Hue Vietnam – Some Places To Visit
Hue: The Ancient Imperial Capital of Vietnam
Hue, though devastated during the Vietnam War (remember TET?) has still a sampling of the Nguyen palaces, temples and pagodas as well as the tombs of these early Vietnamese rulers. It has been the seat of the powerful Nguyen rulers and it has more than a few bastions of the later French rule of Indochine.
Located on the Perfume River, its misty atmosphere reminds visitors of its once mysterious imperial past akin to China’s forbidden city. In spite of the influx of tourists, Hue has retained its charm as a quiet little town. But maybe not for long. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage in 1993, this former royal city of Vietnam just feted its 2 millionth tourist with flowers and gifts.
Finding monuments and old buildings is rarely difficult, but if you want the sense and feel of history, a little effort is needed. You can’t go wrong heading to Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam.
Although we had been wanting to visit Hue because of its history, we were not there by choice. The gods must have listened as we missed our flight coming from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh. Vietnam Airlines just kept delaying flights in our itinerary and this was the worst because we finally decided to sleep in Hue after a full day wait at the airport. Four flights, four disasters…a new record for us in completely dysfunctional airlines! The first delay was great as we had a chance to go around and see the city. We rented a car and just went for an instant tour of the must see places in Hue. It was a glimpse at Vietnam’s past and we really lucked out with the driver,so it was impressive, informative and entertaining.
Guide to the historic city of Hue:
The Royal Capital of the Nguyen Lords.
Hue has a very interesting history so there are many places to visit. Close to Hue are also other interesting places like Hoi An, an ancient trading port and My Son which is the capital of the Champa Empire.
Hue was also a major battle ground during the Vietnam War so it is worth visiting to have a better understanding of these historical events.
How to Go to Hue in Vietnam:
Fly or Drive
You can fly to Hue from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and pray your flights will not be messed up. If you are already in Da Nang or Hoi An, Hue is an easy drive. You can take a day trip to Hue from those places.
From Laos, there is a border crossing, Lao Bao-Dansavahn, which is about 152 kms. from Hue. You can get visas to Laos at this border but you can’t get a Vietnamese visa. Arrange for this beforehand in your own country or from Laos. It is easy to get a visa from any Vietnamese embassy. OK…if you are a die hard back packer, you can get buses from almost anywhere to anywhere in the Mekong countries for a pittance, but for the…ahhhhhh…….mature tourist, the plane should be the answer.
Ancient History of Hue:
The Citadel in Hue.
The Citadel was our first stop in Hue. Started in 1804, this 2 meter thick, 10 km long walls within which is the Imperial Enclosure. Towering over the Citadel is the Flag Tower and on its gates are the Nine Holy Cannons, the symbolic protectors of the kingdom. The four cannons near Ngan Gate represent the four seasons and the five next to the Quang Duc Gate represent the five elements: water, earth, wood, fire and metal.
At the center of the Imperial Enclosure is the Forbidden Purple City and around its perimeter are residences and temples.
Top Places to Visit in Hue:
Hue’s Monuments Worth Seeing.
If you are interested in history, make Hue’s monuments your top destination. The pagodas, temples and imperial tombs are worth seeing after you have explored The Citadel and the Forbidden City will take almost a day to explore. Take a good look at the main entrance, Ngo Mon Gate. Its facing the 37 m. high Flag Tower. To either side of the Flag Tower are the Nine Holy Cannons; four of these represent the four seasons and the five represent the five elements: earth, water, fire, metal and wood.
Another place of interest in the imperial city is the Thai Hoa Palace, a big hall with ornate timber roof used for imperial receptions and coronations. Just behind the palace are the Halls of the Mandarins used as offices. In the very center of the enclosure is the Forbidden City, a walled compound solely for the use of the emperor. There are more places to explore such as the To Mieu Temple, the Dien Tho Residence, the Troung San Residence, the Royal Theatre.
Spend another day at the pagodas foremost of which are the Bao Quoc (1670) and the Dieu De National Pagoda (1841). Don’t miss the Thiun Mu Pagoda, originally founded in 1641 and the Tu Hieu Pagoda where the famous master, Thich Nhat Hanh, entered to become a monk.
Worth a visit is the National School, a secondary school founded in 1896 by Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem’s father, Ngo Dinh Kha and boasts as students some of Vietnam’s prominent figures such as the famous Vietnamese genral, Vo Nguyen Giap, Pham Van Dong, former North Vietnam’s premier, Do Muoi, former communist party secretary general and prime minister. Even Ho Chi Minh studied in the school for a while.
Also explore along the banks of the perfume river, the magnificent tombs of the Nguyen rulers.
Interesting Experiences in Hue:
Enjoy some of these in your Hue trip.
Whatever else you do in Hue, don’t forget to try these:
Drink a cold Huda, Vietnam’s finest beer, on the banks of the Perfume River.
Sample Hue’s dishes which originated from the Nguyen rulers. Said to be fuzzy about food, the Nguyen court has developed some of the finest recipes to please their rulers.
Drink ca phe sua, Vietnam’s famous milk coffee. The best place are the floating bamboo platforms surrounded by lotus flowers. Tranquil and refreshing after the foot challenging tours.
Try Vietnam’s sugar cane juice to replenish your energy.
Where to Stay in Hue:
Many Places to choose from.
There are many places that are reasonably priced in Hue. You can stay in inns for below $10 or you can have a more comfortable stay in some of the highly priced ones. I always like places with history so the Hotel Saigon Morin is my choice. Built in 1901 as the first hotel in Central Vietnam, this quickly became the center of French colonial life in pre-WW2. It still has retained much of its colonial charm. There are other new luxury entrants to the hotel market in Hue such as the Imperial Hotel and also many mid-range priced ones such as The Orchid Hotel.
The Nguyen Lords of Hue
Hue, The Seat of Power of the Nguyen Lords
Until 1945, Hue has been the seat of the powerful Nguyen dynasty founded by Emperor Gia Long. As early as the late 1700, these powerful Nguyen rulers built the city but it did not take much for the French to strip it of anything of value and sideline the Nguyen rulers from governance. So Hue lost its prominence in Vietnam until 1968 when The TET offensive took the world’s attention and placed Hue once more in the international map.
As the only city in South Vietnam to be occupied by the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, it became the scene of a vicious battle in the TET offensive when South Vietnamese and US forces fought hard to take it back. It was destroyed and with its monuments, more than ten thousand people killed including 150 US Marines.
Hue’s Royal Court Music:
Watch a Nha Nhac Performance.
Hue just recently commemorated the 10 years of the inscription of this Royal Court Music in the list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
This used to be a national event during the Nguyen reign. Today, the performance is usually held in the platform about 2 kilometres west of the Imperial Palace. This platform was built by the early Nguyen rulers using soil from different parts of the country.
With bands playing court music, a formal procession of kings and mandarins, recently played by actors dressed in the costumes of the Nguyen rulers and accompanied by horses and elephants, walked from the palace to the Pavilion for the rituals. Locals lit incense at the platform.