Sunday, November 23, 2014

Imperial City of Hue and Museum of Royal Fine Arts

Imperial City of Hue was built in 1802 by Emperor Gia Long and completed by his son, Minh Mang in 1833. The city was the residence of the emperors till 1945. The Imperial City of Hue is 2.5 km long and 2.5 km wide with three circles of defensive walls. The outermost circle of wall is approximately 6 m high and 21 m thick with 10 entrances and 24 bastions. The second circle is the the Citadel of Hue (Kinh Thanh Hue), while at the center of the citadel houses the third circle- Forbidden Purple City.

Ngo Mon  (午门) which faces the south is the entrance for visitors. It is where the entrance ticket can be bought. The Hue Citadel with the a total area of 600 m x 600 m is a huge complex. A quick walk around the area might take about 1 - 2 hours. Entering Ngo Mon around 2:30 pm, we took more than 1 hour and 30 minutes to take just a glance inside the city. It was an exhausting trip since we had visited the emperors' tombs for the entire morning.

Ngo Mon leads to two lakes with a bridge in the middle, connecting Ngo Mon to Tai Ho Palace. The Forbidden Purple City was located behind the Tai Ho Palace. However, most of the Forbidden Purple City had been destroyed during the Battle of Hue in 1968. Surrounding the forbidden city are some of the remaining structures which have luckily spared by American bombers. Let us tour around with some of the photos in the city.

We entered the Imperial City of Hue through Ngan Gate. The bridge crossed over the moat allowed only one way traffic.

Flag tower opposite of Ngo Mon was built by Emperor Gia Long. The tower was fixed with eight cannons and two sentry boxes. The flag tower was not open to public during our visit. We saw a similar design at Thang Long Citadel in Hanoi too. Maybe building a flag tower opposite of citadel was favoured by Vietnamese emperors.

To our disappointment, Ngo Mon was under restoration during our visit.

The bridge that connects Ngo Mon to Tai Ho Palace (太和殿). Tai Ho Palace and Ngo Mon were the venues for official ceremonies.

These photos show the area behind Tai Ho Palace, which once the Forbidden Purple City.

Some of the corridors in the forbidden city have been rebuilt according to the original design of the palace (upper row). Private residence of the emperor's mother and grandmother are shown in lower row.

Beyond this gate lies Hung Mieu, The Mieu, and Hien Lam Pavilion. We had too little time and energy left to proceed beyond the gate. We stopped briefly at the Royal Theater, Trieu Mieu, and Thai Mieu on our way out through Hien Nhon Gate.

Royal Treasury is located opposite of Trieu Mieu and Thai Mieu. Both Trieu Mieu and Thai Mieu were under heavy restoration during our visit.

We officially left the citadel through Hien Nhon Gate at around 4 pm.

The moat and wall of citadel outside of Hien Nhon Gate.

This is the aerial map of Citadel of Hue. We entered through Ngo Mon, walked through Tai Ho Palace to the forbidden city, followed by the residence of the emperor's mother and grandmother. Then, we visited royal theatre before going out through Hien Nhon Gate on the right side of this map. A very detailed map is provided by justinbe.

The Citadel of Hue is huge. There were no food and drinks sold inside the citadel area during our visit, and most of the places were not covered. Bringing our own bottle of water and umbrella are important to keep us hydrated while keep us away from blazing sun or soaking rain. Comfortable footwear  is important to keep us going. Although the information provided on the site was simple, but it was enough for us to learn the background, some history, and the functions of the buildings. A very small map was provided on the backside of our entrance ticket. We found that the bigger map that provided by our hotel was a better one.

From Hien Nhon Gate, we took a five-minute walk to the Museum or Royal Fine Arts. It is a place where some of the items gathered from the citadel are displayed. The museum is not big, and the items were not very attractive as well. However, it does provide some picture about the life of the royal family.

The entrance fee of the museum was included in the ticket for the citadel. By the way, free shutter from the citadel to the museum was provided during our visit, while photo taking was not allowed in the museum. We have to leave our shoes outside, but we didn't lost any of ours.

The museum is just a small building. The ticket checking counter was empty during our visit, so literally anyone, with or without ticket could enter the museum.

Cannons displayed around the compound of the museum.

We spent around 30 minutes in the museum. We can't say the museum is a must visit place in Hue, but since we had paid for the entrance and it was located nearby the citadel, so spending half an hour in to visit the museum should not be a problem. Exhausted, we took a rest back in our hotel, before we went out to hunt for local delicacies for dinner. We will share more about our experience in Hue soon. Follow us now on Facebook for lastest update.

