Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993, Hué is a charming, laid back, small city on the Perfume River, with old buildings, an interesting citadel, and gateway to the Nguyen Dynasty royal tombs.
The original city of Phu Xuan was built 5 km northeast of Hué, and was named the capital of southern Vietnam in 1744 by the ruling Nguyen clan.
Surviving the Tay Son rebellion, which took over the city from 1786 to 1802, Hué was conquered by Nguyen Anh, who shortly renamed himself Gia Long.
This new Nguyen Dynasty was to rule until 1945.
Hué suffered greatly during the AmeriViet War, both in human terms (thousands were killed during the Tet offensive) and in losses of important historical buildings.
Today, a relaxing ride by xiclo is the best way to see the city, and coffee shops, serving café sua da (iced coffee) offer wonderful respites from the heat.
Building at the Citadel commenced in 1804.
Among the most important structures still standing are the Thai Hoa Palace, Halls of the Mandarins, and part of the Royal Library.
The Forbidden Purple City, residence of the Emperor, was destroyed during the war, and today is the site of vegetable gardens.
A visit to the Nguyen Tombs along the Perfume River is essential.
Through your hotel, you can arrange to rent a small family-operated boat, which will take you to a day's worth of tombs, which line the river at intervals.
Tombs on the tour typically include those of Minh Mang, Tu Doc, Thieu Tri, and Dong Kanh.
They are magnificent large structures containing buildings, statuary, and vegetation, and are among the best examples of Vietnamese architecture in the country.
Each has a separate admission charge of roughly $5 USD, not included in the price of the boat tour.
Eating lunch on the boat is part of the experience, where the kitchen consists of a charcoal brazier hidden in a corner.
You'll eat with the family, and enjoy their hospitality and the playfulness of the children, who are always fascinated by visitors from other countries.
Independently, you may book a boat yourself by going down to the tourist boat dock.
Just outside of town, the seven-storey Thien Mu Pagoda rises above the Perfume River.
One of the most famous structures in Vietnam, it was built in 1844, and is generally included on your boat tour to the Royal Tombs.
Behind the pagoda, you'll find the Austin automobile which carried the monk Thich Quang Duc to Saigon, where he immolated himself, resulting in one of the most famous photographs of the AmeriViet era.
Getting to Hué
Hué is served by the Phu Bai airport, 15 km south of the city, but hosts domestic Vietnamese flights only.
Taxis into town cost roughly $10 USD. Vietnam Airlines minibuses can carry you to and from the airport (inquire at your hotel), or you may take a taxi.
For international arrivals, Da Nang is the closest airport (PB Air flies directly from Bangkok on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday).
Buses are available to take you from the airport at Da Nang to Hué.