Ho Chi Minh City
Hue, not to be mistaken by the thought of colours, and pronounced as “Hway”, is actually the capital city of Thua Thien, a prefecture of Vietnam. It was well known to be the ancient imperial capital of Nguyen Dynasty, where it was modeled after Beijing’s very own Forbidden City.
Due to its strategic location, situated between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Hue is a former capital of Vietnam and had been very prosperous. Although Hue went through some tough times during Vietnam War, it still stands with proof of magnificence of its yesteryears. Perfume (Song Huong) River runs along its middle, with old structures on one side while the modern establishments stand on the other. In short, Hue promises many historical sites and natural wonders to be explored yet still manage to be somewhat touristy.
Hue is the one of the places that bears many cultural heritages such as temples, moats, walls, gates, galleries, museums, palaces and royal tombs. There is no place that comes quite as near to the original historical remnants as in this ancient former capital city. So if you are looking to relax in a peaceful environment (a rare case indeed for Vietnam) while also immerse in the days long gone, Hue is the place for you to go.
Looking out onto the Perfume River Photo by ultrapop
Best Time to Hue is from February to August, the ‘dry season’, as Hue gets a lot of rain, particularly from late September through December. Fortunately at these times, there are various festivals to look out for, one being the annual Hue Festival (in June) that showcases many crafts made by nearby villagers, while re-enacting histories and not to mention lighting of the river banks with candles to highlight this special event. Definitely one event not to be miss if you would like to revel in the wonderful mixture of now and then in Hue.
1. Budget – BINH DUONG III, a down to earth and small budget hotel at the alley off Nguyen Tri Phuong St. This 11 room hotel stands out from the rest of the budget hotels with its clean and tiled rooms, tubs in the bathroom, writing desk with a computer and Internet access and a balcony to boot! (Tel: 054-860-145. Email: email@example.com. Address: 4/34 Nguyen Tri Phuong St. Room rate: USD16 incl. of breakfast)
2. Mid-range – Orchid hotel, bodes comfortable 15 rooms with a lot more style. Not far from the river, its rooms are homely, with traditional designs and woodwork in ceilings and floors. Also included are DVD player in room where you can get DVDs from the hotel’s library, WiFi accessible in the lobby and free breakfast buffet. (Tel: 054-831-177;. Websites: www.orchidhotel.com.vn Address: 30A Chu Van An St. Room rate: US$28-32, with balcony US$42)
3. Splurge – La Residence, this non-colonial and olden French style mansion-turned-hotel is definitely Hue’s best. Located up on the riverbank at far end of Le Loi St, this hotel boasts a golden lobby with free WiFi and billiards, and winding staircases up to its artfully decorated rooms. The rooms have desk lamps and arm chairs, with tiles bathrooms and balconies overlooking the pool and Perfume River. The rates also includes big buffet breakfast and access to the tennis court. (Tel: 054-837-475. Website/Email: www.la-residence-hue.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Address: 5 Le Loi St. Room rate: from USD216)
1. Bun Bo Hue – Hue’s most famous is the beef noodle soup served with slices of beef and lashings of chili oil. Usually served from any street stalls around town, the one famous for it is actually on an open-front concrete-floor place at 17 Ly Thuong Kiet St.
2. Com Hen – a spicy rice dish consisting of tiny river clams, peanuts, pork rinds, green onion, mint fish sauce and peppers. This is an acquired taste but and the locals also claimed that it is a dish not for everyone, where people may get sick due to it, but if you are willing, give it a try! This can be found at Truong Dinh St.
3. Vietnamese Coffee – catch a cup of coffee in the morning like how the locals do at the sidewalk, one particularly recommended is at opposite 30 Bach Dang St. Along with the coffee there are also bang mi (French bread with fillings) to fill up your empty stomach.
You can also try checking out the Dong Ba market for all the other Hue delights. If you’re lucky enough to be around during the Lunar New Year, you can join in the custom and buy the five-colored small cakes made of bean and rice powder, which has the melt-in-your-mouth sensation that is unique to Hue’s specialty!
Dieu De National Pagoda: Dieu De was built by King Thieu Tri in 1844 on the foundation of his old residence where he was born in 1807.
