Hue is a small and peaceful city in Central Vietnam along Perfume River. It is the one place that most tourists had missed out during their visit at the central part of the country. It is an old capital of Dang Trong Kingdom (1738-1775) and home to 13 Emperors from the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945).
Getting There and Around
You can fly either a domestic or an international routes to Danang International Airport (DAD) . Upon arriving at the airport, you can hire a private van if traveling in a group or take a local bus from Danang city to Huế.
The cheapest option is to take a bus since I am traveling solo with the journey on the road takes up to 2.5 hours. It drives along Highway 1 and use Hải Vân Tunnel, the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia that stretches 6.28 km that connects Danang and Hue. It only has one lane of traffic in each direction in the tunnel, making it impossible to overtake. After exiting the tunnel, there is a amazing picturesque of Lap An lagoon with a fishing village called Lang Co and East Vietnam Sea.
Hue is pretty walkable and have no problem getting around the city. Having say that, there are a few attractions that scattered outside the city. You can either join a half or full-day tour, rent a scooter or hire a private car with a driver. Currently, there also have Grab bikes here and they are easy to find one.
Things to do in Hue
I join a half-day tour that booked in advance with Klook website to see the tombs of the emperors and take a self-guided visit to the Citadel and Thieu Mu Pagoda. So, I have listed down the places to see and dine-in in Hue city.
1. Tomb of Tu Duc
The Tomb of Tu Duc was built for the Nguyen Emperor Tu Duc and took three years to completed from 1864-1867, along with temple buildings that were used as a retreat for him and his many wives. He has ruled from 1848-83, making him the longest reign of any monarch of the Nguyen dynasty. The compound is very huge and my favorite place here is the beautiful lotus pond.
Tu Duc started planning his tomb before he passed away in 1883. Although he has over a hundred wives and concubines, he was unable to father a son. Therefore, he wrote his own epitaph on the deeds of his reign, which was found on the stele in the pavilion just to the east of the Emperor’s tomb.
After all the hard work, his body did not ended up buried here after his death but somewhere secret in Hue. The 200 servants that were involved in his burial were all beheaded to keep the place secret from potential robbers. His adopted son Kien Phuc who took over as the Emperor for only seven months and dies was buried in a small corner of the grounds of Tu Duc and Empress Le Thien Anh’s tomb, Tu Duc’s primary wife because a separate tomb was not established.
Tu Duc Tomb is located at 17/69 Lê Ngô Cát, Thủy Xuân, Thành phố Huế and opens from 7 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. Entrance fee is 20,000 Dong for single ticket.
2. Tomb of Khai Dinh
The Tomb of Khai Dinh was constructed from 1920 to 1930 for Khai Dinh, the twelfth Emperor of the Nguyen dynasty. He was not known for being particular popular with its people, mainly due to his close work with the French government during their occupation. You will need to walk up 127 steps to the palace!
Its architecture comes with a mixture of Chinese, Indian, Roman and Italian design. The tomb is home to an imperial audience court that features a reinforced concrete stele monument and twelve stone statutes of bodyguards. Khai Thanh Palace was built with very complex porcelain decorations on the walls. As you enter the rear room of the palace, there lies his grave, an altar to him and a statue of his likeness. The ceiling is decorated with nine detailed dragons.
Tomb of Khai Dinh is located at Khải Định, Thủy Bằng, Hương Thủy, Thừa Thiên Huế at the steep hill of Chau Chu mountain. Its entrance fee is 20,000 Dong.
Being the highlight of the city, the Citadel is a 19th century palace complex known as Forbidden Purple City. The Imperial City was built inside the walls of the Citadel with its design and architecture style much similar to the palace in Beijing. It still retained its uniqueness with the charm of lotus ponds and ruins of the buildings. It is listed as the UNESCO World Heritage in 1993.
The palace was built in 1804 after Nguyen Anh has conquered Vietnam in 1802. He consulted with the geomancers and design according to Feng Shui. The palace was built north of the River Huong with a 2km x 2km fortified wall surrounded by a moat.
