Hue travel guide by First Choice
Hue is in the central region of Vietnam and is the former imperial capital. Hue is intimately connected to the imperial Nguyễn Dynasty, based in Hue, who ruled from 1802 to 1945, when the Emperor Bao Dai abdicated in favor of Ho Chi Minh’s revolutionary government. The city went through tough times during the Vietnam War, when it was conquered by the Viet Cong and held for 24 days, during which the VC slaughtered around 3,000 people suspected of sympathizing with the South, being a highschool graduate or Christian. In retaking the city American forces initially didn’t use artillery or air support to avoid damaging ancient buildings but due to heavy casualties these restrictions were relaxed and the city largely destroyed.
Hue is easy to get a grip on. The main landmark is the Perfume River (Hương Giang), with the old city and the Citadel on the north side and the newer city, including most hotels and restaurants, on the south side. Much of the riverside has wisely been done up as a pleasant promenade and park dotted with bizarre sculptures. The tombs are located further south in the outskirts of Hue.
Hue’s weather is infamously bad: the Truong Son Mountains just to the south seem to bottle up all the moisture, so it’s usually misty, drizzly or outright rainy. Things get even wetter than usual in the winter rainy season, especially from February to the end of March. To be safe, bring along an umbrella any time of year. Don’t forget to bring a sweater and jacket in winter as it can get rather chilly, with temperatures falling to as low as 8 degrees at night. Alternatively, when the sun makes an appearance for a day or a week, it can reach 30 degrees.
It’s usually quite dry during the summer months, when the temperature can reach the high 30’s. Summer rains can be heavy but brief, and often arrive unexpectedly, whereas February rains can last for weeks. The best description for the weather in Hue would be “changeable”.
How to get there
Hue’s international “Phu Bai” airport fields daily flights to and from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, but flights are quite often disrupted by poor weather during the rainy season (Mid October – Mid December). The majority of flights are Vietnam Airlines but Jetstar Vietnam also runs a flight or two from Ho Chi Minh City and once a day to Hanoi. The airport is 15 kilometers away from the city center and should cost no more than 180,000VND by taxi (30 minute ride). There is also a bus that will take you into the city & even drop you at your hotel for 50,000VND. You can buy a ticket in the arrival hall of the airport. The airport facility is currently undergoing renovations and will be closed until 13 June, 2011.
Danang‘s airport, only two hours away by car now that the Hai Van Tunnel is open, is busier, and has more connections. As of February 2012, a one-way taxi from Da Nang airport to Hue can be negotiated down to USD 45 (large car) or USD 40 (small car); using the meter, cost for a large car is about 1,200,000 dong.
Phu Bai is expected to close for eight months for runway repair in 2013. The airport will be closed from March 20 to November 20, according to a document released by the Ministry of Transport. During this period, tourists who wish to travel to Hue by air will have to use Da Nang Airport.
Several trains a day to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang (4 hours) etc. The journey down south through Lang Co and the Hai Van Pass is particularly scenic, and from Danang you can take a taxi or motorbike to Hoi An.
Train from Hanoi to Hue
A second-class sleeper from Hanoi to Hue on the SE1 (leaving Hanoi at 19h00) cost 710.000 on October 25th, 2012 (for a hard-sleeper, 6-person cabin, middle bunk ; bottom bunk is a little more pricey while top bunk is the cheapest).
A second-class sleeper ticket from Ho Chi Minh City on the much superior ‘express’ SE2-SE6 train to Hue costs between 588,000 & 740,000 dong depending on the level you’re on (1,2 or 3). SE 2 departs at 7.00 PM. Be warned the beds are quite hard, as there is not much of a matress (about half an inch thick), and it is placed over a plastic bench/seat. You can get other train types, but the little extra you pay is worth it several times over. It offers a wonderful travel experience. The traveler gets to sit, lie and sleep in a very small cabin for 23 hours with five other people (nearly always Vietnamese), eat four plain but tasty and filling Vietnamese meals, listen to a fine selection of Vietnamese pop songs on the PA, and see some incomparably beautiful countryside, particularly in the last section between Da Nang and Hue. It’s an excellent way to see the country and meet ordinary Vietnamese, who are unfailingly friendly and helpful, even to travelers who have not bothered to learn a word of their language. The trip is especially recommended if you like babies.
Buy your tickets at the train station, it can be worth your effort. Hotels often over charge by doubling the prices (at least US$80 for softsleeper), often using excuses like it’s high season or that they have to buy it at the black market. On the other hand it saves you dealing with the surly station staff.
Train station is about 40min walk from most backpacker hotels (in Pham Ngu Lao) but it is straight.
Public buses from all the bigger cities (including frequent services to Hanoi and Saigon) connect to the main bus stations (Bến Xe Phía Nam for the south and Bến Xe Phía Bắc for the north). Most open tour buses include Hue in their itinerary, connecting to Hoi An or Da Nang to the south (4-6 hours) and Hanoi to the north (13-16 hours). The overnight Hanoi route is popular with locals, but beware of motion sickness among them.
Regular buses run between Da Nang and Hue (around 50,000 VND).
Sinh Café, 7 Nguyen Tri Phuong St. Direct buses from Hoi An cost US$4 and leave twice daily: the 08:00-12:00 service stops at the Marble Mountains and makes the trip in 4 hours, while the 13:30-16:30 service manages the trip in three. Buses to Hanoi depart at 17:30 every day (US$9) with stops in
An Phu 11 Nguyen Tri Phuong. Bus leaves 8.00 AM and 1.30 PM.
From Vientiane You can book a sleeping or sitting bus for 180,000Kip (sleeping is the same price as sitting) to Hue or continue to Da Nang from the Southern Bus Terminal. The trip takes 15 hours to Hue so the sleeping bus is the better choice. Departure time for just Hue/Da Nang is 7pm although at Vientiene’s southern bus station you’ll also see other options heading south and you could probably take those as well.
You’ll have a couple bathroom stops (bathrooms not necessarily available) and at least 2 or 3 eating stops.
