City Escapes Vietnam

Mistakes I Made Before Visiting The Imperial City of Hue

Hello, fellow readers and welcome to another Vietnamese instalment of Kaptain Kenny.

FYI* If you’re looking for something else ‘Vietnamese’ but not this, try clicking on the following links:

Why You Need to Put Hoi An on Your List

Things To Do In Danang, Vietnam: Monkey Mountain

Hue: The Imperial City

As some of you may know, I had been based in Danang for a mere 48 hours before deciding to embark on my first day trip in Vietnam. I’d heard a lot about visiting Hue’s Imperial City as a kind of ‘must-do’ when in the area and if I’m completely honest, I didn’t know anything about it before the trip.

Ridiculously, I hastily booked a day trip with a “no research done prior” company promoting their ‘English-speaking’ guide, because… YOLO. *Insert eye-rolling emoticon.*

My guide was able to say yes and no and even then, she often got those confused.

Standard dialogue:

“Hello, my name is Phoebe, what’s yours?”


In retrospect, I should have done some reading up before going BUT not to worry. However, the power of the internet prevails and I have some nice snippets of information for you below.

I should also point out that the bus was full of Vietnamese people and I was the only foreigner. Yay!


Entering the grounds.

Additionally, I made a few rookie errors – yes that’s RIGHT. Kaptain Kenny is admitting defeat! Would you like to know my shortcomings?

  • I didn’t know a word of Vietnamese and I found most people couldn’t understand English. In this post, you’ll find a handy Vietnamese quick-phrase guide.
  • I didn’t bring good enough suncream. Basically, since discovering 50+ and swapping it for 30+, my life has changed for the better like a born-again Christian.
  • I didn’t do any research on the places I visited on this day trip and had no idea what I was looking at. Without a connection to the internet, (gasp!) I wasn’t able to learn anything because my guide could only say two words in English. As someone who needs closure, I’ve researched it all *see below* for your convenience.

The front gates.

Established as the capital of unified Viet Nam in 1802, Hué was not only the political but also the cultural and religious centre under the Nguyen dynasty until 1945. The Perfume River winds its way through the Capital City, the Imperial City, the Forbidden Purple City and the Inner City, giving this unique feudal capital a setting of great natural beauty.


As you first enter the grounds, you’ll become immediately aware that you’re in the presence of something grand! At first, I thought this place contained influences from China. It turns out (according to the internet and NOT my guide) that I was right!


Just a nice floor and shoe selfie.

*The following information has been taken from a historical site and will be linked at the end.*

Imperial City (c. 1804 onward, badly damaged 1968) 

The Imperial City at Hue is the best-preserved remnant of a vast citadel and royal quarters that once existed on the site. To put the ruins into context, it is important to consider how they were originally used.

In the early 19th century the Emperor Gia Long consulted geomancers to find the best place to build a new palace and citadel. The geomancers chose the present site at Hue. The Emperor wished to recreate, in abbreviated form, a replica of the Forbidden City in Beijing. At his command, tens of thousands of labourers were conscripted to dig a ten kilometre moat and earthen walls to form the outer perimeter of the citadel.



Look at these gorgeous ‘old stones’ as my German-in-laws would say.

The Emperor decided to locate his own palace within the walls of the citadel along the east side nearest the river. A second, smaller set of walls and moat defined the area of the “Purple Forbidden City,” where the Emperor built a network of palaces, gates, and courtyards that served as his home and the administrative core of the Empire.



If you ask me, red and gold remind me a lot of Chinese architecture. They also happen to be the colours of the Vietnamese flag.


You’ll always be able to find a nice, quiet spot here.

By the time the last Emperor of Vietnam stepped down in the mid 20th century, the Purple Forbidden City had acquired many dozens of pavilions and hundreds of rooms. Although improperly maintained (the city suffered from frequent termite and typhoon damage) it nevertheless remained an imposing spectacle. All of that changed in 1968, when American military forces in Vietnam, reacting to the communist takeover of Hue, ordered the city retaken. American bombs blasted the majority of the city into rubble, sparing only a handful of buildings.



See! Proof that I wasn’t lying above.


A field of sunflowers.


Peering out over the Purple Forbidden City.

