Hue hints

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Most visitors to Vietnam miss out on Hue in their rush to Ha Noi or Ho Chi Minh but the old imperial capital of Hue (pronounced Hway) with its palaces and pagodas, tombs and temples, cultures and cuisine, repays a visit. Hue resident, Phan Thi True, gives us the low-down on this UNESCO world heritage listed city.

Name: Phan Thi True
Age: 29
Occupation: Manager


Are you a local girl?

Yes. I was born and bred in Hue – The imperial capital of Vietnam’s last ruling family, the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) – and have lived here all my life.

What’s it like to live in Hue?
Wonderful. The pace of life is much slower than in Ha Noi to the north or Saigon to the south and residents enjoy a good work/life balance. There’s plenty to do but Hue is much quieter and less touristy than other towns in Vietnam.

What is your favourite thing about Hue?
The scenery – in particular the picturesque Perfume River which cuts the city in two. You’ll find the citadel on the north side, along with most hotels and restaurants.

Why should we visit Hue?
For historical stimulation: Hue is the capital of the Nguyen rulers and is where you come to see something of old, procommunist Vietnam. Factor in great food (a legacy of the famed fussy eater Emperor Tu Duc) and you’ve got a city worth stopping in. I would argue that Hue is the heartbeat of Vietnam. I speak to so many tourists who tell me that they hadn’t planned on spending time in Hue but that Hue turned out to be the highlight of their Vietnam adventure.

How long do we need?
Three –four days would be ideal. It is possible to see the main sights in two days but the extra day allows for a more leisurely exploration and also gives you the option of taking a trip to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) which acted as buffer between the north and south during the war of 1954-1975.

How can tell you locals from tourists?
That’s easy! Hue residents have a heavier voice than people in other provinces in Vietnam. As for international tourists, well Hue people tend to be very short and have jet black hair and yellow skin meaning that they are easily distinguishable from foreign visitors.

Best sites?
The majority of guidebooks will tell you to make the Imperial Enclosure your first port of call, but I’d suggest giving it a miss and making for the Royal Tombs – the extravagant burial sites of six former Vietnamese kings. The tomb of Minh Mang, the second emperor (who reigned from 1820-1841) is a breathtaking complex of lakes and gardens, warrior statues and temples. His grandson, Tu Duc, the last emperor to rule independently (1847 -1883), has an equally poetic resting place. Khai Dinh’s effort by contrast, smacks of megalomania. This penultimate emperor (1916-1925) was a big fan of France and his grandiose design attempts to merge European features with Vietnamese tradition. I’d also recommend making a pilgrimage to the DMZ (the point at which North and South Vietnam were divided after World War Two) but be careful: the war maybe over but death and injury still occur. There are, sadly, still many live mines and artillery projectiles so be careful where you step and never leave marked mines.

Best bites?
You can’t come to Hue and not try banh khoai – the royal rice cakes. You can try them, along with other street snacks like cha (meat roll), bunbo (a kind of noodle) at the stalls that spring up around the Citadel at night and the restaurants at Dong Ba Market. For guilt free gorging, head to the Japanese restaurant on Chu Van An. Serving sushi etc, this Japanese restaurant was set up by Tokyo business man, Mr Michio Koyama, and all profits support a home that he set up for Vietnam’s street children. The Street children’s Home has taken in 400 children since it first opened its doors 15 years ago, 20 of whom have gone onto university.

Top shops?
Hue is known for its conical hats and its rice-paper and silk paintings and you can buy both at Dong Ba Market or Tran Tien Plaza. I’d also recommend shopping at Spiral Foundation Healing the Wounded Heart Center. This social enterprise sells a wide array of handicrafts made by 40 disabled artisans and all proceeds help fund heart surgery for children in need through the Hue College of Medicine and Pharmacy.

Where should we stay?
If money is no object, check into the opulent Imperial Hotel (www.imperial-hotel.com). It’s not cheap (rooms start from approximately US$179), but as the old adage goes: you get what you pay for. Rooms are equipped boast gleaming chandeliers and sweeping vistas while facilities include a smattering of superb restaurants and rooftop bar.

Any insider tips for CD Traveller readers?
If you’re on a budget, buy an all day bus ticket. The ticket is valid all day which is just £2.70 (off peak) – bargain!

Anything else you want to add?
Yes. If anyone is interested in Hue, I’d advise them to check out the tourism website www.vietnamtourism.com which can help you tailor your trip according to time and taste.

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