They’ll try to arrive at the Lao Bao border crossing before it opens at 7am. Here is where they’ll collect everyone passports to get stamped out of Laos. Everyone needs to include a 15,000Kip fee (foreigners may end up getting asked for 30,000Kip) so have that ready in your passport ahead of time. You’ll also have several ladies asking if you need to change any money. They’ll come in the bus or roam around the bus stop. Be careful and shrewd with them. If you just hand them some kip without establishing what rate your getting or not even bother to count how much you gave you’ll end up with a lousy 50% or 1:1 rate so you’ve lost half your cash! (Probably best not to exchange anything as you’ll have no chance to actually buy anything with your Dong until you reach your destination. However, you might no be able to exchange your Kip when you’re in Hue. So plan ahead!)
Meanwhile, as this is going on you’ll be served some Vietnam coffee. All meals and the coffee break should be included in your ticket price and then you have to pay for anything additional that you order.
Once you reach Hue you can get dropped off before the actual Hue bus station and maybe save yourself having to ride into town on a hired motor bike. (Oct. 2010)
From Pakse VIP (not really) buses leave at 8am arriving in Hue 12-13 hours later. Local buses leave Pakse in the evening. Tickets can be bought from travel agents in central Pakse. Be prepared for a no air-con ride.
How to get around
Like other Vietnamese cities, Hue is flooded with cyclos and motorbikes, as well as a few meter taxis. Taxi drivers are usually honest, but make sure they turn the meter on: trips start at 15,000 dong for the first 2km and tick upward at 11,500 dong/km. Some meters run incorrectly (showing up to 10 times the distance actually travelled), so ensure you have a rough idea of the distance to you destination. If the meter is running too quickly, at the destination pay an estimate of the fair price and insist on calling the police if the driver will not accept the estimated non-meter price. The driver will back down. A metered trip out see two tombs, with waiting time, should come to around 300,000 dong (US$18).
With cyclos and motorbikes, all of the usual disclaimers apply: negotiate a price ahead of time, and don’t be afraid to walk away if they’re asking too much. No trip in Hue should cost more than 20,000 dong. Many of the motorbike drivers double as pot dealers, and you may be offered to buy marijuana along with your ride.
Hire a motorbike for 100,000 dong locally. Fuel costs 25000 Dong per litre. Correct as at Feb 20th 2013.Join the locals as they swarm across the bridges and along the main roads at a leisurely pace. If you’re not familiar with motorbikes you may want to practice on smaller, less busy roads first. Gas stations can be found at some of the major intersections in the city – ask the person you are renting from to mark any they know on your map.Note that a map is a Foreign concept- nobody understands them, NOBODY. Make sure your motorbike comes with a helmet, as you can be fined otherwise. You can also buy helmets for 50,000-125,000 VND. Helmets priced at 50,000 will not offer much protection in a crash – these are sold so people can avoid fines more than to offer real protection.
Cycling is also a good option, with plenty of bikes available from 25,000-30,000dong/day (March 2012).
For motorbike with driver, small hotels have connections to freelancers. You may be lucky to have an English speaking (a bit mumbled but knowledgeable) guide/driver/US army veteran for all 6 tombs (the 7th is inaccessible) including those locked and forgotten for lack of tourist interests plus three temples and the emperor’s arena for one day and have extra time in the early afternoon for a beer and some Vietnamese do-it-yourself spring rolls and the famous Hue pancakes for just $10. The DIY spring rolls and pancakes are not free though but they are the best for only 45,000 dong.
A cyclo is the local versions of the trishaw, with the passenger in front of the cyclist. Be prepared to haggle for reasonable prices as cyclo drivers tend to quote indiscriminately. It’s a good idea to agree absolutely on your price before you go. Also make sure this is a return price, and not one-way. Of course, if you want to change your itinerary after you’re already on the way, you should discuss how this might affect the agreed price with your cyclo driver right away. Otherwise, you may get a rude surprise when you arrive at your final destination, and the driver tries to charge you an exorbitant amount. Be aware that while most of the cyclo drivers in Hue are fair, and can be quite helpful, there are a few who are very unscrupulous. If you agree on the price as “100”, make it very clear that you are agreeing on 100,000 Dong, and not 100 US dollars! Many cyclo drivers also act as pimps, and may offer you local women (starting at $10/hr).
Hue is quite compact, so you can reach most of the hotels, restaurants, and the Citadel easily on foot. Mr. Cu at Mandarin Cafe has prepared a free walking tour brochure & map. Make sure to stop by 24 Tran Cao Van St to pick up your free map (and enjoy some delicious banana pancakes). You’ll need to arrange transportation to reach the emperors’ tombs, though.
What to see
Courtyard of Ngo Mon, with the Thai Hoa Palace in the background
The former imperial seat of government and Hue’s prime attraction, this is a great sprawling complex of temples, pavilions, moats, walls, gates, shops, museums and galleries, featuring art and costumes from various periods of Vietnamese history. Thanks to its size, it is also delightfully peaceful – a rare commodity in Vietnam.
The citadel was badly knocked about during fighting between the French and the Viet Minh in 1947, and again in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, when it was shelled by the Viet Cong and then bombed by the Americans. As a result, some areas are now only empty fields, bits of walls, and an explanatory plaque. Other buildings are intact, though, and a few are in sparkling condition. For the rest, while restoration has been going on for 20 years, there is still quite a long way to go. Allow several hours to see it properly. Entry 105,000 dong (April 2013) (for foreigners, less for locals of course) and it is open 06:30-17:00. Inside you can pay $1.50 (30,000dong) to dress up in the King or Queen’s clothing and sit on the throne for a fun photo opportunity.
Ngọ Môn. The main southern entrance to the city, built in 1833 by Minh Mang. The central door, and the bridge connecting to it, were reserved exclusively for the emperor. Climb up to the second floor for a nice view of the exquisite courtyard. The Ngo Mon Gate is the principal entrance to the Imperial Enclosure. The Emperor would address his officials and the people from the top of this gate.
Thái Hòa Palace. The emperor’s coronation hall, where he would sit in state and receive foreign dignitaries.
