Hue is the old imperial capital of Vietnam, and while it has modernised a lot, and isn’t in the same league as Hoi An, it’s still a pleasant city to visit.
The city is split into two parts divided by the Perfume river. The Imperial City, which is a walled city 2km by 2km is on the north of the river, within which the main attraction – The Citadel – resides, and the new city is to the south, which looks like anywhere else in Vietnam.
Aside from the Citadel, the other main attractions are the Emperor’s tombs, however they are located outside of the city. For this reason we hired a motorbike from our guesthouse and went out to explore. There are 6 tombs in total but due to the distance between them and the high entry fee of 80,000 dong per person for each one, we only visited two.
Tomb of Minh Mang
It took us a while to find this one (god bless GPS!) and we managed to park at an unofficial entrance (where the parking fee was buying a drink from the owners cafe) which involved an unexpected but pleasant walk past some rice paddies around the outer wall of the complex.
The area is vast, with beautiful lakes and woodland, and several beautiful temples and courtyards. Walking across several bridges you eventually get to the tomb, which is a grassy mound behind a locked gate, so you can’t actually see the tomb itself but the whole area is absolutely stunning.
We stayed for a long time here, walking around the lakes, taking photos and admiring the scenery. Definitely worth the entrance fee for this one!
Tomb of Khai Dinh
This tomb couldn’t be more different – it occupies a much smaller space and is far newer, it was finished in 1931, 6 years after the emperors death. You walk up a steep set of stairs, past lots of stone statues until you get to the tomb building itself.
It might look elaborate from the outside but it’s nothing compared to the inside, which is extremely lavishly decorated. The emperor was apparently influenced by French architecture, which shows in some places. Ceramic murals run from floor to ceiling, it’s certainly one of those places where you spend most of your time looking up and admiring the beauty and scale of it.
We also visited a pagoda, but for the life of me I can’t remember which one it was. It was however very nice, with a mixture of old stone being consumed by nature, and new buildings where monks live.
Back in the city, we finally visited the Citadel. We only had a few hours left until it closed and honestly you could spend far longer exploring it. We did see a fair amount of it though and were semi impressed.
Why only semi? Well because there are vast areas where the buildings have either crumbled into nothing or been bombed to oblivion during the war. The restored parts are very nice, and there were some parts which were shabby but still standing which we enjoyed the most.
It is definitely worth seeing, just don’t go expecting too much!
Hue in General
We stayed in the new city, in the small backpacker area but wandered around plenty. We weren’t massively impressed by food options in Hue, the famous local dish is Bun Bo Hue which was nice but tasted a bit bland the times we had it. We’ve eaten this a lot in London and it’s really flavourful and spicy there, so I’m not sure which one is authentic?!
Along the south side of the river there are some nice gardens which are worth a wander, though you will get harrassed every 5 seconds by someone trying to get you on a boat trip. They didn’t seem to be doing great business when we were there which is a bit sad.
The weather is supposed to be notoriously bad in Hue but we got really lucky, it was warm and dry for virtually the whole time, a bit too hot if anything! We had some grey clouds when we were at the citadel but that was it.
Overall we quite enjoyed Hue. It probably isn’t somewhere you could spend a lot of time, as once you have seen the sights the city is quite small, but for a few days it is really enjoyable.
We arrived by train from Da Nang, which took around 2 and a half hours and cost just 70,000 dong per ticket (£2!) although we paid slightly more as we were staying in Hoi An and had to pay a service charge to an agent and also for a transfer from Hoi An to Da Nang.
Within the city taxi’s are plentiful, as always in Vietnam we stuck to Mai Linh. Our motorbike cost $6 a day, which is a fairly standard rate.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at Phong Lan, located down an alleyway in the backpacker area. The room was clean and tidy with a balcony and a nice view, but the best thing was the staff. It’s a real family run place and they are all so incredibly kind and helpful. The room also included a basic but tasty breakfast, the best part of which was the variety of homemade jam on offer – it was delicious!