Complete Guide to HUE

(Updated October 2018)

More great building complexes, more rich Asian history: Viet Nam’s former capital Hue had just enough history and majesty to keep up with beautiful Hoi An.

Gate at Citadel in Hue
Exit the citadel through the “Gate of Humanity”. Beautiful name for a beautiful gate.

The main attraction is the Đại Nội Citadel that used to be the emperors’ seat till 1945. Surrounded by thick stone walls and a moat, it protected the emperor against…his enemies, I presume.

To get from Hoi An to Hue I booked a shuttle that included a couple of stops. Actually only two of them were really worth it – the ‘Marble Mountain’, which is a group of five mountains from marble and limestone whose names represent the five elements.

Row of pagodas on the Marble Mountain.

It is a spiritual pilgrimage site, counting with several Buddhist pagodas and caves. The other impressive place was the Bach Ma National Park way up high in the mountains, where within minutes we got wrapped in clouds – a beautiful and mystic experience.

Bach Ma National Park
There was a natural veil laying over us.

The best thing about having chosen this option was that there were only two of us in the car – Elin from Estonia and me. Luckily we clicked immediately and didn’t spend only the (day-) trip to Hue together, but did the sightseeing tour on the following day together, too.

The weather wasn’t still great – unfortunately you can see that on my pictures – but Elin and I were lucky to have found an agency that sold us a day trip for an incredible price (I think we paid about 7 or 8 $ for the whole trip including a (not so good) lunch – but of course the entrance fees were not included).

The bus tour took us to the Citadel housing the ancient imperial city with large courtyards surrounded by beautifully decorated pavilions, where we got an idea how powerful the emperors must have been – until they made themselves the French occupants’ puppets.

The replica of the Royal Theatre.

While this feudalistic heritage was rather dismissed during the strict communist era, since 1993 the most important complexes made it to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Citadel of Hue
We had our own Royal Theatre: Not only did Elin dress in some emperor’s robes, she also got herself a royal sidekick. Oh, with this much fun, who cares about the historical structures?!

Selfie with tourist
This young visitor seems to be far more attractive than the old stones of the ancient palace.
Vietnamese love to take pictures of and with foreigners.

Not far from the Citadel is the posh neighborhood Kim Long, famous for its beautiful garden houses constructed for the Concubines, Mandarins, and Statesmen.

Thien Mu Pagoda
Thien Mu Pagoda

Before finally going to the famous kings’ tombs we made a short stop at the Thien Mu Pagoda on the Northern banks of the Perfume River. With its seven storeys high Phước Duyên tower it’s Viet Nam’s highest pagoda.

The tombs

The “Forbidden City”, modeled on the one in Peking, was the Nguyen. Besides this site, the main reason to visit the city of Hue is the ancient royal tombs. Hue used to be the Vietnamese capital from 1802 till 1945, so the emperor’s lived – and died – here.

Although there are seven known royal tombs, only three are significantly more visited since they are in better condition and closer to the city: – these are the tombs of Lang Minh Mang, Lang Tu Duc, and Lang Khai Dinh. If you are on a tour and do visit not only the Citadel but also the three tombs, you might want to by a combined ticket for about VND 360,000 (approx. US$ 16); for obvious reason – the whole tour cost us less than this – the entrance was not included in our trip, but we were able to buy the ticket from our guide.

The oldest tomb is Lang Minh Mang, who was the second emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty of Vietnam, reigning from 1820 until 1840. The site was constructed from 1841 to 1843, hence after the emperor’s death. He was laid to rest after the tomb’s completion in 1843.

Lang Minh Mang
Lang Minh Mang, the burial site of the second Nguyen emperor – located closest to the city of Hue.

Long Tu Duc was built from 1864 to 1867 and is the only site where the emperor actually moved his household to, building a Forbidden City of his own. Tu Duc lived from 1848 to 1883 and reigned the longest.

The newest, very much influenced by French fashion, is Long Khai Dinh. Khai Dinh’s tomb. Built from 1920 to 1931 in an eclectic style mix mainly of concrete and preceded by a wrought-iron triple gate, this tomb is definitely constructed in the nicest spot, overlooking the perfume river and the lush rolling hills. The most beautiful detail are the man-high statues of animals and men on the first level.

Lang Khai Dinh
Lang Khai Dinh

I cannot say for sure where it was, but at one of the tombs was a huge group of teenage girls, completely oblivious to the ruins, all hyper because of a young man in a traditional Vietnamese outfit.

While the teenage crowd was standing in line for selfies, an obviously professional photographer was patiently waiting for his turn. Eventually, the young man and his entourage including the photographer left leaving a screaming teenage crowd behind.

The funny thing is, that if there haven’t been the hyper teenagers, I would have never known that this young man is obviously a big shot megastar in Viet Nam. We Europeans and North Americans believe to rule the world not only economically, but also culturally, completely ignoring the fact that there is a huge entertainment market being occupied by big local stars. Or how many Asian pop stars do you know? Correct, one – Psy from South Korea.

Joss Sticks
I wonder if there is a sightseeing tour without a shopping opportunity anywhere in the world.
But since they smell great and look pretty, handmade joss sticks do make a great souvenir.

Wanna ending a perfect day with a perfect dinner and don’t need to stick to Vietnamese food for once? We had excellent Indian food at Ganesh Indian restaurant on 34 Nguyen Tri Phuong Street.

Actually, the restaurant was my last stop – in the evening I had a flight from Hue to Hanoi.

Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I’ve visited in Viet Nam? 
Then go to the main post and take your pick!

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