The ancient Hue, located on the bank of the Huong River, was recognized by UNESCO as one of the World Heritage Sites. This city is the cradle of Vietnamese culture and used to be the national capital, educational, cultural and political center of Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty.
Hue’s unique history is appealing to any history buff.
Home to national treasures, including complex of temples, pagodas, tombs, and monuments, this riverfront town welcomes millions of tourists arriving annually to see these fascinating sites. Although the American troops had destroyed many historic structures in the past, Hue does retain its charming beauty.
Besides antique sites, Hue also offers some exquisite beaches like Lang Co and Thuan An. A few mineral hot springs available are My An and Thanh Tan. Hue deserves at least a couple of days to visit.
When looking for what to do in Hue, Vietnam it pays to know more about it. Right in the middle of Vietnam, Hue was the capital for 143 years (1802 – 1945), so there are many cool things to do in Hue. It is a city rich in history. Hue is home to 7 imperial tombs as well as the ancient imperial city. During the Vietnam war, Hue suffered badly.
The “Battle of Hue” was one of the longest and deadliest battles. Along with human casualties, many historic sites were damaged or destroyed. The best things to do in Hue, Vietnam are related to its history, Buddhism, culture and natural environment.
The city has also long been the center of Buddhism in Vietnam and several major events during the Buddhist Crisis of 1963 are connected to Hue. Add to the historical significance of the city, the beautiful landscape, and breathtaking monuments. It seems like everywhere you turn in Hue there is something new to learn about and explore!
Hai Van Pass in Hue, Vietnam
If you are driving to Hue from Da Nang, you have two options. The first is to take the Hai Van Tunnel. Hai Van Tunnel is the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia at a length of 6.28 km. The other option is to take the Hai Van Pass – one of the best things to do in Hue, Vietnam.
If you don’t know what to do in Hue with your spare day. Hai Van Pass is a mountain road which takes you up and down and around the coastline. The views are spectacular, and this is a route that is incredibly popular with people traveling by motorbike in the area. Drivers and tour buses park for a few moments at the highest peak of the pass to take in the view and stretch their legs. Hai Van Pass is known to all travelers as one of the most exciting things to do in Hue, Vietnam.
Not only known for its beauty, but the pass is also known for its danger and difficulty (a reason why the Hai Van Tunnel was built). At times the sharp curves make it completely impossible to see oncoming traffic. Often the road is covered in thick fog. There are cement railings to help prevent falls off of the mountain into the ocean, but they are broken in places. Occasionally you pass shrines marking where travelers met their end. If you are not careful, this could become one of the most dangerous things to do in Hue, Vietnam! Not to mention a cow or two and motorists driving like they are racing along a flat country road. Is it worth the trip? You bet!
Hue, Vietnam Imperial City
One of the more historic things to do in Hue Vietnam. This walled fortress and palace were once the home of Vietnam’s emperors. Also called “The Citadel” the palace grounds are surrounded by an impressive moat filled with waterlilies. Much of the structure was damaged in battles, but the restoration is ongoing. Once inside you can see different buildings in their original, restored and damaged stages. Once you know about the Imperial City, it’s easy to decide what to do in Hue!
Make sure your taxi driver drops you off at the correct gate! There is only one entrance to the Imperial City but some taxi drivers like to pretend that they don’t know that tourists wish to be dropped off at the main gate.
Hue Provincial Museum
Are you wondering what to do in Hue to beat the crowds? Just a little down the street from the Imperial City is the Hue Provincial Museum. The museum is in bad need of maintenance. The grass hasn’t been cut in ages, and there are holes in the walkways. There is an indoor museum with photos and artefacts but few English explanations. Considering the significance of the battles which took place in Hue the museum doesn’t do the memory justice. With just a little effort, this could be one of the most interesting things to do in Hue, Vietnam.
If you are interested in history or wars then the museum is worth a quick visit. It is easy just to pop over if you are already visiting the Imperial City and it costs only about $1. In the front grounds, they have several tanks, planes and a helicopter from the Vietnam War. There are placards in both Vietnamese and English explaining where the vehicle was captured and from whom which are quite fascinating. In particular, children from both local and tourist families seemed to be thrilled to be able to check it all out without the crowds.
The Perfume River in Hue, Vietnam
Not sure what to do in Hue that’s perfect for a romantic couple’s day out? Through the center of Hue flows the Perfume River. Many tourists choose to take a boat tour along the river. Passengers can enjoy the river views, have a meal and visit some of the major tourist sites around the area that are accessible by boat.
