Things to do
Hue (Huế), the ancient capital of Vietnam, has more tourist attractions that any other province or city in Vietnam (Việt Nam). More than most other places, Hue is about how you travel rather than how many sights you visit. Situated on the banks of the Huong River (Sông Hương - Perfume River), Hue is home to a series of war-torn temples, places of worship, and tombs and palaces. Many of structures and buildings in Hue are quite ruined, giving it the feeling of a modern-day Pompeii, despite of mass tourism. If you are going to visit Hue, make sure that you do not miss out this list of things to do in Hue. The following checklist contains highly recommended things to do in Hue which are reported by experienced tourists. Let’s start discovering what your favorite choices will be!
1. Visit The Citadel
Peacefully lying on the northern shore of Huong River, it just takes 15 minutes to walk from the hostel of Hue Backpackers to reach the forbidden city of Hue. Like many other historic sites of Hue, the Citadel attracts a large number of tourists. During the early years of the communist rule in Vietnam, after the finish of the American War, this Citadel was ignored and seen as redundant vestige of the imperial rule. However, over years, the government of Vietnam has correctly valuated the value of this old city and slowly fixed it up. If you want to understand the full importance and value of this historic site, it is better for you to have a tour guide, who is knowledgeable, can speak English well, and have lots of experience. If you choose a licensed tour guide, they should be able to visit this site without paying for themselves, and should give an informative tour. When visiting the Citadel, not only will you be able to contemplate different scenes, but also get a photo of yourself in royal costume setting on the throne of the Emperor.
2. Pay Respects To Thien Mu Pagoda
One of spiritual things to do in Hue you should consider is visiting Thien Mu Pagoda. Located on the north side of Huong River, just 3 km or so from the Citadel, Thien Mu (Thiên Mụ) pagoda is easily accessible by bicycle. Or, you could also get there by dragon boat along Huong River. Thien Mu Pagoda is the home is regarded as the symbol of the former imperial capital. Building in 1844, the pagoda features with some golden Buddha images right at its base, along with the big bell and a stone turtle keeping a marble stele inscribed in the 17th century. Nowadays, it is where the Austin motor vehicle that Thich Quang Duc (Thích Quảng Đức) drove to his immolation in Saigon in 1963 in order to protest against the regime of Diem (Diễm) is included. Besides, it is also home to many monks and becomes a holy site seen by a large number of local and tourists
3. Contemplate Tombs Around Hue
There are 7 tombs scattering around Hue. They are monuments to some rules of Nguyen Dynasty, often established and designed during the lifetime of the emperor. The most visited tombs are Minh Mang (Minh Mạng), Khai Dinh (Khải Định) and Tu Duc (Tự Đức). The left 4 are less visited yet still have distinguished features, with Thanh Thai (Thành Thái), Duc Duc (Dục Đức), and Duy Tan (Duy Tân) being housed in the single tomb.
4. Shop At Dong Ba Market
This may be one of the most relaxing things to do in Hue. If you are keen on discovering Hue city via the traditional products, it is highly recommended to visit Dong Ba (Đông Ba) Market. Considered as the largest market place in the central area of Vietnam, Dong Ba market is a definite place to immerse yourself in the culture of people here. Once visiting here, tourists hardly get out soon as they are strongly absorbed by myriad items as well as local specialties. Tourists could see various features of a traditional Vietnamese market, like the bazaars, the bus station, the sampan landing. A variety of traditional crafts which reflect the ancient cultural features of Hue could be found here like Hien Luong (Hiền Lương) scissors, Phu Cam (Phú Cam) conical hats, Ke Mon (Kế Môn) jewelry, Phuoc Tich (Phước Tích) pottery, Nam Thuan (Nam Thuận) sweets, Tinh Tam (Tịnh Tâm) lotus, and bamboo products. In addition, Dong Ba market is an abundant source of many local daily dishes, for instance, beef noodles, bean puddings, shrimp cakes, pancakes, clam rice, sour shrimps and so on. Here, you will also see a lot of everyday activities and shop everything from souvenir items to Hue sesame sweetmeat, bronze goods, conical poem hats, etc. If you are really interest in Vietnamese culture and food, you should come here to explore. Despite a few new markets have emerged within Hue City, Dong Ba market still remains its crucial role as the biggest market where various commercial activities happening daily.
