Amsterdam view from Amsterdam Tower

Amsterdam view from Amsterdam Tower
The view from Amsterdam Tower

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hue and Hoi An (Part 1)


* This story posting consists of two parts: 1) Hue and 2) Hoi An.
Below is the story on Hue. Meanwhile the story on Hoi An is uploaded separately.

When I had a chance to do more sight-seeing last month (September), I finally decided to go to central Vietnam to visit Hue (Huế) and Hoi An (Hội An). The reason of choosing the two places is purely because I was mesmerized by my own imagination about how beautiful these towns are. No doubt, there must be the reason why both have been recognized as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

I wanted to see the palaces, temples, buildings, culture and the people. As part of the travel preparation, I searched for info about those places and I started to ask myself and guess how people used to live in those centuries…

Glance of info about these two cities:

Hue is well known for its historic monuments, which have earned it a place in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. 
    • It was the imperial capital of the Nguyễn Dynasty between 1802 and 1945. There was seat of the Nguyễn emperors in Citadel, which occupies a large, walled area on the north side of the Perfume River. Inside the Citadel was a forbidden city where only the emperors, concubines, and those close enough to them were granted access. 

        Hoi An - the ancient town was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO as a well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port of the 15th to 19th centuries, with buildings that display a unique blend of local and foreign influences.


          After 80 minutes flying from Ho Chi Minh City, I arrived safely in Hue. It was a drizzling afternoon and apparently it has been the rainy season in Hue. A female representative and a driver from the hotel picked me up. They are polite, friendly, and enjoyed talking to me because they thought I am a Vietnamese -:)

          One of the interesting views, which is a rare view in Ho Chi Minh City; school students ride their bicycle from school to home. In the rain, people in the street is wearing colorful raincoats and many of them is violet colored. Later on I found out that violet has a special connection to the town’s heritage as an ancient capital.

          Tu Duc Tomb

          Well, the travel to the world heritage started! There are some options for transportation in doing city tour in Hue; either by land (car/taxi/motorbike/cyclo) or by boat. Luckily I chose the car, as the rain had not stopped so perhaps it was not a good idea to travel by boat. The same driver who picked me up at the airport was my driver for that day. He does not speak English much but we survived.

          The first destination was to visit Tu Duc Tomb. One said that Tu Duc Tomb is not only one of the most beautiful works of the Nguyen dynasty, but it is also romantic scenery of mounts and lakes. 

          It was a drizzling afternoon; still it did not discourage tourists from visiting the place. Raincoats and umbrellas were everywhere.

          About Emperor Tự Đức, he was the fourth emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty of Vietnam and reigned from 1847–1883. More of his history is in this link:

          Entering the Tomb, we can see a lake with lotus garden on the right side and two pavilions. This is my favorite spot. The two pavilions are old and beautiful and they are situated at the lotus garden. From the history, I found out that apparently this lake is called Luu Khiem Lake* and the Emperor used to come to admire flowers, compose poems, read books, etc. Can you imagine that we are in the 20th century experience to be in the 18th century Emperor’s palace and read our favorite book while looking at his lotus garden? 

          About the Tomb, its construction started in December 1864 and finished in 1867. Inside the surrounding wall about 12 hectares wide nearly 50 constructions were built on terraces of various levels (about 10m difference). The tomb is divided into two main parts:

          1. The temple area: Entering Vu Khiem entrance, there is Luu Khiem Lake*. See my notes in the previous paragraph about the lake and the two pavilions which are called Xung Khiem and Du Khiem. 
          2. The tomb area: On the left of the temple is the necropolis itself slopping upward with the Honor Courtyard, the Stele Pavilion, and the sepulture.

          Behind the Stele Pavilion, there is the Emperor’s Tu Duc’s Tomb and I could see the ruins of the palace of his concubines. The history said that he had many concubines. My mind was wondering around, they had to be pretty, mmm… I wanted to see how they dressed up and put on their make-up, wow… Did they have competition among themselves to be the favorite one in the Emperor’s eyes?

          Anyway, the walk continued and I decided to come inside the Tomb. Some areas were dark and it felt spooky. Especially because it rained outside and the weather was humid. Takut…. Berdiri bulu kudukku (lagu dangdut kali -:). However, even though it was creepy to me, I still think that this Tomb is my second favorite building inside the tomb. It is a beautiful, lovely, mysterious place…

          I wish I could spend more time in this tomb, but it was time to move on. More info on the Tu Duc Tomb is in this link:

          Citadel – Imperial City

          The driver dropped me off at Citadel and warned me that it is a huge place so I might need more time to explore it, he would pick me up later after two hours.

