An independent travel guide to Hue with candid reviews and recommendations. No sponsored content, no advertorial.

Hue travel guide

Hue Introduction

| 29 Dec 2015
Last updated 29 Dec 2015

Hue travel highlights
* Citadel and tombs of the Nguyen Emperors
* Delicious, unique local cuisine
* Beautiful countryside for cycling
* Old tree lined streets
* Excellent photography opportunities

Hue is one of my favourite places in Vietnam - but few travellers come away with the same view. It takes some time to settle in. And if you stick to the standard tour, you’ll probably leave a little bewildered and unmoved.

This is one of the most photogenic cities in Vietnam. There are old gems lurking on the streets and in the countryside.  And the local cuisine is amazing. The people still have a provincial warmth about them too.

Go beyond the “standard” Hue travel itinerary and there’s a good chance it’ll be a highlight for you too.

Vietnam’s tourism boom has somehow passed Hue by. The city at the centre of so much of the country’s history and culture - the capital until 1945 - has mostly failed to make a mark on international travellers. It’s a grand failure of storytelling. Hue’s amazing stories go untold as the city offers visitors an information free, Disneyesque experience of a complicated but riveting past. 

Tourists still come to Hue of course - far fewer than the local tourism industry hopes for. And many that do come, leave non-plussed. Numbers are falling as more travellers relegate Hue to a mad-rush day-trip from Danang or Hoi An.

It’s such a shame.

Hue deserves at least a couple of days. Check out our recommendations of things to do and you’ll see why.

Hue Background

Hue’s location at Vietnam’s geographical heart may have ordained its special role in the most turbulent two centuries of the country’s history. Even before it became the Nguyen Dynasty capital of Vietnam in 1802, Hue was the base for the Nguyen clan who controlled the south of the country. 

Hue remained at the centre of Vietnam geographically and politically right up until the end of the Vietnam War. The Nguyen Dynasty may have collapsed in 1945, but Hue continued to play an outsized role in national affairs for another 30 years.

But modern Hue is a city of loss - loss of prestige and sovereignty to colonial France, loss of purpose as a deposed capital, and loss of culture, innocence and life in decades of terrible war. If ever a city flew too close to the sun, it was Hue.

Contemporary Hue carries itself with modesty. From national capital to 5th or 6th ranking city, the drama of Hue’s past is well hidden in a quest for a new future. And a good many of Hue’s travellers leave disappointed, unaware of the rich tales they almost collide with as they pass through.

Hue’s complex history - where all sides have had their good and bad days - doesn’t see the light of day for most travellers. The sights are offered devoid of context and detached from major events.

The cast of characters whose formation took place in Hue is formidable. Ho Chi Minh, his military mastermind Vo Nguyen Giap, and long term prime minister Pham Van Dong, all spent time here. And their rivals, the last Emperor Bao Dai, South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and his infamous family of despots and bishops, also hailed from Hue.

And then there are the Buddhist leaders at the centre of the uprising that precipitated the escalation of the United States’  entanglement in Vietnam in the early 1960s.  And not to be overlooked is the cast of celebrated musicians, authors, poets and painters who also hail from Hue.

Some of the most brutal battles of the Vietnam War were fought in and around Hue.

It requires more than a little effort to uncover the stories of Hue as you pass through. Somehow, the city seems to prefer to forget, not just the people of its royal past, but those big players in Vietnamese history who came later as well.

Most cities make a big deal of their famous progeny. Not Hue.

Despite all that, Hue is one of our favourite places in all of Vietnam. Armed with a little knowledge of your own, you can bring the place to life yourself. Despite the city’s best efforts to camouflage it, Hue’s atmosphere is irrepressible. Spend a little time here and you’ll start to get it. More than any other Vietnamese city, Hue still moves to a rhythm that is at once uniquely Vietnamese and uniquely Hue.

Check out our suggestions for things to do here.
You can also check out our 3 day Hue itinerary here.