Where We Be
The royal tomb for Minh Mang is actually more like a symmetrical series of pavilions
and gateways set in a gorgeous landscaped park than a tomb as we might think of it
Hue, Vietnam
Hue (pronounced hway) sits near the midpoint
of Vietnam and was the imperial capital for 143
years from 1802 to 1945. When we arrived by
overnight train, we noticed it felt hotter than it
had in the north, but a cool breeze wafting off
the Perfume River kept things bearable. After
getting settled, we walked through sculpture-
filled parks along the river to the Citadel -- the
royal residence of emperors. The immense
walled complex surrounded by a moat was
designed to repulse invaders as well as serve
as a royal city forbidden to commoners.

Visiting the Citadel is one of the must-do's in
Hue. The other is seeing the royal mausoleums
of the emperors situated along the Perfume
River. This makes for an excellent day trip. We
paid $10 each for a motorcycle tour of the three
most celebrated tombs -- those for Minh Mang,
Tu Duc, and Khai Dinh -- along with a few other
sites and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
The tile-roofed bridge was built in 1776
We loved this dragon made out of conical Vietnamese hats!
Nearby a fishing net stands ready to be dipped into the river.
A flood marker shows the extremely high flood levels in 1999.
Certain elements are present at all the tombs, like these mandarin and animal statues -- plus
obelisks, steles, courtyards, and side pavilions for the emperor’s mandarins and concubines
Dragons are everywhere, some with playful green-
glass eyes and others with fierce curlicue whiskers
Last up was the elaborate mausoleum of Khai Dinh, the second-to-last
Nguyen emperor (1916-1925). The view from the top is quite beautiful.
The outer monuments are stark and forbidding, but as you work your way to the top, you reach Thien Dinh Palace
itself, which is a baroque extravaganza of colored glass mosaics and psychedelic painted dragon ceiling
We liked the palace precisely because it was so over-
the-top -- plus we're suckers for glass mosaic tiles!
Khai Dinh was deeply unpopular with his own people. He taxed them heavily to finance
the construction of his tomb and lived in luxury while his people suffered under the French.
Minh Mang was the second Nguyen emperor (1820-1841). He was a capable ruler
and a staunch Confucian who didn’t look too favorably on the French. There’s a nice
symmetry to his buildings and grounds and a subdued elegance to the architecture.
The Minh Mang site was serene and almost deserted when
we visited – a surprise given how lovely this regal tomb is
The grounds were gorgeous, with frangipani
trees and water views from the pavilion sites.
The harmony and balance of architecture and
landscaping made this our favorite royal tomb
It was easy to find benches in the shade near the lakes where you could rest from the heat.
The complete lack of traffic noise made this one of the most peaceful places we visited.
Tu Duc was emperor shortly after Minh Mang (1847-1883). He reigned for
35 years and was even less of a fan of the growing influence of the French.
Tu Duc reigned longer than any other Nguyen emperor. He liked poetry and nature and moved
into his own tomb site for the last 16 years of his life -- which sounds creepy, but not with tombs like these!
Despite having something like 200 concubines, he died childless due to smallpox, which rendered him infertile.
We found the buildings and courtyards understated and
simple, but with bright swatches of color here and there
A serpentine stone-lined waterway winds through the lovingly landscaped grounds
By this time we were wilting in the midday heat but
determined to press on to the last of the three major tombs
These mandarins (high civil servants)
stand ready for the emperor's command
There's a picturesque pavilion over the lake called Xung Khiem Pavilion but it
was covered with scaffolding when we visited. This is a smaller lakeside pavilion.
This is the Tiger Arena (Ho Quyen). Here fights to the death were arranged between tigers and elephants for the amusement of the emperor. Built
in 1830 during the reign of Minh Mang, it was the only such coliseum in all of Southeast Asia. It's said that the emperor eventually fixed the fights, having
the tigers’ claws and fangs removed to make sure the elephants won. Why? Because elephants symbolized the monarchy and tigers symbolized rebellion!
Our final stop was the seven-story Thien Mu Pagoda -- the tallest in Vietnam. Built in 1601,
it's one of Hue's most recognizable landmarks. The site is free to enter and only 3 km from Hue.
Also housed here is the Austin auto used by Quang Duc when he set
himself on fire in Saigon in 1963 to protest the crackdown on Buddhists
As if to counterbalance the laughing Buddha are these
smaller statues of frowning and deeply angry monks
The pagoda stands on a hill and the grounds at the top are beautiful
Especially lovely are these delicate flowers growing in a lily pond
We say goodbye to our two amiable motorcycle drivers
as they drop us off at our hotel after a very fun outing
Hue sits on the banks of the Perfume River. We enjoyed walking through
the green parks with sculptures that border the river on either side.
Two of our favorite Hue sculptures
We crossed this bridge to the north bank of the
Perfume River and continued walking to the Citadel
The Citadel was built by the first Nguyen emperor, Gia Long, beginning in 1804. It’s an immense
walled complex surrounded by a moat, so it was clearly meant to repulse invaders as well as serve
as the royal city. It’s instantly recognizable in Hue by the enormous Vietnamese flag flying over it.
This is one of the imposing
entrance gates to the imperial city
The Royal Reading Room (Thai Binh Lau) is the only building
to survive both the French reoccupation and American bombs
The Citadel has a perimeter of almost 2½ km, so there is plenty of room inside the
walls for gardens, palaces, libraries, temples, pavilions, ceremonial halls, and more
Impressive ceramic decorations cover Thai Bin Lau,
where emperors would read books and write letters
Unfortunately most of the original buildings were destroyed
by American bombs and fighting during the Vietnam War
The Mandarin Buildings once served as offices
for the emperor's most trusted civil servants
A Vietnamese woman pays her respects in front of To Mieu Temple
This colorful demon keeps two eyes on you as you exit the Citadel
This friendly fellow and his brother offered to take us on a
tour of the royal tombs and other key sites for just $10 each
We drove out into the countryside, past green rice paddies and farmers in conical hats, past flocks of
quacking ducks paddling in irrigation ditches, and past the Perfume River and several of its offshoots
Our first stop, about 6 km from Hue, was Thanh Toan Bridge, a historic wooden bridge that
crosses a canal. It was decked out in colorful decorations in celebration of the Hue festival.
This large central courtyard, once a gathering place for the emperor
and his civil servants, is now being prepared for an evening concert
The Citadel
Motorcycle Tour
Khai Dinh Tomb
Minh Mang Tomb
Tu Duc Tomb
Tiger Arena & Thien Mu Pagoda
A 12-hour overnight train ride took us from Tam Coc (near Hanoi) to Hue -- and Hue is still only in central
Vietnam near the old dividing line between north and south. It makes you realize just how long and narrow this
country is. We're talking over 3,000 km (2,000 miles) of coastline along the South China Sea.  [Not my photos]
Everywhere we went we saw signs for the Hue Arts Festival,
large parts of which took place inside the Citadel itself
Parts of the Citadel feel like a smaller
version of the Forbidden City in Beijing
Nine Dynastic Urns honor the Nguyen
emperors at the To Mieu Temple
At each tomb we were given an entry ticket. The cost
for each tomb is $4 (80,000 dong) per person.
Inside a pavilion at the far end is a large
golden statue of a ridiculously happy Buddha