Love a good pun. Pronounced hway (not really exactly right don’t @ me) not hugh like the color or Grant, this very proud city was the former Imperial capital of Vietnam until the end of the Nguyen dynasty in 1945. I’m sure you’re familiar with what happened next. Vietnam has three regions, and this is the largest city in the central region (see previous posts on Hanoi and Saigon/HCM).
Hue was the stop after Hoi An, my favorite on the Vietnam itinerary, and I think I would have enjoyed it more had I NOT GOTTEN SICK on the way there. I made a rookie travel mistake that you will read all about after the jump. Hot tip: don’t drink foreign beverages.
right hue, wrong hue
The road from Hoi An to Hue goes through Da Nang, a very scenic part of the Vietnamese landscape. Past the Ba Na mountains (home to the newly opened Insta-swoony hand bridge) to the west, the east is all pristine coastline.
Da Nang is one of the most popular resort areas in the country, known for its white sand beaches and proximity to the Marble Mountains, a grouping of limestone growths which the city built around. Think of any major international hotel brand, and I’ll bet they have a property here.
There are many seaside hamlets to stop on the road trip, and well, I say just pass on by. Why? Because this is where I was taken down by my love for coffee.
I didn’t think it could hurt me like it did, especially since I avoided any ice, but let’s say that my moment of weakness lead to me not feeling well for the next several days. And this was with prophylactic Ciprofloxacin!
When we got to the Imperial city, all was still well, so at least I was able to roam the grounds of the formal Citadel and Purple Forbidden Palace (anglicized name?). This is probably the main attraction of the city, a vast moat-surrounded fortress rebuilt in the 19th century.
There are reproductions of the Royal theatre, throne room, etc. Lots of really cool ornate details and museum like curation of some of the artifacts from this period.
If you go to Vietnam in the summer, it will be very humid. You’ll realize they don’t really have readily available AC, and it will be pretty miserably sweaty. It will possibly make things very uncomfortable while you are touring the very extensive grounds of this beautiful palace/gardens, especially if you start to feel sick like me. Not cool, man.
Luckily, you can seek refuge in your hotel. You really want to splurge (~$50, Vietnam is great!) for a hotel with a rooftop because the views are incredible. And if there’s a restaurant serving the most famous Bun Bo Hue, spicy beef noodle soup, then you never have to leave.
Gather your strength for the next morning after your hotel breakfast buffet. Dragon fruit, pho, you name it, Vietnamese hotel breakfasts are so bomb. Well, when you’re well enough to eat them 😦
This city was a thriving port because the Perfume River (Huong) runs through it. A dragon boat tour is a great way to see the entire city, and is one of the top tourist attractions. I love seeing these colorfully adorned boats share the water with water merchants and small barges.
Another of the main symbols of Hue is the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady (Chua Thien Mu). This Buddhist temple was originally built in 1601 (!) and houses the Austin motorcar in which the monk, Thich Quang Duc, was driven to Saigon to perform self-immolation in 1963. This act was captured in the Pulitzer Prize winning Malcolm Browne photograph.
Despite this historical tidbit, the grounds of this monastery and temple are very peaceful, with a line of jackfruit trees brimming with their large fruits. Don’t walk under them unless you want to be put in a mausoleum.
Which brings me to our next destination (how you like that segue?), the Tomb of Tu Duc. He was Hue’s longest reigning emperor for almost 40 years in the mid 1800s. He had hundreds of wives and concubines, but alas, he could not father any sons, so the line ended with him. Cool story, he had 200 laborers build this mausoleum and because they wanted to keep the location a secret, all of them were beheaded upon completion. The irony is, he’s not even buried here.
History is cool because you can’t even make this stuff up.
To cap off your trip to Hue, you have to try their world famous eats. Because this was the imperial seat, the emperors had the most inventive and talented chefs at their disposal. Thus, these culinary geniuses were tasked with creating as many dishes as possible for the kings to sample, thus you may notice that a lot of Hue delicacies are bite-sized amuse bouches. This way the royal court could eat as many different dishes as possible.
If you learn one thing from this post, it’s that there’s restaurant called Cung Dinh Royal Park. They have prix-fix menus of 10-13 courses that will set you back about $10-30. That’s right, ~$1-3 per course. It is a lavish dining experience. Where else you can be serenaded with traditional Vietnamese minstrels whilst dressed in traditional royal clothing? This is truly unique, the presentation with carved vegetables and fruits is gorgeous, and you get to try a lot of different foods that you may not find anywhere else. Other hue specialties? Banh Beo (steamed rice cakes with minced shrimp), Com hen (rice with baby clams), Banh Bot Loc (banana leaf tapioca dumplings), and Banh It Ram (sticky glutinous shrimp dumplings riding a fried to a crisp rice cake). Hue to go!