Hue, Vietnam | Cycling Tour to the Citadel and Imperial Palace in Hue

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Sightseeing in Hue

The bygone glories of Hue still resonate within the walls of the Imperial Palace and Enclosure. Once home to the Nguyen emperors the Citadel complex is still the principal sight of the old capital city. Hence a trip to view the many palaces that lie hidden within was a must for us during our stay in Hue. We were ready to throw ourselves into some serious sight seeing and Vietnamese history lessons after our visit to the site of the abandoned waterpark the day before.

Cycling on Holiday

We had reserved bikes for the entire time of our stay in Hue to avoid being tied to the complimentary bus schedule of the Pilgrimage Hotel or the randomness of local taxis. We knew cycling into town would be busier on the main roads than the way to the off the beaten track destination of the waterpark, but we like exploring by bikes and enjoy the advantage of stopping whenever and wherever without having to order a driver around.

On the Streets of Hue

After a lazy breakfast we picked up our bikes and some cold water bottles (an essential in the heat) and headed into town. There was so much to see, Jerome and I stopped on the roadside shortly after leaving the hotel behind, there was a girl, headphones in ear and probably not much older than Jerome guarding three lots of baskets filled with baby ducklings. The sweet sound of their quacking was heart wrenching and they looked too cute with their yellow fluffy downy covering. Jerome would have loved to save them from their likely misfortune of eventually ending up in a pot. The girl seemed as curious in us foreigners as we were in the gaggle of ducklings. It did not appear that she had sold any yet but we would not see her on our way back from town later…

ducklings for sale

Rural Life in Hue

Cycling on, we passed the odd restaurant and shops selling all kinds of goods to the locals. There also were some make shift convenience stores that sold basic food and drinks and kids were outside in the courtyards playing or watching TV in the open living rooms.

vietnam with kids hue street view

vietnam with kids hue convenience store

vietnam with kids hue shrines for sale


Esplanade of Sacrifice to the Heaven and Earth

Once we reached the outskirts of Hue town we stopped at a park that we had noticed the previous day on our drive from the station to the hotel. Parking our bikes at the guard’s little hut, against a small 5000VND fee (this seemed to be common practice at most sights), we went to explore the grounds. The guard seemed pleased to have visitors, despite disturbing him from his cup of tea. We believe he rarely has travellers stop at his site, even though it is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The park turned out to be the Esplanade of Sacrifice to the Heaven and Earth (Dan Nam-Giao Dan), an imperial altar that served for annual prayer ceremonies to Heaven by the Nguyen dynasty regents. The king would proceed in an opulent procession on elephants from the Imperial City to the temple to offer a sacrifice to the gods.

vietnam with kids hue nam giao altar

vietnam with kids hue guards hut

vietnam with kids hue altar offerings

Exploring the Park

Strolling underneath the canopy of the tall pine trees, that provided us with a welcome shade, we headed towards the raised altar in the centre of the park. In front of the steps we found a table with offerings and incense. Taking the steps we reached the raised circular platform used for the annual worship. There was not much else to see besides an intricately decorated metal incense vessel and the sunlight peeking though the thick pine needles.

vietnam with kids hue nam giao incense burner

vietnam with kids hue nam giao banister

vietnam with kids hue nam giao incense

vietnam with kids hue nam giao pigeon huts

Riding onwards into Hue

Moving onwards into Hue town, along the main road, we rode downhill past many shops and restaurants. One building was boxed in by the next, and the pavement was busy with locals on their daily grind. Outside one building we saw a fan of incense sticks left to dry in the sun. We overtook a man in a wheel chair that had been fabricated from a plastic chair and some wheels of a disused bicycle and pram. The traffic was busy but did not feel any more dangerous than any other town. When we reached the road that runs parallel to the Perfume River, we moved onto the pavement, away from the busy traffic on the street. On a corner we watched some cycle rickshaw drivers play cards while waiting for the next customers.

vietnam with kids hue wheelchair

vietnam with kids hue nam giao rickshaw driver

vietnam with kids hue bia quoc hoc

vietnam with kids hue nam giao bia quoc hoc

The Perfume River

Crossing the road we found ourselves in the riverside park, sadly at that time undergoing some cosmetic works but still there were ponds and a playground, plus panoramic views of the Perfume River and the flag tower of the Imperial Citadel beyond. Jerome spotted the local style Dragon Boats floating down the river, these mainly serve as a tourist attractions and transport to the tombs further up river. There were also some unused swan pedal boats anchored, however no one seemed mad enough to ride them in the heat.

vietnam with kids hue rest on bench

vietnam with kids hue pedal boats

vietnam with kids hue swan pedal boats

vietnam with kids hue perfume river

The Heart of the Citadel

Cycling across the bridge towards the Imperial Enclosure we got another amazing view of the river and the lush green hills in the distance. We knew we were close to the Imperial Palace when we encountered the many souvenir stalls and shops lining the street and the annoying attempts of street vendors trying to sell us anything from local food and fruit to cheap mementos. A narrow bridge led us over the outer moat and funnelled us, along with a throng of mopeds, through a gate into the heart of the Citadel. Immediately after the Citadel’s wall was a parking lot for motorbikes and bicycles but we thought the fee of 25.000 VND was rather steep compared to what we had paid before and rode on to find another spot to park our bikes.

vietnam with kids hue motorbikes

vietnam with kids hue souvenir shops

vietnam with kids hue flag tower

Cafe Gac Mang Re

In the end we ended up at Café Gac Mang Re that allowed us to leave our bikes for our visit of the Imperial Palace against having a cup of tea and juice. The staff was very friendly and helpful and we had lunch there after our extensive visit of the Imperial Enclosure.

vietnam with kids hue marquis

vietnam with kids hue cafe

vietnam with kids hue citadel gate

vietnam with kids hue exit gate

The Impressive Exit Gate of the Imperial Enclosure

Sadly the impressive gate opposite the café served solely as an exit to the Imperial Enclosure and we walked back along the inner moat and through the gardens towards the main entrance gate. On the way we passed the General Museum Complex where we saw a line up of tanks and other war vehicles, much like on our visit to the Military Museum in Hanoi.

vietnam with kids hue street cafe

vietnam with kids hue local dwelling

vietnam with kids hue lottery tickets

vietnam with kids hue war museum

The Ticket Office of the Imperial Enclosure

Opposite the impressive flag tower we finally arrive at the ticket office.  Read more about our visit of the Imperial Enclosure of Hue in my next post.

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