You can arrive at Hue in several different ways, by train or flight from Hanoi. We traveled from Hanoi to Hue via Danang Airport. Based on our experiences, by all means avoid flying Vietjet Airlines as they apparently are notorious for cancelling flights, causing us a “common” 5 hour delay. From Danang the supposedly scenic route became a grueling night drive through roads full of road construction and huge trucks whirling rocks and dust. Our driver tried a slight shortcut resulting in a shredded tire around midnight with endless rows of speeding trucks passing by on a dangerous construction corner in the middle of seemingly nowhere. The car’s spare tire was installed by the dim light of our Iphone’s flashlight and turned out to be only partially inflated. Our driver continued at a speed of 10 km per hour. The drive seemed endless and our 4 star hotel seemed to be fast asleep with staff sleeping on couches in the lobby-that is a first experience during my frequent travels.
Why visit Hue?
Hue is designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site and has an intriguing past as both former Imperial City and National Capital. It was both the residence of emperors and the national capital from 1802-1945, until the communist government moved its government in Hanoi. Hue’s central location very close to the border between the North and South during the Vietnam War placed the city in a very vulnerable position during the Vietnam War. The city suffered double damage, due to a combination of the American military bombing of historic buildings held by the North Vietnamese, and also by the massacre at Hue’ committed by the communist forces. After the war ended, many of the historic features of Hue’ were neglected as they were seen by the victorious communist regime and other Vietnamese as “relics from the feudal regime”. Many historical areas of the city are currently being restored after the designation as Unesco World Heritage Site. The Imperial City occupies a large, walled area on the north side of the Perfume River.
The vast 19th century Citadel and Imperial Palace are delightful to visit, surrounded by a moat and thick stonewall fortifications, encompassing some well restored palaces and shrines as well as parts of the forbidden Purple City, once the Emperor’s home. Only the emperors, concubines, eunuchs and those close enough to them were granted access-alive. Throughout the Citadel visual and written descriptions provide good insight into the cruel and lavish lifestyle within the walls in multiple languages. The architecture is spectacular.
Outside the Citadel bicycle rickshaw drivers are uncomfortably aggressive trying to drum up a business opportunity. One driver tried to block the pedestrian intersection. In my opinion there is really no need to use a rickshaw as most hotels are in walking distance and the area beyond the Citadel appears to be of limited visitor interest. Perfume River seems almost unused, only one café’ has taken advantage of the location almost across the Citadel as well as a smaller night market mainly geared on tourists.
Primitive colorful family owned river boats with dragon painted tin decorations were lined up along the river, and as this was a quiet time of the year the boat owners were hawking business. Truly a family business, many boats were hawked by the older daughter, while the mother or father were running the boats, and their younger daughter would try to sell tourist souvenirs and refreshments while cruising the river.
Families seemed to be living on the boats, which were only outfitted with loose plastic chairs arranged loosely on vinyl flooring resembling imperial carpeting.
Along the river are monuments, including the tombs of several emperors. The tour along the river is not the most charming adventure, but can offer plenty of opportunities for future tourism development. We took a tour to the Thien Mu Pagoda which was beautiful and in a stunning location at a river bend. I have seen many much more stunning pagodas in other parts of the world, but this location was spectacular. Unfortunately this pagoda structure was not accessible.
Hue remains a tranquil and conservative city, without much city life, and in my opinion is worthy of a full day of visiting, but not much more during the colder time of year. Supposedly there are several good beaches about 15 minutes away. The somber history of the Vietnam War era can be explored by day excursions to the tunnels dug by the Vietcong forces. We skipped this tour and only saw the scenic route driving to Hoi An.
Written by Zia Hansen. Photos by Zia Hansen