Royal and Poetic are the two adjectives we would use to describe Hue, a city which has managed to hold onto its old world charm, despite the many ravages of war and time. Located on the bank of the Huong River, this city used to be our national capital, educational, cultural and political center under the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802-1945. The city is also easily accessible as it has a domestic airport which frequently welcomes flights from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. Besides, you can choose to travel by train, bus or motorcycles as well. The only thing that matter is the weather atHue is notoriously unpredictable, and rainfall is common.
What to do and where to explore in the center?
If you are a history buff, or simply love discovering exotic cultures, Hue is definitely on the bucket list of your travel plan. The city represents the outstanding demonstration of the power of the vanished Vietnamese feudal empire, including a complex of monuments, tombs and pagodas that attract tourists coming from all over the world.
The Citadel and Imperial City
This is the most historic landmark, not only in Hue but entirely in Vietnam. It was built 200 years ago by the 1st King of Nguyen Dynasty – “Gia Long” to protect the most important buildings, monuments, temples and the Forbidden Purple city where the Kings, Queens, princes, princesses and royal concubines and servants dwelled in. Surrounded by an impressive moat filled with waterlilies, The Hue Citadel site was chosen by experts in ‘geomancy’ a spiritual science that looks for good omens in the natural landscapes, withNgự Bình mountain in opposite side, the Perfume river in front as its front hall and two sand dunes, Cồn Hến and Cồn Dã Viên, representing the Green Dragon on the left and the White Tiger on the right protecting the citadel.
The citadel looks toward the south with the implication that the King turned to the south to rule the country. Attractions inside the Imperial grounds include the Thai Hoa Palace, The Mieu, the Queen Residence, the Forbidden Purple City or the Royal Theater. Although nothing much to see in the Forbidden Purple City as it was severely destroyed during the Tet Offensive, precious pictures hung on red corridors will enable you have a glimpse of the imperial life in the old days.
Tombs of Kings
Asian believe that present life is just temporary and life after death is eternal. So did the emperors of Nguyen Dynasty. Therefore, all of the Nguyen Emperors spent more than half of the lives to build “tombs” – their eternal home. Since most of the tombs were built during the Emperor’s lifetime, they are places not only for burial but for Kings to take a rest and entertain also, that’s why locations of imperial tombs must be cautiously selected according to the rules of feng shui, with mountain or hill in front. This natural element is served as a feng shui screen which helps to protect bad things from going through the tomb area.
The tombs should also face a calm river, a lake or a pond which is believed to accumulate good energy from the universe for the tomb. In Nguyen Dynasty, there were totally 13 emperors, but because of the war, just only 7 tombs left nowadays, in which three tombs attract a huge number of tourists every years by their own artistic features: Khai Dinh , Tu Duc and Minh Mang. While Tu Duc Tomb is soaked with lyricism and Minh Mang Tomb is well-known for its solemnity, Khai Dinh Tomb uniquely boasts its harmonious sophistication in Vietnamese and Western style.
Pagodas of Hue
To get a taste of the mystical side of Vietnam, head over to one of the many beautiful pagodas that are scattered around Hue, from ancient to modern ones.
Thien Mu is the must not miss as it is the oldest pagoda in Hue, was built in 1601 and has played an irreplaceable role in spreading Buddhism in Vietnam. With the symbol of the octagonal 21-meter-high tower, the pagoda is the perfect combination of artificial architectural work and picturesque nature. It also attached to a significant political event back to 1963, when the “Buddhist Suppressing Policy” was taking place under Ngo Dinh Diem regime and the Superior Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc drove to Saigon and in the protest, set himself on fire.
Tu Hieu Pagoda is one of the most famous in all of Hue and dates from 1843. This pagoda was also the home of eunuchs during the times of the Ancient Citadel in Hue and nowadays about 70 monks live here.
Huyen Khong Son Thuong If you are a nature-lover, or simply love to getting off the beaten path, Huyen Khong Son Thuong is a best place for you. About 10 kms from Hue ancient capital to the West, this pagoda is packed with greens, tranquil atmosphere and flowers’ aroma. It welcomes all visitors whose desire to calm themselves in nature and Buddhist Therapy.
Markets and Dishes
In Hue, there are hundreds of big and small markets scattered around the town. To have an experience of local people, visitors cannot miss a trip to the markets when they are in Hue. There are five well-known markets in Hue that we recommend visitors to visit: Dong Ba, Ben Ngu, An Cuu, Tay Loc and Phu Hau market, in which Dong Ba is the most notable one after the world-renowned chef, author and TV star Anthony Bourdain once had lost his way here because he couldn’t resist the delicious dishes of Hue cuisine.
Markets are also the place that you can sample best local dishes, such as bèo nậm lọc (steamed rice flour with toppings), bún bò Huế (Hue Beef Noodle), 100 kinds of royal Chè, Chè bột lọc heo quay (chè with roasted pork in tapioca), Tôm Chua (fermented sour shrimp), Mè Xửng, ect…
What to do outside Hue city center?
Visit Thanh Tien Village and Thanh Toan Bridge
About 10 km downstream from Hue City, Thanh Tien village is famous for its traditional craft of making paper flowers with its history lasting over 300 years. In the past, Thanh Tien paper flowers were used for rituals or worshipping ceremonies, but nowadays it is considered as a hobby and used for daily life. The paper flowershere are rich in color and beautiful in form. Villagers take advantage of the available materials in their area such as the hedgehog, the bamboo tree to create the spiky flowers, bamboo flowers (also known as chopsticks) and dye the colors. To make a flower, all stages are done manually. Let’s visit the village, make a flower yourself and keep it as a souvenir for your Hue Trip.
Thanh Toan Bridge is about 8 km away from Hue, was built by Mrs. Tran Thi Dao, a rich but childless lady, in 1776. She paid money to build the bridge to pray for a child. Thanks to her, the villagers no longer used boats to move to other sides, kids and elderly people got a shelter to enjoy breeze in every hot noon or after a long working day. Apart from contemplating peaceful rural village scene, tourists have chance to roam around a lovely local market nearby and see farming tools in museum. Besides, activities on farms and traditional games are also demonstrated for tourists to understand more the village life.
Emerge yourself in the beauty of Lang Co and Lap An Lagoon
Lang Co Bay is located at the foot of Hai Van Pass. It’s about 70 km from Hue City and 30 km from Danang City. With long white-sand beach and blue seawater, Lang Co may capture every visitor’s heart at first sight. Being part of the Gulf of Lang Co, Lap An lagoon is an 800 hectare brackish water lagoon, which is famous for its poetic beauty of mountains, clouds and sky reflecting in the clean blue water surface as well as for rich natural resources including mangroves. Don’t miss the seafood here, especially the oysters that is famous all over Vietnam.
Into the Green World in Bach Ma National Park
Bach Ma National Park is about 30 kilometers to the West from Lang Co, and is widely- known for cool climate. The temperature here is never below 4 C degrees and above 26 C degrees. This is an ideal place for you to enjoy the pure atmosphere of the mountains and endless kinds of rare floras and faunas as well as challenge your hiking skills through impressive waterfalls to get stunning view on Bach Ma peek.
*All photos used in this article are from the internet