Hue, Highlights of the Imperial City

Getting to Hue

Hue Train Station

Hue Train Station

The old imperial capital and home of the imposing purple forbidden city, Hue is in the middle of Vietnam, crossed by the perfume river, and at a driving distance of the old DMZ line (which divided the north and the south of Vietnam during the war). It is fairly easy to get there, there are flights from different cities of Vietnam, buses, and there is a train station in town (Ga Hue). From the airport it takes around 35 mins to town so the cabs will be around 240K (~15 USD). There is a shuttle service for around 60K Dong (~3 USD) and it is running every 30 mins from the airport. It wouldn’t hurt to check with your hotel how much they would charge for the pickup service. On the other hand, if you arrive at the train station, it is a short commute to the hotels area.

The old Capital

Forbidden city gate

Forbidden city gate

Historically hue was the capital of the imperial Vietnam, and the Citadel was the home of the emperors.

During the war, Hue suffered several damages to buildings and historical areas, most of them happening during the Tet offensive. Today many parts of the imperial citadel are still being recovered, but there is plenty to see around!
When I went to Hue I stayed in a central area, from the citadel it was around 10 mins by bike, and despite the heat, I highly recommend going around by this mean of transport, it is great to get to know the city, go at your own pace and see how life unwinds. Don’t forget to carry plenty of water! If there is something certain in Hue is the humidity, probably one of the most humid places I have visited, the wind is not very strong which makes things harder for day wanderers.

What to do

Purple forbidden city

Purple forbidden city

Getting to know the city and main landmarks can be done in a few days. The main place to visit without question is the Imperial Citadel. It’s worth spending a whole morning or afternoon there. In my case I spent around 4 hours, I was going slow and taking my time to take some photos and hide from the sun. The entry ticket also includes access to some surrounding museums, if you are keen to go and take a look. If you are getting there by bike, take into account that they are not allowed inside the citadel, but there is plenty of parking around and it will cost somewhere between 5k or 10k Dong (~0.25 to 0.50 USD) depending on your negotiation skills, that fare is for the whole day.

On the second day, a tour to the tombs and Thien Mu pagoda would make for most of it (see map image). The circuit that I did started in Hue, then going to Khai Dinh Tomb, Minh Mang tomb, Thien Mu pagoda and finishing back in the city, It is around 50 Km. I recommend going to at least two tombs (each one has an entry fee) and the pagoda, it has no entry fee but gratuities are always welcome. Another option to do this same tour is by boat through the perfume river. Which could make for an awesome day, and a fun plan for couples, but make sure you carry sunscreen, repellent and lots of water.

Surroundings

Hue is not a big city, the night scene is very limited too. It is more a place for landmarks, and there are plenty of them. For enthusiasts of war events, Hue is an excellent starting point to go to the old DMZ, the Vinh Moc tunnels, and even to Hamburger Hill. Many tour agencies in the city offer day tours to these places. It is not rare these days to find US veterans visiting Vietnam to follow the trails of their past. I met a group of veterans in Danang’s airport before taking a plane, and it was interesting to get some insight details about the old US airforce base, and how they see a progressive society nowadays.

A city Highlight

Hue Perfume river

Temp Tattoo in front of the perfume river

If I had to pick a highlight in the city (apart of the friendliness of the locals). I would have to go with the views at night of the perfume river. The river runs through the middle of Hue and it is the heart of the city, it provides the water for the moat of the imperial citadel, and going down the river it will direct to the emperor tombs. The main bridge that crosses it (Trang Tien Bridge) gives that special something at night. The bridge has a display of colours, which are changing all the time, great for photographers. Near the river, there is an everyday night market, where there is plenty of food, souvenirs, and temporal tattoos (mine just lasted a few hours), which can make for a nice relaxed evening.
If you ask me if I would go back to Hue, my answer would be: most likely no. The city is worth visiting, it’s good for chilling, going to a random market, and enjoying the food. But the city is a bit too quiet for my like, there would be more vibrant places that I would like to visit instead.

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