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Hue

Overview

This capitivtng city has a rich history and feels like it’s trapped in an era unto itself. Stone and brick maintain the legacy of Hue, making it hard to define as a contemporary or traditional setting. As Vietnam’s geographical, political, and cultural epicenter, Hue has survived incredible turmoil despite its grandiose eminence. Nowadays, the walls of the city are encased with the solemn yet beautiful charm. With its tumultuous history articulated on its scarred structures, there are plenty of stories concealed in the mildew-covered walls and moss-plagued stone.

The capital was relocated to Hue in 1802 by Gia Long, Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, who invited Vietnam’s most prominent artists and scholars to perfect the city. Based on Oriental philosophy, the Citadel was built at this time. 1803 was when the planning started and in 1832, this ambitious project was finished. Unfortunately, the French brutally attacked Hue in 1885, which destroyed both the library and the Citadel. Worse, several priceless artifacts were seized.

In 1968, the city was attacked yet again in what some call Vietnam War’s worst battle. Destruction, death, and bloodshed wreaked havoc on city over a 26-day span (via the Tet Offensive). The magnitude of these ferocious battles is evident in the tank-damaged structures and bullet-holed walls that remain there. After the battles ended, peace took over the city courtesy of its inhabitants.

The unique artistry of Hue always contains elements of the city’s culture. For example, UNESCO recognizes Nha Nhac as a distinctive music style of the region.

A passionate ambiance emits from the aromatic Perfume River and wafts throughout Hue. Several pagodas and ornate temples that are Buddhism-influenced can be seen all over the city. All of them are designed with detail and situated amidst alluring greenery.

Beautiful Sunset in Perfume River - Hue Vietnam
Beautiful Sunset in Perfume River - Hue Vietnam

See & Do

The Imperial Citadels’ remains are what draws many tourists to this monumental city. Situated on the Perfume River’s north bank, only a portion of the original Citadel continues to stand today. Vietnamese royalty once lived within this structure, which is fortified with rough stone and dignified architecture. The elegance and private sanctuary safeguarded the elite.

The Citadel is surrounded by a Perfume River-fed gully, which served as the initial defense line against enemy soldiers during several battles. Parallel rings make up this complex. Hue Capital Citadel (aka Kinh Thanh Hue) resides on the furthest exterior layer, where you will find 24 defense bastions barricading the walls. The Royal Citadel (aka Hoang Thanh) is housed inside, and is where the Royals studied, slept, and prayed. At one time, it inhabited a number of ornate gardens and temples that hosted all kinds of lavish festivities. The luxurious Ngo Mon Gate was at one time only to be used by the King, but today, is accessible to tourists. At the structure’s core is the exclusive and hidden Forbidden Citadel (Tu Cam Thanh), a place where only the Emperor and his loved ones were allowed in. Legend has it that the temple contained some very intriguing secrets.

Imperial City Hue Vietnam
Imperial City Hue Vietnam

Father time has taken its toll on the houses, the pagodas, and gardens. When Hue was attacked by the French, destruction to the structures started and progressed over time. The architecture also took a hit during the vicious Tet Offensive in 1968. The dematerialized zone’s nearby proximity and political status made Hue ripe for the picking by American soldiers and their bombs. While some areas have been restored, the battle scars are still apparent in the bullet-shot walls, most of which have tumbled down. Little-to-no upkeep has resulted in deterioration – there is notable mold and mildew visible, along with chipped, dull paint all over the walls. If nothing else, the setting makes for an evocative environment.

While there is no shortage of sites to take in from the Citadel, events that transpired there remain moderately undiscussed. If you are interested in the area’s history, it is worthwhile to bring a well-informed guide with you.

Originating from a pair of sources in the mountain range of Day Trung Son is the Perfume River. Several of Hue’s main attractions are on its path, including gardens, pagodas, and tombs of emperors that have long passed. The river’s name is influenced by the fragrant aromas that emit from blooming orchids in the fall season. The water and the flowers integrate at the height of their elegance, producing an aroma that can only be described as celestial. Transportation can consist of a small rowboat if you wish to do some exploration on your own, or you can ride a colorful wooden tour boat with other travellers. At nighttime the river is reflective of lights that scatter throughout the bank.

