Difference between revisions of "Hue"
Revision as of 06:13, 20 April 2007
Hue (Huế) is located in central Vietnam and is the former imperial capital.
Hue is intimately connected to the imperial Nguyễn Dynasty, based in Hue, who ruled from 1804 to 1945, when the Emperor Bao Dai abdicated in favour of Ho Chi Minh's revolutionary government. The city went through tough times during the Vietnam War, when it was conquered by the Viet Cong and held for 24 days; the VC slaughtered around 1,000 people suspected of sympathizing with the South, and American bombardment before retaking the city probably killed just as many if not more.
Hue is easy to get a grip on. The main landmark is the Perfume River (Huong 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. If you do not like Hue, then you should visit Daklak Province. One of the finer highland cities of Vietnam, Buon Me Thuot is the capital of the province. Once you are there, remember to visit Y-Niem Cafe & Nightclub. It is simply the best region. Take my advice.
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, and things get even drippier than usual in the winter rainy season. Bring along an umbrella any time of year.
Hue's small Phu Bai airport fields daily flights to and from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, but flights are quite often disrupted by poor weather and it's 40 minutes away by taxi. Danang's airport, only two hours away by car now that the Hai Van Tunnel is open, is busier and more dependable. The airport is relatively out of date as most of its structures were built by the American garrison during the Vietnam War.
Several trains a day to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang (4 hours) etc. The journey down south through the Hai Van Pass is particularly scenic, and from Danang you can take a taxi or motorbike to Hoi An.
A second-class sleeper ticket from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue costs 455,000 dong and 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 babies.
Public buses from all the bigger cities connect to the main bus station (Ben Xe Hue). Although open-tour buses take you directly to the hostel area, they charge more and tend to keep you from contact with locals.
Like other Vietnamese cities, Hue is served by metered taxis (sedans), and un-metered cyclo-taxis and motorbike-taxis.
Taxi drivers are usually reasonably honest, but do make sure they turn the meter on: trips start at 13,000 dong for the first 2 km and then tick up at 8,000 dong/km. A metered trip out see two tombs, with waiting time, should come to around 200,000 dong (US$15).
With cyclos and motorbikes, you need to know where you are going and how much it should cost, or you will be overcharged. The drivers do not see this as cheating - you are rich and they are poor. No trip in Hue should cost more than 20,000 dong.
Hire a motorbike and join the locals as they swarm across the bridges and along the main roads at a leisurely pace. Available for around USD5/day from hotels and shops.
Cycling is also a good option, offering a great range of possibilities for no more than USD1/day.
Central Hue is quite compact, so you can reach most of the sights easily on foot. However, you'll need some transportation to get out to the emperors' tombs.
The former imperial seat of government and Hue's prime attraction, this is a great sprawling complex of temples, pavilions, moats, walls, gates, shops, museums and galleries, featuring art and costumes from various periods of Vietnamese history. It is also delightfully peaceful - a rare commodity in Vietnam. The citadel was badly knocked about during fighting between the French and the Viet Minh in 1947, and again in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, when it was shelled by the Viet Cong and then bombed by the Americans. Some of it is now empty fields, and while restoration has been going on for 20 years there is still quite a long way to go. Allow several hours to see it properly. Entry US$8, open 06:30-17:00.
Tombs of the Emperors
The other great attractions in Hue are the Tombs of the Emperors, which are located along the Perfume River south of the city. They are accessible by taxi or bike from the city, but the best way to see them is to hire a river boat and go for a cruise, which takes between four and six hours and costs between 30,000 dong (for a group) to 150,000 dong (for a boat all to yourself). This cost includes an excellent lunch, but does not include the admission to the tombs themselves, which is usually 55,000 dong, or the cost of a bike trip between the wharf and each of the tombs, which can range from 30,000 dong to 150,000 dong, depending on how hard you bargain. All of the tombs can be walked to from the wharf, with the walk taking anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour. The bike operators are pretty shameless about overcharging tourists so be prepared to be firm - you shouldn't be paying more than 50,000 VND and even that is overcharging you. The tombs themselves are worth the cost. 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 fine examples of Vietnamese Buddhist aesthetics and architecture. Khai Dinh's tomb dates only from 1925 and is well preserved. The older ones have been allowed to crumble into picturesque semi-ruin, although some are now being restored.
Phu Bai Airport
If you are in the area to see relics from the Vietnam War, Phu Bai Airport is a must see. The airport was a dirt strip during the Indochina War, then during the Vietnam War, an American garrison was assigned there and built the airport up building concrete bunkers, paving the airstrip, and added a few other luxuries. The airport was vital in keeping Hue City supplied during the Eastertide Offensive of 1972 when "Charlie jumped the line". The airport retains the original buildings built by the Americans, however, they are retrofitted for use by the Vietnamese. If you have time if you are flying into the city, it would be worthwhile to check out the airport and the grounds.
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 goes for under 10,000 dong per box.
Bars and clubs
Lots of cheap traveller hotels and mid-market hotels as well. The largest cluster is along the short lane of Pham Ngu Lao, not quite as backpackery as its Ho Chi Minh City namesake but still a definite tourist magnet.