Hue is the former capital of Vietnam and used to be the political and cultural center of Vietnam during the reign of the Emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty. In addition to its richness in culture and history, Hue is also known for its magnificent natural and cultural heritages, its cuisine, its music, its hospitality of the local people. In the 21st century, Hue is not as prosperous as it was during the Nguyen Dynasty era, but it still holds a lot of unique heritages that cannot be found anywhere in Vietnam. Located in the middle part of Vietnam, Hue is a must-go destination for those who have a plan to visit Vietnam. Below are what you should try at least once when you are in Hue, Vietnam.
Table of Contents
I. Visit Hue’s cultural heritage sites
Hue was the former capital of Vietnam where the kings of the Nguyen Dynasty chose as the place to control the ancient nation. As a matter of fact, visitors can find a lot of cultural destinations in the Imperial City, which was built before, during and after the Nguyen Dynasty era. The first destination that visitors cannot miss is the Hue Citadel (Vietnamese: Kinh Thanh Hue or Dai Noi), which was the place where kings, mandarins and imperial civil workers resided.
The Hue Citadel is also the symbol of the Hue city. In addition, visitors are also recommended to pay a visit to the royal tombs of the Nguyen Kings, which are architecturally breathtaking: Khai Dinh Tomb, Minh Mang Tomb, Gia Long Tomb, Tu Duc Tomb, etc.
Hue also possesses some of the most unique museums in the country, including historical museums and cultural museums. In addition, visitors should also visit some schools that have historical values in Hue, for example: Quoc Hoc Hue School, which still acts as a high school for gifted students with excellent academic achievement. This high school is the third oldest high school in Vietnam and chosen as one of the top three high-standard high schools in Vietnam. Political leaders of Vietnam such as Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap used to study here.
II. Visit Hue’s natural heritage sites
Apart from cultural heritage sites, Hue is also famous for its beautiful natural landscape that distinguishes itself from its neighboring cities and provinces. The Huong River (also known as the Perfume River) is the symbol of the city along with Ngu Binh mountain.
The river separates Hue into two parts: the Northern part and the Southern part. Visitors are recommended to take a dragon boat along the Huong River to fully appreciate its beauty, while enjoying traditional Hue cuisine and listen to Hue’s songs (Ca Hue, which is a traditional kind of music in Hue).
Hue also possesses a variety of stunning hills and mountains where you can hike. Vong Canh Hill is located close to Tu Duc Tomb, overseeing some of the most beautiful angles of the Huong River and nearby forests and hills. Ban Hill and Ngu Binh Mount are also great places for those who love hiking and overseeing the city. Hue also has different temples that are located in the midst of forest that possess an astonishing view of landscape, for example Huyen Khong Son Thuong Buddhist Temple. There are also many paddy fields that can be seen in a lot of areas in Hue.
III. Enjoy Hue’s nightlife
Hue is not just a quiet and tranquil city where there are only ruins of tombs and historical buildings. Nightlife in Hue can also be as boisterous as many big cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. In order to enjoy the best nightlife scene of Hue, you should go to the Vo Thi Sau and Nguyen Cong Tru street area. This area is filled with bars, restaurants, cafes, street vendors, souvenirs shops, convenience stores, etc that provide diverse choices of food, beverages, souvenirs, services, etc. On certain days of the week, vehicles are prohibited to make way for pedestrians only. This also explains why this area is also called “Pho Di Bo” (The Walking Street) or “Pho Tay” (Western Street), as many Western tourists tend to come here.
Some bars that we recommend you to pay a visit to:
1. DMZ Bar: 60 Le Loi Street
DMZ Bar offers great food and beverages (7:00 am to 2:30 am for drinks and 7:00 am to midnight for food) such as authentic Western, Italian and Vietnamese dishes as well as a wide range of beers, cocktails and wines. This bar is enjoyed by both Vietnamese and foreigners
2. Brown Eyes Bar: 56 Chu Van An street, opening at 17:00 and closing when the last customer leaves
Brown Eyes Bar has a dance floor and a pool table. DJs will start playing at 10:30 pm, with such different genres as hiphop, R&B, EDM, etc. When you arrive you’re served with a welcome drink and a free flaming shot of a concoction called Burning Castle. You will also get free snacks. It also serves cocktails, spirits and beers, with a higher price in comparison with other bars in Hue.
