Vietnam’s 19-20th Century capital under her last royal dynasty, Hue is a quiet and attractive city home to some of Vietnam’s most impressive feudal remnants.
Huế originally rose to prominence as the capital of the Nguyễn Lords, a feudal dynasty which dominated much of southern Vietnam from the 17th to the 19th century. In 1775 when Trịnh Sâm captured it, it was known as Phú Xuân. In 1802, Nguyễn Phúc Ánh (later Emperor Gia Long) succeeded in establishing his control over the whole of Vietnam, thereby making Huế the national capital.
More photos of Hue
The city is located in central Vietnam on the banks of the Sông Hương (Perfume River), just a few miles inland from the Biển Đông. It is about 700 km (438 mi.) south of the national capital of Hanoi and about 1100 km (690 mi.) north of Hồ Chí Minh City, the country’s largest city, formerly known as Saigon.
Huế features a Tropical monsoon climate under the Köppen climate classification. The dry season is from March to August, with high temperatures of 35–40 °C. The rainy season is from August to January, with a flood season from October, onwards. The average rainy season temperature is 20 °C, sometimes as low as 9 °C. And Spring lasts from January to late February.
Huế is well known for its historic monuments, which have earned it a place in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The seat of the Nguyễn emperors was the Citadel, which occupies a large, walled area on the north side of the Perfume River. Inside the citadel was a forbidden city where only the emperors, concubines, and those close enough to them were granted access; the punishment for trespassing was death. Today, little of the forbidden city remains, though reconstruction efforts are in progress to maintain it as a historic tourist attraction.
A number of French-style buildings lie along the south bank of the Perfume River. Among them are Quốc Học High School, the oldest high school in Vietnam, and Hai Ba Trung High School. The Hue Royal Antiquities Museum on 3 Le Truc Street also maintains a collection of various artifacts from the city.
Travel Vietnam will guide you through the landmark Citadel, once the residence of the royal family, where we climb the Citadel’s colossal Ngo Mon Gate for views over the Thai Hoa Palace, with its interior of gold and scarlet ironwood columns and royal paraphernalia.
Walk the grounds of the former Forbidden Purple City, scarred by decades of war, and admire the Hall of the Mandarins and the 2 tonne dynastic urns with their fine bronze work. We take a dragon boat up the Perfume River to the celebrated Pagoda of Thien Mu in its fine hilltop location.
Roughly along the Perfume River from Huế lie myriad other monuments, including the tombs of several emperors, including Minh Mạng, Khải Định, and Tự Đức. Also notable is the Thiên Mụ Pagoda, the largest pagoda in Huế and the official symbol of the city.
In Addition to the various touristic attractions in Hué itself, the city also offers day-trips to the Demilitarized Zone lying approximately 70 km north, showing various war settings like The Rockpile, Khe Sanh Combat Base or the Vinh Moc Tunnels.
Visitors could tkae 3 hours southaward to Hue along National Highway 1A to Danang and Hoian for further visit.
Sightseeing in Hue
Imperial Citadel (Dai Noi)
The former imperial seat of government and Hue's prime attraction, this is a great sprawling complex of temples, pavilions, moats, walls, gates, shops, museums and galleries, featuring art and costumes from various periods of Vietnamese history. Thanks to its size, it is also delightfully peaceful - a rare commodity in Vietnam.
The citadel was badly knocked about during fighting between the French and the Viet Minh in 1947, and again in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, when it was shelled by the Viet Cong and then bombed by the Americans. As a result, some areas are now only empty fields, bits of walls, and an explanatory plaque. Other buildings are intact, though, and a few are in sparkling condition. For the rest, while restoration has been going on for 20 years, there is still quite a long way to go. Allow several hours to see it properly. Entry is 80,000 Dong (for foreigners) and it is open 06:30-17:00. Inside you can pay $1.50 (30,000dong) to dress up in the King or Queen's clothing and sit on the throne for a fun photo opportunity. - Ngo Mon. The main southern entrance to the city, built in 1833 by Minh Mang. The central door and the bridge connecting to it were reserved exclusively for the emperor. Climb up to the second floor for a nice view of the exquisite courtyard. The Ngo Mon Gate is the principal entrance to the Imperial Enclosure. The Emperor would address his officials and the people from the top of this gate.
- Thai Hoa Palace. The emperor's coronation hall where he would sit in state and receive foreign dignitaries.