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Tombs of the Emperors and Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue

Second day in central Vietnam, we started to explore several emperors' tombs, Thien Mu Pagoda, and Imperial City of Hue (Hue Citadel). We started our tour at 8:30 am, visiting tombs of emperors- Tu Duc, Khai Dinh, and Minh Mang. Then, we visited Thien Mu Pagoda, followed by Imperial City of Hue (Hue Citadel) and the Royal Palace Museum.

We paid VND 40,000 per person for the entrance of the tombs, while VND105,000 per person for the Imperial City of Hue. The entrance of Tien Mu Pagoda was free.

The tour was arranged by our hotel at Hue. We paid USD50 a day for a brand new Mazda sedan and an English speaking driver. Our driver, Mr. Tien, was young, talkative and with "s" and "x" missing-in-action, for example "fast food" as "fat food", "excuse me" as "accuse me", and we took some times to get used to his English. However, he was informative.

Initially, we wish to add in more emperors' tombs into our itinerary, but Tien advised us not to do so. "Three tombs are more than enough," he said. He didn't mind to bring us to more places, only if there was time left. He was right. If you think of a tomb of two-times-eight square feet, then you will drop your jaw by seeing a tomb with an area larger than several football fields combined.

We took 30 minutes to arrive at Emperor Tu Duc's tomb (8 km from the City of Hue), with a 15 minutes stop at incense and hat making shops. We never had expected that we spent the next 120 minutes inside the tomb. Of course, the whole area is not just about a tomb, it served as a palace for the emperor as well. Emperor Tu Duc (嗣德), reigned an era with troubles (1847-1883), with his rebellious brother suicide in the prison (which people accused him as the murderer), the colonization of the country by French, and threats from dissatisfied mandarins had driven him to build a palace outside of the citadel, which later became his own tomb. The area consists of two major parts-  the ritual and the burial with up to 50 buildings.

The entrance of the tomb (or should consider as palace?).

Many shops selling food, beverages, and souvenirs were available opposite of the tomb (upper left), with the ticket counter located beside the entrance (upper right). A big lake is located in the middle of the area with all the buildings were built surrounding the lake (lower right). Brief information was available around the area, providing the key information to the visitors. 

The front part of the ritual area was in ruin (upper row). Only the temple dedicated to the concubines remained standing (lower row).

The second part of the ritual area was well-preserved with many buildings remained in good condition. Facing Minh-Khiem Hall (鸣谦堂), the building to the right is the Hoa Khiem Palace where the emperor met his officials, and to the left is the Luong-Khiem Palace (良谦殿) where the emperor lived. Minh-Khiem Hall served as a theater showing classical opera and performance for the emperor.

Inside of Luong-Khiem Palace (良谦殿).

The whole ritual area is decorated with extensive artworks. These works however are not exquisite.

The emperor's tomb is located next to the ritual area. Entering the tomb area, two rows of stone sculptures (upper left) can be seen lining up in front of the stele temple (upper right). The deepest part of the area is the location of the tomb (lower left). The stele was written completely with traditional Chinese characters.

The queen's tomb (the emperor's first wife) was located about a hundred meters away from the emperor's tomb. After her death in 1902, she was honoured together with the emperor in Hoa Khiem Palace (referred as Hoa Khiem Temple after the emperor's death).

The tomb area extended with the tomb of the emperor's adopted son- Emperor Kien Phuc. Emperor Kien Phuc became the emperor of Nguyen Dynastry after his brothers Duc-Duc and Hiep Hoa were deposed. All three Duc-Duc, Hiep Hua, and Kien Phuc ruled for a very short period of time. All of them were Emperor Tu Duc's adopted sons, as Tu Duc was unable to produce any child even had been granted with many wives.

Emperor Khai Dinh (啟定) ruled from 1916 - 1925 as the 12th and the last emperor of Nguyen Dynasty (some said Bao Dai was the last emperor). He died at at the age of 40 as an unpopular emperor, as he had raised the tax and worked closely with French. His relationship with French government can be seen from the collection of French-made items around his tomb. The tomb itself was an artwork combining the East and the West. Khai Dinh's tomb was close to Tu Duc's, located apart around 10 minutes by car. 

We thought that nothing would surprise us anymore after the visit to Tu Duc's tomb. We were wrong. The tomb is much smaller than Tu Duc's tomb, but it is really impressive in architecture wise. The sculptures and the decoration are fine, elaborate, and exquisite, especially in the temple that honouring the emperor. Through our reading, that lavish mausoleum was a monument that stood on the heavy tax on the people in the country.

Emperor Khai Dinh tomb is located on the outskirt of Hue, at the side of Chau Chu Mountain (upper left). Twelve sculptures (upper right) standing in front of the stele temple (lower right) at the second tier of the tomb area. The temple honouring the emperor is located on the top tier.

