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 favor 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, during which the VC slaughtered around 1,000 people suspected of sympathizing with the South, and then subject to an American bombing campaign to retake the city.
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.
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. The airport is relatively out of date as most of its structures were built by the American garrison during the Vietnam War.
Danang's airport, only two hours away by car now that the Hai Van Tunnel is open, is busier, better connected and more dependable.
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 (including frequent services to Hanoi and Saigon) connect to the main bus station (Ben Xe Hue). Most open tour buses include Hue in their itinerary, connecting to Hoi An or Da Nang to the south (4-6 hours) and Hanoi to the north (13-16 hours). The overnight Hanoi route is popular with locals, but beware of motion sickness among them.
- Sinh Café, 7 Nguyen Tri Phuong St, . Direct buses to Hoi An cost US$2 and leave twice daily: the 07:30 service crosses the Hai Van Pass and makes three stops, stretching travel time out to 6 hours, while the 13:30 service goes through the tunnel and manages the trip in four. Buses to Hanoi depart at 5:30pm every day (US$9) with stops in Dong Ha and one or two other places.
There are also frequent bus services to Savannakhet and Vientiane in Laos. Buses leave at 06:00 and 18:00. The trip to Savannakhet takes about 12 hours and cost around US$12, to Vientiane about 20 hours and US$15-20. The vehicle can be anything between minibus, air-con bus to a local 30 years old bus. You'll probably have to change bus 3-4 times during the trip and toilets (aside from squatting in the jungle) are seldom available. Tickets can be bought in any booking office in the center of Hue.
Like other Vietnamese cities, Hue is flooded with cyclos and motorbikes, as well as a few meter taxis. Taxi drivers are usually honest, but make sure they turn the meter on: trips start at 13,000 dong for the first 2km and tick upward 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, all of the usual disclaimers apply: negotiate a price ahead of time, and don't be afraid to walk away if they're asking too much. 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. They're available for around US$5/day from hotels and shops.
Cycling is also a good option, with plenty of bikes available for no more than US$1/day.
Hue is quite compact, so you can reach most of the hotels, restaurants, and the Citadel easily on foot. You'll need to arrange transportation to reach the emperors' tombs, though.
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. Thanks to its size, 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. As a result, some areas are now only empty fields, bits of walls, and an explanatory plaque. Other buildings are intact, though, and a few are in sparkling condition. For the rest, 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 55,000 dong open 06:30-17:00.
- Ngo Mon. The main southern entrance to the city, built in 1833 by Minh Mang. The central door, and the bridge connecting to it, were reserved exclusively for the emperor. Climb up to the second floor for a nice view of the exquisite courtyard. The Ngo Mon Gate is the principal entrance to the Imperial Enclosure. The Emperor would address his officials and the people from the top of this gate.
- Thai Hoa Palace. The emperor's coronation hall, where he would sit in state and receive foreign dignitaries.
- Forbidden Purple City. Directly behind Thai Hoa Palace, but it was almost entirely destroyed during the 1968 Tet Offensive and only the rather nondescript Mandarin Palaces on both sides remain.
Tombs of the EmperorsModifica
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. Plan to make a full day of it.
Group tours usually cost about US$2, which includes an excellent (really!) lunch aboard the boat, but does not include admission to the tombs (55,000 dong apiece; cheaper for locals, of course) or the cost of a motorbike from the wharf to each tomb. If you're with a group, the price should be set by the tour company at roughly 25,000 dong for each round-trip. Choose a tour with as few stops as possible &mdash some companies lard up their itineraries with visits to silk farms and a few pagodas, promising to fit everything in neatly. Tour companies aren't noted for their time management, though, and you'll wind up rushed along and frustrated for at least one of the tombs.
If you're traveling on your own, boat hire or a motorbike and driver should cost somewhere around US$20, again not including tomb admissions. All of the tombs can be walked to from the wharfs in anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour. The paths are mostly obvious, but you still probably shouldn't try it without a map or a terrific sense of direction. Most of the tombs are open from 7:30am or 8am to 5:30pm, depending on the season; note that the tour groups arrive around 10am and leave around 3pm in order to get back before dinner, so plan accordingly to avoid the crowds. You'll be glad you did.
The tombs themselves are worth the cost and effort. 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 excellent examples of Vietnamese Buddhist aesthetics and architecture. The older ones have been allowed to crumble into picturesque semi-ruin, although some are now being restored.
In order of age:
- Tomb of Gia Long (40km) - the most remote of the tombs, quiet and fallen into disrepair as Gia Long, the first Nguyen emperor, was notoriously despotic.
- Tomb of Minh Mang (12km) - in this opulent complex, the main buildings are arranged on an east-west axis, including a courtyard surrounded by warrior statues and several temples and pavilions. Several bridges cross two lakes before the axis ends before the vast burial mound (which is circled by a fence). The mausoleum features large gardens and lakes: a pleasant place to sit and relax. If you're dropped off by boat note that there is a stretch of souvenir sellers to navigate during the short walk to the mausoleum entrance.
- Tomb of Thieu Tri (8km) - built in 1848.
- Tomb of Tu Duc (7km) - a vast, sprawling complex set around a lake, with wooden pavilions and tombs and temples dedicated to wives and favored courtesans (Tu Duc had 104 to choose from). The courtesans' quarters are in ruins, with only outlines and crumbling walls left amid waves of overgrown grass and silence, but other areas are stunningly well-preserved. The emperor's tomb itself, tucked away in the back, is surprisingly modest - the final courtyard is nearly empty with just a stone coffin in the middle. Try to dodge the crowds for this one.
