Central Vietnam has many gems waiting to be explored and the city of Hue (pronounced as “hway”) is one that is not to be missed! Unknown to many, it was the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen Dynasty which was the last dynasty before the communist regime. This makes it a treasure trove for history buffs, where remnants of an ancient city gives travellers a glimpse of Vietnam’s intricate past. Hue is only about 2 -3 hours by train from Da Nang which is so it’s a great option for a day trip. Here is why you need to make Hue your next travel destination in Vietnam.
One of the main attractions in Hue is the Imperial City, a walled palace within Hue’s 19th century citadel where emperors would live. Designed by geomancers who were commissioned by the emperor Gia Long, it housed many beautiful gardens, places of worship, pavilions, and the Purple Forbidden City which was an area exclusively kept for the royal family. In 1968 the Battle of Hue ensued, taking place mainly within the city which sadly caused significant destruction to most of its buildings. In 1993 it became a UNESCO site and restorations have since been done to preserve what is left of its beautiful architecture and history.
Having reigned in Hue, it only makes sense that the emperors would build elaborate tombs to be buried in the same city of their legacy. There are up to seven tombs located all over the countryside and these places are so much more than just a burial site. They often feature gardens, palaces, and places of worship within its premises which really make the trip to each tomb a worthwhile stroll. 12 km from Hue’s city centre is the Minh Mang Tomb, known to be the most extravagant among all the royal tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty, holding 40 different attractions within its gates. Slightly nearer to the city is Tu Duc Tomb which features a lake and has an old, quaint romantic atmosphere that’s great for photos. For a more gothic vibe, visit the blackened concrete structures of Emperor Khai Dinh’s tomb, which is about 9 km from the city centre. These three tombs are the most popular among the seven. Get a guided tour so you can fully appreciate the story of each emperor and why his tomb was built that way.
Pho noodles are a signature of Vietnamese cuisine, but another noodle dish that is just as good is bun bo hue, which originated in... Hue! It has similar ingredients to pho - beef slices and fresh herbs like cilantro and Thai basil - but instead of white flat vermicelli noodles, bun bo hue uses spaghetti-like noodles that are rounder and it is served in a spicy broth that is sometimes topped with congealed pig’s blood and sliced banana blossom. It’s a truly tasty dish fit for royalty and definitely a must-try when you’re here. Although this dish can be found almost anywhere in Hue, recommended places are Bun Bo O Cuong Chu Diep restaurant on Tran Thuc Nhan Street or Bun Bo O Hoa restaurant on Mai Thuc Loan Street for a cheaper but just as good meal.
Image by Vu Pham Van / © Culture Trip
Every other year, Hue throws a major festival to celebrate its origins and culture. Tourists and locals gather here to enjoy interesting activities held in over 40 locations around the city. The festival is usually held mid-year around April, May or June, and is a fantastic experience to be a part of, especially if you want to learn more about Hue’s history in a fun and creative way. Art installations and performances take place throughout the day on the streets and a storytelling performance comes alive at night, illuminated by bright colourful lights on Hue’s Perfume River. It’s totally worth planning your trip to coincide with this festival so you don’t miss out on Hue’s biggest biennial event!
Visiting a local market is always a highlight on a trip because that is often where you get the most authentic experience of a place. From local food and fresh produce to handicraft and traditional wear, Dong Ba Market has almost everything you’d want in a market. It opens from 6am to 6pm daily while food stalls open from 8am to 11am for breakfast. Must-try dishes include banh khoai (stuffed omelette), khoai san (cooked sweet potatoes), stir-fried snails, and bun chay hue which is a Hue-style vegetarian noodle soup dish that is also quite popular as people in Hue are mostly vegetarians due to the large Buddhist population.
A trip to Hue would not be complete without a visit to the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady, also known as Thien Mu Pagoda. Built in 1601 under the Nguyen Dynasty, the pagoda sits on Hà Khê hill overlooking the north bank of the Perfume River. The seven-tiered Phuoc Duyen tower within the pagoda is an iconic symbol of Hue. It is surrounded by the main temple and a garden of pretty bonsai plants. Behind it is where the car of the Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc is parked - a memory of his 1963 self-immolation in protest against the persecution of Buddhists at the time. Opening hours are 8am to 5pm but try to go early as it can get very crowded on a daily basis. Entrance to the pagoda is free.
There is so much more to discover and explore in Hue of course, but for a start we hope these highlights have given you good reasons to make a visit to this ancient city. Getting here is easy too. As mentioned earlier you can take the Reunification Express train from Da Nang which starts at USD14 per ticket depending on which ticket you buy, or from any other neighbouring city by train. You can also book your flight with Mayflower and fly to Phu Bai International Airport with VietJet Air, which is only 26 minutes from Hue’s city centre. Have a good holiday!