The temple of the emperor. It was lavishly decorated, from the floor to the ceiling.

The emperor lays below the sculpture of the emperor, which was constructed with the scale of 1 to 1. The walls are elaborately decorated with exquisite artworks.

The outside of the temple is finely decorated (upper left). Some of the gifts from French government (upper right) and photos (lower right) were displayed in the temple. There was a video corner showing the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Hue at a corner of the temple as well.

Emperor Minh Mang (明命) tomb is located 15 minutes away from Khai Dinh tomb, some 12 km away from Hue. Reigning from 1820 - 1841 as the second emperor of Nguyen Dynasty, Minh Mang imposed strict policy on European countries, but at the same time embraced Confucius ideology. He successfully secured the regions succeeded from his father by overpowering several groups of local rebellions.

Minh Mang Tomb is huge. Compares to the Tu Duc's, Minh Mang tomb was filled with natural beauty- lakes, trees, and flowers were blended well with the buildings. The tomb was quiet, and the swimming ducks and chirping birds caught our attentions once in a while. It is really a place where we should stay for a longer time, but we stayed for about 45 minutes only. Exhaustion and hunger had driven us to move faster to complete a round trip in the tomb area.

Two visitors were walking out of the tomb on our way in. We didn't meet another visitor for the next 30 minutes. The whole area was basically quiet, only filled with the sound of nature.

The stele temple (upper left) and the pavilion (upper right) of the tomb. The stone sculptures are located behind the stele temple. The temple honouring the emperor- Sung An Temple is located around 100 m away from the stele temple (lower right). Sung An Temple is flanked by four smaller structures. Then, we would have to go through a beautiful garden to reach Minh Lau Pavilion.

The interior of Sun An Temple.

The burial site of Minh Mang Emperor can be seen from Minh Lau Pavilion. The middle of the arch stated "正大光明" or "be above board".

This is a view from Minh Lau Pavilion towards Sung An Temple.

From our way back from Minh Mang Tomb to Hue, we stopped by Thien Mu Pagoda. We took around 15 minutes to travel from Minh Mang Tomb to the pagoda, which was located 4 km from Hue. Thien Mu (天姥) means celestial old woman in Chinese (some site wrongly translated it into celestial fairy lady). The pagoda had a humble start as a temple built by a Nguyen lord in early 1600, and was renovated and rebuilt from time to time.The seven storey pagoda was built by Emperor Thieu Tri in 1844. Standing 22 m tall, the pagoda was the highest religious building in Vietnam.  The pagoda is surrounded by a well-maintained garden with temple complex and monastery inside, which took us 45 minutes to walk around. The entrance to the pagoda was free during our visit.

The pillars of the front entrance of the pagoda. However, we were a bit disappointed that the pagoda was closed for visitor. It would definitely be great to see the scenery of Perfume River on the top level of the pagoda.

The temple complex beside the pagoda.

Perfume River doesn't look impressive from the ground level of pagoda .

The advices given by experienced travellers were right. We should not squeeze too many tombs in one single trip, unless we wished to rush through each of the tombs, paying VND40,000 entrance fee for each of the tombs, while just spending 30 minutes running around the compound. For us, we chose a few which were famous and representative- Minh Mang (the second emperor), Khai Dinh (the last emperor with his own lavish tomb), and Tu Duc (the emperor with many troubles that moved his palace away from the imperial city to his tomb), and took a close look at a more leisure pace.

There was no vendors selling food and beverages inside the compound of the tombs, except for Tu Duc Tomb. However, stalls selling drinks were available outside of the tombs. Souvenirs booths were available in all the tombs, with mostly books and coins on their selling racks. Most of the walking paths were covered with tiles as well. 

To visit the tombs, comfortable footwear, drinking water, and umbrella are necessary. Rain will drop anytime of the way. Tour guides are available with extra fee. For us, doing a little bit of reading is enough to learn about the background and the design of the tombs.

All the tombs consist a pavilion with sculptures, stele temple, a temple honouring the emperor, and the burial area. However, each tombs might have their unique characteristics- the temple honouring Tu Duc is converted from his old palace, which is a distance away from the burial area. These information can be easily obtained online.

The trip to 3 tombs and Thien Mu Pagoda took us nearly 5 hours. We took our lunch at Hue around 2 pm. We had our two more destinations to go- Imperial City of Hue (Hue Citadel) and the Royal Palace Museum. Follow us now.

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Hai Van Pass and Lang Co Beach- Two Attractions in Between Da Nang to Hue

We spent 5 days in central Vietnam, visiting Hue, Danang, My Son and Hoi An. Reached Danang International Airport around 1:30 pm local time, we started our trip from the airport to Hue around 1:45 pm.