Another way to take in the river is to stroll along the walkways along the river’s edge. In the morning joggers take their morning runs here and in the evening the area becomes transformed. Little shops and restaurants that were closed during the day open at sunset and lanterns are lit.
Families gather to chat and play. Vendors sell snacks, and small toys and some musicians can be heard.
Khai Dinh Tomb
The Khai Dinh Tomb is the last of the imperial tombs in Vietnam. The tomb took 11 years to build and was completed in 1931. Despite being quite a recent addition, Khai Dinh Tomb is one of the more popular tombs in the area.
In his lifetime Emperor Khai Dinh spent some time in France. As a result, the tomb is a mixture of both Eastern and Western designs.
A climb up 127 steps up the side of the mountain will bring you to the temple fortified by statue guards. Once inside visitors are in awe of the walls which the builders adorned with images inlaid in glass and porcelain. This view from the top is one of the most spectacular things to do in Hue, Vietnam.
Minh Mang Tomb
How did emperors decide what to do in Hue? Simple, they just built tombs to commemorate themselves! The tomb of Emperor Minh Mang is another of the more popular tombs in Hue. Unlike Emperor Khai Dinh’s tomb which took more than a decade to complete, they completed this tomb in only three years. Emperor Minh Mang started construction of the tomb in September 1840 but passed away around four months later.
You would never suspect that they had completed the tomb so quickly, though. As well as the beautiful architecture, the grounds include landscaped lakes, canals and gardens. Of all the things to do in Hue, Vietnam this tomb is one of the most beautiful.
Visitors to the grounds of the tomb can freely explore most of the sites, but they only open the gate to the tomb once a year on the anniversary of Emperor Minh Mang’s death.
Thien Mu Pagoda
Overlooking the Perfume River on Ha Khe Hill, the seven-story Thien Mu Pagoda is the tallest religious building in Vietnam. The temple itself was established at the location in 1601, but the tower was later constructed in 1844.
The temple grounds are not only beautiful, but it is also a site of political significance. During the “Buddhist Crisis” of 1963, the Catholic government cracked down on Buddhism in the country, despite the majority of Vietnamese being Buddhist at the time. When the government shot nine unarmed Buddhists in Hue, Thein Mu Pagoda became an organizing point for those involved in the movement. When the government refused appeals for religious equity, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc drove to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and in protest, sacrificed himself by setting himself on fire.
Malcolm Browne captured the event in a world-famous photograph. In the back of the photo, you can see the car which Thich Quang Duc drove. If you don’t know to look for it, you may even miss it, but tucked to the side in a building behind the main prayer hall of Thien Mu Pagoda the car sits on display commemorating those events. A visit top this historic pagoda, with these events in mind, will be one of the more poignant things to do in Hue, Vietnam.
A person can eat so very well in the Vietnamese city of Hue. Located in the center of the long, narrow country, between the Perfume River and the South China Sea, it served as the country’s capital until 1945, and is still known as the Imperial City. Hue was also the site of some of the most destructive and mind-changing battles of the Vietnam War (known locally as the American War). With such a rich history, the city claims several distinctive dishes — from small and delicate creations originally created to please the appetites of Nguyen feudal lords, emperors (and their hundreds of wives) — to lusty, fiery street-level soups and sausages with complex, explosive and satisfying flavors. Here are the dishes I saw, and ate again and again, on a recent visit to Hue.
Finely ground beef and pork, plus shredded pork skin and fat, garlic, sugar and fish sauce are formed into sausages around stalks of lemongrass, grilled over charcoal and set in front of diners. This is serve with half-moons of rice paper (for wrapping around the meat), to which you add sliced lettuce, cucumbers and trai va (a green fig unique to the region), lightly pickled strings of carrot and green papaya, cold rice vermicelli and a pile of herbs. Then, it’s basically grip and dip: Hold the whole package securely and pull out the lemongrass skewer, then dip it into a chunky, mild-yet-complex hoisin-based sauce that includes both peanuts and peanut butter, fermented beans, sesame seeds, shrimp paste, garlic and shallots. Add chiles to taste. Many restaurants’ menus offer nem lui, along with a selection of banh, spring rolls and maybe a grilled meat and vermicelli dish. There is a particularly fresh and tasty version of nem lui available at Tai Phu restaurant (located at the corner of Dien Bien Phu and Nguyen Hue streets).
