Travel Diary / Vietnam

HUE, an underrated city (part 1)

Let’s explore Hué – “taking time to go back in time”…

Hué is Such is such a charming city that I was surprised it did not come up a lot during my searches. So glad that I did add it to my itinerary after the vibrant red colors of the “Halls of mandarins” caught my attention in a Lonely Planet guide book. The latter also suggests Hué in its “Top 20” places to visit in Vietnam.

Hoi an to Hué…

I opted for a scenic jeep tour for my transfer from Hoi An to Hué. It was an amazing full day trip, where I joined other travelers to explore Da Nang, Hai Van Pass and Lang Co beach before reaching Hué.

I booked really last minute and stayed at the Indochine Palace (this is not a sponsored post but I feel like mentioning it as the service was really outstanding. In general I prefer smaller, boutique style hotels though). Compared to bigger cities like Saigon or Hanoi or even Hoi An, I found Hué easier to navigate through and it felt absolutely safe to walk around; even at night. No traffic jam and less motorbikes on the roads was definitely a pleasure! 

Bird’s eye View of Notre Dame Cathedral from Indochine Palace – Hue, Vietnam
View of Notre Dame Cathedral from Indochine Palace

A little bit of history

Hué was the capital of Vietnam for 150 years in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Emperor Gia Long founded the Nguyen Dynasty in 1802 and the capital was moved from Hanoi to Hué in an attempt to unite Northern and Southern Vietnam. Although many buildings were destroyed during the French/American wars, the remains are extremely impressive and immense.

Entrance to the Citadel of Hue, Vietnam
Entrance to the Citadel

The (immense) Citadel of Hué

It was constructed between 1804 and 1833 and today, less than a third of the original constructions remain. Several parts inside this fascinating complex are still being renovated but this place has a unique charm and grandeur. Words or photos/videos don’t do it any justice! You will feel its real glory only while walking through the immense gateways (it has 10 in total), exploring across walls that are 2-meter thick and up to 10km long or the moats that are around 30m wide and 4m deep.

Imperial Enclosure (inside the Citadel of Hue) with moats around it, Vietnam
Imperial Enclosure (inside the Citadel of Hue)

Schedule at least half a day for your visit (I spent more than that as I had a quick lunch break and took a lot of photos). Signage inside is quite poor and no maps are provided at the ticket counter. Guided visits are offered (at an additional cost) for those interested.

One of the huge gateways with vibrant colors inside the Citadel of Hue, Vietnam
One of the gateways inside the Citadel…

For my visit, I used the itinerary from Lonely Planet and a map that I found on the net. I started my exploration from the Ngo gate, went through the Imperial enclosure (citadel within a citadel), to the Thai Hoa Palace. Here, you will get the opportunity to watch an informative and interesting video about the citadel’s architecture and history.

The Royal Theatre inside the citadel of Hue, Vietnam
The Royal Theatre

I then continued to my favorite place in the citadel: the impressive Halls of the Mandarins and then explored the Emperor’s Reading room, the Royal Theatre, the Co Ha Gardens where I had a lunch break and enjoyed the peace and beauty of the surroundings. There are various other café options inside the citadel.

After lunch, I explored the Truong San and Dien Tho residences, the ruin of the purple city, had a long walk along the moats/walls of the citadel and ended my visit at the To Mieu Temple Complex and the 9 dynastic urns that are an impressive 2m in height approximately.

Temple inside the Citadel
Immense Dynastic Urns up to 2m in height inside the citadel of Hue, Vietnam
Dynastic Urns

It was only when I left the citadel that I really realized how much time I had spent exploring it; as it was almost sunset time…

Sunset View outside the Citadel of Hue, reflecting in the moats around it, Vietnam
Sunset time – Moats outside the Citadel of Hue and people going for walks…

I continued my walk towards the bridge that I crossed and then followed Le Loi street towards the center. Hué’s wonderful location on the perfume river allows for strolls, coffee or lunch breaks along the bank of the river, beautiful sunset views and also boat trips. There are various street food options as well. 

Sunset over Perfume River, with a view on the bridge, a boat and orange and purple colors reflecting in the waters of the river - Hue, Vietnam
Sunset over Perfume River

Royal cuisine of Hué

The cuisine of Hué is considered to be the best in Vietnam due to its Royal heritage, which emphasizes a lot on presentation. All elements (food, spices, decoration) must be in harmony so it looks like a gastronomic work of art. In the past, this type of food was served to emperors and Royal families of the Nguyen Dynasty. However, it is today accessible to everyone (to the great pleasure of my taste buds). 

Dinner at Gecko cafe

Expect sweet and spicy flavors, with fresh herbs and dishes served with a specific sauce.From royal rice cakes, a great variety of vegetarian food, tasty street food and nice restaurants – Hué has something for the taste of every traveler. I would love to mention my awesome experience, sampling different local specialties at the Gecko pub (another recommendation on Lonely Planet).with a laid back vide and fusion cuisine, this café is located on Pham Ngu Lam street, where you will also find various other cafés, pubs, restaurants, hostels and a a very animated scene. 

Tip: you can buy a combination ticket for the Imperial enclosure and 3 of the royal tombs at VND 360,000 (around USD 15). If you buy separately, the ticket for the Imperial enclosure costs VND 150,000 (around USD 6.4) and VND 100,000 (around USD 4.2) per Royal tomb. 

Prices might have changed as this article dates back to 2017.

Interested in Hué and its surroundings? Continue reading part 2 of this article and feel free to leave your comments below.

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