Trường Sanh Residence. Translated as the “Palace of Longevity”, the Truong Sanh Palace was the residence of King Tu Duc’s mother, Empress Tu Du, under the Nguyen Dynasty in the 19th century. It lies in Tu Cam Thanh, one of the two major parts of the Hue Citadel. Currently under renovation, the project, estimated to cost almost VND 30 billion (roughly US $1.8 million), includes the restoration of Lach Dao Nguyen, the Palace’s protective moat, decorative man-made rock formations and mountains, bonsai gardens, and the palace gate. The restoration is expected to be completed in 2009, but this is doubtful. While not officially open to the public, it is possible to enter the grounds and should be seen, as even in it’s overgrown state, it’s beauty is recognizable.
Forbidden Purple City. Directly behind Thai Hoa Palace, but it was almost entirely destroyed during the 1968 Tet Offensive and only the rather nondescript Mandarin Palaces on both sides remain.
Hue Jungle Crevice. When the Viet Cong briefly over ran Hue they rounded up 3000 of Hue’s citizens and officials. Fearing the prisoners would slow them down in hot retreat, they tied them up and pushed the people over the cliff into the crevice.
Tombs of the Emperors
The other great attractions in Hue are the Tombs of the Emperors, which are located along the Perfume River south of the city. They are accessible by taxi or bike from the city, but the best way to see them is to hire a river boat and go for a cruise. Plan to make a full day of it.
Group tours usually cost about US$2, which includes an excellent (really!) lunch aboard the boat, but does not include admission to the tombs (80,000 dong apiece for foreigners – ensure you count your change carefully if paying by large denomination note as short-changing can occur) or the cost of a motorbike from the wharf to each tomb. If you’re with a group, the price should be set by the tour company at roughly 25,000 dong for each round-trip. Choose a tour with as few stops as possible. Some companies lard up their itineraries with visits to silk farms and a few pagodas, promising to fit everything in neatly, however tour companies aren’t noted for their time management, and you’ll wind up rushed along and frustrated for at least one of the tombs.
If you’re travelling on your own, boat hire or a motorbike and driver should cost somewhere around US$20, again not including tomb admissions. All of the tombs can be walked to from the wharfs in anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour. The paths are mostly obvious, but you still probably shouldn’t try it without a map or a terrific sense of direction. Most of the tombs are open from 7:30AM or 8AM to 5:30PM, depending on the season; note that the tour groups arrive around 10AM and leave around 3PM in order to get back before dinner, so plan accordingly to avoid the crowds. You’ll be glad you did.
The tombs are also easily reached by bicycle, although there is a shortage of good maps of how to reach them. Ask your hotel about bicycle rentals and maps, and be cautious on the crowded and potentially potholed roads. This is probably the most inexpensive (and enjoyable, if you enjoy cycling) way to reach the tombs. Along the way you will meet many darling Vietnamese children who like to practice their English by shouting “F— you!” and other English expletives at passing foreigners.
The tombs themselves are worth the cost and effort. They mostly date from the late 19th or early 20th centuries, when the Emperors had been reduced to figureheads under French colonial rule and had little else to do than build themselves elaborate tombs. The finest of them are the Tomb of Tu Duc, the Tomb of Minh Mang and the Tomb of Khai Dinh, all of which are excellent examples of Vietnamese Buddhist aesthetics and architecture. The older ones have been allowed to crumble into picturesque semi-ruin, although some are now being restored.
In order of age:
Tomb of Gia Long (20km) – the most remote of the tombs, quiet and fallen into disrepair as Gia Long, the first Nguyen emperor, was notoriously despotic.
Tomb of Minh Mang (12km) -Possibly the best of the lot, situated inside a wall and covering several hectares. Woodland and water make it a very relaxing place to be- Minh Mang was definitely a country boy at heart! The main buildings are arranged on an east-west axis, including a courtyard surrounded by warrior statues and several temples and pavilions. Several bridges cross two lakes before the axis ends before the vast burial mound (which is circled by a fence). If you’re dropped off by boat, note that there is a stretch of souvenir sellers to navigate during the short walk to the mausoleum entrance.Same goes for the car/coach/motorbike park, but they are only trying hard to earn a crust.Bike park is only 5000 dong.
Tomb of Thieu Tri (8km) – built in 1848. This Emperor and his wife were the most revered and loved throughout the country. Although he only ruled for 7 years, he was the most sorely missed. In a time of strife and economic problems, he was careful with the country’s Treasury and made sure to improve his people’s living standards. His last will was that he be placed in a tomb that was not extragavant, parting ways with the tradition of creating lavish final resting places for their Emperors.
Tomb of Tu Duc (7km) – Constructed from 1864 to 1867, the complex served as a second Imperial City where the Emperor went for “working vacations”. Tu Duc’s contemplative nature and poetic spirit is reflected in the landscape and arrangement of the 50 buildings that at one time stood here. A vast, sprawling complex set around a lake, with wooden pavilions and tombs and temples dedicated to wives and favored courtesans (Tu Duc had 104 to choose from). The courtesans’ quarters are in ruins, with only outlines and crumbling walls left amid waves of overgrown grass and silence, but other areas are stunningly well-preserved. The Emperor’s tomb itself, tucked away in the back, is surprisingly modest – the final courtyard is nearly empty with just a stone coffin in the middle. (The tombs of Empress Le Thien Anh and Emperor Kien Phuc, who briefly ruled in 1884, are also located here.) Try to dodge the crowds for this one.
Tomb of Khai Dinh (10km) – dating from 1925, this is the best preserved of the lot and, while comparatively compact, quite grand at first sight. While it follows the classic formula of forecourts leading up to the tomb of the Emperor, complete with statues in attendance, architecture buffs will spot some European influences. The tomb itself is completely over the top with incredibly detailed and opulent mosaics of cavorting dragons. Try to get to this one early, as it is a favorite stop for Asian tour-bus groups. Also, you may want to leave the tourist path and head up the hill on the right side of the tomb, where a small temple stands. You will have a great view of the tomb and the valley it faces.
Thien Mu Pagoda (4km) – perched on a bluff over the river and housing some very fine gold and silver Buddha images. The Thien Mu Pagoda overlooks the Perfume River and is the official symbol of the city of Hue. Thien Mu means “elderly celestial woman”, and refers to an old legend about the founding of the pagoda. Brimming with opportunities for great photos.