- Truong Sanh Residence. Translated as the "Palace of Longevity", the Truong Sanh Palace was the residence of King Tu Duc’s mother, Empress Tu Du, under the Nguyen Dynasty in the 19th century. It lies in Tu Cam Thanh, one of the two major parts of the Hue Citadel. Currently under renovation, the project, estimated to cost almost VND 30 billion (roughly US $1.8 million), includes the restoration of Lach Dao Nguyen, the Palace's protective moat, decorative man-made rock formations and mountains, bonsai gardens, and the palace gate. The restoration is expected to be completed in 2009, but this is doubtful. While not officially open to the public, it is possible to enter the grounds and should be seen, as even in it's overgrown state, it's beauty is recognizable.
- Forbidden Purple City. Directly behind Thai Hoa Palace, but it was almost entirely destroyed during the war and only the rather nondescript Mandarin Palaces on both sides remain. - Tombs of the Emperors: The other great attractions in Hue are the Tombs of the Emperors, which are located along the Perfume River south of the city. They are accessible by taxi or bike from the city, Travel Vietnam can arrange the day trip with private car and a guide, the best way to see them.
- Tomb of Gia Long (20km) - the most remote of the tombs, quiet and fallen into disrepair as Gia Long, the first Nguyen emperor, was notoriously despotic.
- Tomb of Minh Mang (12km) - in this opulent complex, the main buildings are arranged on an east-west axis, including a courtyard surrounded by warrior statues and several temples and pavilions. Several bridges cross two lakes before the axis ends before the vast burial mound (which is circled by a fence). The mausoleum features large gardens and lakes: a pleasant place to sit and relax. If you're dropped off by boat note that there is a stretch of souvenir sellers to navigate during the short walk to the mausoleum entrance.
- Tomb of Thieu Tri (8km) - built in 1848. This Emperor and his wife were the most revered and loved throughout the country. Although he only ruled for 7 years, he was the most sorely missed. In a time of strife and economic problems, he was careful with the country's Treasury and made sure to improve his people's living standards. His last will was that he be placed in a tomb that was not extravagant, parting ways with the tradition of creating lavish final resting places for their Emperors.
- Tomb of Tu Duc (7km) - Constructed from 1864 to 1867, the complex served as a second Imperial City where the Emperor went for "working vacations". Tu Duc's contemplative nature and poetic spirit is reflected in the landscape and arrangement of the 50 buildings that at one time stood here. A vast, sprawling complex set around a lake, with wooden pavilions and tombs and temples dedicated to wives and favored courtesans (Tu Duc had 104 to choose from). The courtesans' quarters are in ruins, with only outlines and crumbling walls left amid waves of overgrown grass and silence, but other areas are stunningly well-preserved. The Emperor's tomb itself, tucked away in the back, is surprisingly modest - the final courtyard is nearly empty with just a stone coffin in the middle. (The tombs of Empress Le Thien Anh and Emperor Kien Phuc, who briefly ruled in 1884, are also located here.) Try to dodge the crowds for this one. - Tomb of Dong Khanh - built in 1917.
- Tomb of Khai Dinh (10km) - dating from 1925, this is the best preserved of the lot and, while comparatively compact yet quite grand at first sight. While it follows the classic formula of forecourts leading up to the tomb of the Emperor, complete with statues in attendance, architecture buffs will spot some European influences. The tomb itself is completely over the top with incredibly detailed and opulent mosaics of cavorting dragons. Try to get to this one early, as it is a favorite stop for Asian tour-bus groups. Also, you may want to leave the tourist path and head up the hill on the right side of the tomb, where a small temple stands. You will have a great view of the tomb and the valley it faces.
- Thien Mu Pagoda (4km) - perched on a bluff over the river and housing some very fine gold and silver Buddha images. The Thien Mu Pagoda overlooks the Perfume River and is the official symbol of the city of Hue. Thien Mu means "elderly celestial woman", and refers to an old legend about the founding of the pagoda. Brimming with opportunities for great photos. - Phu Bai Airport is a must-see if you are interested in the war. The airport was a dirt strip during the Indochina War. Then, an American garrison was assigned there and built up the airport with concrete bunkers, a paved airstrip, and a few other luxuries. The airport was vital in keeping Hue supplied during the Eastertide Offensive of 1972 when "Charlie jumped the line". The airport retains the original buildings built by the Americans.