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Welcome to Hue City – The capital of the Nguyen emperors

Posted by Helen on 21/07/2017
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Hue City – The capital of the Nguyen emperors still resonates with the glories of imperial Vietnam, even though many of its finest buildings were destroyed during the American War.

Hue owes its charm partly to its location on the Perfume River – picturesque on a clear day, atmospheric even in less flattering weather. Today the city blends new and old as sleek modern hotels tower over crumbling century-old Citadel walls.

A few touts are a minor hassle, but Hue remains a tranquil, conservative city with just the right concentration of nightlife.

Where should you go?

1. Imperial Enclosure – Top choice historic site in Hue

The Imperial Enclosure is a citadel-within-a-citadel, housing the emperor’s residence, temples and palaces, and the main buildings of state, within 6m-high, 2.5km-long walls. What’s left is only a fraction of the original – the enclosure was badly bombed during the French and American Wars, and only 20 of its 148 buildings survived. This is a fascinating site easily worth half a day, but poor signage can make navigation a bit difficult. Restoration and reconstruction are ongoing.


It’s best to approach the sights starting from Ngo Mon Gate and moving anti-clockwise around the enclosure.

2. Ngo Mon GateGate in Hue

The principal entrance to the Imperial Enclosure is Ngo Mon Gate, which faces the Flag Tower. The central passageway with its yellow doors was reserved for the use of the Emperor, as was the bridge across the lotus pond. Others had to use the gates to either side and the paths around the pond. On top of the gate is Ngu Phung (Belvedere of the Five Phoenixes); on its upper level is a huge drum and bell.

The emperor appeared here on important occasions, most notably for the promulgation of the lunar calendar. On 30 August 1945, the Nguyen dynasty ended here when Emperor Bao Dai abdicated to a delegation sent by Ho Chi Minh.

3. Thien Mu Pagoda – Top choice Buddhist temple in Hue

Citadel, this pagoda is an icon of Vietnam and as potent a symbol of Hue as the Citadel. The 21m-high octagonal tower, Thap Phuoc Duyen, was constructed under the reign of Emperor Thieu Tri in 1844. Each of its seven stories is dedicated to a manushi-buddha (a Buddha that appeared in human form). Visit in the morning before tour groups show up.

4.  To Mieu Temple Complex – Top choice Buddhist temple in Hue

About 2m in height and weighing 1900kg to 2600kg each, the urns symbolize the power and stability of the Nguyen throne. The central urn, also the largest and most ornate, is dedicated to dynasty founder Gia Long. Also in the courtyard are two dragons, trapped in what looks like red phone boxes.

On the north side of the complex, a gate leads into a small walled enclosure that houses the Hung To Mieu Temple, a reconstruction of 1804 original, built to honor Gia Long’s parents.

5. Tomb in Hue 

There are many Tomb of Kings in the Nguyen Dynasty: Tomb of Tu Duc, Tomb of Minh Mang, Tomb of Khai Dinh, Tomb of Gia Long, Tomb of Thieu Tri.

Tomb of Tu Duc is most famous in Hue City. This tomb, constructed between 1864 and 1867, is the most popular and impressive of the royal mausoleums. Emperor Tu Duc designed it himself to use before and after his death. The enormous expense of the tomb and the forced labor used in its construction spawned a coup plot that was discovered and suppressed. Tu Duc’s tomb is 5km south of Hue on Van Nien Hill in Duong Xuan Thuong village.

6. National School – Notable building in Hue

One of the most famous high schools in Vietnam, the National School was founded in 1896. Its former pupils include General Vo Nguyen Giap and Ho Chi Minh (who attended for a year in 1908). The National School is probably Vietnam most’s historic school and it’s a wonderful French era complex of building and grounds that retain all of their old world charms.

You can visit the school during lunch break and after classes finish.

7. Royal Theatre – Historic building in Hue

The Royal Theatre, begun in 1826 and later home to the National Conservatory of Music, has been rebuilt on its former foundations. Even when performances aren’t on, it’s free to sit in the plush chairs or examine the fascinating display of masks and musical instruments from Vietnamese theater, with English descriptions.

Cultural performances here last 45 minutes.

Which restaurant should you come?

  • Hanh Restaurant – Top choice Vietnamese in Hue
    Address: 11 Pho Duc Chinh Street, Hue City
    Newbies to Hue specialties, start at this busy restaurant. Order the five-dish set menu (100,000d) for a speedy lesson of banh khoai (savory prawn pancakes), banh beo (steamed rice cakes topped with shrimp and spring onions), and divine nem lui (grilled pork on lemongrass skewers) wrapped in rice paper and herbs. Ask the patient staff how to devour everything.
  • Hang Me Me – Top choice Vietnamese in Hue
    Address: 16 Vo Thi Sau Street, Hue City
    A top, unfussy spot to try Hue’s dizzying menu of royal rice cakes. Serving portions are pretty big, so rustle up a few friends to try the different variations. Our favorite is the banh beo, perfect little mouthfuls topped with spring onions and dried shrimp.
  • Les Jardins de la Carambole
    Address: 32 Dang Tran Con Street, Hue City
    A memorable dining experience, this classy French restaurant occupies a gorgeous colonial-style building in the Citadel quarter. The menu majors in Gallic classics, and a Vietnamese set menu popular with groups. Add a lengthy wine list and informed service and it’s just the place for a romantic meal – arrive by cyclo and it’s easy to roll back the years to Indochine times.

  • Quan Bun Bo Hue – Famous food of Hue

    Address: 17 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, Hue City
    Excellent spot for a hearty bowl of bun bo Hue, the city’s signature noodle dish combining tender beef, vermicelli, and lemongrass. Next door at number 19, Ly Thuong Kiet is equally good. Both sell out by early afternoon.

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