Phu Bai Airport is a must-see if you are interested in the war. The airport was a dirt strip during the Indochina War. Then, during the Vietnam War, an American garrison was assigned there and built up the airport with concrete bunkers, a paved airstrip, and a few other luxuries. The airport was vital in keeping Hue supplied during the Eastertide Offensive of 1972 when “Charlie jumped the line”. The airport retains the original buildings built by the Americans; however, they have been retrofitted for use by the Vietnamese.
What to do
Hue day tour – a.k.a City Tour, it includes the Citadel, 3 tombs (Tu Duc, Khai Dink & Minh Mang),a garden house and a Perfume River cruise stopping for a look-see at Thien Mu Pagoda, from thence a short ride to the Tourist Boat docks where the tour terminates. A very value for money package, at USD10 ( from Jade Hotel). For the same itinerary, some charge up to 13USD, possibly better food offerings. Entrance cost is not included and money will be asked in the bus (80,000VND Sept 2012) for citadel and tombs, 20,000 VND (Sept 2012)for garden house). Thien Mu temple is free. A simple Vietnamese_dishes lunch included. You can chose to only visit some of the places if you want. “Best” tomb is probably last one / Tu Duc.
Hai Van Pass Motorbike Tour- Many tour companies and hostels offer “Top Gear” motorbike tours over the Hai Van pass, through Da Nang and over to Hoi An. For someone who knows how to properly operate a motorbike or scooter this can be a very rewarding experience. Keep in mind that you will usually go through Da Nang at around rush hour in the afternoon, which can be very hectic and potentially dangerous if you are an inexperienced rider. Guided trips will run you $30-40, unguided will be much less than that.
Blind massage – make a valuable contribution to the local community at the institute for the blind,180/1 Phan Boi Chau street (/1 mean’s the buildings are on the left,50 metres down a side road behind 180 on Kiet/Alley) on the right up the hill about 1km past the train tracks (look for a small blue sign with English). 50,000 dong/hour for massage (mine was excellent, jan 2013) and 30,000 dong/hour for steam-bath. All of the staff work and live in this facility, and speak a little English. This is where the locals go. Brilliant experience an a “must do”. You are left for half an hour in a steam room with herbs, followed by a full hour massage.Phone 0543886505.Correct as at Feb 20th 2013.
My An Hot Spring and Spa – 7km from Hue on the way to Thuan An beach. US$3 for foreigners to use the swimming pool and 2 hot spring pools. The water here has a high sulfur content, purported to have health benefits.
Thanh Tan Hot Springs – about 13 km from Hue Center. Similar to My An, but without the odor of sulphur. This site is surrounded by woods, which are pleasant to explore. Has graduated sections. Start with the cool section, and work your way up. The hottest section is actually closed off, as it is too hot to bathe in. There are also private pools for 2 or 4 people, and a swimming pool. There is a tiny restaurant on site. This is also where the local bottled Thanh Tan mineral water comes from.
Ho Chi Minh Museum 6 D Le Loi – Free admission. Contains photos and information on Ho Chi Minh as well as the history of Hue in photographs. Closed on Sunday.
Scams There are several “massage parlors” in town (catering strictly to the tourists) that are less than reputable, where the main attraction seems to be attractive girls flirting and chatting up the customer for a big tip. Don’t bother asking your hotel for a recommendation, they will try to steer you to the one that provides them the biggest kickback. Also, if buying a bus-ticket, shop around and let them know you are looking for the best price. A bus ticket to Ho Chi Minh City runs around $20-$30, but you will hear quotes as high as $80. However, you can expect prices to be somewhat higher around certain holidays, such as Tet, when everyone is trying to get home. Be very clear on the price when you take a cyclo.
A traditional industry of Hue is embroidery, and framed embroidery can be purchased in the many stores of the backpacker area of Hue.
Healing the Wounded Heart Shop, 23 Vo Thi Sau Street, ☎ +84 54 3833694, 8am-10pm. A Humanitarian project of the Spiral Foundation. This unique shop sells eco-friendly handicrafts made by disabled artisans in Hue. Many of the products are made from recycled items, including recycled soda can frames, and recycled telephone wire baskets. All net proceeds fund heart surgeries for poor children in the Hue area.
Hope Center, 20 Nhat Le Street, ☎ +t +84 (0) 54 351 1511, 8am-10pm. The Hope Center offers disabled and disadvantaged people a place to learn and work. Garment manufacturing is the mainstay. However, a range of handicraft items are also made. In particular the beautiful hand-woven cloth by A Luoi women is unique in its design and make up. Scarves, hand bags, purses and hand crafted jewellery are for sale. Well worth a visit.
What and where to eat
Hue is famed for its Imperial cuisine, originally prepared for the emperor and his retinue. Although the emphasis is more on presentation than taste, an imperial banquet is well worth trying.
The most famous local dish is bún bò Huế, a noodle soup served with slices of beef and lashings of chili oil. Another tasty local treat is sesame candy (mè xửng), which is peanutty, chewy and quite tasty if fresh, and goes for under 10,000 dong/box.
Nem Lui is a dish of sweet, minced pork around bamboo sticks grilled over hot coals. Banh Khoai is a “pancake” filled with bean sprouts, shrimp and pork. Bun Thit Nuong is delicious barbecued pork served with vegetables and noodles.
Nina’s Café, 16/34 Nguyen Tri Phuong, small but delicious family restaurant located in a substreet of a substreet. Very affordable and charming and some say, one of the best food locations in south-east asia.
You and Me, 38 Tran Cao Van. This place appears to have dropped in standards or changed hands. Previously recommended, its ‘speciality’ pancakes are now inedible, meat dishes bereft of meat and staff are pushy (they even drop prices to encourage you to take the “fery fery good” (actually fery fery bad) spring rolls. Reasonably priced but still very bad value. Bottled beer is good! Leave it at that.
Bun Bo Hue, 11B Ly Thuong Kiet. (small and very local – far away from river on south bank). This eponymous eatery specializes in its namesake dish. 25000 dong gets you a bowl with a generous, mouth-meltingly soft (if fatty) cutlet plopped on top. Others: Bún Mụ Rơi (Nguyễn Chí Diễu st), Bún Cây Đa (Nguyễn Sinh Cung st), Bún Nguyễn Du (Nguyễn Du st)
Bun Cam, 38 Tran Cao Van st, Very popular with locals, but only opens for the early morning, about 6AM until they run out of soup. This is the real thing, local style, not adapted for the Western palate. Try it with their chili sauce, also a local specialty that shouldn’t be missed. The lady sitting behind the soup cauldron is Cam, the cook and namesake of the business. She only speaks Vietnamese, but just look in the pot, like the locals do, and point at what you want. The price varies with how many different things you choose.