Thien Mu Pagoda - Hue Vietnam
Thien Mu Pagoda – Hue Vietnam

Because most of the inhabitants of Hue are Buddhists, you’ll find peaceful pagodas and temples all over the city that you can enter to do some self-reflection. Thien Mu Pagoda is one of the oldest temples in Hue. As one of Vietnam’s tallest pagodas, it reaches an extraordinary seven stories in height, and looks over the Perfume River.

The pagoda is situated inside a lovely garden encompassed by bright vegetation, producing a surrounding sense of tranquility. The pagoda played a key role in Vietnam’s Buddhist history. The haunting and infamous picture of Thich Quang Duc, the protesting monk who immolated himself in his stance against the Diem regime, is hung on a wall covered up by his rusty blue Austin. The upheaval this place has endured has been memorialized for remembrance.

Tu Hieu Pagoda is another recommended site. The place has some notoriety because of its association with Thich Nhat Hanh, who, at only 16 years of age, joined the monastery. Years later, the Buddhist monk became world-renowned for his activism. The intimidating gate brings you to meticulously maintained grounds, which includes a lotus pond. Each day, the monks come here to meditate, and their chants are heard throughout the pine forest encompassing the pagoda.

Bao Quoc Pagoda is also worth visiting to see the dedication and poise of practicing Buddhist monks. The tranquil area is situated above Ham Long, an unimposing hill on Perfume River’s south bank. You’ll find a training monastery there, which has been stationed in the pagoda since 1935.

You can delve deep into Hue’s regal history by visiting tombs of esteemed leaders who opted for burial on these grounds. Khai Dinh’s emperor tomb is one of Hue’s most magnificent sites. Dirt and mildew speckle the exterior stone beside weathered stone statues. Things are quite different within the tomb though; the main building’s interior is lavishly adorned with ornate artwork and mosaics. Also displayed in the tomb are Oriental and European influences that Khai Dinh took a liking to. Mind you, the emperor’s intimacy with the French government was not something his people were fond of.

Tu Duc’s tomb is also worth visiting. It is encompassed by ravishing gardens that the emperor spent a lot of time in. Within the gardens is a glass-like lily pad-covered lake and a modest island that the Emperor used to hunt in. Tu Duc design the tomb himself, but wasn’t buried here for the sake of protecting his treasures from being stolen by grave robbers.

Tu Duc Tomb - Hue Vietnam
Tu Duc Tomb – Hue Vietnam

Close to Hue is Bach Ma National Park. This eloquent area had also been devastated by war in the past, serving as a hillside station for the French. The safeguarded area is situated in the Annamite Mountain Range. It contains an impressive biodiversity level because of its differing terrains.

Culture & Arts

Influenced by the Nguyen Dynasty’s political views, several renowned artists and scholars were attracted to the Citadel, as well as a number of Confucianism followers.

Nha Nhac – a Vietnamese-inspired style of court music and dancing, is an art form that both the Nguyen and Le Dynasties developed. Nha Nhac has since been classified by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This style of refined dance and music was performed at many official ceremonies and events. Those who performed wore exquisite uniforms intricately decorated. Song and dance performances historically have been paired by orchestras using cultural instruments to play conventional Vietnamese music. This cosmopolitan ensemble has been fined-tuned over the years, so to speak, as performers are obligated to sing or dance with precision and without error. Doing so is considered a way to communicate with the gods (in addition to being an enjoyable form of entertainment).

The ideal setting to take in Hue’s rich conventional culture is at the Royal Theater, a recently restored venue that originally opened for business in 1826. Travelers now have the option to watch cultural shows that entertained the country’s elite at one point in time. Tourists are also encouraged to explore the theater when ceremonies aren’t performed, as there are a variety of riveting artifacts on display.

At the Royal Fine Arts Museum, you can browse the artistry of Hue depicting historical moments. On display are some of the Nguyen Dynasty’s best art pieces. You can gain insight into Vietnamese Royalty’s refined style and learn how creative preferences have changed over time.

Built in 1896, the National School is an unconventional venue to get a sense of the city’s culture. This unique French-era structure is renowned for its remarkable alumni list. General Vo Nguyen Giap and Ho Chi Minh are a couple of examples of former students. Others include Ngo family members (their leader – South Vietnam’s president – was assassinated in his eighth serving year). Travelers are encouraged to walk around the grounds, but only after class is out of session, as the school remains operational.

