During the time I was wondering which places should I visit when travel to Vietnam, Hue was the one that always crossed my mind. Hue was Vietnam’s imperial capital city from the 18th century until 1945. In my opinion, the city looked absolutely attractive, however, because of tight schedule, I didn’t know if I was able to actually see the place. The given idea from my friends who had come…
During the time I was wondering which places should I visit when travel to Vietnam, Hue was the one that always crossed my mind. Hue was Vietnam’s imperial capital city from the 18th century until 1945. In my opinion, the city looked absolutely attractive, however, because of tight schedule, I didn’t know if I was able to actually see the place. The given idea from my friends who had come there, weren’t exactly helpful, simply because each of them said different things. Some enjoyed the place, while others told me to leave it out of my go-to list. That’s why in order to sum it up, I’d like to share my point of view to the problem, by explaining the following reasons on why you should (or should not) visit imperial city Hue.
Hue stands in the center of Vietnam, not very far from the coast of the magnificent Huong River. It was chosen to be the capital of Vietnam during Nguyen dynasty, after Nguyen Anh defeated the emperor Canh Thinh of Tay Son dynasty. The city stayed the capital of Vietnam until Bao Dai – the last imperial emperor in the history of Vietnam abdicated in 1945, passing all political power to Ho Chi Minh, who then changed the nation’s capital city to Hanoi. Since then, Hue was preserved and grew into a stupendous architectural destination with the exquisite name “Forbidden Purple City”, also includes many beautiful designed pagodas and the emperors’ tombs close to the area. That certainly had your attention, didn’t it? There are more that you should know.
1. Take your time, it certainly worth it!
The schedule for my tour in Vietnam wasn’t very flexible and comfortable, that’s why I couldn’t visit all the places. For a backpacker, traveling around Vietnam without a plan or staying in Vietnam for more than two weeks, it is a shame not to have a look around Hue. I only stopped by Hue for about 6 hours. That amount of time was not enough to see every site that the city offers, for example the Forbidden City as well as the emperors’ tombs and more, unless you take a tour around the city by grabbing a taxi. The decision not to take the tour was the biggest mistake I have made during my time in Vietnam. It would take a whole day of your trip in order to fully explore the imperial city, ideally arrive early in the morning and finish the tour in the evening, however, you can come at the afternoon and stay there for a night, that’s not a bad idea.
It takes about 20 km from the coast to get to Hue, 100 km from Da Nang, plus 25 km if you are in Hoi An. If you want to travel to Hue from Hanoi, you will have to cover a distance of 700 kilometers. I recommend visiting Hue after you have arrived at the two other destinations Da Nang and Hoi An. From Hoi An, taking a bus is a good choice, due to the cheap cost (about 5 dollars) and the comfortability of Vietnamese sleeper-buses. Another popular option to go from Hoi An is travel by train, but you have to go to Da Nang to catch it. If you start from Hanoi, you can take an overnight bus (or train) or book yourself a flight, just like I did.
2. This is the place to go if you’re a history enthusiast
If you are as interested in history as I do, then it must feel like living the past each time you arrived at a historical destination. If natural beauty and the local’s way of living are what really get to you, then don’t bother continue reading and look for other places like Sapa, Halong Bay or the Mekong Delta instead.
Vietnam has gone through many bloody and tragic wars over the years, and the heroic history is what came across most of our minds every time someone mentions Vietnam. Even so, only a few people actually know about the nation’s earlier times. That makes Hue an ideal location for tourists, both locals and foreigners, to have a few historical lessons about the history of the city and the whole country of Vietnam. Hue’s Forbidden City was severely burned by a fire in 1947, and later destroyed by bombing during war time. There are still many beautiful places to visit and they are either restored or carefully preserved.
3. You will have a closer look into Vietnam’s history and culture through this particular city
It is okay if you’re not that excited in researching Vietnamese history, but if you are that curious type of person who wants to go deeper in Vietnamese culture, then Hue is the place to go to. More than just a political capital city, it is not exaggerating when saying Hue is the heart of Vietnam’s traditional culture and religion. The cultural and historical influence of this city has undoubtedly helped Hue to be recognized by the UNESCO as one of the World Heritage in 1993. You really live in history as you are walking through different areas of the Citadel, there are also sections where you will be explained about the life of imperial dynasty, societal hierarchy, other traditions and most important, the history of how the City was built. The religious side of Vietnamese life also being revealed as you visit the beautiful temples in the area, then enjoy the traditional royal Vietnamese music (additional fee required).
Once getting out of the Imperial Citadel, you will find a variety of prestigious pagodas around the area, the most popular will surely be the Thien Mu Pagoda. The outstanding view offered by this Pagoda will surely be a scene that you would not want to miss.
However, since the above destination belongs to the outskirt of the city, you will need to consider your options on how to arrive at the place.
4. If you are a peaceful loving person, Hue is just the place
The one thing that got me when I was travelling to Hue was the peaceful and quiet atmosphere due to the few numbers of tourists visiting the place. A trip taken away from travelling season surely be helpful, even though, the palace is truly an underrated tourist destination, therefore it is ideal for people who enjoy a more uncrowded atmosphere or just simply want to take a more special experience. Apart from the main buildings belong to the front area of the palace, I found it very relaxing just walking comfortably through its secret corners and large courtyards. That kind of reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing, the place where there were so many people that it made my trip much less enjoyable. There are some peaceful areas to relax, but none of them can be compared to Hue.
5. The place is as enjoyable as other imperial cities (if you have been visiting them)
If you have observed China’s Forbidden City before, there are absolutely no reason why you would find Vietnam’s less interesting (much less crowded, just a reminder). It’s very exciting to find out that the two palaces have so many things in common yet so different. That makes me very curious as if the one who designed Hue imperial city had visited Beijing’s Forbidden City and got inspired by the design, and just made a few adjustments during the building process based on what he had seen from the giant empire from the north.
If you are still not convinced, it is worth noting that Hue is very attractive even if compared with other citadels or tombs in other countries that you might have observed, such as France’s Versailles, Japan’s Osaka castle or Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.
6. Other things that you need to know
Now, if you are interested in visiting Hue, here are some advices for you:
• The weather isn’t very nice while touring the place, so make sure you bring enough water to drink and a good pair of shoes to travel around. Cold water and food can be found in small food stalls around the place, but it is more ideal to eat outside, it only cost about 2 dollars for a meal.
• Normally a cab from the Citadel to Thien Mu Pagoda cost you about 2 dollars (65.000 VND), remember telling the driver turns on the meter.
• Taking a private boat to return to the center is not a bad idea. However, they always ask for very high payment, don’t hesitate driving a hard bargain. I paid only 80,000 VND for the ride (he asked for about twice that price) but after that he insisted on selling me handmade postcards and other stuffs. Still, it was a nice way to travel, instead of throwing myself into a taxi like usual.
• Don’t bother visiting Loi Street Market, the place is full of tourists stretching along the south side of the river. If you really want to go to a market, try Dong Ba Market, located at the east of the City, about 1 kilometer away, across Trang Tien Bridge.
• Never forget trying Hue’s special dishes: Khoai Pancakes. Basically, they are like crepes, but with a lot more ingredients, taste better with the town’s unique Hue beer.