Following breakfast, we travel north over the Hai Van Pass - an old highway that winds through the mountains, offering breathtaking views along the coast. We will pass the beautiful Lang Co Beach, to the impressive town of Hue, home to a wealth of royal palaces, temples and gardens. Located on the Perfume River in the center of the country, Hue was the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty. The Nguyen dynasty was a feudal dynasty that dominated much of southern Vietnam between the 17th and 19th centuries. One of the most significant cultural and historic centers of Vietnam, the former imperial city of Hue is celebrated for its tradition of intellectual thought, Buddhist piety, and sophistication of its cuisine. The city is also famous as the site of a major battle during the Vietnamese War, evidence of which is clearly visible from the pock marks that scar many of the buildings.
This afternoon, we visit the "Forbidden City" to explore its impressive Imperial citadel, from where the Nguyen Emperors ruled. This vast complex was not just a palace, but also a fortress surrounded by thick defensive walls and a moat. Although some of the citadel has been irreparably damaged during the conflicts with the French and Americans, much remains well preserved or restored and as we wonder around the ruins we will learn about its history. Set on the riverside, the citadel's Flag Tower (which now flies the country's red flag with gold star), has become an important symbolic point of control in the city as power has shifted hands during the various conflicts. We enter through Ngo Mon Gate, one of 10 entrances into the Royal City and perhaps the most beautiful of the remaining structures. It actually has five gates; the central gate reserved for the emperor; the adjacent gates for mandarins; and the outer gates for servants. Atop the gate is Five Phoenix Pavilion, from where the emperors proclaimed significant events, including the abdication in 1945. We then visit Thai Hoa Palace, the emperor's coronation hall, elaborately decorated in gold and red lacquer and featuring two dragons on top of the yellow tiled roof. The Purple Forbidden City is at the heart of the Imperial Citadel and was reserved solely for the personal use of the Emperor and his concubines with only servants, who were eunuchs, allowed to enter.
Our particular highlight of today's tour is the opportunity to explore the old town of Hue on cyclos (three-wheeled cycle rickshaw, pedaled by a driver, with passengers sitting in front). The cyclo is a very common mode of transport in Vietnam. We will ride through Hue and on its cobblestone streets with an intimate view of the colorful ancient town, the attractive French Quarter, and its bustling local markets.
We start from the French Quarter with French colonial style architectures and old houses. Pass by the school where Ho Chi Minh was educated. Continue along the colorful markets, where the locals shop and bargain, to a local restaurant inside the Citadel. Hue, is renowned for its cuisine and tonight we enjoy a special banquet with traditional Nguyen Royal Cuisine.