 

Old brick Thanh Toan bridge
Old brick Thanh Toan bridge

Festivals & Events

Hue’s political and royal history leaves behind a tradition of fascinating and enjoyable festivals. When the medieval reign was taking place, the King hosted andwas a guest of a number of festivals all year long, all of which celebrated a unique aspect of culture in Vietnam.

The new lunar year’s first day starts with trading in Hue’s Phu Vang District. This day isn’t so much about turning a profit as it is to wish for luck in the year to come. Merchants from all surrounding regions come together for the most important trading day of the entire year.

Truc Lam Bach Ma monastery in Bach Ma mountain - Hue Vietnam
Truc Lam Bach Ma monastery in Bach Ma mountain – Hue Vietnam

After the conventional Tet celebrations, Phu Mau inhabitants gather in Phu Vang for the Wrestling Festival. These exciting and lively events take place on the lunar calendar’s 10thday in January. People unite to promote strength and health for the coming year. It is an opportunity for the locals to begin the new year on the right foot by revitalizing their spirits and health.

On January 12, people assemble in the encompassing waters to engage in fishing festivities, paying homage to those who fished before them. Hordes of people come to Thuan An Beach to participate in activities involving conventional fishing-centric games, to pray for fishing crop abundance, and for religious worship. After engaging in colorful games, the waterfront is the next destination to see rowing boat displays.

The Losing of the War Festival is a solemn commemoration that takes place each year. Its purpose is to remember those who died at the start of the French invasion in 1883. There is an evocative and somber ambiance that blankets the city, as families unite to show respect to the dead. A battle that lasted 20 days lead to many lives lost, and eventually, the Citadel being reoccupied by the French. The festival, which started in 1885, takes place each year on the lunar calendar’s 23rdday in March. Outside of their homes, families across the city fill tables with all sorts of culturally-inspired food. This allows people to unite families, promote safety, and remember the fallen.

Traditional Nha Nhac Hue Vietnam
Traditional Nha Nhac Hue Vietnam

On September 2, a boat racing festival takes place. Vietnamese National Day also takes place on the same date. People assemble along the Perfume River to cheer on competing racing teams. Set in Quoc Hoc at the back of the National School, this race observes the freedom and independence Vietnam achieved in 1975. Strength and health are promoted during this festival, displaying unity among the inhabitants of Vietnam.

These are but a few of the many remarkable festivals that take place in the city. Hue is diverse and rich with history, and its religious setting inspires a series of festivities all year long to commemorate all the facets, conventions, and culture of Vietnam.

Hue’s newest commemorative event is the widely popular Biennial Hue Festival, which is a celebration of Vietnam’s diverse culture. Programs are comprised of stunning performances from a slew of Vietnamese artists. This sensational event allures millions of tourists, each one enthralled by the displays they are exposed to. The festival takes place every other year in April, filling the city streets with excitement, music, and color.

The Hue International Cuisine Festival is an offshoot of this event, and it takes place in Phu Xuan Park. Isles of delectable foods are found in stalls, there scents wafting through the air, giving patrons no shortage of food options.

Tourists also have the opportunity to take in cooking demonstrations so they can learn more about the culture and preparation of each meal.

To see these and other features of Hue, you can book a tour directly on our website.

Food & Drink

Bun Bo Hue is a conventional dish that Hue is famous for. This mouth-watering Vietnamese food has a connection to the royal court. It is comprised of noodles and soup, much like pho, but with a taste of its own. It has just the right mix of spicy, sour, salty, and sweet elements. The delicious dark broth is integrated with noodles – along with a portion of meat – with fresh, sweet-smelling herbs covering it.

Com Hen is almost exclusively consumed in Hue. This dish is a mix of chili broth and hot mussel poured over an array of vegetables and rice mussels, giving it an insatiable and rich flavor. As with so many of Hue’s native foods, this dish is notorious for being quite spicy, while the primary ingredients, excluding the broth, are refreshing. This is quite a flavor-fickle dish.

Banh Khoai is another must-eat dish in Hue. This is a savory, crispy pancake that is colored and seasoned with two Merrick, and filled with vegetables, shrimp, and pork. Portions include garnishes and dipping sauces. Banh Khoai is served just about all over Hue, including at food carts on the street as well as dine-in restaurants.

Rice Cake - A specialty of Hue Vietnam
Rice Cake - A specialty of Hue Vietnam

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