Thua Thien - Hue Province is located in Central Vietnam, its capital city being Hue. The province abuts the Truong Son mountain range and has a 120km coastline. It lies approximately 700 km south of Hanoi and about 1100 km north of Ho Chi Minh City, (Saigon). The population of Hue is more than 1.1m (year 2013) and populated predominantly with Kinh but also Ta Oi, Co Tu and Bru-Van ethnic groupings
Hue is a quiet and attractive city home to some of Vietnam’s most impressive historic remnants. Hue rose to prominence as the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty, which dominated much of southern Vietnam during the 17th - 19th century. In 1802, Nguyen Phu Anh (later Emperor Gia Long) succeeded in establishing control over the whole of Vietnam, making Hue the national capital where it remained until 1945.
Hue is renowned for having many historical attractions and in 1993 it was recognised as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The province accommodates the Tam Giang - Cau Hai Lagoon, the largest lagoon in Southeast Asia, some 68 km in length. There is 128 km of coastline and mountains cover over half the total surface of the province varying in height from 500 to 1480 meters. Lower hills between 20 to 400 meters, occupy about a third of the province's area. In between the hills there are many lagoons. Plains account for about a tenth of the surface area.
Hue features a tropical monsoon climate. The dry season is from March to August, with high temperatures of 35–40°C. The rainy season is from August to January, with a flood season from October, onwards. The average rainy season temperature is 20C but call fall as low as 9C, Spring lasts from January to late February. The average annual rainfall for Hue is 3,200mm (127 ins). October to March are the best months to visit, July and August can be extremely hot and also coincide with the high season for domestic travellers.
Owing to its rich historical past, Thua Thien - Hue is highly attractive to tourists as there is much to see: the magnificent Hue Citadel, hundreds of pagodas, Tombs of Emperors, sandy beaches as well as a traditional cultural heritage, sophisticated handicrafts and culinary art (many dishes and cakes are exclusive to this area). Hue is also home to “Nha Nhac” – Vienamese Court Music which was recognised as UNESCO World Intangible Heritage in 2003. Hue has long been an important centre of Buddhism, the area is home to numerous temples and pagodas constructed over 300 years ago.
The provincial capital of Thừa Thiên – Huế was one of the imperial capitals of Vietnam that has largely remained intact despite á turbulent history which includes some significant battles.
Some of the main attractions include:
Forbidden Purple City, this royal structure, surrounded by a 10km moat, sits at the centre of Hue’s Imperial Enclosure, was once reserved for the usage of the Nguyen Dynasty Emperor. Only eunuchs could pass through its halls, as even the most trusted servants weren’t allowed beyond the 10 gates to the royal grounds. The construction was based on the Forbidden City in Beijing. Much of the historic citadel is now sadly in ruins, destroyed during several wars. Rebuilding works are underway and travellers can easily spend some pleasant time walking the the grounds, exploring portions of the foundations, and examining the painting, woodwork and architecture that still remains.
The Citadel (Dai Noi) Constructed in 1804 facing the Huong River to the East, the fortress was designed for Emperor Gia Long, it is surrounded by a moat and defensive barrier. The Imperial Enclosure is accessible by crossing one of the 10 pedestrian bridges into the once royal land. Entry is via the Ngo Mon (Noon) Gate, once reserved for those in power, then past the impressive Flag Tower (Cot Co) the nation’s tallest flagpole. The Citadel is open daily from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Tinh Tam Lake, built in the 19th Century and located just North of the Forbidden Purple city, is one of the most famous sites in Hue. Rectangular and surrounded by manmade walls, the lake was once the preserve of Vietnamese royalty. The lake was a major achievement in landscape design at the time.
Perfume River (Song Huong River) got its name as each autumn, blossoms and resins from the bank side orchards fall into the river, and produce a unique fragrance. The unpolluted waters provide a welcome breeze for cyclists riding along the banks. The River offers a perfect backdrop for a sunset and see the evening city come to life. beer??? on a late-afternoon dragon boat ride through Hue. Many visitors take a boat ride along the Perfume River where local musicians and singers perform in traditional dress. Candle lanterns are also released on to the waters providing a serene and peaceful spectacle. Prices vary for these boat rides so it might be necessary to barter and shop around for the best deal.
The journey over Hai Van Pass between Danang and Hue is through jungle-clad mountains offering panoramic views out to sea. Known as one of the best coastal roads in the world for driving, the 21-km-long Hai Van Pass rises up to 1,600 feet high Hai Van translates to Ocean Cloud, in reference to the mists which often rise up the slopes from the sea below. Once a natural boundary, the top of the pass retains a number of lookout points which offer spectacular views. A second road was built in 2005 which incorporates the Hai Van tunnel and saves an hour of travel time. The new road has made the Hai Van Pass a quieter scenic route, though there are still truckers required to use the longer route as well as the sightseers and local users.
Thien Mu Pagoda is regarded as the unofficial symbol of Hue, stands seven stories high it is an impressive structure. This working monastery is still home to Buddhist scholars. Thich Quang Duc who was the first Buddhist clergy member to self-immolate in 1963 to bring attention to the persecution of Buddhists by the Diem Regime. He drove from Thien Mu to Saigon to make his sacrifice. The car he drove in made famous in the background of the Malcolm Wilde Browne photograph of the event can still be viewed at the Pagoda.