5. Climb Up The Ho Quyen, Tiger Fighting Arena, And Long Chau Temple
One of the most interesting things to do in Hue is visiting Ho Quyen (Hổ Quyền), the tiger fighting arena. This site was established in 1830 during the regime of Emperor Minh Mang to stage battles between a tiger and an elephant annually. This is an Asian version of the Roman coliseum. It was used for entertaining the Emperor and his family and nobility. Sadly, today, it is overlooked by many tourists. The arena contains two circular, thick walls around an earthen rampart, with the stairs leading to the highest position of the wall, one being reserved for the Emperor as well as his family while the remaining for the rest of the court along with commoners. In opposite to the royal rostrum, there are five tiger cages with the claw marks visible in the walls. The fight was like a professional wrestling. Prior to the fight, the tiger was manipulated drugged, and had it fangs and claws removed. If the elephant sent into fight could not do the job, another one was sent to support. Then, the elephants always won. Why? The tiger was symbolized rebellion while the elephant was symbolized the monarchy. Another suggestion you can consider among many things to do in Hue is to visit Long Chau (Long Châu) temple, which is located on the south bank of the Huong River. This is a royal temple in which the kings’ war elephants were respectfully buried and worshiped. It is also known locally as “Dien Voi Re” (Điện Voi Ré), meaning the “Palace of the Crying Elephants”. This site is situated about 200 meters from the Ho Quyen arena, where tigers and elephants dueled to the death. The temple looks out over the big pond filled with lotus where it is said the triumphant elephant went to relax after having a successful fight. Up to now, the spot is not maintained well and needs to be conserved carefully. Ho Quyen arena and Long Chau temple are very much worth including in your list of things to do in Hue if you want to explore more historic aspects of the ancient city of Hue.
6. My An Hot Springs
Regarding things to do in Hue, relaxing at My An Hot Springs may be the most satisfying comfortable suggestion. The natural My An (Mỹ An) Hot Springs have been turned into an affordable resort-like region which abounds with local people. It is an ideal destination for tourists after a long trip to visit attractions in Hue. Located in Phu Duong (Phú Dương) commune, Phu Vang (Phú Vang) district, Hue, this spring is compared to the famous mineral spring water of the world like Paven Banis in Bulgaria, and Koundour in Russia. This resort includes 22 rooms, extending over 18 ha in total. My An Hot Springs offers therapeutic mineral water treatments, along with accommodation in large traditional houses. It takes 7 km of driving from Hue alongside. The spa complex is set back from the road includes a few ponds of hot mineral springs. It advertises itself as a perfect place for “convalescence” in the old European tradition of the spa cure. If possible, you should hit the park on Saturdays as it is adequately functional and full of guests for a more festive atmosphere. This is deserved to be an excellent place for tourists to revive. The hot springs are rather popular during the winter months. Despite the accommodation is decent, nothing is special here.
7. Enjoy The Brass Works
This is one of little-known things to do in Hue for many tourists coming Hue. But, it is worth a try. From Tu Duc tomb, you can take a stop at the Brass Works. The outfit used here makes massive brass statuary for purchasers worldwide. The smiting and forging are done by using the fundamental techniques. The craftsmanship is very impressive.
Opening hours: 8 am – 5 pm
Location: No.48 Huyen Tran Cong Chua (Huyền Trân Công Chúa), Hue (Huế) City, Thua Thien Hue (Thừa Thiên Huế) Province, Vietnam (Việt Nam)
8. Swim At Thuan An Beach
About 14 km away from Hue city center, you can find Thuan An (Thuận An) beach, located in Phu Vang district. This is an extremely enjoyable beach for tourists after a long day of visiting Hue attractions. It is also a place where people can gather and enjoy the fresh air, sea-bathing, and relax. Though it is among the most beautiful beaches in the Central area of Vietnam, it is still ridiculously undeveloped. From May to September is the highest season of tourist here when Hue temperature is fairly hot. Sometimes, tourists are crowded and there is not enough space for their camping. In addition to sea bathing, you can also visit Thai Duong (Thái Dương) temple, where Thai Duong Godness is respected by tourists, or visit the temple this devoted to the whale, a sacred animal of locals. Love something wild and challenging? Don’t skip the suggestion below!
9. Jungle At Bach Ma National Park
This national park reaches the peak of about 1,450 meters at Bach Ma (Bạch Mã) Mountain. The French built more than a hundred villas here due to the cool climate. In 2008, the national park was extended, from the coast to the Annamite mountain range near the borderline with Laos. Having a wide array of habitats, this park is famous for its biodiversity. Even some people consider Bach Ma National Park as the centre of flora diversity of Vietnam. With over 1400 species of plants, including orchids and ferns discovered in Bach Ma, this national park proudly represents a fifth of the flora of Vietnam. Bach Ma summit provides a range of unique trails for people interested in the wildlife and history for people who wish to enjoy the wildish natural beauty of the park. Normally, each trail could be walked in less than one day and do not require special hiking equipments. This park houses two kinds of forest: tropical evergreen monsoon forest about below 900 meters and sub-tropical evergreen monsoon forest about above 900 meters. Featuring with beautiful waterfalls, decaying French villas spotting the whole landscape and hiking trails, the park itself attracts a large number of tourists annually to visit. When it comes to activities, Bach Ma will not let you bored. You can camp, rappel, trek, or wander through that jungle in order to explore the beauty of flora and fauna of Bach Ma. If you are a natural lover, you will find Bach Ma National Park is a real heaven on the ground. With approximately 358 species of birds, counting for over 1/3 of the bird species of Vietnam, Bach Ma will be worth adding to the bird-watching collection of tourists. It is recommended to visit this park on February as that is the time the famous Rhododendron simsii blossom along the small streams and also at the bottom of Rhododendron waterfall. The weather is also dry with comfortable temperature. Besides, if you want to escape from the heat of summer, you can visit Bach Ma National Park during June to August. Generally, this park is really a welcome and different break from the tourists Hue or Hoi An (Hội An) that tourists will most likely kick themselves for now letting more time here. Some tourists said that they ended up with spending two additional unplanned nights, and despite that may be too long for some people, they still loved every second of it and could not wait go to back.
