A Climb to the Top of the Huế Citadel with Aimee

Especially for Aimee,
A few days ago, when my little friend Aimee and I entered Cửa Ngăn – one of the entrances to Kinh Thành Huế aka the Huế Citadel (1805-1832) to go to a coffee shop on Đinh Tiên Hoàng Street (as I wanted to introduce cà phê muối [salt coffee] to Aimee who had never heard about it before), I happened to discover that some iron gates to the top of the Huế Citadel’s wall and the Huế Flag Tower were wide open after being closed for a long time.

I had always dreamt about staying on the top of the imperial wall to enjoy the view of the rampart itself as well as the pavilions and palaces from above so the moment I saw the open iron gates and the sign inviting guests to climb the wall, I knew my luck had come. I asked Aimee if she would like to join me, and she happily agreed. I parked my Violet Dragon scooter at the nearby parking lot and walked like flying to the top of the wall.

From there, the Flag Tower had never looked this special now that I could admire it from a different perspective. I was sure I purely looked like a tourist who was eager to discover the Huế Citadel for the first time. In excitement and joy, I turned to Aimee and said: “I wish I could find a man whom I would love like the way I love Huế – that is always finding something new in him to love over and over again.” I believe I have expressed this wish a few times before but it had not been as convincing as it was that day on the top of the Citadel’s wall. The wall, the flag tower, the moat, the pavilion-like entrances, and the Hoàng Thành (aka the Royal City), which were built by Emperor Gia Long (1802-1820) and his son – Emperor Minh Mạng (1820-1841), had never been more magnificent than they were at that moment.

I led Aimee to the second floor of Cửa Ngăn and then to the Flag Tower so that she could have a better look at the Hương River and the Ngự Mountain from there. The guide in me, of course, urged me to explain to Aimee that the river and the mountain played a significant role in the feng shui of the Huế Citadel. While the Ngự Mountain serves as a screen to protest the negative energy from penetrating the Huế Citadel, the Hương River absorbs good energy from the universe for this imposing headquarter of Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945). I, however, was so much indulged in the beauty spreading in front of me, I forgot to tell Aimee that these two natural elements were actually chosen by Emperor Minh Mạng to be featured on one of the Nine Holy Urns which symbolize the mightiness and longevity of his dynasty.

While I was admiring the picturesque view of the Phu Văn Pavilion and Nghinh Lương Đình (the Nguyễn Dynasty’s royal boat quay) in front of the Huế Flag Tower, I suddenly remembered something interesting so I turned to Aimee and asked if she had a banknote of 50,000VND. Luckily, she did. I hinted to her to look at one side of the note and then directed her to look toward the Phu Văn and Nghinh Lương, and said: “Do you find them similar?” Aimee was astonished to know that those two lovely pavilions were actually featured on the red banknote in her hands. I was sure, at that moment, Aimee started to plan trips to visit the landmarks depicted on the banknotes of Vietnamese currency.

Standing on the second floor of the Huế Flag Tower, I told Aimee a little bit about the history of Huế related to this flag pole. This 18-year-old solo traveler listened to me deeply as she longed for understanding more about the land that her mother Thảo was so much in love with. When telling Aimee about Ngọ Môn (the main South Gate of the Royal City) and the abdication of Emperor Bảo Đại in August 1945, these words of this former king of Việt Nam were echoed in my ears: “I would rather be a citizen of an independent country than a king of a dominated nation.” Surely, no one wishes to be in the role of a puppet king.

Our unexpected stop on the top of the Huế Citadel’s wall gave me a chance to walk back in time with Aimee on such a beautiful day of January 30th, 2023 – which happened to be the eve of the 55th anniversary of the Tết Offensive taken place in 1968 – a painful and haunted event for those who were involved. What had been done could not be undone but one thing I am sure of is that we could never love and care about each other and this land enough. This is why I always try to embrace and love Huế as tenderly as I can. An experience like this strengthened the inseparable bond between Huế and myself so I cherished and enjoyed every single moment of it with my lovely friend Aimee.

Huế City, February 5th, 2023

Hue Citadel, Hue City, Vietnam
The Huế Flag Tower and one of the entrances to the Huế Citadel looked from the top the imperial rampart