If you’re looking for the hustle and bustle of cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, Hue probably isn’t the place to be. If you just fell in love with the charm of Hoi An and are hoping the rest of Vietnam looks the same, I’m pretty sure you’ll be dissapointed.
But if you want to see some of the most beautiful historic sites in all of Vietnam, you have got to get your ass over to Hue right now!
The Citadel and the Imperial City
The Citadel was constructed around 1804 for Emperor Gia Long and has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1993. The whole complex is located alongside the ‘Perfume river’ inside a first wall that’s about 10km long and forms a square of over 6 square kms. Inside this outside wall is a second wall that protects the Imperial City, a smaller area into which only the Emperor and his entourage were allowed. This is the best part to visit and definitely worth a few hours of your time.
Often refered to as the smaller and less impressive brother of the Forbidden City in Beijing, it’s actually my favorite of both. Yes it’s smaller and the buildings are in less good condition, but it has this melancholic feel to it that makes it sad and peaceful at the same time. Huge parts of the city were severely damaged during the Vietnam war, but others are just radiant with all their bright colors. It’s a harsh reminder of how, even after several decades, this country can’t seem to free itself from the burden of this horrible war that’s still so omnipresent in many aspects of everyday life. Restauration works were still ongoing at the time of my visit but – from what I’ve read – have progressed considerably since.
Another big plus is the calm that reigns in the whole complex and the fact that you can walk around for hours and hardly see any other visitors. For some reason they all seem to stay near the entrance and only visit Thai Hoa palace. This IS the biggest and best preserved building, but you definitely shouldn’t stop your visit here.
Walk towards the back of the palace and penetrate into the Forbidden Purple City, which is an even smaller area inside the Imperial City that was exclusively destined for the Emperor’s personal use. This is where he kept his concubines and the only other servants having acces were eunuchs, because they were the only men who weren’t a threat for the royal concubine’s virtue.
From here on, there’s just one more thing left to do: put away your map and your watch and just stroll around ’till the sun goes down…
Practical information: The Imperial City is open daily from 7am to 5.30 pm. A full visit will take at least 4 hours. Entrance fee is 150.000 VND for adults.
The Perfume River and the Imperial Tombs
It’s not that I wanna tell you what to do or anything, but don’t leave Hue before you’ve spend a day sailing down the Perfume River to visit the Imperial Tombs. I hear you shouting and see you looking at me with your eyes wide open: “A whole day visiting tombs?!?“, but trust me, they’re all so different you won’t get bored. Plus you’ll get to sail down the river in a dragon boat, how cool is that?!?
The first stop is actually not a tomb but a pagoda. Thien Mu pagoda (open 7.30am – 5.30pm, free entrance) dominates the Perfume River with its 21 meters high tower and offers beautiful views on the river.
Sail on to the tomb of Minh Mang (open 8am – 6pm, entrance fee 80.000 VND) and be blown away by its elegance.
Next up is Khai Dinh’s tomb (open daily 7am-11.30am & 1.30pm-5.30pm, entrance fee 80.000 VND). Watch in disbelief and secretly giggle at the over-the-top extravagance of it. This guy sure knew how to overdo it!!!
You end the day in beauty at the tomb of Tu Duc (open daily 7am-11.30am & 1.30pm-5.30pm, entrance fee 80.000 VND). Surrounded by trees bringing shadow and freshness, the domain is huge and the calm that reigns here is overwhelming.
There’s a few other stops along the way, such as some smaller pagodas, some shops, a place where they make traditional hats, etc. The main purpose of these stops is obviously to make you buy stuff but it’s all super cheap and well, chances are you’re gonna need a bottle of water along the way anyway, so why not just spend those 20 cents to support a local community, right?!?
Practical information: The boat tour and transport from the hotel to the river were included in the price of my hotel room, so I only paid the entrance fees for the different sights. Many hotels offer this tour for free or a very low price. Check the duration of the tour because some of them only last an afternoon, which would be to short to visit all of the sites above. My tour started around 9am and I only got back to my hotel around 6pm.
READ MORE: My favorite things to do in Vietnam
How about you? Have you been to Hue? Did you do any of these activities? Tell me about it in the comments!