Renowned as the most royal city in Vietnam, Hue has enough charm to keep you staying as long as you can afford the time to visit
Location and history
Located in the central region of Vietnam, Hue City is considered the heart of the national cultural heritage. It is the capital of Thua Thien-Hue province, located at 108km from Danang, 166km from Dong Hoi, 368km from Vinh, 658km from Hanoi and 1,097km from Ho Chi Minh City.
The city is located in a region with tropical climate subject to monsoons. This plain province consists of two seasons: the dry season from March to August when the weather is hot, up to 39.9oC. The rainy and flooding season is from August to January with average temperature of 19.7 oC.
Hue boasts an ancient history. The picturesque scenery and rugged terrain gave Hue a special position in the history of Vietnam. Hue was the capital during the Tay Son and Nguyen dynasties, the most prosperous reigns in Vietnam. Over the centuries, this city has become a great center of Vietnamese architecture. Amongst the ancient capitals of Vietnam, Hue is the only city that keeps intact the appearance of a complex medieval monarchical structure composed of walls, palaces and royal tombs. These precious remains have not only turned Hue into a living museum, much appreciated by the whole country, but also won the honorable recognition site of world cultural heritage by UNESCO in December 1993. The famous Perfume River has inspired many romantic poems and tales. The entire city is steeped in history and medieval musings.
What to see
The tombs of the Nguyen Kings
Hue City is famous not only for its beautiful palaces but also for the magnificence of its ancient tombs, temples, pagodas and shrines, often in a romantic kind. When talking about the old architecture of Hue, it is impossible not to mention the royal tombs of the Nguyen Kings lying in the hills on the banks of Perfume River. These tombs are the four most famous of them: the sumptuous tomb of Gia Long (also called Thien Tho), the imposing Minh Mang tomb (also called Hieu Tomb), poetic Tu Duc Tomb (also called Khiem Tomb) and the magnificent tomb of Khai Dinh (also called Ung) whose names and arrangements reflect each point of view, personality and taste of each emperor. All toms were built during the reign of the respective kings. Each tomb was laid out with statues and monuments in perfect harmony to form a natural poetry.
The following elements have been integrated in all the tombs: the walls, the door to three inputs (Tam Quan door), the greeting of Court, the Pavilion of the stele, houses of worship, lakes and ponds, gardens and finally the graves. Amongst the tombs of the Nguyen Kings, that of Khai Dinh is the only blending Eastern and Western architectures. It is the resting place of King Khai Dinh (1885-1925), the 12th emperor of the Nguyen. This tomb is known for his complex art of glazed earthenware and three magnificent frescoes entitles “nine dragons in the clouds” on the ceilings of the three compartments of Thien Dinh Palace. These frescoes are the most important in Vietnam.
Based on the same plane as the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Imperial city of Hue was designed and planned around the natural elements in the area north of the Perfume River. It is thus surrounded by a wall of 600 meters in length on each side. It is accessible through 4 gates: Hoa Binh (Peace Gate) to the North, Hien Nhon (Humanity Gate) to the East, Chuong Duc (Virtue Gate) to the West and finally Ngo Mon (Southern Gate) to the South. It is precisely this last entry we enter the imperial residence. This opens onto a large courtyard in the center of which stands Golden Water Bridge, which spans the “golden water pond”, basin filled with goldfish and hyacinths water. This courtyard gives access to the Palace of Supreme Harmony (Dien Thai Hoa), built in 1805. Its classical style contrasts with its exuberant decorations. This first palace overlooks the Forbidden Purple City, which today amounts to a vast courtyard and perimeter of wall remains. The architectural complex is registered as a World Heritage Site since 1993.
Thien Mu Pagoda (Pagoda of the Celestial Lady)
Located 4km southwest of Hue city center on the hill of Ha Khe, on the left bank of the Perfume River in Huong Long town, the pagoda is one of the finest and oldest architectural worship structures in Hue. The name of the pagoda comes from a legend that local farmers saw an old woman wearing a red dress and green pants on the hill. She said that a lord would build a pagoda in this location constructive to Buddhist configuration, and then she disappeared. Nguyen Hoang Lord passing by and once heard this story decided to raise the pagoda, to which he gave the name “Thien Mu”.
The most striking feature of the pagoda is its Phuoc Duyen tower, a masterpiece of 7 floors, dedicated to the Buddha who appeared in human form. To the left of the tower is a pavilion housing a huge bell, which weighs 3.285kg and 1.4m in circumference. The main temple, Dai Hung, is a gorgeous work. In addition to the shiny copper statues, it has a molten copper gong in 1677 and a transverse panel in gold lacquered wood, autographed. On each site, there is a house where Buddhist monks’ abstinence is based, and a reception house for visitors.
The Temple of Literature (Van Thanh)
Located in Huong Luong commune, Hue city, the Temple of Literature (or Van Thanh) is the worship temple of Confucius that descendants regard as the master of generations. Previously, Nguyen Lords built the Temple of Literature in the capital and changed location 3 times: Trieu Son village, Luong Quan village, Long Ho village.
In 1808, during the reign of Emperor Gia Long, the Hue Temple of Literature was built at the current location. The old Temple became the place of worship of Confucius parents. The majestic and massive temple is situated on the banks of Perfume River in the territory of Binh village, west of the Citadel.
