Hue is the ancient capital of Vietnam with many tombs from various Emperors spread about the countryside. We wanted to see some of them and they are fairly spread out so we booked an 8 hour city bus tour for $13 each. Lunch and an English guide were included, entry fees were not. We were picked up in a big old tour bus which only had about 15 people on it. It was 31C which is unusually hot for January.
The first stop was the Tomb of Tu Duc build between 1864 and 1867 by the “unhappy” Emperor. Unhappy because he had no children (this is still considered very sad in Vietnam) he had 100’s of concubines and he wrote poems.
You can pay 150,000 VND to dress up and sit in his thrown which is actually a replica because the original was stolen in 1933. He did not live to see construction completed. His mother is buried there but it is generally believed that he is not. Despite building elaborate tombs most Emperors were buried in secret locations. It’s a nice park area with a lake.
We learned that you should always enter and exit tombs on the right.
Next stop was the Tomb of Khai Dinh built on a hill between 1910 and 1925 it’s a mixture of European and Asian style. It’s very elaborate with some remarkable mosaics.
We learned that tombs have two pillars which are candles to lead the way for the dead and that even today families burn things for dead family members that they think they may need. You see paper replicas in stores for burning, scooters, phones, money. These are burned on the anniversary of the day before a loved one’s death.
We then went on to the Tomb of Minh Mang built between 1820 and 1840. His body is actually believed to be in his tomb which is behind a locked gate. It was opened once a year on the anniversary of his death but it was locked forever in 1945 when Vietnam lost its last Emperor.
It took Minh Mang so long to plan the tomb that he died a year after construction was started and the project had to be completed by his son. The three mountains in the background provide a natural shield from evil.
Our next stop was a local Martial Arts school where we paid 70,000 VND for a demo which included a small dragon dance and some impressive displays including a guy holding a spear to his throat while another guy put a brick on his back and hit it with a hammer.
We also stopped to see some local crafts being make, incense and hats which had scenes cut into them you could see when you held them up to the light. It was a warm day so there was lots of incense out drying in the sun. Also lots of laundry!
Lunch was an un-labled buffet it tasted OK but I am still not sure what we ate.
After lunch we went to the Imperial Enclosure which was home to the Emperors up until 1945. It’s a big complex and you could spend a good part of the day there. We visited the Thai Hoa Palace where the Emperor would receive visitors and the Mieu Temple complex where there are shrines to the 13 Emperors of Vietnam. 10 have alters three do not. One because he only lasted 3 days as Emperor, one because he abdicated to the French in 1945 and I am not sure what the other one did.
We visited the forbidden purple city where the councilors and families lived. One Emperor had 500 concubines! It is amazing when you think about it that palace life was still in full swing in 1945. The Emperor would hold court on the 1st and 15￼ th lunar day of each month with all of the mandarins standing outside. Last stop in the complex was the Royal Theater which is still in use. Like many sights in Vietnam the complex was badly damaged by bombs in the Vietnam war.
Our final stop for the day was the Thien Mu Pagoda which we visited the day before but we learned a lot going with a guide. The turtle in front is lucky and students come by and rub it before exams. The white lady Buddha Image which is on a mountain is also a student spot. They go there and burn incense and drink a bottle of Aquafin water after it burns out before an exam. I am not sure why it needs to be Aquafin.
The day ended with a dragon boat ride on the perfume river. Very touristy but nice. Overall a great deal for $13 each.
We went back to the walking streets, Chu Van An and Phan Ngu Law which are open to traffic during the week. Good cheap food and 8,000 VND beer.