Discover: Hue, Vietnam

By: Vinh Dao

The grand old dame of Vietnam, Hue city is a fabulous collage of culture, history, natural beauty and modern luxury. Many visitors make the mistake of overlooking it or viewing it as a transit city that can be explored in a day or two.

Hue’s ancient imperial city harbours awe-inspiring structures that cannot be appreciated in a short time frame, starting at The Citadel and fanning out through a town full of regal charm and contemporary culture.
History is the main attraction here, whether you look for it in spectacular ruins, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, fabled culinary traditions or merely in the tales of its people. That said the development of high quality hotels and service providers ensures that this city is not merely left in the past, but embraces the future as well.
For the macabre at heart, there are a number of famous tombs and mausoleums throughout, perfect places to pay your respects or simply take in classic architecture and royal furnishings. With traditional dynastic surroundings rubbing elbows with French influenced opulence, the collection of burial sites is one of the big draws in town.
But the town has so much more to offer than historical ruins and sites, this was, after all, the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty, which was carefully sited with views of mountains in back and river out front, making this so-called hidden beauty easy on the eyes.
Surrounded by the majestic sights, there is a multitude of options in the imperial city. Try cooking classes, get a taste and learn how to prepare Hue’s regal cuisine: banh beo, banh nam, banh bot loc, and bun bo hue. For a classic tour, get a boat ride up and cruise along The Perfume River. Top your experience with the one-hour motorbike trip to Tam Giang Lagoon, where the seafood is always fresh and plentiful. To see Hue city at its finest, head to town during the Hue Festival, which happens once every two years (the next one will be in April 2014). It’s a chance for visitors to observe the rituals and life of the Nguyen royal family as well as partaking in many traditional forms of entertainment, lifestyle and foods. Be aware that Hue city is very crowded and expensive during this time. For a more peaceful break, visit Hue, Vietnam in autumn, when the weather is agreeable and the city is quiet.


Top things to do in Hue

By: Tj Vargas

Hello again. I assumed you have already read my First Impressions of Hue and today I'm going to share with you two historical sites that I visited fifteen mornings ago.

You see, Hue is rich in history and a few days wouldn't be enough to over all the beautiful and significant sites  of the this ancient city. Indeed, this is one of Vietnam's most touristy spots given it has been recognized as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993. Just by scanning through every place I had been to, I'd say the majority of the tourists were Europeans who were travelling in big groups aging 50 and above, followed by young couples in their mid 20s or 30s and very few solo travelers.

With the pink bus, I toured Hue together with other tourists from different corners of the globe. The guide first introduced The Citadel. He was like a walking Wikipedia of Hue but he talked a bit too fast; I could hardly remember all he'd said. What is still vivid to me was when repeatedly said that the kings had one wife and four hundred ninety-nine concubines;  followed with a smirk! I'm sure he was exaggerating; there might have been lots but not that number!

Now let's talk about the morning excursions:

The Citadel

The Citadel in Hue

I remembered the Angkors temples as I entered the Citadel's gate. A Very old structure that would leave anyone in awe with its intrinsic details of architecture. I don't know, seeing something ancient is always a treasure because it is a treasure. I imagined how many soldiers marched in and out of this gate with their horses or elephants and then I also thought how many tourists had walked in and out of this cultural heritage.

Then I saw the flag pole and I thought that was all I came for. But then there was another entrance, the entrance to the 'Forbidden City'. Just by its enchanting name, you'd want to dash and go there already. There were so many doors and windows and passages.  It's a great vast of land and there was a lot of people still rebuilding Hue's museum! I took 200 photos inside and I  had forgotten about the time (again).

I ran outside and well, not the first, I was the last one to be back on the bus. It has been a very bad habit, well, can we blame the ancient city for taking my time?

Thien Mu Pagoda

Thien Mu Pagoda

Less than 10 minutes on the bus and we arrived in another tourist attraction. This has got to be the most beautiful and interesting pagoda - Thien Mu Pagoda that I had ever been to! This is just along the banks of Perfume River and it is surrounded with pine trees. I didn't climb  up the steps right away; I wanted to see the pagoda from below while I was catching my breath by the riverbank. I saw the colorful boats and there were vendors selling souvenirs that we could take with us.

