I must admit that my first knowledge of Hue, the former capital of Vietnam, was when I saw the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket in which the final battle scene takes place in Hue and the whole town seemed to be destroyed. The fact that those scenes were actually filmed in London should have given me a clue that the real Hue (pronounced “Way”) is nothing like how it was shown.
There was a fair amount of damage done to Hue during the Vietnam War, but many of those damaged historic buildings have been restored, and today Hue is a fascinating place to visit because of the magnificent architecture that is on display there.
The city is strategically located on the banks of the Perfume River, near the coast almost midway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It was Vietnam’s capital during Nguyen Dynasty which lasted from the 17th century until 1945 when a communist government was established and the seat of power was moved north to Hanoi.
As the former royal capital there is much to see in Hue, chief among which is the Royal Citadel which is a vast complex of palaces, temples, moats and pavilions which takes quite some time to fully explore.
The Citadel was both a place of impressive royal ceremonies and of mass murder under the Viet Cong who threw 3,000 citizens to their deaths over a nearby cliff face.
Another of the attractions is the Emperors’ Tombs. These are located to the south and one of the more interesting ways to see them is from the Perfume River. It is easy to pick up a cruise, and you can get to the tombs by road if you wish to have a quicker trip. The tombs span a distance of 13 kilometres, with some being more elaborate than others. The most extravagant is the Tomb of Minh Mang which covers several hectares and which features several lakes and beautifully wooded areas.
The Tomb of Tu Duc is also very serene as the Emperor used for his own recreating as well as for his resting place. It do also has a lovely lake and gardens, but many of the buildings have fallen into disrepair.
There are several hot springs near Hue, which many visit because of their reputed health benefits. Nevertheless, it is still refreshing to swim or soak in the hot springs which provide a restful break from touring.