Hue

Hue (Huế) (sounds much like huh-WAY) is in the central region of Vietnam and is the former imperial capital.

Guardian statues at the Tomb of Khai Dinh

Understand

Hue is intimately connected to the imperial Nguyễn Dynasty, based in Hue, which ruled from 1802 to 1945, when the Emperor Bao Dai abdicated in favour of Ho Chi Minh's revolutionary government. The city went through tough times during what is known locally as the American War, when it was conquered by the Viet Cong and held for 24 days. During that time, they executed around 1,000 people suspected of sympathizing with the South. After a ferocious assault, US and South Vietnamese forces retook the city.

Perfume River

Orientation

Hue is easy to get a grip on. The main landmark is the Perfume River (Hương Giang), with the old city and the citadel on the north side and the newer city, including most hotels and restaurants, on the south side. Much of the riverside has wisely been done up as a pleasant promenade and park dotted with bizarre sculptures. The famous tombs are further south in Hue's outskirts.

Climate

Hue's weather is infamously bad: the Truong Son Mountains just to the south seem to bottle up all the moisture, so it's usually misty, drizzly, or outright rainy. Things get even wetter than usual in the winter rainy season, especially from February to the end of March. To be safe, bring an umbrella any time of year. Don't forget to bring a sweater and jacket in winter as it can get rather chilly, with temperatures falling to as low as 8°C at night. Alternatively, when the sun makes an appearance for a day or a week, it can reach 30°C.

It's usually quite dry during the summer months, when the temperature can reach the high 30s. Summer rains can be heavy but brief, and often arrive unexpectedly, whereas February rains can last for weeks. The best description for the weather in Hue would be "changeable".

Get in

By plane

Hue's international Phu Bai Airport (HUI) has daily flights to and from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, but flights are quite often disrupted by poor weather during the rainy season (mid-Oct to mid-Dec). The majority of flights are Vietnam Airlines, but Jetstar Vietnam also has a flight or two from Ho Chi Minh City and once a day to Hanoi. The airport is 15 km from the city centre and should cost no more than 180,000 dong by taxi (30-minute ride).

If you need an English speaking driver and private car transfer from Hue Airport to city center you can ask for quote at Hue Private Car, Book A Car Vietnam, Hanoi Transfer Service They offer a 4-seater car for 14USD.

There is also a bus that will take you into the city and even drop you at your hotel for 50,000 dong. Tickets are bought from the stand just after exiting the baggage claim. Large suitcases are accepted, the minibus seems to leave roughly when full. It drops you to larger hotels but the default option is Hanoi street.

Da Nang's airport, only two hours away by car now that the Hai Van Tunnel is open, is busier and has more connections. A one-way taxi from Da Nang airport to Hue can be negotiated down to USD45 (large car) or USD40 (small car). Using the meter, the cost for a large car is about 1,200,000 dong.

By train

There are several trains a day to and from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang (4 hours), et al. The journey down south through Lang Co and the Hai Van Pass is particularly scenic, and from Da Nang you can take a taxi or motorbike to Hoi An. A second-class sleeper ticket from Ho Chi Minh City on the much superior express SE2-SE6 train to Hue costs 588,000-740,000 dong depending on the level you're on (1, 2, or 3). SE 2 departs at 19:00. The beds are quite hard, as there is not much of a mattress, and it is placed over a plastic bench/seat. You can get other trains, but the little extra you pay is worth it several times over. It offers a wonderful travel experience. The traveller gets to sit, lie and sleep in a very small cabin for 23 hours with five other people (nearly always Vietnamese), eat four plain but tasty and filling Vietnamese meals, listen to a fine selection of Vietnamese pop songs on the PA, and see some incomparably beautiful countryside, particularly in the last section between Da Nang and Hue. It's an excellent way to see the country and meet ordinary Vietnamese, who are unfailingly friendly and helpful, even to travellers who have not bothered to learn a word of their language. The trip is especially recommended if you like squalling babies.

