SUMMER PALACE: Tu Duc built his tomb before he died so he could fish and hunt.
SUMMER PALACE: Tu Duc built his tomb before he died so he could fish and hunt. Rae Wilson

Hue can't be serious but Tu Duc was

HAVING 104 wives seems a little excessive, even for an emperor in Vietnam's Nguyen Dynasty.

But Tu Duc was probably trying to make up for his perceived lack of manhood.

He likely blamed the first 50 wives when they produced no children but he must have looked in the mirror by the 100th.

Tu Duc, the dynasty's fourth emperor, would probably have been diagnosed in today's society with self-esteem issues, thanks to childhood mumps or smallpox making him sterile.

But the second emperor Minh Mang was even more greedy, or desperate to prove his manhood, with an alleged 400 wives and 142 children.

One has to wonder if he got any sleep, though he probably got turned down a lot as 400 names are a lot to remember.

Minh Mang had so many children he decided to name his descendants by choosing the middle name following the words of the imperial succession poem to avoid confusion.

The Nguyen Dynasty, which moved the capital to Hue, ruled for 143 years from 1802 to 1945.

Hanoi had been the capital from 1010 to 1802 and has continued as such since 1945.

In 1802 Emperor Gia Long ascended the throne after defeating the Tay Son Dynasty.

The dynasty ended in 1945 when Bao Dai abdicated the throne and transferred power to Ho Chi Minh and the new Vietnam government.

During their rule, the royals lived in a huge citadel in Hue on the banks of the gorgeous Parfum River.

The citadel housed about 200,000 of the 400,000 people in Hue.

If you find the right tour guide, the buildings within come alive with tales and secrets (like the ones above) of a time long since expired.

While much of it is in ruins and under reconstruction, it is easy to imagine how the impressive UNESCO-listed forbidden city operated at its peak.

One of the best ways to get to and from the citadel, and get a unique view of the city, is via a man-pedalled cyclo through the streets.

Reception staff at La Residence Hotel and Spa, nestled on the Parfum River and overlooking the imperial citadel, can organise cyclo riders to take you to and from your accommodation.

The boutique MGallery hotel, which has an elegant colonial and art deco style, has 122 rooms on a 2ha site.

The main building, formerly the French governor's residence in the 1920s, houses signature rooms with knockout views, superb decor and charm for reasonable prices.

While all rooms boast modern convenience, they capture a bygone era through careful attention to detail.

Take advantage of the tennis court, award-winning spa, art gallery and the hard-to-resist salt water outdoor

swimming pool.

Hue is charming cultural treasure with many gems to explore, especially the emperor tombs.

If you only see one tomb, visit the one built for Tu Duc.

Planned meticulously by him before his death, he treated the tomb as a Camp David-style summer palace where he would fish, hunt and write his poetry.

The tomb was built in 1864 and was finished three years later with the help of 10,000 workers carrying all the materials needed, usually by elephant.

Tu Duc felt his inability to father children was a bad omen which led to him inscribing a 5000-character epitaph on a huge chunk of stone near what is considered his final resting place.

Because Tu Duc's adopted son, nephew and successor Kien Phuc died just seven months into his rule he, too, has a tomb in the grounds, as does Tu Duc's primary wife, Empress Le Thien Anh.

Despite the site's grandeur and the many hours Tu Duc spent there, he was actually buried in a secret location somewhere in Hue.

Two other worthwhile sites are the Thanh Toan tile-roofed arched bridge, about 8km from Hue, and the Tha Om Garden House in Kim Long.

The childless wife of a high-ranking Mandarin paid for the unique bridge's construction to enable villagers to cross the canal and travellers to rest on their way.

Pham Ba Vinh, who has royal heritage, and his wife Ton Nu Cam Tu offer traditional Vietnamese food and hospitality in a replica of a 19th century Hue residence at Kim Long.

When you have ingested as much cultural and historical charm as you can take, settle in for a drink during a sunset cruise down the Parfum River.

The writer was a guest of AirAsia, Vietnam Airlines and Accor Hotels.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

How to get there: AirAsia flies to Kuala Lumpur five times weekly from the Gold Coast. Additional services are scheduled during peak holiday periods. From Kuala Lumpur AirAsia flies three times daily to Ho Chi Minh and once daily to Hanoi. Vietnam Airlines fly to Hue four times daily from Hanoi and five times a day from Ho Chi Minh. To book visit Air Asia or Vietnam Airline.

Where to stay: La Residence Hotel and Spa. Try the Memorable Moment three-day two-night package for two for A$438. Discover the allure of the Imperial City and marvel at the ambitions of the Nguyen Emperors via a unique Hue cyclo tour followed by a gentle amble down the fabled Perfume River. Complete the day amid the frangipani for a singular culinary experience drawn from the Emperors of Old Hue. To book, visit Accor Hotels.

What to eat: Dine at La Residence restaurant. Try the Australian beef (how can you go wrong?) or the fresh Mahi Mahi from the nearby Parfum River. Talented chefs experiment with creative Asian, Vietnamese and European flavours.

Relax: Try the aromatic body massage at the hotel's spa for A$52.

>> Read more travel stories.



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