Hue Travel Guide

The historic capital of Vietnam, Hue, sits astride a truly majestic and beautiful river, the Song Huong (Perfume River). The north-bank is host to its share of hotels and restaurants, but the area is dominated by the old fortified city known as the Citadel, spread across more than 5 square kilometres of ground, crowding out development on that side of the river. As a result, guesthouses, hotels and restaurants have sprung up on the south bank, starting with the river road, Le Loi Street, and stretching further south. The south bank of the river has been developed as park cum promenade, with an eclectic variety of public sculptures on display.

Hue is the capital of Thua Thien Province, with a population of about 340,000. Its location in central Vietnam, just south of the DMZ, made it a scene of heavy fighting during the American War. It's 15km west of the South China Sea and about 540km south of Hanoi and 644km north of Saigon. While the city is also known for the manufacture of textiles and cement, tourism has become its bread and butter.

Hue's complex history has earned it a reputation as a political, cultural and religious centre, but nowadays, visitors to contemporary Hue will find a city that only dimly reflects on its past, and only does so as a begrudging nod to its western visitors. Like Halong Bay to the north, the complex of tombs, pagodas and palaces throughout Hue and its surrounds has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. But to the Vietnamese psyche, shaped by centuries of war and struggle, tempered by nearly forty years of communist rule, this heritage is largely irrelevant and completely disconnected from the present. The overwhelming sense one gets from the city, on even the most casual visit, is of an unstoppable forward drive, and of a people constantly looking to the future.

But the profitability of tourism has lead to a paradoxical situation where, in order to move forward, the citizens of Hue must pry open those doors to the past they would rather leave shut. As a result, the tourist industry here has developed into a half-hearted attempt to give the foreigners what they want and send them on their way. While this has been effective in one sense -- a steady stream of tourists keeps showing up and paying for tours -- in the larger scheme it has also meant many poorly-run tours and disappointed travellers.

At the moment, Hue is a premier tourist destination mostly in theory. In practice, it's still a work in progress. That notwithstanding, it's a beautiful, vibrant city, with great places to stay, great food, and a number of interesting things to do, on and off the well-worn tourist trail of historic attractions.

m. Hours: 06:00 to 23:00

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