The Temple overlooking the South. The main buildings were built on the hill with 3m above the ground. In front of the temple, there is a river behind which are the villages and mountains. The Temple of Literature was built on a 160m square of land surrounded by walls.
Almost completely destroyed during the successive wars after 1945, the temple was renovated with the very support of Friends of Hue Foundation, in cooperation with UNESCO and the Hue Monuments Conservation Center. This temple, built after the one in Hanoi, is very little known including locals. The monument consists of 50 large and small buildings, including 32 doctoral steles and 4 other stelae. Yet it is very important for the stelae of great statesmen such as Phan Dinh Phung, Tong Duy Tan, etc. These headstones honor the scholars who could become mandarins after difficult but open triennial contest, everyone, from the poorest to the richest, a form of democracy by merit and work
Nha Nhac, royal music
Nha Nhac, literally “elegant music”, refers to various styles of music and dance performed at the Vietnamese royal court from the 15th century to the first half of the 20th century. This music was used to entertain royalty and tangerines during annual ceremonies and special events such as coronations, funerals and official receptions. Of all the musical genres that have emerged in Vietnam, Nha Nhac can only claim to have a national scope and strong links with the traditions of other countries in Southeast Asia. Nha Nhac is performed by many singers, dancers and musicians dressed in sumptuous costumes. The major orchestras, which dominated the drums, include many other types of percussion instruments as well as in wind and string instruments. All performers had to stay extremely focused to follow all the steps of the ritual.
The royal music or “Nha Nhac” has raised its prominence on the world stage after being recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003. With “Nha Nhac”, Vietnamese philosophy and cosmogony could be preserved and passed down through the generations until today..
Phuoc Tich ancient village
Phuoc Tich village spreads in a poetic softness to O Lau River, Phong Hoa Commune, Phong Dien District, about 40km from Hue city, Thua Thien Hue province. Like so many Vietnamese villages, Phuoc Tich lives mainly on agriculture. A peaceful place, away from the time when houses with tiled roofs are surrounded by well-trimmed hedges of tea plants.
It has 117 old houses, 27 of which are in traditional style and have a priceless value in terms of cultural architecture. Located near the Imperial Citadel of Hue, Phuoc Tich village has been declared a national heritage by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. With charming residences preserved and friendly people, it does not need more to make a new Phuoc Tich attraction in Hue.
Lang Co Beach
It is a beautiful beach located near a fishing village. In the afternoon, storks gather there, which gave the village the name of Làng Cò under the Nguyen dynasties and the French turned it into Lăng Cô. Today, it is called the beautiful awakening. Lang Co is the habitat f 151 species of fish, 31 species of benthic creatures and many rare and valuable species, such as lobsters, mackerel, cuttlefish, oysters, etc.
Seen from Hai Van Pass, Lang Co Beach is beautiful. It looks like a painting with its lipid waters with its crystal water under the blue sky and surrounded by chains of mountains covered with tropical forests. The Lang Co stretches over 42.5km of coastline with 13km of white sandy beach. The beach consists of beautiful sandy dunes and fringed by palm trees. The sea is clear. During the bathing season from April to July, the temperature is 25oC. One can indulge in volleyball on the beach, go fishing or snorkeling and taste shellfish dishes. For those who love excursions, creeks, streams, lakes and magnificent rocks can be found in a quiet and wild environment. It is a true paradise.
Lang Co Beach has received the title “World Beautiful Bay” during a solemn ceremony held on 6 June in the suburb of Lang Co, Phu Loc district, Thua Thien Hue province. This site thus became the 30th member of the “World’s Most Beautiful Bays” club with those of Ha Long and Nha Trang.
Lang Co has long been known as a beach to enjoy favorable natural conditions. A clear sea, tropical forest and the mysterious Lap An marsh are the charms of this attractive beach.
What to eat
Hue is the place where dining is not only to satisfy human basic needs, but also a form of art. Hue’s gastronomy is elegant, light and noble, different from other regions’ of Vietnam. Spices, especially chili, play an important role in Hue’s cooking and cuisine decorating art. Nowadays, consuming Hue dishes, it will be extremely interesting for everyone to know that they are trying what mostly were served to the Emperor in the past.
One of the dishes that you cannot miss in Hue is “com hen”- rice with baby clams- a very simple and low-priced specialty. A bowl of “com hen” will bring you the sweet-smelling flavor of rice and herbs, mixed with the buttery, sour, bitter taste of spices, grease, baby clams.
Other flour-based dishes are worth trying: banh bot loc (rice pastry with meat and shrimp), banh la cha tom (soft pastry wrapped in leaves with meat, shrimp, and egg), banh hot thit quay (roast pork pastry), banh la (sweet sticky rice wrapped in leaves)… Bun thit nuong (rice vermicelli with grilled meat), Bun bo gio heo (rice vermicelli with beef and pork) are loved by many tourists.
Hue is also famous for its extraordinary special “che”- sweet soups. There are nearly 50 kinds of “che”, from the simple, common to elaborate ones. Four typical kinds of “che” that Hue citizens most proud of are: che khoai tia (purple sweet potatoes sweet soup), che long nhan boc hat sen (longan wrapped in lotus seed sweet soup), che troi nuoc nhan tom thit