          This place reminds me of the Forbidden City in China, even though I have never been there. Rain poured when I arrived, some tourists were gathering at the gate building waiting for the rain to be friendly. It is an old gate building but still shows its strength.

          I sat on the floor while looking at the yellow/golden dragon statue who was staring back at me! He looked very solid, sat straight still under the heavy rain. 

          Citadel seems to be a city inside the city of Hue. This Imperial City is a walled fortress and palace in the former capital of Vietnam. The construction of the Citadel took place from 1805 to 1832.  The grounds of the Imperial City were surrounded by a wall 2 km by 2 km, and the walls were surrounded by a moat. The water from the moat was taken from the Huong River (Perfume River) that flows through Hue. This structure is called the citadel.

          Green garden is almost everywhere in between one building to another, I wish I could ride a bike while exploring this huge place. There are so many sites/places inside this city such as Khon Thai Palace, Kien Trung Palace, Trieu Tu Mieu Temple, Fine Art Museum of Hue, a building used for performances, souvenir shop and so many others.

          The city was made a UNESCO site in 1993. The buildings that still remain are being restored and preserved. Unfortunately, most of the buildings were destroyed during the Vietnam War.

          Thien Mu Pagoda

          The Pagoda is situated in a hill looking towards the Perfume River and this fact seems to add “romantic charm” to this place. Especially in a drizzling afternoon and almost dusk, as I arrived there. On the river bank, there was a lady offering tourists to go for sightseeing on her boat. 

          Before entering the Pagoda, I stood outside for a while admiring the beautiful scenery, looked down at the river. It was so peaceful.  I feel more peaceful to find out that actually this Pagoda is still active and used by the monks. Some young monks rode their bicycles to the Pagoda areas. 

          According to legend, the people around this area used to see a vision of an old lady appearing on the hill where the pagoda now sits. Upon seeing people, she always said that someday a great leader would build a pagoda at this site to bring peace to the country. One day, when Lord Nguyen Hoang passed by this area, upon hearing the story, he ordered the construction of the pagoda in 1601. He named it Chua Thien Mu - Heavenly Lady Pagoda.

          HUE – Tranquil Evening

          Visiting three sites in half a day tour was a challenging itinerary. I was dry and wet, then I was dry again by the time I arrived at the Hotel. It was raining again during the night. Nothing was better than hot shower and hot chocolate. I preferred to stay in my room, listened to raindrop, and read the good night story. I went out only to the small bar to enjoy hot chocolate.

          Each night, the housekeeping staff knocked on my door and gave me interesting story. On this first night, I got a story about “The Origin of Banh Giay and Banh Chung”. They are the two types of delicacies that are normally enjoyed by the Vietnamese people in the Lunar New Year. On the other night, it was “The Story of One Hundred of Eggs” - the ancestry of the Vietnamese people began. The story is about Lac Long Quan who was the child of mountain God and a Water Dragon Goddes.

          About the hotel: Somehow its style of reminds me of most hotels in Ubud, Bali/Indonesia.


          I took a shuttle bus provided by the hotel to Hue city together with three other girls from Hanoi, Germany and Australia.  Drop-off/pick-up points are at Tropical Garden Restaurant in Chu Van An Street.

          Right after we were dropped off, we were surrounded by cyclo drivers offering us their services. I paid 40,000 VND to go to Le Loi Street to see the oldest High Schools in Vietnam; Hai Ba Trung and Quoc Hoc High Schools. 

          Hai Ba Trung and Quoc Hoc High Schools

          I was told that each school used to be for boys and girls only. However they have mix students now. The school buildings are next to another. Both occupies French-style buildings lie along the south bank of the Perfume River.

          The school was started by Ngo Dinh Kha, who was a high-ranking mandarin under Emperor Thanh Thai. During the early part of the 20th century, the students included Kha's sons Ngo Dinh Diem and Ngo Dinh Can. Diem went on to be the President of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963, with his brothers occupying powerful roles.

          The school also educated many of Diem's leading political opponents. These included Ho Chi Minh, the President of North Vietnam, his Prime Minister Pham Van Dong and Defense Minister and Army Chief Vo Nguyen Giap.

