It was sunny and very humid, typical of a Vietnamese summer. The day before that, we arrived in Hue, the old capital of Vietnam, particularly of the Nguyen dynastic rule. The rest of the day we spent exploring the old forbidden city, the imperial city. It was nearest to where we stayed.
This day, since we did not have an itinerary in mind, we went to a travel agency just across our hotel along Le Loi street. The agency booked the four of us to tour the five most important places in Hue… according to her. With that, we already had a car and a driver that will drive us to these places from 8am to 4pm, only for $35US!
The driver spoke no English at all so he just pointed the list of places where we’ll go in order. Seems like we went first to the nearest of the city center as he drove towards south west of the city towards Thien Mu Pagoda which was an important place of worship during the ancient times. Before, the pagoda could only be accessed by travelling along Perfume River and disembarking along the banks which was in front of the temple grounds.
Then, we went to a garden whose name escapes me now as the caretaker shooed as away since we need to pay additional fee to enter. So it’s not even worth mentioning… that was supposed to be the second place.
Next we went to the tomb of Khai Dinh, one of the last emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty. I am impressed with the very intricate architecture and grandeur of the place which resembled a palace. The place is almost made entirely of stone and craftily sculptured statues of dragons and mandarins are all over the place. At the top of the tomb is a museum featuring the life of Khai Dinh as an emperor and the story of the construction of the tomb.
We had a brief stop to have lunch and I had Vietnamese spring rolls.
After lunch we went to Tu Duc tomb… and it was a huge contrast to Khai Dinh’s. While Khai Dinh’s was steely and compact, dark and grey – akin to his iron-fisted rule, Tu Duc’s was wide, sprawling with plants and trees and carefully manicured gardens. There was a huge pond encircling the place filled with water lilies.
Tu Duc’s tomb was so large that it resembled a forest, a garden forest. It is a living poetry breathed into life which reflects Tu Duc’s gentle personality and educated upbringing. Every now and then monuments spring up covered with moss and forest vines. This is my kind of place where I can relax and think about life (haha)
Around 2:30 we went to our last destination – the Tu Hieu Pagoda. There was nothing so special about the place until 3:00PM came. Buddhist nuns suddenly appeared, in a queue and silently, walking across the temple gardens. It was time for their 3pm meditation walk. They were wearing flowing bluish white monk robes and the iconic vietnamese hat and they seemed like floating more than walking! It was the most surreal thing I have ever seen.
Around 4pm, we went back to the city center where we enjoyed the views and the sunset over the Perfume River. Our stay in Hue was brief but I enjoyed and learned so much about Vietnam’s ancient history and cultural heritage.