Vietnam: Ancient Hue and the Perfume River

Outside the gates of Hue’s historic citadel, a flock of young women pass by on bicycles wearing impossibly white and pristine ao dai.

Students and workers stop to buy banana-leaf-wrapped packages of sticky rice. Shopkeepers survey the traffic  then walk back inside holding steaming bowls of noodle soup.

I often felt that life in Vietnam carries on regardless of history or politics, and particularly so in the ancient capital of Hue.

Hue, Vietnam

The Nguyen dynasty built their Forbidden Purple City (based on the one in Beijing) when the feudal lords held sway from the 17th to 19th centuries but now only shattered remains sit peacefully in a grass-grown garden, surrounded by a teeming, nearly million-strong Vietnamese city.

Hue fort, Vietnam

This battle-scarred Unesco World Heritage site is punctuated by bullet holes from the fierce battles of the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Minh Mang Mausoluem, Hue, Vietnam

A slow process of restoration is underway in the walled citadel and there are a handful of reminders of what must once have been glorious.

Hue citadel, Vietnam

Fantastical enamelled creatures decorate the roofs of temples and residences.

Hue, Vietnam

Reconstructions of statues of Nguyen Lords inhabit now-empty courtyards.

From Hue I took a small boat cruise up the fabled Perfume River. The brightly-painted wooden boat putt-putted slowly up the jungle-lined waterway and leaving the hot Vietnamese city behind for these lush hills was a wonderful retreat to paradise.

Perfume River Cruise, Hue, Vietnam

That was the idea for the Nguyen lords anyway. We visited the tombs of emperors set beside the river. They are much more than just mausoleums but whole living spaces and exquisite gardens with lakes and other water features.

Hue citadel, Vietnam
The Minh Mang mausoleum has a pleasing processional pathway from gateway through courtyard and temple to a pavilion of pure light reached through a cloud of frangipani trees. Gardens bisect the lake and rise ultimately to the funeral mound of the emperor.

Tu Duc mausoleum, hue, vietnam

The foppish poet emperor Tu Duc spent much of his time writing and enjoying his elaborate pleasure ground, even though it would ultimately become his mausoleum. The attached village of 104 wives and concubines was another drawcard away from the pressures of court life in Hue.

Perfume River Cruise, Vietnam
The final stop was the elegantly tall Thien Mu pagoda. This riverbank Buddhist temple is often used as the official symbol of Hue but was a hotbed of anti-government protest back in the 1960s.

Hue pagoda, Vietnam

You can see here the powder-blue Austin in which monk Thich Quang Duc travelled from here to Saigon in 1963 to burn himself to death as part of this protest movement against restrictions imposed on Buddhist and Catholic Vietnamese.

Perfume River Cruise, Hue, Vietnam

Back in Hue, a woman collects greens from the moat surrounding the citadel. Hue was the capital of Vietnam right up until the communist government set up in Hanoi. For the people, life goes on.

Hue, Vietnam

By Natasha von Geldern

Have you travelled to Vietnam? Did you visit Hue?

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9 Replies to “Vietnam: Ancient Hue and the Perfume River”

  1. Michael

    It’s great to see awesome architectural designs especially from the far east like these ones you showed us. Very beautiful and captivating as well. I personally like the pagoda photo. 🙂

  2. Turtle

    I found Hue to be one of the more beautiful cities in Vietnam. It didn’t necessarily have the buzz of HCM or the European influences of Hanoi, but it was quite serene in its style.


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