When I booked my train tickets and hotel stay in Huê, I didn’t know much about the city except that it is a historical city and its main attraction is the Imperial Citadel. I didn’t have high expectations either because all I wanted was a break from Hoi An, a popular touristy town in Central Vietnam. There was nothing wrong with Hoi An except that I wanted to break my one-week stay in Hoi An with side trips to the countryside and to another city nearby to avoid boredom.
From 1802 to 1945, Huê (pronounced ‘hway’) was the national capital, and political, cultural and religious centre of Vietnam. Huê was ruled by the Nguyen Dynasty which ended when Emperor Bao Dai abdicated in 1945 to make way for the communist government led by Ho Chi Minh who moved the capital of Vietnam from Huê to Hanoi in the north.
Sadly, many parts of the imperial city were destroyed during the Vietnam War or the Vietnamese calls it the ‘American War’. Huệ was captured by the Viet Cong (VC) for 24 days during which the VC and American forces exchanged fires resulting in heavy casualties. In order to take over the city, the American forces had no choice but to target at some of the ancient structures which ended up largely damaged.
Romantic Perfume River
It’s very easy to get around in Huê. The Perfume River splits the city into two: The Citadel is situated north of the river while the city park and modern buildings like offices, hotels, restaurants and cafes are situated south of the river.
The real name of the river is Huong Giang and is called the Perfume River because of flowers falling into the water from orchards located upriver during autumn, giving the river a fragrant aroma. Well, I can’t attest to this as my trip to Huê was during summer, as such I wouldn’t know if this was true 😊
Because of its fragrant-sounding name, the river lends to the poetic appeal of Huê and there is no better place to experience the romantic side of this city than taking a stroll on the Truong Tien Bridge.
Connecting both sides of the city, Truong Tien Bridge spans across the Perfume River on which pedestrians walk alongside traffic. Despite the sounds of traffic, I didn’t feel as if I was caught up in the mad frenzy of vehicles. It was as if the sounds reduced in the background while I was mesmerized by the cool breeze, the gentle flow of the river and the dragon boats bobbing by the promenade awaiting tourists. The dreamy, romantic experience was more enhanced especially when the river reflected the setting sun.
The major attraction on the north side of the river is the 19th century Imperial Citadel, surrounded by a moat and thick stone walls of 10,000 metres in circumference! The Citadel consists of palaces and shrines, the Forbidden Purple City where the royal families had lived, reception halls, pavilions and gardens.
Although the Citadel remained mostly intact after the American War, some buildings and structures inside were destroyed. Fortunately, with ongoing restoration works, tourists are now able to visit and admire the sprawling palace and imagine how life once was in this imperial city.
- Opening Hours: Summer 6.30am – 5.30pm; Winter 7.00am – 5.00pm
- Entrance Fees: VND55,000 (approx. USD2.50)
Dong Ba Market
Dong Ba Market is a commercial centre where locals come to buy their fresh produce, conical Vietnamese hats, household items and even gold jewellery! The market opens as early as 4am and is bustling with shoppers by 7am.
City Park by the River Promenade
There is a park situated by the river promenade with lots of trees and sculptures. Unfortunately, there are no descriptions in English about the symbolic meanings of those sculptures but I suspect they were made in line with the socialist theme. The park is a great place to take a breather, just relax on the bench under the leafy trees – a respite from the heat especially during the summer.
Tombs of the Emperors
Located south of the Perfume River but a few minutes’ drive from the city is another attraction of Huê – Tombs of the Emperors. These are tombs elaborately built for the emperors during the French colonial rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The tombs display some of the finest examples of Vietnamese Buddhist architecture.
You can hire a taxi or a private car to see the tombs but the best way is to hire a river boat and go for a cruise.
Where to Stay in Huê
Majority of the accommodation in Huê is located on the south side of the river, ranging from backpackers’ hostels, budget and boutique hotels and luxury hotels. And these properties are situated close to shops, banks, cafes and restaurants.
I had a wonderful stay at a fairly new budget hotel called The Scarlett Boutique Hotel. The interior decoration of the hotel is tastefully done with rich colours that evoke romanticism and paintings that pay tribute to ‘Gone With the Wind’ theme. Although it’s a budget hotel, its hospitality is outstanding – almost 5-star service. Click here for reviews and price comparison for the hotel.
Gentle and Quiet Huê
As I mentioned earlier in this post, I didn’t expect much from my stay in Huê for I wanted a side distraction from Hoi An.
Hoi An is charming and lovely especially the Old Town but the throngs of people can get overwhelming especially in the evenings when they go crazy over the boat rides and lanterns. Huê, on the other hand, is the complete opposite – gentle and quiet – so much so that visitors can’t help but be quiet themselves! 😊
While Huê is not as busy as Hanoi or as vibrant as Ho Chi Minh City or as pretty as Hoi An, this historical and romantic is certainly not bereft of life. In spite of its imperial heritage, Hue is alive in its own unassuming way.
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