Bún Cha Hà Nôi, 20 Nguyen Tri Phuong. This family-run restaurant only serves original HaNoi-style Bun Cha: a dish with pork spring rolls, some meatballs, cabbage and carrot sauce with hot peppers, and bundles of noodles to dip in said sauce. Opened April 2011 and the owners are very welcoming to foreigners. As with all Vietnamese dishes, the hungry may have to order twice but with a price of 25.000 dong, that ain’t too bad. Nice atmosphere while keeping the genuine atmosphere of a local restaurant.
Banh Khoai “Hong Mai”, Dinh Tien Hoang – Nguyen Bieu corner Str. (Inside the Purple Forbidden City) is known as the best Banh Khoai(Pancake) in Hue. This is a family restaurant. Nem Lui (minced pork grilled with lemon grass on coal) and Banh Beo also recommended. Bánh Khoái Lạc Thiện (Trần Hưng Đạo st).
Banh Khoai – ‘Hạnh’, 11 Phó Đức Chinh (small street between Ben Nghe and Tran Quang Khai), ☎ 054-833552. This is a family restaurant where the locals go to eat Hue specialities, cheap and very good food!. Ban Khoai – 18,000 dong, Nem Lui 30,000 dong.
Brown eyes restaurant 1/34 Nguyen Tri Phuong – Tel: 054 832572 . You need cheap food and big plates. Go to Brown Eyes and you will be satisfied for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Suitable for young people. Changed name, and now bad service.
La Carambole, 19 Pham Ngu Lao, ☎ 054-3810491. This place looks like a tourist trap… and it is. Reports suggest that it may once have been great but it now seems as if the chef inherited the menu but has no culinary experience. Serves French food, Vietnamese food and pizza. All of which are subpar. In April 2012 food here was actually pretty good, portions small but not bad prices for tourist area.
Friendly restaurant, D Pham Ngu Lao, an excellent choice with charming staff and a wide range of Vietnamese and European food. Opened in 2005 and owned by a Vietnamese family, Friendly restaurant is in the town’s centre.
Mandarin Café, 24 Tran Cao Van. Having been forced to move many times,the owner, Mr. Cu has purchased property and built on this new location to ensure that he won’t haveto move again anytime soon. The owner is also a good photographer and many of his pictures hang on the wall. The food here is consistently good with local & Western favorites. Try his banana pancakes. They are as good today as they were 10 years ago.
Phuong Nam Cafe, 38 Tran Cao Van – Tel: 054 3849317 is a nice little restaurant with decent but very cheap food and excellent fruit shakes.
Banh Bao, in the corner of Ben Nghe and Nguyen Tri Phuong. is an street vendor that sells wonderful Banh Bao 5000 dong.
Hot Tuna, 37 Vo Thi Sau (Corner of Vo Thi Sau & Chu Van An) – Tel: 84.54.3616464 is a nice restaurant, friendly staff and our meals were excellent. Recommend the chicken breast with mushroom sauce and mashed potatoes, 80,000 Dong and well worth every bit of it. The best I have had in Asia. Duck also quite nice. Meals range from 40,000 (sandwiches) to 160,000 (fish) and have lots of options in the mid range.
Hue Waterland Bar-Restaurant, 35 Chu Van An St. Tel : 054.3844844. Dining, lunch, breakfast. They serve Vietnam cuisine and Western food. Such as Bun Bo Hue, Banh Loc, Banh Beo, Banh Nam, Nem Lui, burgers, sandwiches, pizza, spaghetti, spring rolls, fish, shrimp, pork, noodle, rice. In tourist center, just few minutes to Perfume River. Garden view with bamboon tree and candle.
Japanese Restaurant, 34 Tran Cao Van, ☎ 054-834457. This Japanese restaurant serves excellent food for a relatively good price. 30,000-50,000 dong.
Japanese Restaurant Jass/ Children’s home, 12 Chu Van An, ☎ 054-3825146. 18h30-21h30, mon-sat. Social Profit Japanese restaurant with outstanding flavors. edit
Không Gian Xưa, Điện Biên Phủ st. A nice place to enjoy delicious local cuisine in a well designed traditional style building.
Ong Tao, 31 Chu Van An. 054.823031. Excellent traditional Hue food, try the meat rolls (wrapped in mint leaves) or the fried spring rolls -incredibly crunchy-. Not too crowded, kind of hidden in a first floor. Don’t miss it. All dishes (US$1-7) have small and big versions, so you can order a few.
Paradise Garden Restaurant (Nha Hang Vuon Thien Dang), 17 Le Loi Street, Hue (in front of Saigon Morin Hotel), ☎ 838485. 07.00 – 23.00. Expensive, nice settings, not very authentic but still good- cheap by normal standards obviously. The live music is good. 1-5 USD.
Tinh Gia Vien, 20/3 Le Thanh Ton, tel. +84-54-522243. Wonderful old Hue-style nha vuon garden villa on a quiet side street, formerly the residence of a princess, converted by a bonsai enthusiast into a restaurant serving Imperial cuisine. There are three set menus at US$15/20/25 (“big”, “bigger” or “biggest”, according to the menu) but all sets have 11 courses and are guaranteed to fill you up. The food wins full points for presentation, but is unfortunately somewhat toned down for the foreign palate.
Ancient Hue Royal Cuisine and Gallery : One of the biggest restaurants in Hue. Prices are good, food is excellent, extremely clean. All is served by a professional staff, international experienced chef. It is also a complex of ancient houses among huge garden area, which makes you feel comfortable once you come here. Also, the food carvings are memorable, and the service is outstanding. Expect to pay between $30 per person, cheapest wine was $25 a bottle and beers started at $3.50 rather steep when you are paying $1 for a beer anywhere else. Well worth a visit, recommend getting a taxi there as quite difficult to find even with google maps.
