you an idea of how they used to live back then, which I always enjoy. Also, it’s inside the city and doesn’t require a lot of time, and when you’re traveling with kids, that is always a plus.

Exterior of the palace

And the very Westernized interior

I thought the walls were papered – but they are actually painted by hand!

A totally-not-creepy room I found on the second floor (the palace is still being renovated, so there are many locked rooms)

More to come in the next post!


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