The pagoda was constructed on a large scale, but was badly damaged during the successive wars. In 1889, Bonze Tam Truyen was granted funding by King Thanh Thai to restore the pagoda, but again it was badly damaged, this time during a storm in 1904. The present construction was made in 1953.
The pagoda includes a main sanctuary with two statues of the Eight Vajra Deities. Behind the pagoda is a guest-room and a kitchen. In the courtyard stand a stele house and a bell tower. The two-story entrance gate (seen in the background) is topped with Dhamma Guardian’s pavilion. Photo by ultrapop
1. Ho Quyen Tiger Fighting Arena – it still has the arena not eroded by time, which were used to host competitions of tigers against elephants to the amusement of the emperor. The arena consists of two walls with cages still clearly showing claw marks.
2. The Citadel – rich with ramparts, moats, gates and courtyards. Though in states of disrepair after the damage during the French occupation and Vietnam War, iis still strong with reminisences of its glorious past.
3. Thien Mu Pagoda – among the many pagodas in Hue, this is one you should not miss. It is beautifully structured along the Perfume River, the base designed with Buddha images, with a huge bell and a stone turtle inside of it.
4. Boating along the Perfume River on a 4-hour Dragon boat cruise along its waters, 30kms from Bang Lang to Thuan An Estuary, allowing you to revel in various pagodas, royal tombs, temples and local villages.
Forbidden Purple City: Just a gate left now. It was almost destroyed entirely in the wars.
The Forbidden Purple City was a citadel within a citadel within a citadel. It housed the emperor’s concubines and could only be entered by eunuchs. Photo by ultrapop
The grounds around Dam Nam Giao: Like a set from a Yimou Zhang film! You almost expect a sword fight in the trees.
Dam Nam Giao was a ceremonial terrace where the Nguyen Emperors reaffirmed the legitimacy of their rule through a series of elaborate sacrifices (animal, not human.) Photo by ultrapop
Things to do:
1. Take a dip in the Thahn Tan Hot Springs – a park build around a natural hot spring. Here you can find many things to do from soaking in a hot spring, sliding down waterslides and chilling at massage pool or wave pool.
2. Sunbath, swim and relax at Thuan An beach – a popular beach lagoon, just 15km from the city, near the mouth of Perfume River. The beach secret is to its south, where it is lesser in crowd, allowing ample space for chilling out in serenity.
3. Soothe those muscles at blind massage parlour – located at the institue for blind, off Phan Boi Chau street (Kiet/Alley 180 Phan Boi Chau) for just 30,000 dong/hour. The staffs here speak a little english and this is usually where the locals go. Beware of other less reputable ‘massage parlours’ in town catered just for tourists in hope to get big tips.
4. Hike through Bach Ma National park – a range of distinctive trails of natural sub-tropical forest. The trails will lead you trhough waterfalls falling into luscious pools surrounded by umbrealla of trees. What a sigh that would be!
5. Shop at Dong Ba Market – best place to buy all sorts of Hue’s specialties like conical bamboo hats marked with poetries, embroideries, herbal remedies, potteries, flowers and other local produces/products in rows of colourful shops.
Water puppet theater: Water puppets are beautiful, fully articulated puppets depicting life on the Perfume River. Folktales of playful dragons, a dance of phoenixes, water buffalo, and wading maidens revealed how vital the river was — and still is — to the local people. It is both the main artery and the life-giving blood of Hué and its surrounds.
The puppeteers hide behind a bamboo scrim and wade in waist-deep water to operate the puppets with a series of rods and bamboo sticks. Photo by ultrapop
1. From Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City – take the overnight bus/train to Hue. Either way, you can stop by this place as a transit in between the two more famous cities.
2. From Phu Bai Airport (15km from the city) – take the shuttle that makes trip to any hotel in the center for less than USD2 or a taxi for about USD7.
1. Charter a van tour – if in a group of 6-8 people for about USD30 per person
2. Hire a car for the day – most travel agents in Hue can help you arrange a car for about USD70/80 for a day to go around
3. Buses and trains – you can take these options but be prepared to walk to preferred destinations
4. Rent a bicycle – go the old school way and get around on a bike.