Hue, Vietnam was once the capital of Nguyen emperors and was modeled after Beijingâ€™s own Forbidden City. Cut across by the Perfume River, the old within a citadel lies on one side while the more modern habitats and establishments are built on the other. Hue today is more of a university town due to the concentrated number of students lurking in the streets. The city itself is very friendly to tourists, with a lot of historical sites and natural wonders to explore, and many of which are accessible by foot or by motorbike.
Here are some things you can do in Hue:
Climb up the Ho Quyen Tiger Fighting Arena – A relic of old-school animal cruelty, this arena once pitted tigers against elephants for the pleasure of the emperor and his more blood-thirsty subjects. Ho Quyen is built along the southern bank of the Perfume River, and consists of two circular walls, with a flight of stairs heading its way to the top. The arena is remarkably intact; even the tiger cages still have claw marks. The fights themselves, which have since been discontinued in the early 20th century, were fixed: the tigers were drugged and always lost to the elephants. As tigers symbolized rebellion and elephants represented the monarchy, itâ€™s no surprise the emperor wanted a demonstration of his unshakeable supremacy along with fur-flying entertainment.
Frolic on the shores of Thuan An Beach â€“ Hueâ€™s most popular beach is a lagoon 15 kilometers from the city, near the mouth of Perfume River. Despite its underdeveloped state, thousands of Vietnamese trek to this area during public holidays. Signs will help you find the busy part of the beach, but if you want a little room, head southwards until the crowd thins out. You can also try the previous main beach area by turning left before you hit the road that leads to the current main beach.
Pay respects to Thien Mu Pagoda – Hue is loaded with pagodas, but if you can only fit one pagoda in your scheduled trip, then make it Thien Mu. It is a beautiful structure located along the north bank of the Perfume River, designed with golden Buddha images at the base, and contains a huge bell and a stone turtle holding a marble stele. But what sets Thien Mu apart is its impact on modern history: in 1963, a monk from this pagoda traveled to Saigon and immolated himself in protest of American involvement in the country’s affairs. This shocking image was broadcast throughout the world and became one of the lasting symbols of the Vietnam War. The motorcar he used is on display in a sanctuary at the back of the area.
Motorbike to the Citadel â€“ Much of this site is in a state of disrepair after the damage it took during the French occupation and Vietnam War. Nevertheless, the complex of remaining ramparts, moats, gates, and courtyards are available for exploration, whether with a tour guide or not. Whatâ€™s more, its 17-kilometer fortified walls stand testament to Hueâ€™s glorious past.
Go boating along Perfume River â€“ Huong River is a symbol of Hue, and a 4-hour Dragon Boat cruise along its waters will take to you to well-known pagodas, temples, tombs and small fishing villages. Named after the scented medicinal plants and flowers which grow along its banks, Perfume River is formed by springs named Ta Trach and Huu Trach (Left and Right Tributary) which meet at Bang Lang Junction. The cruise takes you 30 kilometers from Bang Lang to Thuan An Estuary and back again, just in time for a lovely sunset.
Dip into the cool Elephant Springs – A natural spring some 53 kilometers from Hue, this area is devoid of crowds during weekdays and the off-season, which is great if you want privacy.
Splash around Thahn Tan Hot Springs - A water park along the way to Thuan An Beach, Thahn Tan was built around a natural cold spring. It hosts a variety of attractions like a hot spring, waterslides, a massage pool and a wave pool. Weekends are the best time to visit, when all the equipment are activated. The cold springs themselves are free to the public, though its not so picturesque.
Hike through Bach Ma National Park â€“ A range of distinctive trails are available for visitors who wish to enjoy the natural beauty of this sub-tropical forest. Each trail can be accomplished within a day and require no special hiking equipment. One 4-hour trail leads past Ngu Ho (Five Lakes Cascade), a series of small waterfalls which pour into pools under a canopy of trees.
Shop at Dong Ba Market â€“ Hueâ€™s famous market is the best place to buy conical bamboo hats which have poems inserted in them that can be read when the slats of the hat is seen in the right direction. Pottery, herbal remedies, flowers, produce and other local products can also be purchased here along a row of colorful shops
The best time to visit Hue is between May to August, the height of the dry season. The annual Hue Festival, which scheduled during the month of June, showcases the many crafts made by nearby villagers, while historical re-enactments and candle-lit river banks highlight the special moments of this event. The city can easily be visited as a day trip from Danang or an overnight stop on the way to Saigon or Hanoi. Itâ€™s location in Central Vietnam makes it easily reachable via air or land from major Vietnamese cities. Phu Bai is the cityâ€™s airport and has daily flights to and from Saigon and Hanoi; buses and trains also pass by Hue on a regular basis.