I have recently visited the provincial city of Hue, Vietnam. I wanted to briefly write about Hue as a travel destination as I believe that it is quite underrated. A lot of travellers that I met would spend only one or two nights in Hue, see the imperial city, then skip through. But there is quite a lot to do in Hue, and it is somewhat off the beaten track, meaning that you are not inundated with group buses loaded with selfie-stick bearing tourists.
For this article I am going to briefly list my favourite sights to see in Hue.
Abandoned Theme Park
Without a doubt the abandoned theme park is a prime site to see in Hue. It is a truly a unique travel experience, the likes of which cannot be found elsewhere. Temples and tombs can be seen all across Asia, but this place is one of a kind. In the abandoned theme park you can find empty amphitheatres, rotting rides, shattered aquariums, and ghostly graffitied rooms. The aquarium until only a couple of years ago still housed abandoned but still living, now wild crocodiles.
You can read more about the water park in my main article here.
The city markets were in every sense of the word: bustling. A vibrant riot of colour, smell, and taste. Here you can find all the raw ingredients that Hue run on. Often when travelling you will come across fake markets set up only for tourists. There are many good examples of these across Asia, including the one in Hoi An. However, the Hue market is truly run for the locals. Vietnamese come from all over the province come to these markets to buy their food stuffs and other goods before returning back to their own towns. The market is enormous; I went there twice and still didn’t get to see all of it. In fact a local store holder told me that there were more than 2,000 stalls.
A word of warning, however, there are pick-pockets in the market. Secure your wallet and your phone, or leave them at home. The markets are tight and you are often squeezed through crowds; these are the times when the thieves will strike. So be warned! Other than that getting to see the locals conduct their daily business was fascinating.
Thien Mu Pagoda
I absolutely loved visiting the Pagoda, though I went on a very nice day early in the morning when the crowds were thin. The morning light on a clear morning in the Thien Mu Pagoda is a sight to behold. You can watch the monks go about their morning chores, marvel over the beautiful tropical bonsais, and stare up at the looming 17th century seven story pagoda.
The Pagoda has a lot a rich cultural history as well, which you can read about online. However, in short, it was built in 1601 and received many alterations over the centuries. In the 1960’s it became a protest hotspot for Buddhists against religious inequality in the country, after years of favouritism for Catholics through the rise of a South Vietnamese president. The crisis ended with the assassination of the President in 1963 through a CIA-backed coup!
Exploring by Scooter
If you are able to ride a scooter, then I recommend visiting Vong Canh Hill. The hill offers a beautiful vantage point over the perfume river. The river is clean, surrounded by a lush green forest, and buzzing with local Vietnamese long boats. It is quite a nice setting, but what I enjoyed the most about coming here was travelling beyond the vantage point through the local villages. The road passes through quaint Vietnamese houses on narrow laneways through farmland where you can watch the villages go about their daily lives. I think during the rice growing season it would be very beautiful indeed. They don’t think very much of you passing through, I imagine there are quite a few travellers that do the same, considering the proximity to Hue.
When you are in this area you can go to visit the Standing Buddha Temple. When I visited there were very few foreign tourists, just a handfull of Vietnamese. The statue is a huge standing white stone female Buddha. The statue is at the top of a small hill, so you can usually spot it from a distance when you are driving towards it. There is quite a long flight of stairs to reach the Buddha, but if you are travelling by scooter then there is a small road that you can take instead. The site is free, but some locals may try to get you to park at their stalls at the bottom of the stairs for a fee.
Old City Ramparts
For one evening, the eve of the Vietnamese NYE holiday, I watched a sunset from the ramparts of the old city. The ramparts aren’t a designated tourist site, but they offer a stunning view of the imperial palace and Hue city. There are various places that you can get up on to the ramparts, however I accessed them on the Southmost facing wall east of the Cua Ngan gate. The looking west from where I was standing, I had a terrific view of the sunset over the Ky Dai Flag Tower. While I was enjoying the sunset, a group of school boys started scampering around on the tops of the walls, asking me questions about where I was from and what I was doing here. It was a really nice experience that I think can only be found through your own aimless wanderings.
My Lost French Friend
Finally I want to mention my lost French friend. I met a frenchman when I was out in the countryside travelling around by scooter. We met randomly when at an out-of-the-way pagoda where there were no other tourists. In fact the site was completely empty aside from us and a lone nun. We spent the afternoon touring the afternoon together, and he leant me 20k dong to pay for an entrance to a tomb since I had run out of cash. However, we got separated when we were riding around. I went for cash and he went to buy a baguette and we never saw each other again. He was a really nice guy, he had been travelling for ten years since he was twenty one. When I was talking to him about his travel, he sounded regretful that he had nothing else: no family, no home. Just travel. A week or so before he had fallen off the back of a tuk-tuk and had lost half of his ear on the ground. I still owe him that 20k dong, sadly.
Thanks for reading! As I said I really think that Hue deserves more attention from travellers passing through. It was one of the highlights of my trip in Vietnam. If you know of a frenchmen with half a left ear that is wondering around the streets of South East Asia then please let me know.