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Hue’s Attractions

Hue once served as the capital of Vietnam. Even though this is no longer the case many Vietnamese still rate the city highly as a centre of historical and cultural value.

Hue once served as the capital of Vietnam. Even though this is no longer the case many Vietnamese still rate the city highly as a centre of historical and cultural value.


There are many pagodas, tombs and other types of buildings that link the past to present around Hue’s beautiful countryside.

 

Many of them were ruined (but luckily not totally destroyed) by war but many managed to escape without any damage. Such places include the Citadel, Thien Mu Pagoda and Long An Palace Museum.

 

Hue Imperial City

The Complex of Hue Monuments is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located in the city of Hue in central Vietnam. Hue was founded as the Vietnam capital city by Gia Long, the first king of the Nguyen Dynasty in 1802. It held this position for nine Nguyen dynasties until 1945.

The massive complex features hundreds of monuments and ruins, such as the Forbidden Purple City, once the residence of the royal family and badly damaged during the Vietnam War, the Imperial City, royal tombs, flag tower, pagodas, temples, a library and museum.

 

Hue Imperial City Highlights

Hue, located on the banks of the Huong River, (aka the Perfume River) is about three hours north of Da Nang. Among the most impressive monuments in this former grand imperial capital are the Ngo Mon Gate of the imperial city which once was exclusively used by the royal family and their eunuch servants, the tomb of Emperor Minh Mang as well as the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. In fact many of the monuments surrounding the royal buildings were constructed in the early 19th century and were modeled after Beijing’s Forbidden City. The wall that surrounds the citadel is six metres high and two-and-a-half kilometres long.

 

The historical complex is known not only for its rich architecture but also for beautiful landscaping. Overall, the site is quite stunning. Avoid Hue between October and December as it gets most of its rain from the northeast monsoon during that period. This small city is also famous for its Imperial-style cuisine. Don’t miss it.

 

Opening Hours: All year round 

Location: Central Vietnam on the banks of the Perfume River 

 

Tombs 

There are tombs and pagodas everywhere in and around Hue. Those with an endless appetite for culture can sate themselves every day for a solid week, and there will still be more left on the table. But the majority of travellers we run across are satisfied with just a taste.

 

As regards the tombs, there are a couple of important things to remember. They are not particularly old -- they were built within the past two-hundred years. This makes it even more surprising that most of them are already falling to pieces. This is partly due to poor upkeep over the years, and partly due the original construction techniques, which weren't all that exceptional.

 

The tombs were built by puppet emperors who had little real power, other than to sit around contemplating their own deaths and building monuments in anticipation of the occasion. Like Graceland, Never Land, and Sam Simeon, they are monuments to ego, but in this case, the egos involved are much more obscure and less interesting to contemporary visitors.

 

That said, some of the tombs are located on large, beautiful grounds, and the crumbling edifices exude a certain air of aesthetically-pleasing decrepitude. 

 

Tu Duc is on the most expansive grounds, and takes the most time to see. It's rivaled by Ming Mang, which is also on a large plot, but we thought Tu Duc was a little better. Choose between the two so you don't suffer from tomb burnout, but then definitely see Khai Dinh - it's in a different style from the others, is smaller, easier to visit, and in better shape. Gia Long is, by far, the best adventure in terms of a visit, it's usually deserted, and the ethereal natural beauty of the spot is hard to beat.
Tu Duc, Khai Dinh and Minh Mang have a 55,000VND admission and are open 08:00-17:00. Gia Long is free and open all the time.

 

Tu Duc

From Le Loi head south on Dien Bien Phu (across from La Residence), for 2km until it ends at Nam Giao. Take a right on Le Ngu Cat, go 2.2km to where it tees with Nguyen Tran Cong Chua. Take a left, the tomb is 700 metres down, on the left. 

 

Khai Dinh

From Le Loi head south on Dien Bien Phu (across from La Residence), for 2km until it ends at Nam Giao. Jog right then immediately left, heading south on Minh Mang. The tomb is 5km down on the right. 

 

Minh Mang

From Le Loi head south on Dien Bien Phu (across from La Residence), for 2km until it ends at Nam Giao. Jog right then immediately left, heading south on Minh Mang. Five km down you'll pass Khai Dinh Tomb on the right. Continue 1.3km, to where a short right turn leads on to the main highway. Take a left on the highway (northbound) 1km to the turn for Minh Mang on the left -- look for the roadside cafes and a blue sign. After turning left go straight, 2km, to where there's a left turn at the base of a hill -- more cafes mark the spot, but no sign. Take that left, the tomb is 800 metres down. 