          I decided to walk along this street just to see around. It was very funny as the cyclo driver insisted to take me around town, even though I said that I did already the city tour and I just wanted to walk. He was so persistent and followed me.

          Opposite the High School buildings, there is old building looks like a temple. It is located exactly at the banks of Perfume River. In rainy season like when I was there, wind blew strongly. I would imagine the situation in dry season, students finish school can cross the street and walk along the river. Nice view with tourists boats and perhaps the Citadel could be seen from far.

          Walking Continued

          I continued my walk and passed the Ho Chi Minh museum, La Residence Hotel & Spa, Green Hotel, Hue University, and there is a small bridge towards the Rail Station. The cyclo driver was still following me by the way.

          Then I returned to Le Loi Street and saw more nice buildings i.e. I think it is Goethe Institute as I see the name in a banner in front of the building and Le Ba Dang Art Museum.

          Lê Bá Đảng Museum

          Le Ba Dang Art Foundation occupies a nice white two story building. In the front terrace, there is a wooden carving that attracted my attention to drop by.

          I must admit that I have a very limited knowledge in art, please accept my apology. I did not know him until the minute I walked into his museum. More than 300 works and collections are attractively, luxuriously and originally exhibited here in a quiet and romantic space with a modern style. 

          His works are combination of two Eastern – Western cultures of various materials; oils-paint, water colors, acrylic on canvas, silk, synthetic papers and others which is made by himself. There exhibit some sculptures made of woods too.

          A little bit of his biography: Le Ba Dang was born in 1922 in Vietnam and immigrated in France in 1939 to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Toulouse. After 60 years working in the arts, he has obtained several international prestigious awards and medals, such as “Artist with great talent and humanity” award by the USA, “Arts and Cultural Medal” in 1994 by France and “Honor Vietnam Nation” title in 2005 and his works have been displayed in international cultural centres in France, Germany, Britain, Japan and the USA. See more info:

          Kept on Walking

          The same cycle driver stopped following me. Some other tried to offer their services but I turned down their offers. 

          I continued on walking and found a modern bookstore, Saigon Morin Hotel, Imperial Hotel, Gerbera Hotel, Century Hotel, DMZ bar, Century Hotel, XQ gallery, etc.  XQ gallery is a nice area that looks like a modern art village, there are some pavilions in the village and each has different characteristic such as embroidery, painting, and pottery.

          I wanted to end my walk by having lunch and sitting outside to enjoy Hue rainy day... Voila! I found DMZ Bar and Restaurant which is situated at a corner of Le Loi Street and Pham Ngu Lao. I sat comfortably and ordered vegetable penne and cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee with milk). I told myself that I could not leave Hue without having cà phê sữa đá!

          The restaurant has good speaking staff. The female staff liked to speak with me as they think I am unusual-:) I look like a Vietnamese but I turned out to be Indonesian.


          As I was walking back to the pick-up point of my shuttle bus, I realized that I was early. No shuttle bus yet. So I continued walking along Chu Van An Street and saw hotels, restaurants and shops. I entered a cute shop to satisfy my curiosity. This shop sells beautiful colorful "Áo Dài" including for dolls!  My niece would be happy to get one pair of purple “Áo Dài" for her Barbie…

          There are some traditional handicrafts and fashion accessories as well. I bought myself some “oleh-oleh” (souvenir). A set of jewelry (earrings and necklace) made of fabrics with flowers design and a dress. The dress was even customized according to my size and delivered safely to Ho Chi Minh City within less than a week!

          HUE AIRPORT

          At the minute I arrived, and by the minute I was leaving Hue, the rain was always there. Still it did not ruin my appetite to explore this city. Not at all….

          Hue airport was calm. “Phu Bai International Airport” has daily flights to and from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The two airlines that have flights to Hue are Vietnam Airlines and Jetstar Pacific Airlines.

          I departed Hue at 5pm and landed safely at Ho Chi Minh City at 6.20pm. I took a taxi whose driver was driving while talking on this mobile phone, he cleaned up his ears while driving, and also he coughed and sneezed…. Last symptoms are perhaps the side effect of rainy season.

          HOI AN

          Please refer to other posting which is “PART 2 - HOI AN” for more stories…


          1. Ho Chi Minh to Hue di toi hue la nho toi mon an hue. o hue co rat nhiu mon ngon ma lai re tien.

          2. Hi.
            Ho Chi Minh to Hue đi chơi huế chụp ảnh đẹp và đầy cổ kính.