The people of Hue have a strong tradition of eating vegetarian food, so vegetarian restaurants are more common in Hue than in the rest of Vietnam. On the 1st and 15th of every lunar month, vegetarian restaurants are packed full of patrons for dinner and it may prove difficult to find a seat. Vegetarian restaurants are the cheapest places to eat, after street vendors.
Bo De, D Le Loi. Run by the Huong Giang travel company. Extremely popular with locals. Serves delicious vegetarian appetizers and entrees. Expect to fill yourself for US$2-3/person. While the restaurant serves truly wonderful cheap vegetarian dishes, for some reason the staff is very unfriendly with foreigners. Half of the dishes listed on the menu are not available.
Lien Hoa, D Le Quy Don. In the grounds of the Lien Hoa pagoda, across from the football stadium. Monks and nuns frequent this restaurant during lunch. A small shop near the door sells Vietnamese language Buddhist texts, prayer beads and icons.
Com Chay (vegetarian rice) Is near the River on on the ‘newer side’ it has simple, but good and cheap vegetarian meals.
Tinh Tam (or “calm soul”) located at 12 Chu Van An tel.823572. Answering the question “Who would Buddha rip off?”, this Buddhist restaurant in the backpacker district has a little scam going. There are two menus- an English one with strange dishes at high prices, and a Vietnamese one with normal Vietnamese dishes at normal prices. If you try to order off the Vietnamese menu, the owner will claim those dishes are not available. If you do succeed in ordering a Vietnamese dish, the owner will bring out an unidentifiable dish and claim it is what you ordered (going so far as to claim a plate of noodles and tomatoes was “pho”) at 4-5 times the price. If you complain, the owner suddenly doesn’t speak English. You can find plenty of unhappy customer reviews on the internet of this place. To avoid. Price: Vietnamese: 5000d / Other races: 40,000-50,000d.
Quang Tinh, 91 Vo Thi Sau, in the backpacker area. 6am-10pm. Very simple place, menu of noodles, rice, and so on, starting at 10,000d. Also sells cigarettes and hard alcohol.
Where to drink
B4 Bar-Café, 75 D Ben Nghe. A charming Belgian-Vietnamese owned bar, with a welcoming interior and free pool.
Brown Eyes Chillout Bar-Club, 56 Chu Van An, Hue, ☎ 054.827494. Happy hour(s) 5PM-10PM. Live DJ, free pool table, and a good vibe. Not far from Pham Ngu Lao, but they offer to pay for taxis from hotels for parties of four persons or more. Stays open till the last ones pass out! No cover.
Café on Thu Wheels, 1/2 D Nguyen Tri Phuong. It’s a little bar owned by the charming lady Thu.
DMZ Bar & Café, 44 D Le Loi. Stays open late.Very expensive drinks.
Why Not, 21 Vo Thi Sau, ☎ 054-824793.
Sinh To place, 30 Ben Nghe. Shop for drinking ice tea, coffee, smoothies and juices. Local prices (they are published on a board). Try Rau Má juice: when available it is meant to be very good for your health. Rau má (centella asiatica juice) 6000 dong, smoothies (sinh to) 8000 dong.
Vy Da Xua, 131 Nguyen Sinh Cung St (east on Le Loi, about 1 mile past the causeway). Enjoy a delicious cup of Vietnamese coffee, or any beverage, in this beautiful setting. The traditional beam house is surrounded by a garden and small stream where you can hear birds and restful music. The perfect place to meet friends.
Mercury café, Ben Nghe 42, ☎ 0543843392. Big modern tavern to meet, have a drink or have some vietnamese or italian food. Light, colors, contemporary setting. Front terrace and quiet back-patio. Western music. Gay-friendly.
Oasis Bar, 42/4 Le Loi Street (Opposite the Converse shop, at the end of the small alleyway). A relaxing beach bar in the middle of the city. Escape the busy streets to our ‘oasis’ and chill out in hammocks or sit on cushions on the sand. Shaded by palm trees, its the perfect place to relax and enjoy a refreshing drink and read a book (also for sale) or play a game of free pool. Later, enjoy a game of beer pong, dance to our Western DJ and enjoy our nightly happy hours (6-9pm) and drinks specials (9-11pm). Eat one of our specialty burgers with a fresh fruit cocktail and all with friendly staff and cheap prices.
There are lots of small cafés (quán cafe) in Hue. Going out for coffee is a favorite local pastime. Most Hue people wouldn’t think of starting the morning without meeting friends over a glassful. Most coffee shops open for business in the morning, close down from about 10:30 or so until late afternoon, then open again for the after-work and evening crowds. Do try the local style, iced, either with condensed milk, or black, which means with sugar. In the South, the iced coffee comes in a tall glass with lots of ice and lots of syrupy milk. In the Central area, the glass is much smaller, and the coffee is usually stronger. If you don’t look Vietnamese, you may be served a weaker coffee, or if you order cafe nong (hot), they will also give you an extra glass of hot water to pour in. Do try your coffee first, to taste it the way the locals like it. Something like an iced, sweet espresso, with chocolaty overtones. Generally 6,000d-8,000d for Vietnamese people; 10,000d+ for foreigners.
Sidewalk Coffee – Opposite 30 Bach Dang st. Go local and try some delicious early morning coffee with chocolaty overtones, hot or iced, while watching river life on the canal. The woman who brews it up also offers banh mi, french bread with your choice of fillings. Another woman shares the same patch of sidewalk and sells very reasonably priced banh canh, a popular local breakfast soup. A real plus here is the cleanliness. The coffee glasses are spotless! Open from about 5:30 a.m. until 9 or 10, when the coffee and food are sold out. After your coffee, you can continue walking along Bach Dang to reach 2 famous local pagodas, both nearby.
Where to stay
There are plenty of cheap traveller hotels and mid-market hotels in Hue, as well as a couple of expensive giants. The largest cluster is around the short lane of Pham Ngu Lao (including Le Loi, Hung Vuong, Chu Van An, Nguyen Cong Tru). It’s not quite as big (or backpackery) as its Ho Chi Minh City namesake, but still a definite tourist magnet. Across the river, near the citadel there are a few budget hotels on and around Dinh Tien Hoang.
