During our 10-day trip to Vietnam we decided to spend 5 days in central Vietnam, where Hue and Hoi An are the main touristy spots: Hue is the former imperial capital of Vietnam, and stands out because of its Citadel and the Emperors Royal Tombs.
WHAT TO DO IN HUE
Hue is a city within city walls, north of the Perfume river. A big citadel similar to that one of Beijing sits solemnly at the front, overseeing the river and the modern side of the city, where most hotels and restaurants are located.
The Citadel, centrally located in Hue, is surrounded by walls and a moat, with the Perfume river in the South. The location wasn’t random, but well calculated in terms of Fengshui. At the entrance of the Citadel there’s a very well made movie explaining its history. The movie was made by Koreans and with the sponsorship of Samsung 🙂 Funny.
Most of the Citadel was destroyed during the American war, and most of what you see is actually rebuilt. However, it is still a very interesting place to visit, and there are some rooms with really informative panels about Vietnam, life within the walls, and more.
There are also well trimmed gardens to walk around and, overall, spend a pleasant morning and take some pictures.
Entrance fee is 150,000 VND, beware with the change. I’ve read several comments about people being scammed with the change, and even when they noticed, it was hard to get the money back!
The most famous ones are Minh Mang, Khai Dinh, and Tu Duc (not to be confused with Duc Duc). They are all located not too far from each other, along the Perfume River outside of Hue. If going by car (we got a car driver among 6 people) or by tour, you can certainly do all of them on the same day at a relaxed pace. You can buy tickets separately (100,000VND each) or with a combined ticket that also includes the Citadel (360,000VND and valid for 2 days).
First, we visited Minh Mang Tomb. We liked this one a lot because it had a lot of land and water, it seemed like a nice place for an Emperor to rest for the eternity. The place was quite empty in the morning, adding some extra serenity to the experience.
A 20 minute ride later we arrived to the Khai Dinh Tomb, a smaller but more intense tomb. This tomb is architectonically more detailed and looks a bit rococo to me, but it was stunning and with great views.
After a short lunch in a very touristy and unrecommended restaurant with long waiting and poor food quality (worst we had during the trip) in what seemed to be the place all tours and driver take you to, we headed to the last tomb we’d visit on that day: Tu Duc. This one is huge and with a lot of water and land around it, like Minh Mang. It was a bit busier, not sure if it was because of the time (3pm) or because it’s the most popular one.
Thien Mu Pagoda
If you take a tour or a driver to see the Tombs, you will probably stop by the Pagoda, since it is right outside of the city, on the way to the Perfume River. From the Pagoda grounds you can contemplate the Perfume River and its dragon-shaped boats. There is a nice bonsai garden behind the Pagoda, and the whole attraction is free of charge.
Dong Ba Market
Like other Vietnamese cities, there is a big central market with bustling activity in Hue. Come here to just observe the local live. One thing that shocked us a lot was how merchants would just leave money bills on top of their fresh raw meat. I have always been told that money is dirty and one must wash their hands after touching it, but yet here I just saw money sitting on meat, vegetables, and fruits.
HOW TO GET TO HUE & HOI AN
Vietnamese roads are not in the best condition and trips take much longer than they would in Europe, so I was recommended to take a plane to Hue’s airport. From Hue to Hoi An we took a morning bus (it was a sleeper bus!). This takes about 3h with a short stop in the middle and costs only $5. Buses can be booked in many of the tourist offices in Hue (south of the river) with at least 1 day in advance. Alternatively, weather and pocket permitting, book a private drive/tour on motorbike or car, so you can stop in some interesting sight points in between.
Hue has its own specialty food, but we didn’t enjoy it very much. Maybe it was because there were many fried things and there were less spices involved. We had fried spring rolls, Ban Xeo,
Oh, but the Bun bo Hue! Victor’s favorite dish~ It is usually spicy in Hue, and we got the chance to eat it on the streets. The old lady selling it was really nice and she was very amused by us (being foreigners and eating on her small plastic chairs). I don’t remember the price but it was cheap!
One great experience we had in Hue was cooking food with our host family! We went to the market with them in the morning (which was crazy fun) and we prepared spring rolls and lemongrass pork in the night for the family, other guests, and ourselves.
In our visit to the market we bought these fruits known as “breast milk fruit”. Our relative in HCM had told us about it, and it really is juicy and white like milk! Before eating it, you need to squeeze the fruit all around, and then cut into quarters. Delicious.
Les Jardins de la Carambole
Eating in Vietnam is cheap, and that makes one happy. But sometimes, you just want to sit down in a classy restaurant and eat some more upscale food, but without breaking the bank. if that’s how you feel while in Hue, head right away to this restaurant. Food was amazing.
We ordered lemongrass duck and a steak. The food was Vietnamese and French fusion. We finished everything immediately, it was really delicious! It’s on the expensive side, but being in Vietnam, that means around $10 per person (without drinks).