Top things to do in Hue; best sites, free activities, parks, museums, tours
Hue is one of a few cities in Vietnam that hosts a UNESCO World Heritage Site- The Complex of Hue Monuments in Imperial City. Numerous tours are organized to visit this site, so it is pretty easy to book a tour, either via Internet or, once in Hue, by simply asking for a ticket in one of the bars, hotels, hostels, and other establishments which include tours to this old Vietnamese capital in their touristic arrangements.
The Complex is not the only attraction in Hue. It is actually one of many. Others include tours to local attractions, beaches, pagodas, Bach Ma National Park, a natural spring, and even a market. Many of these can be visited privately, without a guide, and for free.
Hue does not have museums, per se, but an abundance of historical sights, most famous and grandiose of which is the Imperial City. It would probably take an entire book to describe them all, so we will only extract the most interesting ones, writing only a few of the most important facts about each one.
Hue Imperial City
This massive complex features hundreds of monuments and ruins, such as the Forbidden Purple City, once the residence of the royal family and badly damaged during the Vietnam War, the Imperial City, the Imperial Citadel, royal tombs, flag tower, pagodas, temples, a library and museum. Among the most impressive monuments in this former grand imperial capital are the Ngo Mon Gate of the Imperial City which was once exclusively used by the royal family and their eunuch servants, the tomb of Emperor Minh Mang as well as the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. In fact many of the monuments surrounding the royal buildings were constructed in the early 19th century and were modeled after Beijing’s Forbidden City. The wall that surrounds the Citadel is six meters high and two-and-a-half kilometers long. The Imperial Citadel is situated on the northern bank of the well-known Huong River with the total land area of about 520 ha. The entrance fee for the Imperial City is only 100.000 VND, or around $5, and it is a real shame to miss it.
Thien Mu Pagoda - situated at the end of Kim Long (road on the northern bank of Huong River), this pagoda is associated with a number of legends. Also known as Linh Mu Pagoda, this pagoda is a spiritual place that has gone through many eventful stages, both damages and renovations. Nowadays, the pagoda still exists and remains the unmistaken symbol of Hue Ancient City. When approaching this pagoda, what seizes attention initially is a seven-floor octagonal Phuoc Duyen tower, formerly known as Tu Nhan Tower. There are many impressive sculptures along the pagoda, with a huge bell which is 2.5 high and about 2 tons heavy. This spot is opened every day from early morning till 5pm.
Tu Duc Tomb - situated in a narrow valley near Duong Xuan Thuong village, about 8 kilometers away from Hue City, Tu Duc Tomb used to be the spot where the King could retreat from the Citadel. Surrounded by a solid octagonal wall, Tu Duc tomb has some notable sites within itself which could be listed as Tinh Khiem Island, Luu Khiem Lake, Xung Khiem Pavilion, and Hoa Khiem temple. The latter is a small museum of the whole life of the King: a mirror used by his concubines, a locked presented by the French, or the funerary tablets of the empress and emperor. Because the tomb also had the function of a place for royal candidates to be away from home, there is a royal theatre included in the complex, named Minh Khiem Duong.
Minh Mang Tomb- recognized as the most majestic of all royal tombs, Minh Mang Tomb, in reality, is a great complex of 40 small sites. Located in Huong Tho Commune, Huong Tra District, right on the West bank of Perfume River, and about 12 km south of Hue City, its construction began in 1840 under the reign of King Minh Mang. In 1841, after King Minh Mang’s death, Kinh Thieu Tri continued the remained task, according to the plan of his father. Finally, this monument was finished 2 years later. Tourists could get there by motorbike or car easily thanks to the availability of the Tuan Bridge. Yet, it is not a bad idea to take a boat trip from Hue city center to visit the tomb. The boat trip often includes Hon Chen Temple and Thien Mu pagoda. Travelers should deal with those boat-owners before departing because the prices are modified based on the distance and the number of sites. Opening hours are from 7:30 AM – 5:00 PM.
These are just two of the many tombs in Hue, so let’s just name some of the others: Gia Long Tomb, Khai Dinh Tomb, Dong Khanh Tomb, Thieu Tri Tomb, etc.
Temple of Literature is dedicated to memorizing and worshiping Confucius, which is a popular practice in many Asian countries, such as China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. In Vietnam, apart from the most famous Temple of Literature in Hanoi, some other cities have also constructed their own Temples of Literature. In Hue, the old capital of Vietnam, the Temple of Literature lies on the bank of Perfume River, to the west of the Citadel, just 1km from prestigious Linh Mu pagoda. Admission is free and there’s hardly anyone who looks after the site.
Other must-see sights in Hue
Thuan An Beach is situated roughly 15km northeast of Hue and is on Tam Giang – Cau Hai Lagoon near the mouth of Huong River. Because Thuan An is within easy reach from Hue city, it is the top beach choice for the local people, especially during the summer months when the temperature can be as high as 40 Celsius and getting away from the heat by going swimming at the beach is the best option. Taxi ride to this beach costs around $30 in one way, while a bus ticket costs around $20.
Lang Co is a bay located roughly 12km north of Hue city and is recognized as one of the most beautiful bays in the world. It is a beach with soft white sand, stretches of swaying palms, and a crystal-clear turquoise lagoon on one side together with long beachfront on the other. There are some resorts, spas and restaurants but no other types of beach entertainment such as water sports, often seen at other famous beaches.
Bach Ma National Park - situated in the Annamite Range, in central Vietnam and near Hue City, covers an area of about 37,487 ha over three districts: Phu Loc, Nam Dong and Dong Giang. It’s quite easy to access Bach Ma National Park from Hue (40 km), Da Nang (65 km) and also Hoi An (90 km). This protected area was established in 1991 and consists of three zones: a strictly protected core, an administrative area and a buffer zone. Some people consider Bach Ma as “The Centre of flora diversity in Vietnam”, as it represents around one-fifth of the entire flora of the country. The forest also possesses a precious source of over 500 species which serve as medicinal plants. Besides, this is where people can luckily see “Sao la” (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) - a type of antelope, Vietnam’s endemic species, first discovered in 1992, which may be one of the rarest mammals on the planet. One can camp, trek, rappel or simply wander through the jungle to discover the beauty of Bach Ma’s flora and fauna. At Do Quyen Fall (Rhododendrun Fall,) adventurers have chance to thrillingly abseil down the upper section of the fall.