3. Le’s Garden Hue: 14 Pham Ngu Lao street
This place serves authentic Vietnamese and Western dishes. In addition Le’s Garden also serves great drinks such as caipirinha cocktails. This nightlife spot is only a 10 minute drive from the Hue Citadel. It is loved by many for its open-air setting and great foods as well as beverages.
IV. Try Hue’s traditional food
Hue has a diversity of food that those who visit Hue must try at least once. Such authentic dishes that can only be found in Hue are Com Hen (Baby Clam Rice), Banh Beo – Nam – Loc (Hue’s Rice Dumplings), Bun Bo Hue (Hue Vermicelli Noodles with Beef), Banh Canh (Thick Noodle Soup), Che Hoang Cung (Royal Sweet Soup), etc. Hue has many high- end restaurants that provide these specialities.
The locals, however, prefer to try these traditional dishes at small restaurants or street vendors’. An interesting point to note is that the food is usually very cheap, whereas it is undeniable that tourists can be ridiculously charged by some vendors. Even though Hue’s dishes such as Bun Bo Hue can be found in every corner of Vietnam, nowhere is able to cook Hue’s food as authentically as its hometown of Hue.
V. Meet local people from Hue
Like many Vietnamese people, Hue locals are hospitable and eager to talk with and help tourists, as the city is not a big tourism destination for foreigners. Like everywhere you go, it is a great thing to meet with local people and learn about their way of living and thinking. Even though many people from Hue are reserved as English is not commonly spoken here, they are very helpful and hospitable if you are in need of help. You can stay in Hue for a few days and join volunteer programs to interact with local people, for example Hearts for Hue, where foreigners are welcomed to participate in society empowerment programs.
TOUR: LUNCH WITH A LOCAL FAMILY
Nothing is more awesome than paying a visit to a local family in Hue that still keeps the traditional virtues dating from the feudal time under the time of the Nguyen Dynasty. We will meet and greet the host in order to learn about the traditional culture and way of life of people at the former capital of Vietnam. We will visit the family ancestral temple to learn about the customs associated with ancestral worship. In addition, you can choose to accompany the hosts to a fresh market to buy ingredients as well as assist them to prepare lunch. We will then enjoy a home-hosted meal in the cozy family setting over interesting life stories shared by the hosts.
- Availability: Morning
- Suggested time: 09:00
- Duration: 4 hours
- Capacity: Min. 2 pax, Max. 12 pax
VI. Learn about Hue while you are there
Where can you learn about Hue that is better than in Hue? For those who are in love with the royal history of the city, Hue is the right place for you. While you are in Hue, learn about the city as much as possible: its history, its culture, its geography, its people, etc. Learning about Hue city isn’t necessarily a boring task of turning pages of a book. Learning can be to walk around Hue Citadel and listen to a tape about Nguyen Dynasty, or wander about the bank of the Huong River while reading about the history of the Truong Tien Bridge.f
VII. Pick up Hue’s Vietnamese
Source: Pascal Müller – Unsplash
Hue people speak Vietnamese in a very unique middle accent, which is clearly different from the Northern accent (for example: Hanoi) or Southern accent (for example: Ho Chi Minh city). Hue accent is very hard to imitate, even for native Vietnamese that are not from Hue or the middle part. Even though many people say Hue accent is hard to understand, it is not necessarily the case if local words aren’t used. Being able to pick up Hue’s accent will surely amaze your Vietnamese friends, as even many Vietnamese are unable to speak Hue naturally. A few Hue’s words that are famously known nationwide are “răng” (“tại sao” in standard Vietnamese and “why” in English), “mô” (“đâu” in standard Vietnamese and “where” in English), etc. However, it will take a lot of time and effort to even be able to speak a Vietnamese phrase in the Hue accent.
VIII. Take a boat along the Perfume River (Huong River)
Perfume River is the symbol of Hue city. The river stretches beyond the city to other towns nearby. To fully admire the beauty of the river, one should take a dragon boat along the river which can be found in many river ports along the river banks. The dragon boat will take visitors through many popular riverside destinations such as Thien Mu Pagoda, Tu Duc Royal Tomb, Truong Tien Bridge, Vong Canh Hill, Hon Chen Palace, etc. Visitors will also have the opportunity to enjoy traditional Hue music and its traditional cuisine while on the boat. The boat can be taken during both daytime and nighttime.