- Tomb of Dong Khanh - built in 1917.
- Tomb of Khai Dinh (10km) - dating from 1925, this is the best preserved of the lot and, while comparatively compact, quite grand at first sight. While it follows the classic formula of forecourts leading up to the tomb of the Emperor, complete with statues in attendance, architecture buffs will spot some European influences. The tomb itself is completely over the top with incredibly detailed and opulent mosaics of cavorting dragons.
- Thien Mu Pagoda (4km) - perched on a bluff over the river and housing some very fine gold and silver Buddha images. The Thien Mu Pagoda overlooks the Perfume River and is the official symbol of the city of Hue.
- Hue travel agents are keen to sell day-tours of the former Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which was supposed to be a buffer between North and South Vietnam, but which saw intense fighting.
- Phu Bai Airport is a must-see if you are interested in the war. The airport was a dirt strip during the Indochina War. Then, during the Vietnam War, an American garrison was assigned there and built up the airport with concrete bunkers, a paved airstrip, and a few other luxuries. The airport was vital in keeping Hue supplied during the Eastertide Offensive of 1972 when "Charlie jumped the line". The airport retains the original buildings built by the Americans; however, they have been retrofitted for use by the Vietnamese.
- Thuan An Beach is 15km from Hue.
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/box.
- Bun Bo Hue, 11B Ly Thuong Kiet. This eponymous eatery specializes in its namesake dish. 15,000 dong gets you a bowl with a generous, mouth-meltingly soft (if fatty) cutlet plopped on top.
- Friendly restaurant, D Pham Ngu Lao, an excellent choice with charming staff and a wide range of Vietnamese and European food. Opened in 2005 and owned by a Vietnamese family, Friendly restaurant is in the town's centre.
- Mandarin Café, 12 D Hung Vuong. The owner is also a good photographer and many of his pictures hang on the wall. Worth a look.
- Little Italy, 2A Vo This Sau Street  Serves the best pizza and pasta in town. Call 054826928 for delivery.
- Tinh Gia Vien, 20/3 Le Thanh Ton, tel. +84-54-522243. Wonderful old Hue-style nha vuon garden villa on a quiet side street, formerly the residence of a princess, converted by a bonsai enthusiast into a restaurant serving Imperial cuisine. There are three set menus at US$10/12/15, the main difference being — to quote the menu — a "big", "bigger" or "biggest" fish, but all sets have 11 courses and are guaranteed to fill you up. The food wins full points for presentation, but is unfortunately somewhat toned down for the foreign palate.
- B4 Bar-Café, 75 D Ben Nghe. A charming Belgian-Vietnamese owned bar, with a welcoming interior and free pool.
- Brown Eyes Chillout Bar-Club, 56 CHU VAN AN ST. HUE . VIET NAM, ☎ 054.827494. Happy hour(20% Off on beers & coctails . 30% off on big bucket off long drink. exchange the flyer to buy one get one free) 5pm-10pm. open at 5pm untill the last one passes out ,Live DJ, free pool table, games, and a good vibe. Not far from Pham Ngu Lao, but they offer to pay for taxis from hotels for parties of four or more. No cover. edit
- Café on Thu Wheels, 1/2 D Nguyen Tri Phuong. It's a little bar owned by the charming lady Thu.
- DMZ Bar & Café, 44 D Le Loi. Stays open late.
There are plenty of cheap traveler hotels and mid-market hotels in Hue, as well as a couple of expensive giants. The largest cluster is around the short lane of Pham Ngu Lao (including Le Loi, Hung Vuong, and Chu Van An). It's not quite as big — or backpackery — as its Ho Chi Minh City namesake, but still a definite tourist magnet.
- A Dong Hotel, 1 Chu Van An, ☎ 054.824148. Nice building, quiet location around the corner from Pham Ngu Lao and the river. from US$10. edit
- Binh Duong I + III Hotel. hot water & satellite TV included. from US$5. edit
- Halo, 10A/66 D Le Loi (up an alley coming off the main road, where there is an array of other guest houses - there's a small sign for it along with some others at the alley's entrance). Spotless rooms, spacious, with large bathrooms and TV. There is a balcony to sit at night, and it's close to all the nightlife in Hue. doubles 160,000 dong / US$10. edit
- Mimosa Guesthouse, Le Loi, ☎ 054.828068. friendly, quiet location in a backpacker hotel alley off Le Loi. from US$5. edit
- Minh Hieu Hotel, 3 Chu Van An, ☎ 054.828725. Family-run hotel named after the wild urchin who'll make his displeasure known if you spend too long on the Internet-ready computer downstairs, thereby keeping him from online puzzle games. The rooms are spotlessly clean, with satellite TV, hot water, and mini-fridges; each floor has a balcony, and it's not too loud outside. Breakfast is available for US$1. from US$10. edit
- Asia Hotel. Opened only in December 2004, but despite the token modern TV, the fittings seem much older. The rooms are well enough equipped though and the rooftop restaurant and pool have nice views. Rooms from a slightly overpriced US$30, including a decent buffet breakfast. edit
- Saigon Morin, 30 Le Loi Street. Hue's grand old hotel, opened by a Mr. Morin from France and running strong for over a hundred years. Excellent riverside location, white-washed colonial charm and a pleasant inner courtyard, although the rooms could use a little fine-tuning. from US$100. edit