Conquered by the Viet Cong and held for 24 days with the slaughter of around 3,000 people, then bombed by the American forces, which largely destroyed the city, Hue experienced very tough and tragic times during the Vietnam War.
In recent times, the riverside has been revamped and nowadays the Perfume River (Hương Giang) is Hue’s (pronounced Hway) main landmark, which makes for a very pleasant promenade.
The 4-hour train trip from Da Nang travelled through some gorgeous coastline providing stunning scenery. As you head north, you’ll be shrouded by tall hillsides on the west of which the train cuts through these to come out on the other side of steep coastline on your eastern side – beautiful trip!
Regardless of the time of year, carry an umbrella or rain jacket! I have a great poncho I bought in Rurrenabaque (Bolivia) back in 2011 and it’s still going strong.
Hue’s weather is renown to be infamously bad…I couldn’t agree more. Apparently, this bad weather is due to the Truong Son Mountains just to the south, which appears to entrap all the moisture; consequently, the city is usually misty, drizzly or rainy. For most of our 8-day visit, I would describe the rain as mostly torrential!
Regardless of the weather, we made the most of the time in Hue as met some really lovely and friendly locals, especially in The One coffee shop (the daily haunt), and after all, it is Christmas time!
There’s much to see when you’re based in Hue. Apparently, the Tombs of the Emperors, located along the Perfume River travelling south of the city are great to visit, although I didn’t see this site.
Imperial Citadel (Đại Nội)
A must see in Hue and for around 105,000VND (USD$5) entry, one not to be missed. The architecture is gorgeous and there’s also a (Korean-made) video that re-creates what the Citadel would have been like during its illustrious time.
Protected by fortified ramparts 2 kilometres by 2 kilometres of 2 metres thick and ringed by a moat, this walled fortress is a massive 520-hectare sprawling complex. Within, you will experience a palace, temples, pavilions, moats, walls, gates, shops, museums, and galleries. Art and costumes from Vietnamese history are also featured. Leave yourself a good day to explore the Citadel, as there’s a lot to take in but also a lot of history to read.
Imperial City – Bao Tang Royal Palace
Pay an extra USD$5 entrance fee and you can enter this palace. The guide books are not updated and it seems that all their prices are way off – gotta love the way guide books publish out-dated information these days! I didn’t go in so can’t write anything about the palace.
DMZ Tour, my experience
Although Dong Ha is a closer starting point to do the DMZ Tour, many travellers stop in Hue as there’s more to do in this city. Many hotels and travel agents can organise the famous DMZ tour but the Canary Boutique Hotel organised this tour (USD$18), which was supposed to be a full day starting at 07:00hrs and returning at 18:00hrs.
We were picked up at our hotel then did the usual driving around everywhere until the small minibus was rammed. Only this time, there was a revolt…from the tourists! An Indian couple and a German tourist obviously not used to the Asian ‘way’ of buss travel started whining about how we needed a bigger bus. They wanted their money back and refused to go any further if a larger bus wasn’t provided, so we were dropped off at the tour agency and there we waited…and waited, for over an hour.
By the time a bigger bus arrived, we were almost one and a half hours’ late in starting the tour, which was not good, as all we ended up doing was racing through all the sights to still arrive back at Hue by 18:00hrs. Also, what was truly embarrassing was that on our bus was a local wheelchair-bound lady who really struggled to get on and off the bus. Not once throughout the day did she make a scene like the other tourists had done.
Anyway, we picked up our hard to understand English-speaking guide at Dong Ha Town, then stopped off at Doc Miue Fire Base (complete with a propagandist museum), Hien Luong Bridge, Ben Hai River, and Cua Tung Beach. Following a rushed tour to these sites we arrived at the Vinh Moc Tunnels, which were amazing and the highlight of the day.
We continued onto the Rockpile, Dakrong Bridge, Ho Chi Minh Trail, Highway No. 9, Ethnic Minority Village (on the side of the road and only for a 10-minute break), and then onto Khe Sanh Combat Base; too rushed for my liking.
As you can imagine, there’s much to ram into the day with such an itinerary, it’s a very packed day. It didn’t help that our tour started very late, then basically, rushed through the sights. In hindsight, we should have opted out and done this tour another day. To give you an idea, the same tour company used to start this tour at 06:00hrs; an hour earlier!
Also, you stop for lunch at the tour agencies’ restaurant, which serves terrible food at inflated prices. I suggest you take a walk outside and onto the street to seek some other place to eat. I didn’t appreciate paying 3 times a local restaurant’s price for fried noodles, especially when I was served terrible 2-minute noodles and not the real thing!
Canary Boutique Hotel (Tru Street) – This hotel has to be one of the best-priced hotels in Hue. All staff are super friendly staff, but especially managers Ruby and Bhoung; always smiling and having a laugh, and help with whatever you need.
We stayed here 8 nights and very sad to leave – very clean, serviced daily, fridge, kettle, great hot water, and good wi-fi in room. A couple of dogs yelped early in the morning for a while, which affected the sleep quality, but this is Asia. On arrival, the bed even had fresh rose petals and the towels were made into cute piglet sculptures.
After 9 months on the road and eating out every day, twice a day, decided to spend Christmas day differently. Visited our favourite ‘The One’ haunt for the morning’s coffee fix (after the initial Viet coffee fix at breakfast), then retired to the Canary for the rest of the day.
Christmas dinner included red wine, lovely cheese, freshly baked baguette, sliced ham, black olives, and chocolate for dessert; purchased from the Big C Supermarket. These types of food (we take for granted at home) are expensive throughout SE Asia or sometimes, just hard to find, so a wonderful Christmas treat!
- The One (03 Hung Vuong Street) – Open only a few days, this new funky cafe serves excellent coffee, shakes, cakes, and savouries. Great atmosphere, loads of seating, and visited by many locals but also foreign tourists. (Price range: Drinks: 15,000-45,000VND; Cakes and savouries: 15,000-30,000VND.)
The service here is excellent! Friendly staff and make every effort to ensure you have a pleasant experience – Hà Gia Quý Khánh is always smiling and eager to help. There’s also good free wi-fi here. Stayed in Hue for a week and this is the best coffee we found; regular haunt.
- Bar Sunlight (21 Vo Thi Sau) – When a restaurant advertises a Cappuccino and it’s priced as such on the menu, you expect a Cappuccino, right? Wrong! Instead, we got a 3-in-1 instant coffee mix passed up as a Cappuccino – it was awful.
Also had dinner here, the pizza wasn’t the best and my dish was OK but not good. The red wine wasn’t good. The service was OK; however, I’d nearly finished my meal when my partner’s pizza turned up. This bar was recommended in the ‘bible’, so thought to give it a go, but it was a mistake.
- Big C Supermarket (Ba Trieu Planning Area, Hung Vuong street, Phu Hoi Ward) – For all your one-stop grocery supplies and much more, visit a Big C (popular throughout Vietnam and Thailand). There’s even a cinema at the top floor of this mall.
Train from Hue and north to Dong Hoi