 

Gia Long Tomb

From Le Loi head south on Dien Bien Phu (across from La Residence), for 2km until it ends at Nam Giao. Jog right then immediately left, heading south on Minh Mang. Five km down you'll pass Khai Dinh Tomb on the right. Continue 1.6km to where the road ends at the river. Take a left, and the first boat landing is about a kilometre down the road. You'll need to catch a boat across to see the tomb. There are several more boat landings further down the road, but the road gets progressively rougher.

 

Vong Canh Hill

Just 43m high, Vong Canh hill is located 7km from Hue centre, with its foot lying next to slowly flowing Perfume River. On the way to Tu Duc Tomb, there’s a hill called Vong Canh, which at first seems to be quite normal amongst other famous sightseeing spots of Hue. However, tourists shouldn’t miss this spot, for it has been regarded as the best place to catch a panoramic view of the Perfume River. This can easily be seen from its name: “Vong” means watch, observe; “Canh” means scene.

 

What to see

This surrounding area is filled up with royal tombs of not only King Tu Duc but also Dong Khanh’s, Thieu Tri’s and several Queens’. Combined with that complex of royal monuments is Hon Chen Temple (a place that local people worship Y-A-Na Goddess and Lieu Hanh Goddess) on the opposite site, Vong Canh is an ideal place to picture an ancient but magnificent Hue.

 

Moreover, viewers are often seduced by the villages stretching along the river banks: Huong Ho, Hai Cat, Ngoc Ho, etc. with fruit gardens under the shades of pine trees, corn field, small boats silently skimming and then drawing several lines on the tranquil water surface. From sunrise to sunset, the soft-silk-strip Perfume River charms bystanders by the atmosphere that it brings to the life surrounding. Vong Canh Hill overlooks the marvelous and elaborate modifications of the water colors upon various nuances of sunlight and sky.

 

The hill itself is now covered with pine trees and daisy. Once, there was a purpose-built watching tower on the top of the hill, though only parts of its foundation remain until today. Besides, Water plant Van Nien – which is the oldest in Central Vietnam and an Oriental-styled building designed by a French architecture, just 300m from Vong Canh, is also worth a visit.

 

It’s recommended that when coming to Vong Canh, just follow the indication: watch the scene! It may have nothing to be entertaining but for ones who are looking for natural beauty and calmness, that’s perfect enough.

 

Bach Ma National Park

Situated in the Annamite Range, in central Vietnam and near Hue City, Bach Ma national park covers an area of about 37,487 hectare over their districts of Phu Loc, Nam Dong and Dong Giang. It’s quite easy to access Bach Ma National Park from Hue (40 km), Da Nang (65 km) and also Hoi An (90 km). This protected area was established in 1991 and consists of three zones: a strictly protected core, an administrative area and a buffer zone.

 

The national park features tropical climate with 2 distinctive seasons: dry one and rainy one. It is regarded as one of the wettest place in Vietnam, where the weather can easily change from sunshine to tropical rain just within hours. The summit area is always cooler, thanks to its high altitude. Therefore it’s also called “Da Lat of Central Vietnam”.

 

What to see

As being the bio geographical border between northern and southern Vietnam and having a wide variety of habitats, the park is well-known for its biodiversity. Some people consider Bach Ma as “The Centre of flora diversity in Vietnam”, as it represents around one-fifth of the entire flora of the country. The forest also possesses a precious source of over 500 species which serve as medicinal plants. Besides, this is where people can luckily see “Sao la” (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) - a type of antelope, exists only in Vietnam, first discovered in 1992 and may be one of the rarest mammals on the planet.

 

What to do

Bach Ma will not fail you in a single bit in terms of activities. One can camp, trek, rappel or simply wander through the jungle to discover the beauty of Bach Ma’s flora and fauna. At Do Quyen Fall (Rhododendrun Fall,) adventurers have chance to thrillingly abseil down the upper section of the fall. Or else, visitors can walk down to the bottom of the falls to catch the whole fantastic view of the fall and spend more time swimming in the stream.

 

Nature lovers, especially those who are eager for bird-watching would find Bach Ma a real paradise on the ground. The 358 species of birds in the park account for more than one-third of the bird species of Vietnam, including the fabulous crested argus pheasant and the tenacious Edwards’ pheasant (the symbol of Bach Ma National Park) – unseen and thought to be extinct for 50 years. Numerous bird species like pigeons, bulbuls, malkohas, crow pheasant, herons and egrets but sights of parakeets, kingfishers or jungle fowl are worth adding to tourists’ bird-watching collection.

