Step back in time as you visit the former imperial capital of Vietnam, Hue. Located in central Vietnam between Hoi An and Dong Hoi this historical city has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. Most of the population still resides within the citadel – a 2 meter thick, 10 meter high wall along the north bank of the Perfume River.
Heavily fought over and bombed during the Vietnam War, today the Imperial City which once housed the great Nguyen emperors is being restored. The imperial enclosure is a citadel within a citadel with six meter high walls, 10 fortified gates and a moat surrounding the interior. Only 20 of the original 148 buildings still remain intact. It is probably worth hiring a guide to explore the sites as there is very little signage in English throughout the citadel.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of the Imperial City, it’s worth renting a motorbike to get out and visit a number of the pagodas and tombs surrounding the city. While there are organized tours, it is far easier and cheaper to do it on your own. The most popular pagoda is Thien Mu Pagoda, just a short scooter ride from the imperial city with a large bronze laughing Buddha as its center piece. It is a great example of Vietnam architecture.
For something different from your usual temples and pagodas, there are a number of famous tombs that are worth paying a visit to. The roads aren’t very well signed so keep your eyes out for other tourists or bring an iPhone to help with directions. The two largest and most popular in the area are the Tomb of Tu Duc and the Tomb of Minh Mang. If you’re short on time (or money) Minh Mang is more impressive as much of the Tu Duc tomb is under renovation. 12 km outside of Hue, Minh Mang tomb is situated next to a small lake and surrounded by a forest which provides some shade from the intense afternoon heat. Don’t even think about trying to bicycle as it is quite far and even on our motorcycle we were sweltering from the summer heat.
While Hue is a sleepy town compared to Ho Chi Min City or Nha Trang, there are a few backpacker alleys and streets that offer happy hour specials and Western food if you have a craving. For cheap eats and affordable guests houses head off the main strip to Nguyen Tri Phuong Street, a small alleyway with dirt cheap restaurants and hotels from $10 a night. Enjoy the savings and treat yourself to some great eats while you can as Hanoi is a more expensive place to stay.
Jen’s Overall Rating: It’s easy to get “templed” out here, so take it slow and try to visit the Citadel in the morning or late afternoon. Pace yourself so you can appreciate each of the sites around town here.