The trip from Danang International Airport to our hotel in Hue was expected to be 3 hours,  but the journey took us 4 hours 30 minutes. The reasons- we chose to use Hai Van Pass (instead of the underground tunnel), stopped at Lang Co Beach, and of course partly because of the terrible road condition from Lang Co to Hue.

Taking Hai Van Pass means putting extra 30 km to our trip, adding 60 minutes on the road, and paying more for the transportation (extra USD 7 - 10). What is so special about Hai Van Pass? The scenery. For us, we have seen many breathtaking views along the road snaking through the highlands, such as Mount Kinabalu, Cameron Highlands, and the highlands in Bali. But Hai Van Pass promises more with lushing green hills on one side while the blue sea with clear sky on the other side. When both combined, it becomes one of the most spectacular nature view in Vietnam.

Many have commented that Hai Van Pass is a must visit place in central Vietnam. We can't be more agree with them. Yes, we have to spend more time and money, and perhaps a little bit of travel sickness because of the winding road, but the view itself worth all the efforts. 

On the highest point of the pass stands the relic of "Hai-Yun" guard tower (海云关). "Hai-Yun" means sea and cloud in Mandarin. The guard tower was built in 1826 by Minh Mang, Emperor of Hue. Standing 470 m above sea level, the emperor was so proud of the tower that it was given the name of "the strongest stronghold under the sky" (天下第一雄关). During the Vietnam war in 1960s, bunkers were built along the strategic points along the pass to safeguard the South from the North. The access to Hai-Yun Tower and bunkers was free during our visit. 

We took around 1 hour 15 minutes to reach the highest point of the Hai Van Pass. We roamed around the area, looking at the badly damaged towers and long abandoned concrete bunkers. Then we took a rest while enjoying the great view around the area. We departed to Lang Co Beach after staying for 1 hour.

There were several shops beside the road selling food, drinks, and souvenirs. We found that the prices offered were high. A can of soft drink was sold with USD 1 while a small cup of coffee was USD 1 as well. Anyway, we took two soft drinks and a small cup of coffee there.

Hai Van Pass is the old road that connects Danang and Hue. Hill range is getting clearer when we travel closer to the pass.

The condition of the road was good thorough the pass. Although it was quite windy, but the slow driving speed saved the journey and gave us enough time to enjoy the scenery around the area.

We can see Danang City at several points.

This photo showed how the road was built along the hills. Lang Co Beach can be seen far behind.

The white beach and the blue water of Lang Co from the highest point of Hai Van Pass.

Photo taken beside a concrete bunker with Ling Shing's mom.

The bunker is small. We are not quite sure how the American soldier (assume to be twice the size of us) hide inside it, guarding the area whole day long.

Tourists amassed near the damaged Hai-Yun tower and bunkers (grey structures on the left). This photo was taken from the shops where we sat around a small table and enjoyed drinking our soft drinks and coffee.

Hai-Yun Tower stands on the high ground of the pass (upper left), with stunning view through the doorway of the guard tower (upper right). Concrete bunkers can be seen scatter around the area (lower left). Shops on the other side of the road selling food, beverages, and souvenirs, with a big signage of "Thua Thien Hue" or "The Province of Hue" standing in between the border of Hue and Danang.

 Picturesque view on our way down from Hai Van down to Lang Co Beach.

We have definitely missed Lang Co Beach if the place was not being highlighted by Ms. Anna from Holiday Diamond Hotel. We stepped our feet on the beach 45 minutes after we left the rest point at Hai Van Pass. The beauty of the beach was indisputable. Although there were a few big resorts at the main street along the beach, but the whole area was surprisingly quiet- not many hotels, less vehicles, few local restaurants, and hardly see any tourist around. We stopped at the beach, enjoyed the strong eastern wind and quiet surrounding for a while. Then, we took 1 hour and 20 minutes to travel from Lang Co to Hue.

Lang Co beach with white sand, blue sea, and strong waves.

Maybe it was not the peak season. The beach side was really quiet with only a few visitors in sight.

The main street at Lang Co with less traffic(upper left). We didn't see any visitor in the resort that we stopped by (upper right). A calm and beautiful lagoon can be seen along the main road from Lang Co to Hue (lower row).

Lang Co Beach is not as attractive as Hai Van Pass. Stopping for a coffee break while enjoying the scenery is only possible if we visit one of the cafes of the resorts. We can't deny its natural beauty, but a touch-and-go stop should be more than enough. If you plan to visit these two attractions, you can allocate more time for Hai Van Pass.

We continued our central Vietnam trip by visiting some of the UNESCO Heritage sites in Hue. You can Follow us now to know more updates.

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