 

Best time to visit

Tourists are advised to visit Bach Ma National Park on February, when famous red Rhododendron simsii blossom along small streams and in particular at the bottom of the Rhododendron waterfall. During that period of time, the weather is ideally dry with favorable temperatures. In addition, summer is tourism season as people want to escape the heat, from June to August. Tourists can get there from Hue City, tourists by traveling to Bach Ma by car, following the National Highway 1A for about 40km. There’s a small road leading to the National Park next to Cau Hai Market. From here, Bach Ma’s main entrance is just 3km behind. Tours to Bach Ma are available from both Hue and Da Nang, and make sure you look around to get the best deal.

 

Thien Mu Pagoda

The Thien Mu Pagoda is the most famous pagoda in Hue. Built in 1844 by Emperor Thieu Tri, it features golden Buddha images at the base, along with a big bell cast in 1710, and a stone turtle holding a marble stele inscribed in the 17th century.


This pagoda is also famous for being the home monastery of the Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc who, in 1963, traveled to Saigon and burned himself to death at a busy downtown junction to protest against the then government.

 

Dong Ba Market

Dong Ba is the biggest commercial center of Thua Thien Hue Province and the adjacent regions. It stands along the north bank of Huong River, on Tran Hung Dao Street of Hue City and stretches from Trang Tien Bridge to Gia Hoi Bridge.

 

Before the opening of Dong Ba Market, there was a grand market named Qui Gia Thi outside of Chanh Dong Gate in the reign of King Gia Long. The name Qui Gia Thi referred to the return of Nguyen Dynasty to Phu Xuan (Hue nowadays). In the summer of 1885, the capital city was attacked and Qui Gia Thi Market was burned to ashes. Not until 1887 did King Dong Khanh rebuild the market and rename it as Dong Ba Market. Since then, the market has functioned as the main resource of food for the palaces, hospitals, army camps and dormitories of the national universities such as Quoc Hoc, Dong Khanh, Binh Linh, Thien Huu, etc. in 1899, during the Western-style reconstruction project of King Thanh Thai, the market was moved to the nowadays position. Even though Dong Ba Market has undergone several projects since the beginning of the 20th century, nowadays, it still embraces many old features.

 

What to see

When visiting Dong Ba Market, tourists can easily spot the old bell tower standing proudly amidst the complex of buildings. With nine new buildings and four new sections ranging from seafood to clothes, the market reaches an area of up to 16,000 m2.

 

However, the architecture is not really a highlight but the atmosphere and the daily pace of the market itself. Similar to most of Vietnamese markets, this one is divided into different sections, depending on the types of products. The whole floor upstair is for garment and clothes.

 

What to buy

All of the most special cultural gifts and souvenirs of Thua Thien Hue that remain until today can be found in Dong Ba Market. They include “non la bai tho” (conical hats having poems woven into their design) from Phu Cam Village, which is made of latanier leaves; me xung (candies), Truoi berries, Tuan tea, tom chua (Hue Sour Shrimp), lotus seed of Tinh Tam Lake, etc. Traditional food such as mussel rice, beef vermicelli, leaves cakes, etc. can be purchased in the market, too.

 

It’s said that Dong Ba Market is where people can get most of Hue’s delicious dishes within a place – its food courts, and at a high quality standard. Don’t miss these street vendors on the ground of the market (under the stair). They’re really worth a try.

 

Nowadays, Dong Ba Market still holds an important position in the economy and trade of the city, though many supermarkets have been established. Apart from providing food and other goods for the cities, it’s also a must-stop of visitors to discover typical trading methods as well as buying some specialities of the local people.

 

How to buy

Bargain, bargain and bargain! It’s the first tip at Dong Ba Market that even local residents have to apply. Few sellers can speak English fluently, but it doesn’t matter since they can say the number and use the calculator. Start bargaining from half the price, especially if you’re foreigners. Buying in bulk will help visitors when dealing with the sellers. If one’s lucky and good at bargaining, Dong Ba Market can offer the best price since Hue’s cost of living is quite cheap. You can learn more about bargaining in Vietnam here.

 

When to get there

The market begins at early in the morning. From about 3.00 AM, some sellers, especially of food stalls, have to arrive at the market. Interestingly, the morning market is a special scene, where people buying and selling in the dim light and the silence, freshness of the city. At this time, local residents can purchase freshest food at a lower price. The market opens all day long, till 8.30 PM.

