Hue (pronounced Hway) was the seat of the previous emperors and also the nations capital until 1945. Hue has the benefit of being a fairly big city but very much has a non-city feel to it, with most of the it’s sites outside the city. We arrived in Hue after our overnight train from Ninh Binh and immediately headed over to our guest house to check in, drop our bags, and have a much needed shower. One of the biggest draws to Hue is the Citadel and the emperors tombs (yes, there is more that one), and they offer variations of combined tickets so you can do one, some, or all of them. We decided to see the Citadel, as well as 2 (out of 3) of the emperors tombs, as we only had 1 1/2 days and were fairly sure this would be ample for us (it was).
After sorting ourselves out at the guest house, we walked over to the Citadel, which is one of Vietnam’s 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Once the seat of power for the Nguyen Dynasty, the Citadel is more of a walled fortress and palace that the Emperors ruled from between 1805 until 1945. The last emperor, Emperor Bảo Đại , abdicated in 1945 and Ho Chi Minh became the
first president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Unfortunately, the city of Hue was hit extremely hard during the Vietnam/American war, and much of the Citadel was destroyed. Although restoration work has taken place over the past 20 years, there is still much of it that is in ruins or completely gone; however, it’s still a beautiful place to spend a few hours wandering around in.
The citadel covers a large area, and you can walk around or hop onto one of the many electric cars whizzing around. Once inside, you can explore the palace, the royal theater, the forbidden city (said to have housed each emperors various concubines, and no one except the emperor and his eunuch were allowed to enter), and pavilions. The buildings are all in various stages of ruin or restoration, and it makes for an interesting walk around. Make sure you take water with you, as it’s a vast place and the heat can be intense.
After the citadel, we headed over the Hue War Museum; however, it was closed on the day we went (typical). We were able to walk around the grounds outside, which have several planes, tanks, and helicopters from the war. It’s got mixed reviews online, as there doesn’t seem to be much English explanations once inside, but check it out yourself if you’re interested.
The next day we rented a motorbike and headed out of town to see some of the tombs. After some sketchy roads, we made it to Khai Dinh Tomb – the last imperial tomb built, completed in 1931. There are 127 steps to get inside, and due to spending part of his life in France, the architecture is a mixture of imperial and western design. It was pretty neat, although not overly big, and we probably spent about 25 minutes there before we were ready to move on.
The Tomb of Minh Mang as next, and probably also our favourite thing in Hue. Emperor Minh Mang started its construction, but passed away 4 months later, and the tomb was finished 3 years later by his predecessor, Thieu Tri. The tomb is housed within a large area that you can walk through, consisting of a courtyard, a temple, various gates, pavilions, and a lake before you reach the tomb itself. The gate to the tomb is only opened once a year on the anniversary of his death, but everything else within the complex is open to be explored.
Due to how far out of Hue the tombs are, and how bad the roads are (and we may or may not have gotten lost a few times), doing the two tombs took the better part of the day. We could have added the third tomb – Tu Duc Tomb – as it’s meant to be beautiful, but we were quite happy to call it a day and head back to the city.
If you’re looking for a good place to try some Hue cuisine, head over to Hanh Restaurant for their set menu of local dishes. I’d recommend going for lunch, as it’s a bit of a mishmash of stuff, but it was very good and a great way to try various things without having to fully commit to an entire dish without knowing what it is.
We enjoyed Hue, and it was probably our favourite city food wise. There are so many restaurants with local cuisine as well as a good mixture of western and other types of food. Try Jalapeno Restaurant for an amazing Mexican/Vietnamese fusion that you won’t regret!