Buy your tickets at the train station. Hotels often over charge by doubling the prices (at least USD80 for a soft sleeper), often using excuses such as "it's high season" or that they "have to buy on the black market". The train station is about a 40 min walk from most backpacker hotels (in Pham Ngu Lao). Train tickets can also be purchased from the (official) booking office at 275C Pham Ngu Lao. The office is not obvious: look for a blue sign. It closes at 18:00.

By bus

Public buses from all the bigger cities (including frequent services to Hanoi and Saigon) connect to the main bus station (Bến Xe Phía Nam and Bến Xe Phía Bắc). Most open tour buses include Hue on their itinerary, connecting to Hoi An or Da Nang to the south (4–6 hr) and Hanoi to the north (13–16 hr). The overnight Hanoi route is popular with locals, many of whom seem to be prone to motion sickness.

*Daily shuttle bus Hue to Danang and Hoian* Daily departure from Hue city at 9:00am Hotel pick up,they also stop on the way for taking photo and take a rest such as: The lagoon, Lang Co Beach, Spectacular Cloudy Pass, Marble Mountain and drop you at your hotel in Hoian. Cost only VND 180,000 Inclusion: Air-con Miinivan, English speaking tour guide, water & wet tissues. Contact at Hue Tourist Operation Office - 120 Le Loi Street., Hue city or check on their website: Hue Tourist Vietnam

Details bus schedule: Hue - Da Nang - Hoi An 09:00. Departure to Da Nang from Hue city centre. Stop to visit and take pictures at: Cau Hai lagoon, Lang Co Beach, Hai Van Pass “the cloud pass” to have a panoramic view on the Vietnam East Sea. 12:30: Arrive in Da Nang, stop to visit Marble Mountains and stone carving village. 14:00. Arrive in Hoi An. You are free to visit the ancient town, with his bustling international port, the meeting place of the merchant ships of Japan, China and Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Hoi An - Da Nang - Hue

15:00. Pick up at the centre of Hoi An, departure for Hue. 15:30. Visit Marble Mountain 16h00: Pick up or discharge passengers at Da Nang. Continue to Hue 17:30. Take a rest in Lang Co Beach 19:30: Arrive in Hue.

From Pakse

VIP (not really) buses leave Pakse at 08:00, arriving in Hue 12–13 hours later. Local buses leave Pakse in the evening. Tickets can be bought from travel agents in central Pakse. Be prepared for a no air-con ride. [May 2014] Agencies in central Pakse show you photos that aren't very accurate and overcharge too, with up to 100,000 kip difference. The current price is 130,000 kip if bought directly from the bus company. Try to get a tuk tuk to take you to the Vietnam bus area. There are a few restaurants there with the most updated info of companies and their schedules.

From Vientiane

You can book a sleeping or sitting bus for 180,000 kip (sleeping is the same price as sitting) to Hue or continue to Da Nang from the Southern Bus Terminal. The trip takes 15 hours to Hue so the sleeping bus is the better choice. Departure time for just Hue/Da Nang is 19:00 although at Vientiane's southern bus station you'll also see other options heading south and you could probably take those as well. You'll have a couple bathroom stops (bathrooms not necessarily available) and at least 2 or 3 eating stops.

They'll try to arrive at the Lao Bao border crossing before it opens at 07:00. Here is where they'll collect everyone's passports to get stamped out of Laos. Everyone needs to include a 15,000 kip fee (foreigners may end up getting asked for 30,000 kip) so have that ready in your passport ahead of time. You'll also have several ladies asking if you need to change any money. They'll come in the bus or roam around the bus stop. Be careful and circumspect with them. If you just hand them some kip without establishing what rate you're getting, or not even bothering to count how much you gave, you'll end up with a lousy 50% or 1:1 rate, so you've lost half your cash. (Probably best not to exchange anything as you'll have no chance to actually buy anything with your dong until you reach your destination. However, you might not be able to exchange your kip when you're in Hue. So plan ahead.)

Meanwhile, as this is going on, you'll be served some Vietnamese coffee. All meals and the coffee break should be included in your ticket price. You must pay for anything additional that you order.