 

The average number of consumers visiting the market daily is 5000 – 7000 people and can double during big holidays. On these occasions, visiting the market is really exciting since the scene of trading is very busy though tourists must be aware of pickpocketing. Also, avoid coming there on the first day of the Lunar New Year since a very few shops are opened. Normal operations often fully restart after the third day of the New Year.

 

Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature is dedicated to memorising and worshiping Confucius, which is a popular practice in many Asian countries, such as: China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. In Vietnam, apart from the most well-known Temple of Literature in Hanoi, some other cities also construct their own Temples of Literature. In Hue, the old capital of Vietnam, the Temple of Literature (so-called Van Mieu Hue or Van Thanh) majestically lies on the bank of Perfume River, to the west of the Citadel, just 1km from prestigious Linh Mu pagoda.

 

The Temple of Literature (so-called Van Mieu Hue or Van Thanh) majestically lies on the bank of Perfume River, to the west of the Citadel, just about 1km from prestigious Linh Mu pagoda. The south-facing monument was built in 1908 during the reign of King Gia Long, on the top of the hill. Over the years afterwards, the temple has gone through several major restoration works.

 

What to see

The remaining of the complex consists of about 50 architectural works, the biggest of which is the worshiping hall of Confucius.

 

Outside at the main gate of the Temple, by the riverside, there are four tall and majestic pillars. There are a large sign hung high above, with the words “Dao Tai Luong Gian” (The principles in the world) and “Trac Viet Thien Co” (Higher than ever before) written. After going past the gate, we would see several small houses where kings and mandarins would stop by to prepare their outfits before going inside to attend the ceremony. At the front there are two rows of 32 preserved steles bearing the names of 239 successful candidates in National Examinations organized through the Nguyen Dynasty. Although the monument has been damaged during the war as French troops once used it as barrack, main temple and especially the steles still remain.

 

Today, people visiting the Temple of Literature can see a unique symbol of Vietnam educational system during the feudal times. The construction of the temple as well as the placement of the doctors' steles shows everlasting respect to the country’s talented people and invaluable traditions of culture and education.

 

Nam Giao Esplanade 

Emperors under feudalism often regarded themselves as "thien tu" (son of the God). Hence, to express their respect to Father God, they often held annual offering ceremonies to worship. That's why Nam Giao Esplanade was built by King Gia Long after being crowned, in Duong Xuan Village, south of Hue City. It was started constructing on 25th March, 1806. At the beginning of 1807, its first God worship ceremonies were held there. Among several offering terraces of previous dynasties, Nguyen's is the only one that still exists until today.

 

Architecture

The open-air monument obviously reflects the old misconception of people about the universe (circular heavens and square earth), follows the principles of Yin and Yang and also represents 5 elements of the nature: Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth (in order: Kim, Moc, Thuy, Hoa, Tho).

 

As well, the esplanade is designed to symbolize oriental theory of 3 agents: Heaven, Earth, Man (Thien, Dia, Nhan respectively). Each is represented by one terrace with distinctive color and shape: circular blue heaven, square yellow earth. The bottom terrace is square and red-painted which stands for Man, as there is a phrase “red child” (xich tu – con do) to call the normal people. The top terrace (Heaven) is the place to hold offering ceremonies to God, Earth and Nguyen Dynasty’s ancestors and also called Vien dan. The middle one (Tung dan) is for worshipping the Sun, Moon, Stars, Cloud, Rain, Wind, Lightning, Year and Month, Mountain, Ocean, River, Lagoon, Lake, etc. and all other kinds of holy spirits throughout Vietnam. The last terrace is where to offer sacrifice.

 

Along with the main esplanade, there are several other building sites to support the offering ceremony like “Trai cung” (where the king stays before the ceremony), “Than tru” (the kitchen to prepare sacrifice), “Than kho” (the warehouse to place ceremony’s tools).

 

In the past, Nam Giao Esplanade was surrounded by a thick basalt wall which has been destructed. Pine trees were also planted around, as Emperor Minh Mang has followed his father’s tradition and asked all his sons and mandarins to plant their own pines with their name card on it and take care of their own trees.

