Hue, Vietnam: Perfume River and Nguyen Dynasty Tombs

We are now in Luang Prabang in Laos; but as usual I have fallen behind with the blog mainly due to lack of a decent Internet connection. Anyway – to Hue and our last few days in Vietnam.
Annie and Quique travelled with us by bus from Hoi An and we kind of got stranded in Hue because of a Vietnamese national holiday that celebrates the economic and social achievements of workers and which lasted 5 days – so instead of 2 nights in Hue we were there for 5 nights but at a great ‘training school’ hotel called Villa Hue. It was a beautiful place and for £25 a night we got a huge luxurious bedroom with massive fancy bathroom. The place only had 12 bedrooms and it’s a training school for students majoring in hospitality and tourism. This meant that they couldn’t do enough for us and we got absolutely spoiled rotten…we were even given free cake vouchers – what more could you ask for. The staff were very conscientious because they want to pass their exams and do well. They should open up training school hotels worldwide so we can all enjoy better service. So even though we couldn’t get a bus, train or flight out of Hue (pronounced huway) because they were all booked solid by local people travelling around the country; at least we were in a great hotel.
Annie and Quique came with us on a private one day tour of the Nguyễn Dynasty tombs. We started with a boat up the Perfume River which stopped off at the river bank en route so we could hop and off and visit 3 major sites.
The boats are wooden and decorated with dragon images and you sit on random loose plastic chairs inside. The family who owns the boat takes you along the route; they don’t speak any English but the hotel had given them a route to follow.

The family of 4 we were with lived on the boat; they had their cooking quarters in the back near the engine and their 2 kids played amongst us for the trip; the mother came out and tried to flog us a load of tourist tat – but long hardened to the hard sell none of us succumbed!

Annie showing the kids their photos.
Annie about to get impaled in the back by a sharp tin lid! The kids thought it was hysterical.

Don’t be fooled – he was a right little bugger.


Our first stop was at the Thien Mu pagoda. Its stupa has seven storeys and is the tallest in Vietnam. The temple is often the subject of folk rhymes and ca dao about Hue, such is its iconic status and association with the city. It is regarded as the unofficial symbol of the former imperial capital. The pagoda sits on the Khê hill, in the ward of Hương Long in Hue. It is around 3 km of the Citadel of Hue constructed by the Nguyen Dynasty


Dave and Quique relax at the Thien Mu pagoda grounds.


….and Quique left behind a souvenir of his visit; a sweat bum print! It was a sweltering hot day by 10 in the morning. He’s going to kill me for putting this on the blog.


Ladies day out for the May 1st holiday.


We were amazed to see on display the car that had once belonged to the monk Thich Ouang Duc who infamously burnt himself to death in protest in Saigon in 1963. The photograph of the monk engulfed in flames is famous worldwide.


Immediately after seeing the car and the image Annie and I met one of the local monks who kindly allowed us to take his photograph.

A bridge over the Perfume River.


A worker in a rice field on the banks of the river.


River boat life.


Sand dredging.


Our next stop was at the stunning ruins of some tombs we cannot remember the name of, just a short climb up from the river bank. We have named them the 102 degree ruins because that was the temperature recorded on Quique’s watch at the time; it just kept getting hotter and hotter and really humid. The local motorbike taxis tried to tell us it was at least a 40 minute walk to the ruins but as expected it was only 10 minutes. At this point we were getting wise to the jokers. We limply explored the tombs, clothes sticking to us, sweat pouring off us, before heading back to the boat.

Further along the river we stopped at the Minh Mang tomb where he is actually interred in a tomb. It’s a beautiful site with ornate bridges, carved wooden buildings and large expanses of water. We saw a water snake slip quickly through one stretch of water and disappear in to the banked brick wall on the other side. It moved so quickly and surely through the water that it barely caused a ripple. We parted company with the family boat people here and joined a car and driver to visit the last 2 tombs on our tour.


We stopped for lunch which wasn’t particularly good but they did serve a bizarrely elaborate shrimp paste on cocktail sticks speared in to a pineapple dragon. All looks and no content; it tasted bloody awful.


A thunderstorm rolled in at lunch turning the sky a moody dark blue; which we thought would cool the air but only seemed to increase the humidity. Our next stop was The Khai Dinh tomb which was the highlight of the day. Only recently built in the 1920’s, it looms darkly on top of a hillside up a steep flight of steps.


Emperor Khải Định was the 12th Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty in Vietnam. His name at birth was Prince Nguyen Buu Dao. He said he wanted to restore the prestige of the empire, but this was not possible with his close collaboration with the French occupiers. Although not satisfied with his position, Khai Dinh enacted a policy of close collaboration with the French government, following all of their instructions to give ‘legitimacy’ to French policies. Because of this, Khai Dinh was very unpopular with the Vietnamese people. The nationalist leader Phan Chu Trinh accused him of selling out his country to the French and living in imperial luxury while the people were exploited by France.


All of this interior is elaborately decorated with tile, mosaic from floor to ceiling; it was breath taking.


Smoke on the water at our last stop.


Tu Duc tomb was our final stop of the day; very pretty as it is surrounded by water but not as simulating as the other sites we visited that day and to be honest at this point we were completely knackered and threatening to collapse in a molten heap from heat exhaustion!

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