Palaces and pagodas, tombs and temples, culture and cuisine, history and heartbreak – there’s no shortage of poetic pairings to describe Hue (pronounced ‘hway’), ordained by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1993. This capital of the Nguyen emperors is where tourists come to see something of old, pre-communist Vietnam, even though none of the buildings are older than 150 years and many of them have borne the brunt of war and neglect.
Hue owes its charm partly to its location on the Perfume River (Song Huong) – picturesque on a clear day, sleekly mysterious even in less flattering weather. There’s always restoration work going on to recover some of its lost imperial splendour, but the city is very much a jumble of new and old. Modern homes sit cheek by jowl with crumbling century-old Citadel walls, while colourless new hotels tower over stately colonial-era properties.
The city of Hue lies along either side of the river. The north side is dominated by the Citadel and has a quieter, local feel. The south side, once a French enclave, has most of the hotels and restaurants. Aside from the Citadel, the other imperial landmarks and sightseeing spots are scattered across the countryside.
Recommended things to do & see
Our top picks for Hue
Museum of Royal Fine Arts
The beautiful hall that houses the Museum of Royal Fine Arts was built in 1845 and restored when the museum was founded in 1923. The walls are inscribed with poems written in nom (Vietnamese script). The most precious artefacts were lost during the American War, but the ceramics, furniture and royal clothing that remain are well worth the visit. The outside courtyard has interesting ceremonial cannons, stone court sculptures and large brass bells and vats.
To Mieu Temple
On the other side of the courtyard is the long, low, red and gold To Mieu Temple itself. Inside are shrines to each of the emperors, topped by their photos. Under the French only the seven liked by the colonial power were thus honoured - Ham Nghi, Thanh Thai and Duy Tan were only added in 1959. The temple is flanked on the right by a small robing house and on the left by a shrine to a soil god.
Thai Hoa Palace
Built in 1803, Thai Hoa Palace is a spacious hall with an ornate timber roof supported by 80 carved and lacquered columns. It was used for the emperor's official receptions and other important court ceremonies, such as anniversaries and coronations. During state occasions, the emperor sat on his elevated throne and his mandarins paid homage.
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