 

Nam Giao Esplanade plays a very important role in religious and political life of Nguyen Dynasty. It took the Protocol and Administration Ministries many months to prepare for the ceremony. Before the sacrifice offering day, all villages and communal in Thua Thien-Hue had to complete making triumphal arches, to put alters on both sides of the route where the Emperor would pass by from Ngo Mon Noon gate to Trai Cung. During the ceremony, big flags with different colors were hung on all four doors of the esplanade: black flags on the north door, blue on the east, red on the south and white on the west. The kings often had to operate the ceremony on his owns. In case he wasn’t capable, his son or one of his mandarins would be ordered to take this task.

 

Today, visitors can come here to understand about the religious and political belief of Oriental feudal society in general and Nguyen Dynasty in particular, which is completely different from that of Western people.

 

How to get there

Follow Dien Bien Phu Street till the end. There stands the esplanade. Suggested means of transport include: bike, motorbike and car.

 

Thanh Toan Bridge

Thanh Toan is a tile-roofed bridge built about 200 years ago over the Nhu Y River. It is not big, about 17 metres long and four metres wide and is made of wood. There is a shrine inside the bridge set up for the lady who funded its construction. This beautiful and charming bridge is about 10 kilometers east of Hue

 

Quoc Hoc HueCentury Old High School

 

Past

Being the first and also the oldest high school in Vietnam, originally Quoc Hoc (National high school) was the school for children from royal and noble families. On the site that used to be former squadron headquarter - a royal navy headquarters, French colonialists built this school to train those who would serve the feudal colonial government. Therefore, at that time, French was the main subject for students and the school’s gate was titled “Phap tu Quoc Hoc truong mon” (French National High School’s Gate). Now it’s named Hue National High School and is a high-profile school that all students must pass a competitive entrance exam to get the admission.

 

Established in 1896, after more than 100-year history, Quoc Hoc today is still a well-maintained French colonial-style construction. The school is a complex of five blocks of classrooms, big football field, basketball court, five badminton courts, a swimming pool, a medium stadium and also a block of dormitory. It’s considered the largest and also the most beautiful high school campus in Vietnam. This surrounding makes a great picture of red French designed building in harmony with green background of a lot of large shady trees and stone benches. Especially in spring, when “diep anh dao” (a kind of cherry blossoms) is in bloom, the whole picture is filled with pinky dots above red thatched tile. Students often call that period of time “Pinky cloud season” and regard it as the most special moments of a year. These are the reasons why Quoc Hoc is also called “Pinky school beside Perfume River Bank” in the song with the same name. Lucky if one has a chance to drop by the school during that season.

 

Present

Not only is Quoc Hoc famous for its charming scene, it also gains prominence for tradition of patriotism, industriousness, academic achievements and respect for the time-honored values of teacher-student relationships. Several Vietnam political leaders have been learning here, including: Nguyen Tat Thanh (President Ho Chi Minh), General Vo Nguyen Giap, Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, etc. In addtion, the school is famed for its students who are well-known poets (Xuan Dieu, Huy Can, To Huu, Luu Trong Lu etc.), scientists (Ta Quang Buu, Ton That Tung, Dang Van Ngu, etc.), musicians (Tran Hoan, Chau Ky, Nguyen Van Thuong, etc.) or sculptor Diem Phung Thi and so on. The school also has students getting high prize in many International Competitions.

 

Tourists who want to visit Quoc Hoc High School should remember that the school doesn’t allow entrances during class’s time, which ends at 5.15 p.m. every day (though it might be easier to go through the two side gates, in fact). What’s more, the students are very eager to talk to foreigners, especially English speakers and French speakers. That’s the place for those who want to take photos of natural background, understand more about French colonial architecture and watch female students in white Ao Dai, sparkling in the nice background.

 

Quoc Hoc Highschool lies on the east bank of Perfume River, near Trang Tien bridge of Hue City.

 

The Elephant Springs

The Elephant Springs, some 53km from Hue, is an excellent natural spring that is well worth a visit. Particularly on a hot day, the natural pool below a small waterfall makes for a very refreshing dip. You can sluice yourself down the smooth rocks at the base of the falls, and there are plenty more spots upstream to explore. The place can be pretty deserted on weekdays and during off season, which is great if you're looking for some privacy, but not so great in terms of getting some food and drinks -- the food stalls around the springs are only open on peak days. When they are, you can enjoy a cold beer and munch on a whole roasted chicken while you're wallowing in the water. When the stalls aren't open, it makes sense to pack a lunch and BYOB. It's not too hard to get to, but it's not well-marked, and it might make sense to hook up with a guide -- most of the motorcycle taxi drivers know where it is. They can also help you sort out the food and drink situation.