Visiting the Citadel, Hué, Vietnam

Prior to arriving in Hué I knew there was something called the Citadel here. My Vietnamese history is a little basic so I just thought it was something else from the War with the Americans. What I’ve discovered is a fantastic Imperial city site rebuilt after the war tore through and blew most of it up.

The site is enclosed by 2 huge lily-filled moats. The battled scarred Lily and Koi filled moatfortified walls instantly remind you of the past battles here. However, when you move past the recent war reminders and enter the inner walls of the Imperial city, you are greeted with delicate relics of what was once a majestic royal residence for the Nguyễn Imperial family. At one time there were over 100 buildings, including temples, a library and various palaces.

What remains today has been rebuilt in places to repair the damage from what was The Tet Offensive. However, the buildings, archways, gates and temples are stunning. They aren’t gold-covered like Thai temples etc, but they have their own charm and architecture that transports you back to the days of the Emperors.

Citadel flagBefore we could enter we needed to buy tickets. The major shortcoming of the whole place is lack of signage. The only place we saw the words ‘Ticket office’ was on a small sign sitting on the desk of the lady selling tickets inside the main front gate. You literally have to be 10 feet away to see it. It’s across from the huge flag tower. Tickets were 150,000VND each. Kids (7 – 12 years) 70,000VND. However, the nice lady let the kids go free. Note: the tickets for foreigners are in the left hand archway. Tickets for Vietnamese residents are cheaper and available from the right archway.

The site is vast, 2km x 2km, so walking around the colourful garden courtyards and tree lined roadways were a pleasant way to get from building to building.

Many of the restored buildings house artifacts from each of the Emperors and a little respect for your surroundings go a long way: on entering buildings, remove shoes and hats and don’t take pictures. A simple request followed by all nationalities except one. Chinese coach tours. Shoes, hats, selfie sticks, food and even a megaphone was used by one of their guides in a ‘silent’ area. Unfortunately I’d love to say it was the only time I’ve experienced this ignorance, but I’ve witnessed it at every sight and country on our travels. Shame, but no surprise.

After exploring various structures and taking shelter from the 40° heat, we felt we couldn’t see the rest of the outer reaching grounds due to the intense heat. So we retreated to the Museum of Royal Antiquities, included as part of the entrance fee to the Citadel. It’s located across the road, outside the inner walls and moat to the east of the grounds. There are free electric shuttle buggies to take you there too. April flagged down a young chap to take us and we all piled in.

This Museum houses a small collection of artifacts dating back up to 1500 years ago. There is currently an exhibition of  some of the most precious items of jewellery in Vietnam. The museum also contains various pieces of furniture and clothing from the Royal family. Outside in the gardens are old cannons and various statues.

In all, we had a great few hours. We hired bikes and cycled there, which is the best way to get about. After we’d finished exploring the Citadel, we collected our bikes and rode back across the Perfume River and grabbed some lunch.

So how does this all work with kids? Take lots to drink, a bag full of fruit and snacks and take note of the toilet locations. We always take a photograph of the site map on the way in, so that we can trace our route easily. The kids did amazingly well and managed to keep up with us. They respected the site for its history, knowing a royal family lived and played there. W always ask them, “How cool wouldA cat fish in the well it be if you lived here? What do you think you life would be like?”. Leaving them to explore, they spotted a Catfish in a well! So watching several episodes of ‘River Monsters’ on T.V. came in useful after all.

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