Bun Bo Hue
Have you noticed that even people who’d be hard-pressed to find Vietnam on a map can now make a knowing, correctly pronounced reference to pho? That is, of course, a good development, reflecting a growing awareness and appreciation of Vietnamese cuisine. It’s time for everyone to learn about another soup, the equally delicious but very different Bun Bo Hue (called simply Bun Bo locally), which features round rice noodles, as opposed to pho’s flat ones, mixed into a stock made from beef and/or pork bones, flavored with lemongrass, annatto seeds, ginger, fermented shrimp paste, sugar and chiles. Cubes of congealed pig blood, called huyet, float alongside slices of beef or pork shank and/or knuckles — with mung bean sprouts, lime wedges, green and white onions, sliced banana blossoms, chile paste and fistfuls of rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), mint and sawtooth herb are offered alongside.
Like many of the dishes in this list, Bun Bo Hue is ubiquitous in and around city, where many, many homes double as shops and restaurants: business in the front, family in the back. That being said, there’s a very satisfying and hearty version, augmented with crab balls, served at the food stalls in the center of Dong Ba Market, a very good one at the comfortable (read: full-sized chairs and tables) Quan So I (19 Ly Thuong Kiet), and I happened across a woman selling an excellent variation that included noodles and penne pasta, oddly enough, on the sidewalk outside a storefront on Tran Thuc Nhan street between Phan Boi Chau and Nguyen Hue streets.
The name means “clam rice” — a rather understated label for a chaotic bowl of contrasting colors, tastes and textures: rice or rice noodles, tender stir-fried clams, crisp pork cracklings, peanuts, bean sprouts, julienned green apples, glass noodles, fried shallots and herbs, with a bowl of hot clam broth that you can add as you wish. This dish is easily found walking or motoring around Hue, especially along the three-block Truong Dinh Street, and at the corner of Nguyen Thai Hoc and Ba Trieu, where a vendor sets up shop outdoors under a series of tarps strung with lights.
This crunchy rice flour crepe, made bright yellow with a healthy shake of turmeric and extra-crispy due to sugar and carbonated water in the batter, is a smaller, thicker version of the banh xeo you see in the southern part of Vietnam (and on the menus of many Vietnamese restaurants in the States). The crepe is pan-fried and typically stuffed with shrimp and pork belly or sausage (cha lua) that have been cooked in garlic, along with scallions, bean sprouts and, as in the case of the ones sold at Dong Ba Market, a quail egg. The crepe is served with hoisin-based dipping sauce, lettuce, cucumbers, trai va, mint, rau ram, cilantro, perilla and sometimes star fruit are served alongside. Because it’s slightly more portable than nem lui and its accompaniments, you’ll find banh khoai for sale at street carts and sit-down restaurants, like Hanh (11 Pho Duc Chinh).
Banh Loc Tran
Banh loc tran is stuffed with a more generous portion of shrimp and pork than banh loc goi, then boiled rather than steamed, and served under a dense layer of chopped green onions and crispy fried shallots, along with nuoc mam pha, to be spooned over the top.
These are steamed rice cakes, about the size of a silver dollar, that come five pieces to an order, topped with dried shrimp, pork cracklings, shallots and herbs and served with nuoc mam pha. They’re cooked in one of two vessels which determine their full name and shape: Banh beo chen are steamed and served in small ceramic saucers (chen) while Banh beo dia are cooked in a slightly larger metal form that resembles a hard-boiled egg platter, and served on a larger plate.
Banh Loc Goi
Banh loc is a typical Hue snack in which a tapioca flour-based dough is stuffed with caramelized shrimp and pork. In this version, called Banh Loc Goi, the dumpling is wrapped and tied in lightly oiled banana leaves, and the packets are tied together in pairs, using banana leaf strips, and steamed. Open the parcel, remove the cake to a plate and spoon over some nuoc mam pha, a combination of fish sauce, vinegar, shrimp stock, sugar, water and fresh chiles. There is a lovely open-air restaurant, Bánh O Le (104/17/9 Kim Long Street) just outside the city center, that specializes in banh, the name for the various steamed and fried savory cakes endemic to Hue.
Yet another delicious steamed rice savory cake, this time flat, with a mixture of fried ground shrimp, pork and scallions pressed into the surface before it’s wrapped in banana leaves, steamed and served with nuoc mam pha.