Canary Hotel, 37 Nguyen Cong Tru, ☎ 84.054.3839699. All rooms are air-conditioned, all equipped with 32-inch LCD cable TV, shower with bathtub, and mini-bar. Some of its facilities are bar and restaurant, Internet room, boutique and souvenir shop, and laundry service. Rates on official website start at USD 15.65.
Phong Lan, 12/66 Le Loi Street, ☎ 054.3826255. Very nice and clean Hotel located in a small, calm side street near Pham Ngu Lao. All rooms have balcony, AC, own bathroom. Rooms for 2 to 4 persons. Free wi-fi, bicycle and motorbike rental available. Staff is very friendly and speaks good english. 10-20$.
Hue Backpacker’s Hostel, 10 Pham Ngu Lao Street, (firstname.lastname@example.org). checkout: 11am. From the makers of the ever popular Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel. Hue Backpacker’s is the newest addition to Pham Ngu Lao and is rapidly becoming the spot to stay and hang out. Cheap accommodation, very clean, spacious balconies to relax and read a book, and they’ve got an elevator for your packs. Free Internet, continental breakfast included, WiFi, and super friendly helpful staff. The downstairs area is also a bar and restaurant serving arguably the best burgers in Hue and other western delights. From US$7.
Phuoc An (DMZ Hotel), 1A Pham Ngu Lao Street (right across the street from Hue Backpackers, go down Le Loi until you get to Century Hotel and Pham Ngu Lao is opposite the hotel. Phuoc An is just on the left), ☎ +84 54 382 6831 (email@example.com). checkout: 12pm. Right across the street from Hue Backpacker’s Hostel. Phuoc An is a very clean, very friendly hotel. WiFi is available and fast. The rooms are spacious and the beds are soft and quite comfortable. The staff handles motorbike rentals and laundry. They also serve food. It’s a much cheaper alternative to it’s nearby competitors and you get better quality for the price. Since it’s right on Pham Ngu Lao, it’s close to Hue’s nightlife. US$12 for a double room.
Waterland hotel.add : 35/42 Nguyen Cong Tru.st.Huecity .Tel : (+84.54)3935435 / 3935735 .Email : firstname.lastname@example.org .Website: www.waterlandhotel.com .Waterland Hotel is aBoutique Hotel located on Nguyen Cong Tru street, just a minute’s walk to the famous Perfume River. It offers a modern and diverse range of facilities and services. All the rooms in the hotel have wooden floors and are equipped with IDD telephone, air-conditioning, cable TV, refrigerator, bathroom, (bath-tub and shower), hair-dryer, coffee and tea making facilities, private computer with ADSL for free.
Amigo Hotel, 66/3 Le Loi Street, ☎ +84 54 3838006 (email@example.com, fax: +84 54 3838005). Tucked away find in the heart of the guesthouse/cheaper district.Very good location,opposite side of river to the Citadel,v.close to Hue Backpackers Hostel and DMZ bar.friendly staff, very clean and modern rooms at 300,000 for a double Feb 20th 2013. Free WiFi(works in the room) and PCs available for guest use. Air-con. Sat TV. Laundry service at 20,000 dong per kilo. Restaurant downstairs does ok food reasonably priced. US$13-25.
Bamboo Hotel, 61 Hung Vuong, ☎ +84-54-3828345. Good Hotel. The staff is friendly, the rooms are clean and neat. There is free internet available. From US$10.
Bao Son Hotel, 39 Nguyen Cong Tru, ☎ 84.54.3827189. Clean, new and well kept with friendly staff.wifi. tv cable. Air conditioning and fans in every room. Laundry available. From US$ 10.
Binh Duong I Hotel, 17/34 Nguyen Tri Phuong Alley, ☎ 054-382-9990. Aircon, hot water & satellite TV included. Popular with Japanese tourists. Friendly and helpful staff. Some rooms have bath-tubs and/or private balcony. From US$10. Dorms are $4 (84k dong).
Halo, 10A/66 D Le Loi (up an alley coming off the main road, where there is an array of other guest houses – there’s a small sign for it along with some others at the alley’s entrance). Spotless rooms, spacious, with large bathrooms and TV. There is a balcony to sit at night, and it’s close to all the nightlife in Hue. Doubles 160,000 dong / US$10.
Mimosa Guesthouse, Le Loi, ☎ 054.828068. friendly, quiet location in a backpacker hotel alley off Le Loi. From US$4.
Minh Hieu Hotel, 3 Chu Van An, ☎ 054.828725. Family-run hotel named after the wild urchin who’ll make his displeasure known if you spend too long on the Internet-ready computer downstairs, thereby keeping him from online puzzle games. The rooms are spotlessly clean, with satellite TV, hot water, and mini-fridges; each floor has a balcony, and it’s not too loud outside. Breakfast is available for US$1. From US$10.
Sports Hotel, 15 Pham Ngu Lao Street. Nice cheap 2-star hotel located on the main tourist hangout. Surprisingly clean and big spacious rooms and not far from the river. From US$10.
Valentine hotel, Number7, lane 64 Nguyen Cong Tru street, ☎ +84543817665 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +84543817898). check-in: 12p.m; check-out: 12 p.m. usd12. edit
Lam Bao Long Hotel, 80 Le Loi St, ☎ 054.3822804. check-in: 8.00 AM; check-out: 12.00 PM. Has 15 non smoking rooms, air conditioning, bathrobes, daily newspaper, desk, hair dryer. 12.00 USD. edit
Holiday (Diamond) Hotel, 6/14 Nguyen Cong Tru. Exceptionally good value. The spotless, air-conditioned rooms ($20-35) are well-furnished with modern amenities, and include lockable wardrobes. The included breakfast is substantial. The staff are very attentive, and will learn and try to remember your name using memory-training tricks. They will warmly welcome you back after each foray outside, and provide you with free drinks (lemon juice, corn-water) every time you enter, and whenever you sit in the lobby. The nearby Jade Hotel (17 Nguyen Thai Hoc) has the same ownership so includes the same standard of staff-training in simpler rooms ($15-20). Book a few days ahead (at either hotel) and they will pick you up from the train station.
