While many visitors skip Central Vietnam’s cultural treasures in favour of tourism hotspots like Ho Chi Minh City or Ha Long Bay; the long narrow strip that comprises Central Vietnam boasts a dense collection of sights and attraction.
The historical city of Hue (pronounced “Hway”) is merely one of them. The town, which is a seat of traditional culture and delectable cuisine in the Central region, is home to an array of ancient buildings that emanate the glory of Vietnam’s Nguyen emperors. Despite the fact that many of its finest treasures were damaged in what Vietnamese still call The American War; there is still plenty to both see and do in this historical gem of a city.
Hue, in its quaint position nestled atop the Song Huong (Perfume River), is recognized as one of Vietnam’s historical capitals. The Citadel, a sprawling 5km ancient fortified city, is the reason why. This former seat of government is Hue’s number one un-missable attraction, and comprises an extensive mass of temples, pavilions, moats, museums and galleries.
Despite the fact that The Citadel was damaged by bombing during the 1968 Tet Offensive; there is still plenty left to explore, so you should set aside several hours to sample a true flavour of the ancient capital. Climbing up to the second floor of the Ngọ Môn for a view of the exquisite courtyard below is a definite highlight. In times past, this is where the Emperor would address his people from.
Located along the Perfume River to the south of Hue, the Tombs of the Emperors are also well worth seeing if you find yourself in Hue. Most of the tombs date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the power of the emperors had crumbled to figurehead status under French control, and they could do little more than construct impressive tombs for themselves.
The tombs of Tu Duc, Minh Mand and Khai Dinh are perhaps the finest, as they exhibit the best examples of Buddhist architecture. Many of the older tombs are now being restored and a day-long boat cruise is one of the best ways to visit the tombs while you soak up the region’s rural atmosphere.
Home of the Holy
Hue is home to a generous scattering of treasured spiritual sites, pagodas and temples. The Temple of Literature, dedicated to Confucius, is perhaps one of the most prominent. It was built in 1908 during the reign of King Gia Long, and is positioned to the west of the Citadel. The temple consists of approximately 50 architectural works, the largest of which is the worshipping hall to Confucius.
If you are exploring Hue’s spiritual sites, a trip to the prestigious Thien Mu Pagoda should also be on your itinerary. Perched above the Perfume River, Thien Mu is home to an array of fine gold and silver images of the Buddha. The name ‘Thien Mu’ translates roughly as ‘elderly celestial woman’, and refers to legend from when the pagoda was originally founded.
If you find yourself in need of a break from palaces and pagodas, you can take a trip to the Bach Ma national park to absorb the sensational natural beauty of Central Vietnam. The park lies some 40km outside Hue, and is situated in the Annamite Range. Spanning an area of 37,487 hectares, Bach Ma is also home to the ‘Sao La’, a type of antelope that only exists in Vietnam. Camping and trekking are popular activities, while more adventurous explorers have the opportunity to abseil down the upper section of the impressive Do Quyen waterfall. If you don’t like heights, cool off with a walk down to the bottom of the falls to enjoy a swim in the stream.
Hot & Healthy
In addition to its historical treasures, the area surrounding Hue is also peppered with luscious hot springs. Located 53km from Hue, Elephant Springs are well worth a trip, as you can cool off with a dip in the rock pool below a small waterfall there. Some of the natural hot springs in the area have now developed into activity spas. Alba Thanh Tan Hot Springs lies 30km from the centre of Hue, and offers a range of activities, from zip lining to water games. After a day of adventurous fun, it is possible to soothe your body and mind with an outdoor bath in the hot springs, followed up by a selection of relaxing spa treatments.
Tips to Enlightenment
Absorb the ancient spirit of Hue by making time to combine a range of activities during your visit. Here are some suggestions to set you on the path to cultural and spiritual enlightenment.
- Cruise the Perfume River by night. Many of the evening river cruises offer food and traditional royal music that would have been enjoyed by the emperors that once lived in Hue. This is a wonderful way to ease into the relaxing atmosphere of the city and reflect on the ways its mighty emperors used to live.
- Refresh and re-invigorate with a trip to Tuan An beach, which is located some 13km from downtown Hue. This pleasant beach looks out over the China Sea, and offers up a good location for swimming. Another bonus is the fact that Thuan An is distinctly less crowded than the beaches of Hoi An and Nha Trang.
- Get an overview of the city with a trip to Vong Canh Hill. The hill, which is positioned 7km from the centre of Hue, boasts panoramic views over the Perfume River and the tiny villages stretched out along its banks. Certainly a great place to snap some striking photographs of Central Vietnam for your holiday album.
- Treat yourself to a tailored suit. Embroidery is one of Hue’s traditional industries, and as such, the city is home to an array of tailors shops where it possible to get a sharp suit made up to your own measurements. Alternatively, a range of textile handicraft items are on offer throughout the city including purses, scarves and even handcrafted jewellery.
- Learn about a local legend. Than Toan, the small Japanese bridge situated 11km from Hue, tells a story. A Japanese woman who lived in the area left money for the bridge to be constructed after her death. However, she had no children, so there was no one left to pray for her when she passed away. The villagers took up the spiritual responsibility and the bridge remains an important local shrine until this day. Hire a bicycle to enjoy the scenery on your way out here.