Visiting the Citadel: Hue’s Imperial City

Despite the heat (the weather forecast said it felt like 47 degrees) we braved the Imperial City today. All of the reviews talk about how hot it is in the City – the sunlight just bounces off the buildings, and there are almost no trees for shade. We braced ourselves for the worst, and it delivered.

We started in the morning, when things were still kind of okay. The biggest Vietnam flag I’ve ever seen was flapping in the breeze, looking down from its place high above the city walls.

Massive Vietnam flag

The entrance fee to the old city is 150,000 dong ($8), which is kind of expensive considering what you see. Thoughts of being in a café, drinking $1 milk tea, with a fan on my face, were definitely on my mind as a viable alternative to seeing the City. But we powered through the heat, since the Imperial City is the main attraction to see in Hue. We’d have felt a little bad if all we did in Hue was sit in cafés..

Don’t get me wrong – it was pretty. There were old gates with pretty flowers and patterns on them, and a palace with a tiny throne and gold leaf on the walls. Unfortunately, there was also zero shade, so we clung to the edges of buildings and praised the rare shade-giving trees. The courtyards were deserted, with people only daring to walk across if they absolutely had to. Everyone crowded in the shady spots, pretending to read scrolls of royal decrees about the postage service and farmers’ requests to measure their land so they could stay in the shade.

Gates to the palace
Lotus flower
The grand palace
Majestic hallway
Gate to Queen Mother’s Residence
Yellow building
Bonsai garden

The funny thing is that the Imperial City isn’t even really that old. It was built in the early 1800’s and was in use until the Vietnam War era. In fact, it was built as kind of a copy of the Forbidden City in Beijing. One thing I found interesting is that is was largely destroyed during the war, and you can even spot bullet holes in some of the walls.

Other than the main palace, the only area still mostly intact was the Queen Mother’s residence area, which is where the mother and grandmother of the Emperor lived. The reason it was intact is because it was entirely rebuilt, as the original houses were all constructed of wood and did not survive.

Having sweated our way across the entire Imperial City for several hours, we decided we’d had enough. With relief, we headed straight for the snacks and air conditioning in a nearby mall’s food court. I even learned a bunch of new Vietnamese words in the food court – words for rolled ice cream, milk jellies, yogurt drinks, pennywort juice (really glad I looked that one up before I could mistakenly order it) and other yummy things. Arguably, the mall was more of a cultural experience than the Imperial City – this is where real Vietnamese people spend 47 degree days, after all!

We got refreshing sugarcane juice, rolled ice cream, and a kind of weird jelly drink, before getting fast food burgers for lunch and spending the rest of the day in a café in front of a fan. Bliss.

Some of our treats!

In the evening, once it had cooled down, we walked along the river and checked out the night market. We got some ché – a sort of mixed fruit and ice dessert – and admired the colourful rainbow bridge!

To make ché, you just mix up all these strange and wonderful things and add ice!

After many a milk tea, our time in Hue has come to an end. Next up, we’re going to Dong Ha to explore the tunnels that allowed an entire village to live underground during the Vietnam War.


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