Nowadays the city has been declared a UNESCO site and the remaining buildings have been lovingly restored. But, much of the site was so badly damaged that it has been given over to vast rice fields that cover most of the Purple Forbidden City. Even so, the remaining buildings are sufficient to give the visitor a sense of how the Vietnamese interpreted Chinese imperial architecture and adapted it to their culture.

Information has been taken from:


Humans of Vietnam.


Scorching hot. If possible, bring a full body suit which covers absolutely everything except the eyes. For your eyes, bring sunglasses. Then you won’t sizzle like I did.

My tips:

  • It’s going to be stinking hot. There isn’t a whole lot of shade here so my advice is this: bring a hat, suncream (50+) and a LOT of water. This is is a vast area pretty much all made of rock and concrete.


  • Don’t expect Vietnamese people to speak English. If they do, you got lucky. They are very sweet people and you’ll get by with some basic words and hand signals.

Here are some basic Vietnamese phrases for you when you travel:

NB* After two weeks in Vietnam, I’m now 100% fluent and expect you to be the same.

(Italics = English pronunciation)

1. Hello! – Xin chao! (sin chow!) / 2. Goodbye – Tam Biet

3. How are you? – Ban co khoe khong? (ban co kwe khome?)

4. I’m fine, thank you! – Cam on ban toi khoe (gahm un ban thoy kwe)

5. And you? – Ban thi sao? (ban ty sao?)

6. What’s your name – Ban ten gi (ban thane zee)/ 7. My name is… – Toi la (thoy la…)

8. Thank you – Xin Cam on (sin gahm un) / 9. You’re welcome – Khong co’ gi (khom go zee)

10. Yes – Vang (vung) / 11. No – Khong (khome)

12. Excuse me/Sorry… – Xin loi (seen loy)

13. Can you help me? – Ban giup toi duoc khong? (ban zoop thoy duc khom?)

14/15 I’d like to eat/drink – Toi muon an/uong (thoy moowan un/oowanh)

16. Good – Tot (thote)17. Bad – Khong tot (khome thote)

18. What is this? – Cai nay la gi (guy nai la zee)

19. How much – Bao nhieu (bow nyew) / 20. Too expensive – Mac qua (mahk qwa)

21. Where is the nearest bank – Nha bang o dau (nya bung uh doh)

22. Hotel – Khach San (khack san)

23. Hot – Nong (nom) / 24. Cold – Lanh (lang)

25. Coffee – Ca phe (cah feh) / 26. Hot black coffee – Ca phe nong (cah feh nom)

27. Hot Coffee with milk – Ca phe sua nong (cah feh sua nom) / 28. Tea – Tra (chah)

29. I like – Toi thich (thoy tick)

30. Where is the ATM – Cay ATM o dau



Hue’s Imperial City.

  • BUY POSTCARDS! I don’t know about you but I’m a postcard fanatic and send them to my family members in every single new city I visit. At first my mum was turning them into an art display under a glass table at home. Then they started coming in at the speed of light, similar to that scene in Harry Potter when the invitations to Hogwarts don’t stop coming through the front door. Anyway, I digress: I bought the most beautiful postcards in Hue out of almost any location I’ve ever visited worldwide! (This was at a kiosk on the way to the main entrance….)

I like what I see but WHAT am I looking at??? Regrets, regrets….

  • Don’t be a silly-billy like me and go to this gorgeous place without doing research! At least reading this blog post will give you a bit more information than what I had.


  • Be aware of your surroundings. I’m not talking about theft – I’m talking about traffic, awareness and motorbikes. I do have to say I love Vietnamese people but you are the craziest drivers on the planet. When you cross the road or even move one centimetre to the left or right, do check your periphery people.


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Doooooo it.


Goodbye Hue!




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  • Reply
    October 12, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    Sounds like an absolutely gorgeous place. It doesn’t sound so bad as the tour sounds quite amusing (and frustrating)! I hope to visit this beautiful place soon. Reminds me a lot of a trip where everything went wrong due to a language barrier (small town in Hungary), which included a toilet with angel pictures, bible quotes and quotes from the rolling Stones pasted on it.

    • Reply
      October 23, 2016 at 7:54 pm

      Hahhaha oh the joys of travelling. Yeah I still enjoyed this tour but as I’m someone who needs closure, I spent a lot of time AFTER the tour researching what I’d seen! I’m all cool with her not speaking English, in fact it even added to the experience 🙂

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