Vietnam, Central Coast and Highlands
Info : Royal Kingdom
Due to the 20th century conflict in Vietnam many of its traditional heritage sites were damaged or destroyed. A visit to the ancient city of Hue, which was the former capital of Vietnam for many years, affords the visitor an important insight into the country's royal history prior to its colonisation by the French in 1887.
In the very early 19th Century, when the Nguyen Dynasty administered Vietnam from Hue, the Emperor Gia Long commenced construction of a mighty citadel among the rolling hills and mountains of Hue from where he could both live and rule. The resulting Imperial Citadel was modelled on the Forbidden City in Beijing, but unfortunately suffered much damage during the war years. Today the huge ancient complex of buildings used by the Emperor for living and administering his kingdom can still be explored, although some have fallen into ruin, offering visitors an atmospheric trip into Vietnam's ancient past. Many of the pavilions, bridges, libraries and great halls are now being carefully restored with help from UNESCO, and so some of the site has been rebuilt and restored to its former glory. Marvel at the legends of the Nguyen Dynasty emperors who built the fortress and lived within its moated walls for nearly 150 years and wander among both the restored buildings and dilapidated stone structures that make up the complex.
Continue on to one of the most famous sights in Hue Vietnam- the Thien Mu Temple. An octagonal tower of seven tiers rises majestically over the tranquil Perfume (Huong) River. The tower's design shows the historical influence of Chinese culture on Vietnam while the seven tiers are dedicated to different Buddhas. Beyond you may see robed monks chanting their mantra or novices carefully tending the bonsai garden. One unusual feature of this temple is the blue Austin Westminster motor car in the grounds - the same car that appeared on television screens around the world when a revered monk set himself on fire in central Saigon, in protest of a repressive Diem regime in the 60's.
Hue Vietnam has many historical sites and when touring in Hue there are many options as to what to see, but another location of note is Tu Duc's tomb. Emperor Tu Duc was the 4th emperor of the Nguyen dynasty and reigned from 1847 to 1883. His ancient tomb site is peaceful and tranquil with many lotus flower lakes (which only flower at certain times of the year). However an element of mystery with the tomb is that Tu Duc was actually buried in a secret place to avoid thieves, and as of yet his true burial site remains discovered! Another burial site for one of Vietnam's 20th century emperors is the tomb of Emeperor Khai Dinh, who was essentially a puppet king for the French in 1916. Built from 1920 to 1931, his tomb is actually a strange mish mash of both Vietnamese and Western styles and is brightly coloured and flamboyant with brightly coloured mosaics of porcelain pieces. It provides an interesting snapshot into Vietnam in the early 20th century, as a country both maintaining traditional aspects of its culture while also adopting some aspects of French influence too.
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The guides at both Hanoi (Hung) and Saigon (Tei) were fantastic with great knowledge and enthusiasm, nothing seem too much trouble for them. The vehicles at both cities were very comfortable and made a huge difference to the experience esp with long transfer distances to Halong Bay/ Megong delta. All the tours were really good and carried out at a pace to suit us.