Banh Ram It
A patty of super-crunchy deep-fried stick rice paste, topped with a steamed sticky rice paste dumpling filled and topped with a crispy mixture of stir-fried shrimp and pork. This was one of many dishes that arrived unbidden as I took a seat on a tiny stool at Dong Ba Market and answered in the affirmative when a woman behind a glass cabinet asked me, “Soup?”
Trai Va Salad
As mentioned, Hue is home to a particular green fig, trai va, that’s not grown in any other part of the country or outside of it. It has a lightly sweet flavor and a pronounced astringent quality that makes it an excellent foil for fatty meats and spicy dips. The fruit is boiled to soften it, then peeled, thinly sliced and served on the garnish plate for nem lui, or as a component of a salad, to be dressed with Hue hoisin sauce or a dab of salty fermented shrimp paste. Nha Hang Gio Que restaurant, which backs up to a rice paddy on Thanh Duong Street in Thanh Thuy Chanh village, serves just such a salad.
Nightlife in Hue can hardly be described as scintillating. It's been said that the raciest thing about it is when the police show up and the illegal street vendors disappear like dust into thin air. Still, if your scene is a few quiet drinks hanging out with backpackers and/or locals then there's no reason why nights out in Hue shouldn't be loads of fun.
There are plenty of local pubs that offer extensive alcoholic offerings and live entertainment until late, most of which are set along the backpacker streets of Pham Ngu Lao, Le Loi and Nguyen Cong Tru. Affluent travellers can find elegant bars and all-day bistros without stepping foot outside their hotel, where they can unwind after a day of sightseeing in Hue.
Brown Eyes Bar
Brown Eyes Bar Hue attracts a good mix of fun-loving locals and tourists with its extensive cocktail menu and light-hearted entertainment. Set along Chu Van An Street, the bar opens at 17:00 and only closes after the last customer leaves. This makes it a popular nightlife venue for those who want to party until late in Hue.
Cafe on Thu Wheels
A restaurant run by the lovely and energetic Thu and is particularly liked by the backpackers who love to come here and enjoy live English satellite football with plenty of chilled beer.
Le Gouverneur Bar at La Residence Hue Hotel & Spa
Le Gouverneur Bar at La Residence Hue Hotel & Spa offers first-rate Cuban cigars, spirits, whiskies, wines and cocktails in an elegant 1920s setting. Occupying a French colonial villa, this nightlife venue houses a polished-wood bar section with subdued lighting in a cosy ambience. You can choose to sit on comfortable lounge seats near the bar or head to the spacious terrace for breathtaking sunset views of Hue Imperial City and Perfume River.
Le's Garden Hue
Le’s Garden Hue, located on Pham Ngu Lao Street, attracts mostly backpackers looking to enjoy authentic Vietnamese and western dishes as well as strong booze. A 10-minute drive from the citadel, this open-air nightlife venue is kept simple and cosy with plenty of wooden communal tables, traditional lanterns, and hanging greenery. Highly-recommended are the Vietnamese spring rolls, banh mi, mojito, and caipirinha cocktails. Every Friday and Saturday, Le’s Garden Hue offers a free drink for ladies by popping a balloon containing a note of the drink they’ll get.
Mandarin Café on 24 Tran Cao Van is at the centre of Hue's backpacking community. This friendly, unassuming cafe serves up cheap, excellent Vietnamese and Western fare, and also hosts a desk, where you can book boat trips, car/bike hire, and tour information.
Secret Lounge Hue
Secret Lounge Hue is an open-air bar within a tropical garden setting, offering budget-conscious travellers a satisfying selection of shishas, bar snacks, and strong cocktails at affordable prices. Designed in a traditional Vietnamese style, its indoor dining section has two pool tables, a large TV screen airing the latest sports events as well as daily live band performances, which are held between 20:00 and 22:00. Located on Nguyen Cong Tru Street, Secret Lounge Hue is accessible within a 10-minute drive from Hue Imperial City.
The DMZ Bar
DMZ Bar is a prominent nightlife spot in Hue City Centre where travellers can enjoy an impressive range of cocktails and wines during their holiday. Established in 1994, its name is derived from the demilitarized zone of the 17th parallel that once divided Vietnam.
DMZ Bar occupies a two-storey building along Le Lot Street, here you can enjoy expansive views of the Perfume River at the upstairs garden terrace or play a game of pool by the downstairs bar section. Priced at VND 25,000 upwards, its drinks menu comprises local and imported beers, cocktails, wines, and shots.