I took the steps, pausing every now and then, observing, looking, then taking snaps of the river and of the very tall pagoda. The inner and outer views are just breathtaking.

Car of Thich Quang DucI didn't listen to the guide anymore as he shared the history of the place as I knew I wouldn't have time to explore more of the place if I had to stop. I could just go ask him whenever I have questions, although I didn't.

Then I saw the car which would tell the story about Thích Quảng Đức, a Buddhist monk who immolated himself as a way to preserve and protect Buddhism in Vietnam. Images of the monk writing on something and a heart on the left wall and behind the car was an image of the day the monk burned himself. I thought, this was the most striking image and information I had gathered in that pagoda that would remain in my mind for long.

Of course, I was late again for the bus. This time on the bus, as we headed to the next destination, the guide announced more than twice not to be late again. That was the most embarrassing;-) And yes, I'd guarantee you this- I was on my best behavior in the afternoon and was never late again...on that day!

Cover photo by: Lê Dũng


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My first impression of Hue

By: Tj Vargas

After the 15-hour train ride from Hanoi, I arrived in Hue hovered by gray skies on the 12th of November. I stepped outside and there were people from the travel agencies or hotel bringing papers with them bearing names of tourists they had been waiting for. I knew my name wouldn’t be there; I didn’t ask to be picked up. 

Saigon Morin HueThe misty air would tell the rain has just stopped-probably few moments ago-but the atmosphere was still very cool for 10am. There were a lot of taxis and motor taxis (Xe Om) outside the train station and I hired the latter to drive me to Saigon Morin, the hotel where I'd be staying during my visit in Hue.

So my first interactions were with the Xe Om driver and the hotel staff. For me, people from Hue are very accommodating, warm and sincere. You can feel it by the way they say “Xin chao” or “Hello” to you. This I proved right as I would go around meeting more people in my 3-day stay in the city.

As soon as I had settled in, I did my own walking tour. I took the map the hotel had given me and just roamed around the city with it. I had walked past the post office, the schools, the hotels, the banks, the tailoring shops, and the market.

‘First things first’, I told myself. I had to eat! Since Bun Bo has been my top 1 favorite Vietnamese dish, I took the chance to try it in Hue! I'm glad I tasted the original one at Ly Thuong Kiet Street. The food was more spicy compared to the one I always have in HCMC. The noodles were also thinner and the soup-more yellowish. I had another Bun Bo Hue special at the hotel for breakfast the following day, too. No doubt, this food is more delicious in Hue than in HCMC!

The Palace of French Resident

I knew I was going to take loads of photos here as I had read that Hue is full packed with history so I bought an extra memory card for my camera on Le Loi. This street has a lot of hotels ranging from 2-star to 5-star. 

Connected to this street were Chu Van An, Pham Ngu Lao and Doi Cung where you can find cheap guest house accommodations and there are also a lot of restaurants in these areas where many backpackers hang out in the evening. I dropped my laundry at Pham Ngu Lao; it was 20,000 VND per kilo.  Also on Le Loi, a sight made me stop and I took a photo of a historical monument that read ‘The Site of the Palace of French Resident Superior in Central Vietnam’.

Hue citadel

That was just the beginning. I would actually be immersing myself in Hue’s ancient and rich history the following day. I don’t really like memorizing which 1500s or 19 forgotten sort of things but I’m always more fascinated with records of what had happened and why and how. For me, when and where could be Googled anytime but I appreciate people who are very keen on historical dates.

Before going back to my hotel, I had already booked my city tour which would start at 8 in the morning and would go right away to the city’s most visited tourist attraction, the Citadel.

That was about my first day in the city and the next time you visit our blog again, you’d read about 5 most interesting sightseeing activities and Hue and I am sure you’d be delighted to know them and see the photos.
Cover photo by: Upyernoz

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