Once you reach Hue you can get dropped off before the Hue bus station and maybe save yourself having to ride into town on a hired motor bike.

Get around

By taxi

Like other Vietnamese cities, Hue is flooded with cyclos and motorbikes, as well as a few meter taxis. Taxi drivers are usually honest, but make sure they turn the meter on. Trips start at 15,000 dong for the first 2 km and tick upward at 11,500 dong/km. Some meters run incorrectly (showing up to 10 times the distance actually travelled), so ensure you have a rough idea of the distance to your destination. If the meter is running too quickly, at the destination pay an estimate of the fair price and insist on calling the police if the driver will not accept the estimated non-meter price. The driver will back down. A metered trip out see two tombs, with waiting time, should be around 300,000 dong (USD18).

With cyclos and motorbikes, all of the usual disclaimers apply: negotiate a price ahead of time and don't be afraid to walk away if they're asking too much. No trip in Hue should cost more than 20,000 dong. Many of the motorbike drivers double as pot dealers, and you may be offered to buy marijuana along with your ride.

By bike

Hire a motorbike and join the locals as they careen across the bridges and along the main roads at a leisurely pace. They're available for around USD5/day from hotels and shops.

Cycling is also a good option, with plenty of bikes available from 25,000-30,000 dong/day.

For a motorbike with driver, small hotels have connections to freelancers. You may be lucky to have an English speaking guide for all 6 tombs (the 7th tomb is inaccessible) including those locked and forgotten for lack of tourist interest, plus three temples, and the emperor's arena for one day and still have time in the early afternoon for a beer and some Vietnamese do-it-yourself spring rolls and the famous Hue pancakes for just USD10. The DIY spring rolls and pancakes are not free, but they simply worth it for only 45,000 dong.

By cyclo

A cyclo is the local version of the trishaw, with the passenger in front of the cyclist. Be prepared to haggle for reasonable prices as cyclo drivers tend to quote indiscriminately. It's a good idea to agree on your price before you go. Also make sure this is a return price and not one-way. Of course, if you want to change your itinerary after you're already on the way, you should discuss how this might affect the agreed price with your cyclo driver right away. Otherwise, you may get a rude surprise when you arrive at your final destination, and the driver tries to charge you an exorbitant amount. While most of the cyclo drivers in Hue are fair, and can be quite helpful, there are a few who are very unscrupulous. If you agree on the price as "100", make it very clear that you are agreeing on 100,000 dong, and not USD100. Many cyclo drivers also act as pimps, and may offer you ladies (starting at USD10/hr).

On foot

Hue is quite compact, so you can reach most of the hotels, restaurants and the citadel easily on foot. Mr. Cu at Mandarin Cafe has prepared a free walking tour brochure and map. Make sure to stop by his place at 24 Tran Cao Van St to pick up your free map (and enjoy some delicious banana pancakes). You'll need to arrange transportation to reach the emperors' tombs.

See

Courtyard of Ngo Mon, with the Thai Hoa Palace in the background

The historical monuments of the city have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