10. Explore Hue By Bicycle
Maybe, Hue is the best city for cycling in Vietnam. Thanks to less traffic than those major cities and less-of-o-hurry local people, a lot of tourists chose to ride a bike along the banks of the Huong River, over the Truong Tien (Trường Tiền) Bridge and into the Citadel of 200 years old, pass by a series of aircrafts as well as tanks from the fierce but heroic American War before heading deeply into the city center where life carries on in motorbike repair shops, coffee shops, hairdressers, and clothes shops. If you are the one who loves to smell some fresh air, then the suburb surround Hue is a great idea. The central areas of Vietnam are known for their great lagoons, and Hue is not an exception. You just need to go a few kilometers outside of the city to reach the paddy fields, flower and vegetable farms, each with a separate village at the core. Or, another idea in this list of things to do in Hue is to join in a cycling tour where you can start to cycle from Danang along the nice coast road before climbing up to Hai Van (Hải Vân) pass. After that, you can carry on to cycle along the sea coast for another over 30 km of which 10kim is downhill. Then, you stop for a quick lunch and take a rest before riding through the fields and peaceful villages to reach Hue city in the afternoon.
11. Join In A Cyclo Tour
Cyclos is one of the interesting features of cities in Vietnam. Cyclos are abundant in Hue city and a ride in a cyclo is a chance for tourists to really experience how life was back before emergence of the modern vehicle. Just simply sit back and enjoy a relaxing trip through the quiet streets of the citadel and around the walls of the Imperial city.
12. Go Fishing
One of favorite activity of local people in Hue is to go fishing. You could see this activity everywhere from the ponds in royal tombs to the East Sea to the moat at the Citadel. Nevertheless, according to Vietnamese tradition, the best manner to enjoy this activity is to visit a certain fishing restaurants on the suburbs of Hue. There, you can come with some of your friends and occupy one of the huts along the sides of a pond in which you could catch and release those catfish whilst simultaneously sipping on ice-cold beer or coffee and having the local delicacies.
13. River Cruise
A journey to Hue will not be complete if without a cruise on the Huong River. With two options of different styles of cruise that cater to all tastes, this idea of things to do in Hue is very interesting for most tourists. You could not walk along the bank of Huong River without paying attention to the dragon boats that putter past. The morning route could be hopping onto a small yet long dragon boat to start your sightseeing. In this route, Thien Mu (Thiên Mụ) pagoda is the first stop (taking about 25 minutes to reach), Minh Mang (Minh Mạng) mausoleum is the next (taking about 1 hour to reach). Along the way meandering up the river, you can see many fantastic views. Just simply rest back in the seat and feel the cool breeze blowing along the boat’s side. Another romantic idea is to enjoy a relaxing tradition large dragon boat cruise whilst comfortably sipping champagne in the late afternoon. From the harbor, you head towards the pagoda before turning around to have a cruise down the river under both the Phu Xuan (Phú Xuân) and Truong Tien Bridges. Before coming back to your hotel, you can still immerse yourself in a traditional custom of locals: lighting and releasing the candlelit lantern.
14. Join In An Imperial Feast
Do you want to really experience the way that Nguyen Dynasty lived and contemplated feasting at royal banquets? If yes, then you should join in an Imperial Feast celebrated in the Royal Theatre within the Imperial city. Often organized for big groups who after that nominate the emperor and his wife, guests will arrive by cyclos and are exactly dressed as mandarins. When entering the theatre, guests will be seated in an elaborately designed dining hall, whilst royal music is played by the traditional royal band. After the chosen emperor and his Queen enter to sit at an elevated royal style table whilst the mandarins stand and respectfully bow. In the past, while the emperors were having dinner, they would be entertained by the mandarins with song, poetry, and dance. This activity is mirrored for the guest nowadays with musical performances and traditional dragon dance throughout the evening. The last suggestion below will definitely make your stomach “happy”. Trust me!
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