More romantic than I ever imagined, the capital city of Thừa Thiên in Vietnam—Hue (pronounced ‘hway’) took me by surprise. Once the capital of the Nguyen dynasty, Hue has the perfect elements for enchanting regal stories with magnificent palaces, pagodas, tombs, temples, and a citadel with a forbidden city within its perimeters.
As soon as I, along with my girlfriend, came out of the Phu Bai (HUI) airport, the infamous weather of this lovely Vietnamese city greeted us with the light rain showers. From the airport to the hotel, the city which has rightly earned a place in UNESCO’s World Heritage Site listing, kept us glued to the picturesque views emerging from every corner. In all these years of travelling, I had never come across such contradiction of modern with historical architecture against the captivating backdrop of a river. Situated along the Perfume River, Hue has glamorous and fancy hotels as the contemporary face of the imperial city while the crumbling walls of the citadel represent its ancient heart.
Although, many of the historical buildings were destroyed in the American war, the century-old citadel in the World Heritage site of Hue, Vietnam is something extraordinary. Once only with exclusive access to the emperors, their concubines and confidants into the Forbidden City, a walk along the sprawling complex will transport you back to the time when the Kings and Queens were for real, and not just a part of the textbooks. The huge complex housing temples, moats, pavilions, galleries, shops and museums is delightfully peaceful, offering you a glimpse of the glorious bygone era. Although, the restoration work has been going on for the past 20 years, the Forbidden City is still left with plenty to see. Thái Hòa Palace or the Emperor’s coronation hall, Truờng Sanh Residence, which literally means the ‘Palace of Longevity’, and the Forbidden Purple City are some of the must-see parts of the citadel.
On the second day of my trip to the World Heritage site of Hue, Vietnam, I decided to cycle around to reach the much talked-about tombs of the emperors along the banks of Perfume River. Tomb of Gia Long is the remotest of them all, yet worth a visit with its quaint surroundings. However, the most memorable of my Hue visit was exploring the countryside on a bicycle. The city is blessed by nature with some of the most beautiful landscapes. Far-stretched paddy fields, fishing spots, duck farms and vibrant rural markets took my breath away. The locals are friendly but don’t fall for the ‘massage parlour’ scam, where pretty girls flirt and chat up with the tourists to extort big tips.
Don’t miss the ‘Imperial cuisine’ Hue is famed for. The most famous local delicacy is bún bò Hue, which is noodle soup served with beef slices and chili oil.