Hue is in central Vietnam and was the capital of the country from 1802 until 1945, during the Nguyen dynasty of emperors. We arrived by overnight train around 8:30 a.m. after a noisy, bumpy ride. Our sleeping berths were basic at best – a ‘firm’ (hard) platform for sleeping, pillow, and cover – four in each compartment, two on top and two on bottom. Somehow the up and down, back and forth, stop and start rhythm allowed for some sleep, and we disembarked no worse for the wear. After dropping bags at the hotel, we biked to breakfast and then around the city to see some of the major sites.
This was a short riding day of about 25 km, around the city with three major stops along the way. The city traffic is formidable, but not as scary as you might think. You sort of have to get into the natural rhythm of give and take and remain aware. Motorbikes, bicycles, cars, trucks, pedestrians all crowd the streets, and surprisingly no one is aggressive. It’s pretty organic and not hard to navigate once you get in synch.
After breakfast we biked about 10 km to a forested area overlooking the Perfume River. Here we saw bunkers that were used first by the French and then our military. This vantage point high above the river is stunning in its beauty and has clear strategic advantages. A peaceful setting that belies it’s history.
From the bunkers we biked to the Imperial Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, built between 1867-1867. The garden setting takes advantage of the natural beauty of a lake and includes Tu Duc’s summer palace in addition to the tomb. This was considered a spiritual retreat for the emperor during his lifetime and still retains that quality. Emperors were buried with great riches and their tombs have often been looted. It turns out that Tu Duc was never buried in his formal tomb, and no one has found his remains in any other location.
Our last stop in Hue before returning to the hotel was the Citadel. This expansive walled compound is the former Imperial Capital of Vietnam and contains the Forbidden City or royal living quarters. The Citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage site and currently undergoing much restoration. It is also the site of one of the major battles of the 1968 Tet Offensive, and some of the remnants of battle are still visible.
From here we biked back the hotel, had dinner at a nearby restaurant, and headed to sleep. A long ride and the challenging Hai Van Pass awaits us on Friday!