Hue’s Royal Tombs, The Emporer’s tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty are located to the south of Hue along the banks of the Perfume River. They provide examples of the royal art and architecture of the time, as mostly they built during the life time of the Emperors. The tombs include ones for Gia Long, Minh Mang, Tu Duc, Khai Dinh, Duc Duc, Dong Khanh and Thieu Tri, The three which are frequently visited by domestic and international travellers alike are:
Tu Duc’s tomb is located in Thuong Ba village, and is considered one of the most outstanding of royal tombs. Built in 1864, it houses 50 monuments surrounded by a 1500m wall. Emperor Tu Duc ruled for 35 years and oversaw the tomb being constructed, within the scenic pine forest, to include a magnificent lake and pavilion complex, which retains a strong impression today.
Khai Dinh’s tomb is situated on the slope of Chau Chu mountain took 11 years to complete in 1931. Khai Dinh’s tomb is unusually a mixture of several architectural trends: European and Asian, ancient and modern. The tomb is a rectangle structure with 127 steps leading to it up a mountain slope. Using concrete, as a then modern, building material and utilising ceramic fragments and glass for decoration, Khai Dinh’s tomb can be regarded as a significant example of Eastern and Western fusion art that also distinguishes it from other royal tombs.
Minh Mang’s tomb is 12km from Hue, on Cam Ke mount, begun construction in 1840, but was still incomplete when Minh Mang died. His son and successor, Emperor Thieu Tri continued the building according to the original plans. Ten thousand soldiers and artisans were recruited to complete the project. The architecturally majestic and symmetrical building was completed in 1843 complete with a further 40 monuments of various sizes.
Hue cuisine is distinctive to the region, although hotly contested many Vietnamese regard it as one of the best in the country. Hue tradition requires that meals are aesthetically pleasing in presentation in order to create a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
Examples of Hue specialties include:
Com Hen (rice with mussel) contains rice, boiled mussels, star fruit, fish sauce, cabbage, onion, pepper, peanut, chilli, and a variety of herbs, served cold with a hot broth. Com Hen is rather spicy in flavour
Bun Bo Hue is a popular Vietnamese soup vermicelli dish, and one of the most typical foods of Hue. Hue people usually add thin slices of beef shank, chunks of boiled oxtail, and pig's knuckles or pork into the bowl. (It can also contain slices of congealed pig blood). The specialty is usually served with a plenty of herbs like sprouts, lime wedges, onions, and sliced banana blossom. Some diners also add some fermented shrimp paste (Mam Tom) directly into the soup.
Banh Beo (water fern cake) is a type of small steamed rice pancake. The name is a reference to shape of the cake - water fern-Beo in Vietnamese. It is white in colour, sometimes nearly transparent and is covered with savoury ingredients including chopped dried or fresh shrimp, scallions, mung bean paste, crispy fried shallots, fish sauce or rice vinegar.
Banh khoai (pancake) is made from rice flour, water, turmeric powder, added slivers of fatty pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and then pan fried. Banh khoai is wrapped in mustard leaf, lettuce leaves or rice paper, and stuffed with variety of herb, like mint leaves, basil and served with a sweet and sour mixed sauce. In Hue, Banh khoai is served with a fermented soy bean sauce. It is considered a winter food due to the greasiness and spicy nature of the sauce.
Transportation by train, road, air and water are very convenient to Hue. Visitors can take Highway 1A from Hue to Danang and Hoi An. Thua Thien - Hue Province is 654km from Hanoi, 1,051km from Ho Chi Minh City, 85km from Danang. The province also has the Highway 14 that linking Hue to the Central Highlands. Highway 1 that connects Hanoi and Ca Mau passes via Hue and it forms a useful stopping point.
Airport Phu Bai airport is located close to Highway 1 about 15 km from Hue city. It takes 15-20 minutes to get to the city from the airport by taxi. The airport also offers a bus service to cover the route which can be booked at the airport although it's not always available.
Railway Hue station on Le Loi street is just 1 km from the city centre. Hue is an express stop on the main north-south train line between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (and vice versa). Express trains are numbered with an SE prefix, and local trains, which cost less but take a lot longer, are prefixed TN. The latter may be the only choice if the destination station is not an express stop. Varying price rates are available, depending on the speed of the train, and whether purchasing sitting or sleeping accommodation etc.
Bike It is possible to hire a motorbike as a reasonable rate and join the locals as they travel along the main roads and cross the bridges going about their routine daily journeys. Although the traffic in Hue is less intense than Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, new arrivals should should still familiarise themselves with the way traffic works.
Cycling is also a good option Hue with plenty of bikes available for hire.
Hiring a motorbike with driver (Xe Om) is also an option. It will be necessary to haggle over the price before you accept the journey so you must know your destination. The hotels usually have connections to freelance riders who might be happy to make the arrangements.
Cyclo the local versions of the trishaw, with the passenger in front of the cyclist. The cyclo is commonly found in Hue but be prepared to haggle for reasonable prices as drivers tend to quote indiscriminately.
On foot Hue is quite compact, so it is possible to reach most places on foot - but transportation is required to reach the Royal Tombs.
Bus Hue is serviced by two main bus stations. The main bus terminal: Dong Da and the Southern Bus Station: Phia Nam terminal which is in Cuu An ward.
Taxi like other Vietnamese cities, Hue is well serviced by several taxi companies.Taxi drivers are usually but not universally honest.
Hotels and Travel Agents can arrange for private car hire for larger groups.
There is a good range of cheap traveller hotels and mid-market hotels in Hue, as well as number of larger luxury hotels offer spectacular river views. The largest cluster is found around Pham Ngu Lao (including Le Loi, Hung Vuong, Chu Van An, Nguyen Cong Tru).
Free WiFi is available just about everywhere in Hue, even the cheapest guesthouses will offer free use of an in-house computer as well as WiFi throughout the building, although coverage can be rather sporadic. The local internet cafes spread across the town offer fast access at a cheap price but can be noisy places.