  • Ngọ Môn. The main southern entrance to the city, built in 1833 by Minh Mang. The central door and the bridge connecting to it were reserved exclusively for the emperor. Climb up to the second floor for a nice view of the exquisite courtyard. The Ngo Mon Gate is the principal entrance to the Imperial Enclosure. The emperor would address his officials and the people from the top of this gate.
  • Thái Hòa Palace. The emperor's coronation hall, where he would sit in state and receive foreign dignitaries.
  • Trường Sanh Residence. Translated as the "Palace of Longevity", the Truong Sanh Palace was the residence of King Tu Duc's mother, Empress Tu Du, under the Nguyen Dynasty in the 19th century. It lies in Tu Cam Thanh, one of the two major parts of the Hue Citadel. Currently under renovation, the project, estimated to cost almost dong 30 billion (roughly USD1.8 million), includes the restoration of Lach Dao Nguyen, the palace's protective moat, decorative man-made rock formations and mountains, bonsai gardens, and the palace gate. While not officially open to the public, it is possible to enter the grounds and should be seen, as even in its overgrown state, it's beauty is recognisable.
  • Forbidden Purple City. Directly behind Thai Hoa Palace, but it was almost entirely destroyed during the 1968 Tet Offensive and only the rather nondescript Mandarin Palaces on both sides remain.
  • Hue Jungle Crevice. When the Viet Cong briefly overran Hue, they rounded up 3,000 of Hue's citizens and officials. Fearing the prisoners would slow them down their hot retreat, they tied them up and pushed the people over the cliff into the crevice.
The tomb of Khai Dinh on a misty morning
Lake and pavilion at the tomb of Tu Duc
Group tours usually cost about USD2, which includes an excellent lunch aboard the boat, but does not include admission or the cost of a motorbike from the wharf to each tomb. If you're with a group, the price should be set by the tour company at roughly 25,000 dong for each round-trip. Choose a tour with as few stops as possible. Some companies lard up their itineraries with visits to silk farms and a few pagodas, promising to fit everything in neatly, however tour companies aren't noted for their time management, and you'll wind up rushed along and frustrated for at least one of the tombs.
If you're travelling on your own, boat hire or a motorbike and driver should cost somewhere around USD20, again not including tomb admissions. All of the tombs can be walked to from the wharves in anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour. The paths are mostly obvious, but you still probably shouldn't try it without a map or a terrific sense of direction. Most of the tombs are open from 07:30 or 08:00 to 17:30, depending on the season. Tour groups arrive around 10:00 and leave around 15:00 in order to get back before dinner, so plan accordingly to avoid the crowds. You'll be glad you did.
The tombs are also easily reached by bicycle, although there is a shortage of good maps of how to reach them. Ask your hotel about bicycle rentals and maps, and be cautious on the crowded and potentially potholed roads. This is probably the most inexpensive (and enjoyable, if you enjoy cycling) way to reach the tombs. Along the way you will meet many darling Vietnamese children who like to practice their English by shouting "F--- you!" and other English expletives at passing foreigners.
The tombs themselves are worth the cost and effort. They mostly date from the late 19th or early 20th centuries, when the emperors had been reduced to figureheads under French colonial rule and had little else to do than build themselves elaborate tombs. The finest of them are the Tomb of Tu Duc, the Tomb of Minh Mang and the Tomb of Khai Dinh, all of which are excellent examples of Vietnamese Buddhist aesthetics and architecture. The older ones have been allowed to crumble into picturesque semi-ruin, although some are now being restored.
Tombs from oldest to newest:
  • Tomb of Gia Long (20 km). The most remote of the tombs, quiet and fallen into disrepair as Gia Long, the first Nguyen emperor, was notoriously despotic.
  •   Tomb of Minh Mang (12 km). In this opulent complex, the main buildings are arranged on an east-west axis, including a courtyard surrounded by warrior statues and several temples and pavilions. Several bridges cross two lakes before the axis ends before the vast burial mound (which is circled by a fence). The mausoleum features large gardens and lakes: a pleasant place to sit and relax. If you're dropped off by boat note that there is a stretch of souvenir sellers to navigate during the short walk to the mausoleum entrance.
  •   Tomb of Thieu Tri (8 km). Built in 1848. This emperor and his wife were the most revered and loved throughout the country. Although he only ruled for 7 years, he was the most sorely missed. In a time of strife and economic problems, he was careful with the country's treasury and improved his people's living standard. His last wish was to be placed in a tomb that was not extravagant, parting ways with the tradition of creating lavish final resting places for emperors.
  •   Tomb of Tu Duc (7 km). Built between 1864–1867, the complex served as a second Imperial City where the emperor went for "working vacations". Tu Duc's contemplative nature and poetic spirit is reflected in the landscape and arrangement of the 50 buildings that at one time stood here. A vast, sprawling complex set around a lake, with wooden pavilions and tombs and temples dedicated to wives and favoured courtesans (Tu Duc had 104 to choose from). The courtesans' quarters are in ruins, with only outlines and crumbling walls left amid waves of overgrown grass and silence, but other areas are stunningly well-preserved. The emperor's tomb itself, tucked away in the back, is surprisingly modest. The final courtyard is nearly empty with just a stone coffin in the middle. (The tombs of Empress Le Thien Anh and Emperor Kien Phuc, who briefly ruled in 1884, are also here.) Try to dodge the crowds for this one.
  •   Tomb of Dong Khanh. Built in 1917. In March 2014, this tomb was closed to the public for renovation.
  •   Tomb of Khai Dinh (10 km). Dating from 1925, this is the best preserved of the lot and, while comparatively compact, quite grand at first sight. While it follows the classic formula of forecourts leading up to the tomb of the emperor, complete with statues in attendance. Architecture buffs will spot some European influences. The tomb itself is completely over the top with incredibly detailed and opulent mosaics of cavorting dragons. Try to get to this one early, as it is a favourite stop for Asian tour-bus groups. Also, you may want to leave the tourist path and head up the hill on the right side of the tomb, where a small temple stands. You will have a great view of the tomb and the valley it faces.