IX. Listen to Hue’s songs (Ca Hue)
The traditional music of Hue, known as “Ca Hue”. In a “Ca Hue” performance, the singer sings solo, accompanying herself with small teacups. There’s also an ensemble playing musical instruments complementing the singer, which are called “Ngu Tuyet” (Five Excellent Instruments). Ca Hue can be enjoyed in theaters, restaurants or dragon boats. While visiting the Hue Citadel, visitors are also recommended to enjoy the Ca Hue performance there. Otherwise, visitors can enjoy Ca Hue on a dragon boat tour.
X. Buy food and souvenirs that can only be found in Hue
Bring back home memories of Hue by buying some food and souvenirs in Hue. Famous snacks that visitors can buy are “Me Xung” (Sesame Crispy Cake), fermented pork roll, Hue rice dumplings (which are wrapped in banana leaves and can be kept for a long time), Hue fermented shrimp sauce (Mam Tom Hue), etc. Souvenirs such as Non La Hue (Hue Palm-Leaf Conical Hat), traditional áo dài costume, pictures, ceramics, etc are also recommended. Visitors will be able to find them at many stores around Hue, especially in touristy areas such as the Walking Street or close to beauty spots.
XI. Classic royal culinary experience
The ingredients, preparation and presentation of the royal cuisine of Hue has always been unique cultural specialties of Hue. Not only viewed as a state-of-the-art work of culinary art, the royal cuisine of Hue also represents the values and beliefs of the previous generations. The food is very delicious and well-prepared. Taking a look at the way the food is prepared, one can clearly see the agreement between color, flavor, between the ying and the yang, between heat and coldness. Let’s meet an expert chef who was born and grew up in a royal family, currently in her late 60s, to know more about as well as try some of the ingredients which were used in the royal cuisine of Hue, as well as witness how Vietnamese buy and sell things in a Vietnamese traditional market. We will then proceed to get to her home for a cooking class that teaches us to make the food of the Imperial Court. While enjoying the dishes that you have made, she will share with you about her life and experiences that will no doubt leave you with unforgettable memories.
- Availability: Morning, Afternoon
- Suggested time: 08:30, 13:30
- Duration: 4 hours
XII. Join biking trip around Hue countryside
Leave Hue by car (4km/2mi) for the place where we will start a 15km (9m) journey of exploring the countryside of Hue by bicycle. We will bike to the bucolic Thuy Bieu village that hasn’t changed much for many centuries. Thuy Bieu Village is well-known for its mild and sweet Thanh Tra (green tea) pomelo, which is a kind of citrus fruit related to grapefruits. We will then continue our journey past family temples and gardens of fruit and bamboo to a local workshop where necklaces are hand-made from aloeswood. We will then pay a visit to a local family where members of the family have made incense sticks for many generations. We will chat with them over some Thanh Tra, about their everyday’s life in a conventional village as well as how they have tried to keep the traditional craft alive until now. When we finish visiting the traditional silk painting workshop, we will proceed to the Voi Re Temple, a royal temple where the war elephants of the emperors were entombed and revered. In the proximity, we can see Ho Quyen (Tiger Fighting Arena), constructed in 1830 by the King Minh Mang to house battles to death between tigers and elephants, with the tiger being declawed to provide the elephants with better help. Upon finishing our journey, we will drive back to Hue.
- Availability: Morning, Afternoon
- Suggested departure time: 08:00, 13:00
- Tour duration: 04 hours
XIII. Pay a visit to the ancient Phuoc Tich Village
Leave Hue and travel for 40 km (25 miles) to the North making for the 500 year-old Phuoc Tich village. Located next to the O Lau River, this village is known as one of the national relics as it contains more than 30 houses which are more than 100 years old, giving visitors an interesting look into the past. The ancient houses were constructed in the “Nha Ruong” style, which were built with uniquely carved wooden pillars and beams, held together with wooden pegs to pull apart easily. We will then take a walk through the village and pay a visit to a typical Hue traditional wooden house in a wide garden that is architecturally guided by Feng Shui principles. We will admire the antiques and ceramic inheritances that dates many centuries back. We can chat with a local family to know more about how life goes in the village, which has protected many aspects of a traditional and typical Vietnamese village. Phuoc Tich village was also famous for being a pottery village during its glory days, which you can still see some families preserving the craft-making even until today. Finishing the trip, we will then return to Hue.
- Suggested departure time: 09:00
- Tour duration: 04 hours