Hanh Dat Hotel, 15 Pham Van Dong St. Vy Da, Thua Thien Hue, ☎ 84 54 3898486. Rooms with air-conditioning, wi-fi anternet access and 32-inch LCD TV with satellite/ cable channels. Facilities and services are restaurant, business center, fax and photocopying services. From USD 25.
Asia Hotel. Opened only in December 2004, but despite the token modern TV, the fittings seem much older. The rooms are well enough equipped though and the rooftop restaurant and pool have nice views. Rooms from a slightly overpriced US$30, including a decent buffet breakfast. edit
New Star Hotel, 36 Chu Van An Str, Phu Hoi Ward, ☎ 84-0914.091447. It offers Deluxe Room, Family Suite and Superior Room all equipped with air conditioning, balcony/deck, cable television, CD player, coffee/tea maker, internet connection, minibar, private toilet and bath, safe and telephone. Some of its facilities and services are swimming pool, restaurant, massage service and airport transfer.
Orchid Hotel. This hotel feels like a 5-star establishment with very professional and personable staff. Clean, spacious, and beautifully designed rooms. Double rooms US$35 (27 Euros), including a decent buffet breakfast. They picked me up from the train station for free and offered me use of a motorbike for free. My bed was huge.
Park View Hotel Hue, 9 Ngo Quyen, ☎ +(84-54) 837382. Park View Hotel is a four star hotel in the center of the city, near the Perfume River. It’s a 10-minute walk to Hue Citadel.
Thai Y Hotel Hue, No 10 Pham Van Dong, ☎ +84 054.3897373. Thai Y Hotel is a no star hotel, a little away from center of the city, but its accessible to city center. Its brand new, started in 2009, very clean, comfortable, has good wifi connection in-room, brand new bathroom fixtures, have a few quirks here and there but nothing unbearable. One of the young proprietor speaks decent English and friendly.US$17-35.
Vina Hotel Hue, 57/03 Nguyen Cong Tru St, ☎ 84 (54)625114. Hotel surrounded by trees. Rooms with river or city view. US$28-50.
Ana Mandara Hue, An Hai village, Thuan An town, Phu Vang district (20 minutes form the city centre), ☎ (84) 054 398 3333 (sales@anamandarahue-resort, fax: (84) 054 397 1111). This location offers guests a taste of “real” Vietnam. With the neighboring fishing village and lagoon one side and 400m of private beach the other.It also provides romantic dinner on the beach and luxury spa with natural product . From US$150.
La Residence, 5 D Le Loi (Walking distance from the train station), ☎ (84) 054 837 475. Renovated and restored 4 years ago, it tries to bring to life the French colonial era of the 1920’s. It has the largest swimming pool and spa in Hue, and the general manager are British and the head chef is the high profile Vietnamese chef . From US$136.
Saigon Morin, 30 Le Loi Street. Hue’s grand old hotel, opened by a Mr. Morin from France and running strong for over a hundred years. Excellent riverside location, white-washed colonial charm and a pleasant inner courtyard, although the rooms could use a little fine-tuning. From US$100.
Hue is a safe city, and there is not much to worry about. However, at night all cyclo-drivers, especially in Pham Ngu Lao area, should be avoided. There are recent cases in which travellers have been mugged, beaten and robbed by these people. During the day a ride should be fine, but at night, especially when they say its free or “up to you” avoid them at all costs.
Be suspicious of locals asking where you are from and then claiming to have family living there. The scam goes something like this. They will ask you to sit down for lunch/dinner with them and talk. After eating they will offer to pay for the meal and just ask that you buy them a local bottle of wine to drink at their temple. When you arrive at the local store the shop owner will say the wine is 7,000 dong and then when you attempt to pay she will say 700,000.
How to get out
Hue travel agents are keen to sell day-tours of the former Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which was supposed to be a buffer between North and South Vietnam, but which saw intense fighting. DMZ trips will include the famous Vinh Moc tunnels, where a few hundred people lived for two and a half years.
Surrounding Countryside You can be outside the city of Hue and into the jade green rice fields in just 10 minutes. Whether by car, motorbike or bicycle, there is much to see. (It’s a bit too far to go by foot). Different villages tend to specialize in different handicrafts, so you can visit one area to see noodle-making, another for incense, then move on to see bronze-crafting, or rice cultivation.
Hoi An – old merchant port 100km away (about 4 hours by road or train – though train, 67,000d, stops at Danang, will need to take local bus from there), with Da Nang, the Marble Mountains and China Beach as potential stops along the way.
Dong Hoi – about 3 hours north of Hue, sleepy seaside town to sit around in. Bus from Hue (March ’12): local bus: 80,000d / Sinh Cafe bus: 400,000d / Tourist buses: 300,000d.
Nam Dong district – great place for visiting Co Tu villages on the fringe of Bach Ma National Park
Beware booking buses with Moon Travel (Nguyen Tri Phuong), with promises of a bus dropping you off at your hotel in the destination city. They change buses, and then ultimately you end up at the bus station with no recourse.
Beware of booking tickets mediated through people at the bus and train station or at “Adin’s Café Booking Office” at the RR station. On arrival they ask you friendly how you like to continue your trip and then they want to make you believe to hurry as the train/bus is almost fully booked. Then they show you the “official” price list, which in fact it’s just for tourists at a much higher price as locals pay for the tickets. Send them away and compare the ticket prices at your hotel and with other booking offices instead.
There are also frequent bus services to Savannakhet and Vientiane in Laos. Buses leave at 06:00 and 18:00. There are 3 scheduled direct buses to Vientiane – 6:00 am, 9:30 am and 6:00 pm. The trip to Savannakhet takes about 12 hours and cost around US$12, to Vientiane about 14-18 hours depending how many stops bus makes and US$ 20-30. The vehicle can be anything between minibus, air-con bus to a local 30 years old bus. Usually buses packed with traders and their cargo that finding enough space would be a problem. You’ll probably have to change bus 3-4 times during the trip and toilets (aside from squatting in the jungle) are seldom available. Tickets can be bought in any booking office in the center of Hue.
VIP Bus to Savannakhet run by Lao state company leave 8.30 at southern bus station 5/week everyday except Sunday and Friday cost VND220,000 and From savannakhet to Hue departure 10.00 AM at Savannakhet bus station Mon-Friday 100,000kip(July, 2009)