Hue – the former imperial city – where it’s maybe good to stay a day, but you really won’t miss that much if you skip it.
Its main attraction is the Imperial Citadel, the former imperial seat of the Nguyen Dynasty which ruled Vietnam from Hue between 1802 and 1945. The second place goes to the many Tombs of the Emperors spread in and around Hue. And that, together with the Thien Mu Pagoda, is about it.
I drove to Hue (from Hoi An) on a motorbike. The very scenic road crosses the Hai Van Pass and although it’s only 135 km, should take you the whole day with stops (and 4 hours of driving).
I spent a day there, but took it really easy. I rented a motorbike (80.000 VND) and drove around the inner walls of the Citadel, went to see the Imperial Citadel and one of the tombs, but didn’t bother to visit the others. I rather spent the day driving around, relaxing, writing and enjoying the food – which was some of the best I’ve had in Vietnam. Especially the food at Nina’s Cafe , a family restaurant in one of the city centre’s side streets, was really delicious. Check it out if you’re there.
The Citadel is located on the banks of the Perfume river and is a walled city within Hue where many locals still live. Entering the Citadel (walled city) is free and it’s nice to drive or walk
around the inner walls. You can go see a small war museum that has some tanks and planes from the American War, old gardens and a house where Ho Chi Minh stayed. All of those are free. The Citadel is not small, so it’s probably good to have a bike or motorbike to drive around. If you visit the Citadel on foot you will be greeted by the many cyclo drivers waiting at the main entrance … and they will be more happy to take you around the Citadel. I asked how much just for info and it should be around 100.000 VND for an hour with stops at the above spots.
Inside the Citadel is the Imperial City, a walled fortress and palace. Admission fee is 150.000 VND. Go if you are in Hue, but it’s not worth stopping in Hue just to see it. Like many places in Vietnam, Imperial City has also been heavily bombed (leveled to the ground that is) in the American War and is being rebuilt. So … only a few buildings remain and you’ll unfortunately be walking around ruins and construction sites most of the time.
The Tombs of the Emperors
The Tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty Emperors are the second most visited attraction of Hue and are spread around the Perfume River just south of the city.
Most hotels and guesthouses will give you (or draw you) a map on how to get to them. A quick way to visit them is on your own with a motorbike, but a lot of people go by river boat (on their own or a river boat day tour). All of the tombs are of walking distance from the wharfs where the boat stops and xe om (motorbike taxis) are available to take you from the wharfs to the tombs if you’re too lazy to walk.
The most visited and presumably the best three are: the Tomb of Minh Mang, the Tomb of Khai Dinh and the Tomb of Tu Duc. Admission fee for each is 100.000 VND and they close at 17:00-17:30.
I drove only to the Tomb of Khai Dinh and skipped the others. Here are some pics.
The hawkers of Hue
In no other place in Vietnam have I been approached by so many and so persistent hawkers at night. I’ve already written in the previous post on how the first one approached me when I stopped at the first red traffic light (when arriving to Hue with a motorbike). It seemed funny at first when he went “Hey you, what you lookin’ for? Marihuana? Lady? Boom boom?”. But when I went for a beer that night and walked to the bars, huh … every second person stopped or started slowly driving besides me and threw me the same “Hey you, what you want? Tell me.”, “Marihuana? Beautiful lady? Massage? Boom Boom? Tell me.” and they just wouldn’t go away … and it didn’t really matter, because as soon as I managed to get rid of one the next one came driving along. So, don’t walk around Hue (alone) at night – at least pick up one of the xe om (motorbike taxis) if you don’t have your own motorbike … but even the driver will probably give you the pitch.
Other places to visit on my way to Hanoi?
Hue was the place where I’d learned about the existence of Ninh Binh, a very beautiful and a bit less visited place in Vietnam, just around two hours south of Hanoi. After the enthusiastic explanation of why I should visit from the girl working at my hotel I decided to stop there for a day on my way to Hanoi … but before that it was on to the Vinh Moc tunnels and then Dong Hoi for a day in the surrounding caves of Phong Nha Ke Bang national park.