Military history buffs may know Hue as one of the hardest fought stretches of territory (Hamburger Hill and Ke Sanh Ridge are both nearby) in the Vietnam War, but it’s had a much longer, more storied history than that, serving as the imperial capital of the nation for centuries beforehand.
The city itself is surrounded by imposing walls, with the Imperial Citadel lying within those along with a series of palaces and temples. Today, they are being restored piecemeal, as a large portion of them were leveled by the fighting and only gradually cleaned up and rebuilt. When I visited it in the afternoon, unfortunately it was pouring down rain, but that added a bit of a romantic element, particularly where restoration hadn’t yet been completed.
The Imperial Complex itself is quite large, with many alleyways and hidden nooks and crannies to explore, some rebuilt and some in ruin. My favorite was the Empress’s Home, Truong Sanh, with a series of pavilions, rocky ponds, and moats surrounding the main building.
After exploring this, I took a push bike tour inside the walled city, most interestingly visiting Ho Chih Minh’s childhood home, which was very austere and simple and completely open to whoever wanted to wander in and pay their respects. There wasn’t even a security guard around as far as I could tell.
Foodwise, the big local delicacy is Bun Bo Hue, which is basically Pho on steroids- packed with different cuts of meat, especially beef, and quite good. For dinner I employed a trick I sometimes do in cheaper countries in order to avoid the touristy restaurants and get a taste of real local food- I asked my moto driver where good food was and ended up buying him dinner as he showed me different things. The result was a kind of streetside buffet, with veggies, meat, and seafood all present, and all quite delicious.
The other big attraction in Hue are the Imperial Tombs that are scattered along the Perfume River outside of the city. Earlier in the day I had contracted a moto driver to take me around to a few. Some of them, like Khai Dinh’s, are small but imposing and ornately decorated, while others, like Minh Mang’s, Thieu Tri’s, and Tu Duc’s are much larger, but comparatively modest as far as the tombs themselves go. Minh Mang’s is probably the most interesting of the tombs, situated in a sprawling, beautiful park full of moats and small tombs.
Thieu Tri’s, though, had another interesting sight- a Vietnamese wedding party in traditional dress taking pictures in the drizzling rain.
After the tombs, we stopped by an old Vietnam War-era American bunker overlooking the Perfume River. It was quiet and dark, and even a bit spooky. If ghosts somehow exist, this spot is as good a candidate as any to have a few.
My last stop on the tour was the Thien Mu Pagoda- a large, very picturesque temple with a gorgeous location- overlooking the Perfume River and the surrounding rural countryside.
It cemented Hue as one of my favorite stops so far on the trip, and a place I’d like to return one day if can.