In the 1920s, a French visitor to the Imperial City of Hue described the scene as follows: " Perfume-bearers in royal-blue, fan-bearers in sky-blue waving enormous yellow feather fans ,musicians and guardsmen and ranks of mandarins in their curious hats and gorgeous, purple-embroidered dragons, kow-towing down, down on their noses amidst a cloud of incense- and all in a setting of blood-red lacquer scrawled with gold".
Imagine an emperor robed in gold silk, seated on a dais beneath a gilded canopy, looking out over a vast courtyard. Sun glints off the golden-roofed pavilions and dances across the ponds, thick with lotus blossoms. This was Hue in the 19th century -home of the Nguyen Kings, who built their opulent palaces, gardens and mausoleums on the banks of the Perfume River. This peaceful central city has long been synonymous with royalty, culture and spiritual reflection.
Although time and warfare have taken their toll, Hue's atmosphere of regal serenity remains intact. Visitors can rent bicycles and explore the elegant "European City", as the French-built area on the south bank of the river was known. Or they can peddle through quiet gardens, past ancient pagodas, palaces, stone monuments, and lotus ponds, to reach the long-ago monarchs' imposing mausoleums.
Take a boat trip on the Perfume River and you'll find yourself drifting past small boats bound for market, set against a backdrop of low, pine-covered hills. Occasionally, as if in a dream, an imposing royal mausoleum looms out of the trees. In this stately setting, you will discover the contemplative, solemn and tranquil side of Vietnamese culture.