Hue, an imperial city that housed generations of the country’s most powerful emperors, was built on the banks of the Huong Giang, or ‘Perfume River’. Hué does, in many respects, epitomize the best of Vietnam and in a country that is rapidly disappearing under concrete, Hué represents a link with the past, where people live in old buildings and don’t lock their doors. Whether it is the royal heritage or the city’s Buddhist tradition, the people of Hué are the gentlest and least aggressive in the country. They also speak English and drive their motorbikes more carefully than anyone else.
Hue was made capital in 1802 and served as the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty until 1945. Its architecture was consciously modelled on that of imperial China; it is grand in conception, massive in scale and far more ambitious than any other group of buildings in Vietnam. Each emperor, and many leading courtiers, built himself a tomb in the surrounding countryside using court geomancers to select the perfect setting. Hué is built on the same principles as the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. It is enclosed by 7 to 10-m-thick outer walls, the Kinh Thanh, along with moats, canals and towers.