Do

Buy

Embroidery is a traditional craft of Hue and framed embroidery can be purchased in many shops in the backpacker area of Hue.

Eat

Hue is famed for its imperial cuisine, originally prepared for the emperor and his retinue. Although the emphasis is more on presentation than taste, an imperial banquet is well-worth trying.

The most famous local dish is bún bò Huế, a noodle soup served with slices of beef and lashings of chili oil. Another tasty local treat is sesame candy (mè xửng), which is peanutty, chewy and quite tasty if fresh and costs under 10,000 dong/box.

Budget

Mid-range

Bún bò Huế at Bun Bo Hue

Splurge

Vegetarian

The people of Hue have a strong tradition of eating vegetarian food, so vegetarian restaurants are more common in Hue than in the rest of Vietnam. On the 1st and 15th of every lunar month, vegetarian restaurants are packed full of patrons for dinner and it may prove difficult to find a seat. Vegetarian restaurants are the cheapest places to eat, after street vendors.

Drink

Bars

Coffee

There are lots of small cafés (quán cafe) in Hue. Going out for coffee is a favourite local pastime. Most Hue people wouldn't think of starting the morning without meeting friends over a glassful. Most coffee shops open for business in the morning, close down from about 10:30 or so until late afternoon, then open again for the after-work and evening crowds. Do try the local style, iced, either with condensed milk, or black, which means with sugar. In the south, the iced coffee comes in a tall glass with lots of ice and lots of syrupy milk. In the central area, the glass is much smaller and the coffee is usually stronger. If you don't look Vietnamese, you may be served a weaker coffee, or if you order cafe nong (hot), they will also give you an extra glass of hot water to pour in. Do try your coffee first, to taste it the way the locals like it. Something like an iced, sweet espresso, with chocolatey overtones. Generally 6,000-8,000 dong for Vietnamese people; 10,000 dong+ for foreigners

Sleep

There are plenty of cheap traveller hotels and mid-market hotels in Hue, as well as a couple of expensive giants. The largest cluster is around the short lane, Pham Ngu Lao (including Le Loi, Hung Vuong, Chu Van An, Nguyen Cong Tru). It's not quite as big (or backpackery) as its Ho Chi Minh City namesake, but still a definite tourist magnet. Just by walking around in the side streets of Pham Ngu Lao, you'll quickly find some guesthouses for USD5–7, depending on your bargaining skills. There are plenty of them around, too many to mention separately. Most of them are well renovated and offer the usual comforts of budget hotels like a small TV, a fridge and a proper bathroom. Wi-Fi is available everywhere, as in most parts of Vietnam. In Pham Ngu Lao itself you only get a dorm bed for the same price, so walking 100 m around the corner is probably well worth the effort. Also note, that the prices offered online are sometimes a fair bit higher than if you just show up there in person.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

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