The old Citadel is a mix of tourist kitsch and deeply sad history. The heavily-restored portions include The Mieu, home of memorials to the 19th and 20th century Nguyen emperors, where guards are permanently stationed to ensure all the tourists behave suitably reverent. There are beautiful palaces and pavilions, extensive gardens and lakes, and quiet atmospheric corners in which to lose yourself.
|Part of the Imperial City at the centre of the Citadel|
The unrestored portions of the Citadel and the Forbidden Purple City still bear the scars of the Tet Offensive, then the NVA held the city for three and a half weeks. Crumbling and pocked with bullet holes, they are a heart-breaking reminder of the succession of wars that devastated this country.
|Gateway in the Citadel|
Away from the Citadel, you have the riverside, lined with gardens (including one section unfortunately used as a toilet by a local nutter). There are tourists galore, and that means there are also the inevitable touts who follow you about trying to flog you cheap sunglasses, and "tourist" prices at the corner shop.
But hire a bicycle or motorbike, and you can leave all the crowds behind and explore dozens of pagodas, imperial tombs, and ruins that litter the beautiful pine-covered hills outside the city (more on the tombs in a later post).
|Thien Mu Pagoda, a short cycle ride along the Perfume River|
* Please forgive the terrible pun in the title of this post.