HUE’S Imperial City is one of Vietnam’s most beautiful corners but because the address sits in the centre of the country, in the region most tourists fly over jetting between Hanoi and Saigon, it often goes unexplored and unappreciated.
But on my most recent visit to Vietnam the itinerary includes a stay at the Banyan Tree Lang Co with an afternoon excursion north along Highway One to the settlement that served as the country’s capital between 1802 and 1945.
The Imperial City is the first stop and we venture inside the vast walled compound that was not only the royal family’s home for more than a century but the place their staff, soldiers, politicians, mandarins and diplomats lived in pavilions hidden behind yet more high fences and linked by meandering pathways.
Once inside the main gate we wander outer and inner courtyards before diverting to explore the corner of the compound that was reserved for an emperor’s mother and grandmother.
While the Imperial City boasts an abundance of regal history the location also features in one of the Vietnam War’s most notorious episodes with Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army platoons occupying the citadel for bloody weeks during 1968’s Tet Offensive.
The Americans and South Vietnamese defenders elected to destroy swathes of the Imperial City to retake it from the communist soldiers with most of the buildings wrecked during long days of bombing.
The Imperial City is slowly being reconstructed – a process I’ve watched since my first visit to Hue back in 1997 – and it’s a revelation to see traditional colours and bygone buildings returning to a site that was previously paddocks of long grass and crumbling brick walls.