The Imperial City used to have 160 building complex, but it was badly damaged during the Vietnam War despite efforts were made to protect its historic structures. Restorations had been done, however only 10 buildings remained standing today.
The Citadel is located right in the city centre and you can buy the entrance ticket for 150,000 Dong. The Imperial City opns daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
4. Perfume River
Perfume River is one of the best place to enjoy a evening and night walk. The water flows from Truong Son Mountain and passes Hue City and Bang Lang Fork. The iconic Trang Tien Bridge will be lighted up with colorful LED lights, making it a wonderful sight for locals and tourists. There are some cafes, food stalls and shops right next to the riverside. If you have free time during the day, hop on the boat and get to admire the city landmarks.
5. Hue Walking Street
Hue Walking Street is one of the most happening area after the sun goes down. You can find different international cuisines: Western, Indian, Japanese and of course, Vietnamese. This place is pretty less crowded and touristy unlike the Walking Street in Saigon. You can just sit back, relax and enjoy dinner or a drink while letting the time slowly goes.
There is a tourist information centre here and you can look for local tours. Many tour, hostel and bus operators are all situated in this area too. So if you are not a hurry, do check with different tour operators to compare the prices.
6. Madam Thu Restaurant
Madam Tu is one of the top rated and must-try restaurants in Hue. It is located in Walking Street, just 2 minutes’ walk from my Airbnb hostel. It was recommended by my host to this lovely restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. I was warmly welcomed by friendly staffs with many smiles.
They suggested their delicious Combo Set that comes with Banh Beo (rice cake with dice shrimp), Banh Khoai (stuffed rice pancake), Banh Loc (clear dumplings), Banh Uot (grilled pork in wet rice paper), fresh watermelon juice and fruit combo. All this authentic Vietnamese food just cost 150,000 Dong with a comfort air-con area.
Madam Tu is at 45 Võ Thị Sáu, Phú Hội, Thành phố Huế in Walking Street area. Do get there before 7 p.m. when the place starts to fill up quickly.
Thien Mu Pagoda
Thien Mu Pagoda (Chua Thien Mu) is one of the top attractions in Hue. It is the tallest religious building in Vietnam, located on the Ha Khe Hill at the east side of Perfume River.
This 7 stories pagoda was built by the first Nguyen Lord in 1601 following a prophecy by Thien Mu, a celestial lady. It was also named Pagoda of the Celestial Lady. The pagoda and its buildings were severely destroyed by a cyclone in 1904, but it has never reconstructed to its origin.
This pagoda is at Kim Long, Hương Long, tp. Huế, Thừa Thiên Hue and opens 24 hours with no entrance fee.
Dong Ba Market
Dong Ba Market is a local market at the east of the Citadel on the north bank of Perfume River. It does not draw much tourist attention but this maze of stalls had got me to wander around, giving it a perfect spot to see local life.
You can find everything to anything, from t-shirts to shoes, souvenirs to handicrafts and great Vietnamese food.
This market is at Trần Hưng Đạo, Phú Hòa, tp. Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế and opens daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Other Places to See in Hue
Planning to stay for 2 nights in Hue? Do visit Ming Mang Tomb and the Temple of Literature as well. Do check on the Abandoned Water Park at outskirt of Hue. It was a multi-million dollar project that eventually closed due to lack of visitors, however, it is now become a popular spot for tourists and locals.
- Download Grab app into your mobile phone and take a motorbike ride anywhere in Hue. Grabcar is still currently not available here.
- Best time to visit is between December and August with less rainfall. Monsoon season falls between September and November.
- Highly recommend to take a self-guided tour in the Citadel. It takes 3-4 hours to explore the huge Imperial City. Entrance fee is 150,000 Dong. Opens daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Arrange your transportation to Hue with Bookaway. There are many bus and private car operators traveling from other cities and towns in Vietnam.