Vietnam’s stunning imperial capital
Hue, the capital of Thua Thien–Hue Province in north central Vietnam, has a grand imperial past. It was the centre of the Nguyen Empire, a feudal dynasty that lasted from the 17th to the 19th centuries. After Emperor Nguyen Phuc Anh gained control over the whole of Vietnam in 1802, Hue was for a time capital of the entire country.
Today, palaces and temples, tombs and pagodas – many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites – surround the city and bring back the ghosts and glories of graceful city’s imperial history. But Hue is also quickly modernising with contemporary hotels and sleek bars catering to ever-growing numbers of international travellers. The Thien Mu Pagoda, one of Vietnam’s icons, is a must-see, while a sunrise stroll along the Perfume River is the best way to enjoy the city’s more meditative side.
Things to do
Although much of the atmospheric Imperial Enclosure opens in new window is now in ruins, the citadel is well worth a visit to catch a glimpse of 17th-century Vietnam. Must-see sights include the principal entrance at Ngo Mon Gate and the To Mieu Temple Complex in the southwest corner.
Located on a hill overlooking the Perfume River, the Thien Mu Pagoda opens in new window (or Pagoda of the Celestial Lady) is an icon of Vietnam. Construction of the complex began in 1601 and continued for over 200 years. It stretches north from the river banks in seven tiers, each dedicated to a human form taken by the Buddha.
Over the bridge
The beautiful Thanh Toan Bridge, dating from the 18th century, has Chinese and Japanese features, with a rare squared timber arch sprinkled with ancient ceramics. It’s about 7km from Hue, in a lovely rural setting that’s worth the trek.
On the west bank of Perfume River about 12km from Hue is the majestic tomb of Minh Mang. The complex includes the Honour Courtyard and the Sung An Temple, dedicated to Minh Mang and his empress.
Row your boat
Get a taste of the floating life on the Perfume River by taking a boat tour. Most group tours take passengers to the Thien Mu Pagoda, Hon Chen Temple and selected mausoleums (entrance fees are extra). You can also charter a boat from the boat wharf beside the Trang Tien Bridge.
Distance to city centre 14km
Taxi A metered taxi should take about 40 minutes and cost around VND 250,000.
Shuttle A shuttle bus travels into the city centre; you can buy a ticket for VND 50,000 (and find out where to catch it) in the airport arrivals hall.
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When to go
Hue has a tropical monsoon climate that is often rainy year round – be sure to bring an umbrella or raincoat. The dry season lasts from March to August with highs ranging from 35°C to 40°C while the rainy season lasts from September to January.
Every two years, the huge Festival of Hue takes place sometime between April and June. The festival often includes a line-up of local and international artists and performers as well as much-anticipated events such as the Hue Poetry Festival.
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Hue’s city centre can be easily explored on foot and it’s easy to find bicycles to rent for around VND 30,000 per day. You can hire motorbikes for around VND 100,000 per day – make sure you hire or buy a helmet, too. Taxis and motorcycles taxis are plentiful; taxis should use their meter, and be sure you negotiate the fare for your motorcycles taxi trip before getting on – any trip within Hue should cost no more than VND 20,000.
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