A guide to visiting the old forbidden city of Hue, former imperial capital city Vietnam
It seems fitting that I am writing this post on a rather grey day in London during the lockdown period. It was a rather grey day when I visited the Hue’s forbidden city too. And whilst we may not be living under imperialist rule, but I feel like I can sympathise with the citizens who were banned from going to it. We are essentially all banned from going anywhere that isn’t 100% necessary…
As mentioned, we visited the forbidden city of Hue on a rather grey and dreary day on our 2 week tour of Vietnam with Intrepid Travel. This meant we didn’t have any flexibility to visit on a nicer day. You can read all about the trip and the itinerary we followed by clicking here if you fancy. I must say thought the weather added a nice sense of foreboding for out visit to the imposing citadel.
The Imperial City
Don’t know how good your knowledge of imperial Vietnam is, mine isn’t great. But it seemed like an intimidating place, a city where only the Emperor and his court were allowed, so it created a nice atmosphere of uncertainty and apprehension. Even if it was mostly based on whether or not it might suddenly bucket down with rain.
The city is a UNESCO heritage site, and conjures up affiliations to ancient China and the forbidden city there. However the forbidden city of Hue is about 600 years younger than it’s Chinese counterpart, having only actually been built just over 200 years ago. Sadly, as a result of the various conflicts that have been fought in Vietnam in the previous century, not all of the structures remain today. The imperial palace is long gone, and only outhouses and the walls remain. However, what is left is extremely beautiful architecture and history. Restoration work is taking place across the site to help return some of the former glory it deserves.
Walking around the city walls from the car park demonstrates just how big the site is. The walls themselves are around 10km long, encompassing the forbidden city, known as the Purple Forbidden City. This is within a number of outer rings, which make up the rest of the imperial city. Entry fee was 200,000VND – which is about £7.
Entering the imperial city, you cross the great moat, head through the impressive meridian gate. Inside I was instantly delighted to see ponds filled with Koi fish – I really like Koi fish, I find them sooting to watch. There were also some dragon statues, so I was already sold on the city.
We were taken by our guide to the throne hall, in which you had to have your legs and shoulders covered. For the rest of the city this did not seem to be required. It is a vast structure with large red columns and gold decor inlaid into the ceiling. We were given a brief history, which I won’t pretend to remember since I am writing this piece two and a half years later. Then were allowed to explore the rest of the city and grounds by ourselves.
Walking through history
It isn’t hard to imagine, walking through the long red and gold painted hallways, the magnificent main palace that once would have stood here. I love visiting old palaces and temples from other cultures in particular. So I was pretty happy walking round exploring with little idea what each building was but just enjoying the craftsmanship and effect of the city. There were plenty of small pagodas, walls with mysterious gateways and colourful archways.
We also found some secluded gardens to investigate, which boasted a little bridge and more koi fish. We spent some time relaxing and imagining what it would have been like to live in this city as a member of the Emperor’s court.
It is definitely an interesting site to go and wander around. Unlike many of the other sites we visited on this trip, it also wasn’t too overrun with visitors. Perhaps this was because it was a bit of a miserable day. Or it may just have seemed that way as it was such a vast site that people were not all bunched up looking at the same things at the same time. The site is open daily from 8-5.30pm, although it stays open until 10pm on a Thursday if you wish to see it at night.
If you are heading to Hue, this is one of the main activities to do, along with visiting some of the various tombs and pagodas and taking a trip on a dragon boat down the perfume river. Hue seemed like a great town for backpackers and travellers with loads of little bars and restaurants. Sadly as we were there in the rainy season it was pretty empty (as Vietnam has 3 separate climates, everyone was presumably enjoying the north or south, which were much dryer and warmer in September/October!). I would love to go back some day when it is peak season as it had a very cool vibe. I definitely wouldn’t mind going back to the forbidden city and getting some better pictures in better light and maybe learn a bit more next time!