Navigating Hue’s Ancient Past

This post was last updated on October 21st, 2013

Our first few weeks of cycling were just about as off-the-beaten-path as they come (have a look back at those road conditions if you don’t believe us!). As much as we loved—and are still loving—getting an intimate look at everyday Vietnamese life, by the time we arrived in the popular tourist city of Hue, we were ready to trade our spandex for something with, you know, a button.


A Cruising Couple Perfume River Hue Vietnam


Hue was an ideal place to play tourist for the day. Located in central Vietnam, Hue was the capital of Vietnam through the 19th and early 20th century under the Ngyuen Empire. The city itself is lovely, boasting a quaint position on the banks of the Perfume River. It’s packed with fellow tourists, but for good reason. The food is sensational (more to come on that in a future post), the old streets are mesmerizing, and the lush, vibrant surroundings are renewing. However, most people find their way to Hue for a chance to encounter its ancient past.


Citadel Hue Vietnam Building


Steeping in historical remains, it’s easy to fill multiple days wandering through Hue’s attractions, though the high admission fees make it a little less desirable to do so. The first stop for many (ourselves included) is The Citadel, the palace complex of the Nguyen Empire, modeled after China’s Forbidden City. Wisps of the palace’s mystical and decadent past remain, despite the fact that a large portion of the complex was destroyed during the Tet Offensive. Rather than glimmering temples and blossoming lotus ponds, expect to find overgrown grass fields and stone ruins. Today the government is undertaking a mammoth project to reconstruct The Citadel—a somewhat controversial aim that perhaps takes away from the authenticity of the grounds, turning them into more of an amusement park than historical wonder. But despite the construction, The Citadel is an ideal place to quietly stroll while envisioning the certain grandeur under the Nguyen Empire. This is one place where a tour guide or app is helpful to truly bring the imperial city to life. Admission fee: 105,000 VD (about US $5)

Cidadel Hue Vietnam Flowers and Building

Citadel Hue Vietnam Rebuilt

Citadel Hue Vietnam Construction

Cidadel Hue Vietnam Doorway

Citadel Well Hue Vietnam


Another element of the Nguyen Empire that makes a worthwhile visit are the Royal Mausoleums. There are seven to choose from, but we were satisfied with our one visit to The Mausoleum of Tu Duc. The grandiose grounds of Tu Duc are nestled in forested hills about 7km outside of the city center, making this mausoleum perhaps the quickest to access. Not only does the mausoleum contain Tu Duc’s tomb, it also boasts an area devoted entirely to Tu Duc’s concubines, temples, pavilions, and twelve-hectares of gardens. Tu Duc is said to have spent a large amount of time at his mausoleum prior to his death, and his heavy guidance in achieving a place of harmony and serenity are obvious. Bring a pen and some paper and let the poetic spirit of Tu Duc inspire. Admission fee: 80,000 VD (about US $4)


Tu Duc Mausoleum Stone Carvings

Tu Duc Mausoleum Monument

Tu Duc Mausoleum Tomb


A perfect place to end a day of exhausting sightseeing is the Thien Mu Pagoda. We were fortunate to have our newfound Vietnamese friends show us around the grounds (come back Monday to hear all about how we met them!). According to our guides, the peaceful pagoda has an almost humorous origin: In the 1600s, a mystical old woman appeared on a hilltop, claiming a lord would build the 7-story pagoda. Lord Ngyueyn Hoang then took it upon himself to fulfill the prophecy, and the pagoda was effectively built. From here it would stand for four centuries, watching over Hue during its turbulent history. The Pagoda provides outstanding views of the Perfume River, and is one of the few attractions in Hue that is free.


Thien Mu Pagoda Hue Vietnam

Buddhist Monks Praying at Thien Mu Pagoda Hue Vietnam


One day of navigating Hue’s ancient past only gave us a sampling of the romantic city. We could have spent much longer truly getting to know Hue, and it would certainly be easy for true history-buffs to get lost in the former arts, culture, and political capital of Vietnam.



Tell us! Have you been to Hue? What was the most memorable part?


Discover even more from Vietnam:

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Tour de Vietnam: Cycling Central Vietnam      Hoi An For Non-Shoppers

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An Introduction to Vietnamese                           The Ultimate Guide to Cycling
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    • Your description is spot on. I think that’s why people have issues with the reconstruction.

  1. Guys, what a great news. I’ve been following your cycling adventure and it reminds me a lot of me and Cez biking the full length of Vietnam last year. Looks like you are doing a lot of sightseeing as well. That must be exhausting. Have fun and keep exploring new places!! :)
    Agness recently posted…5 Free Things To Do in Santa Fe, North AmericaMy Profile

    • It’s definitely a long way but we really feel as though we have gotten to see the real Vietnam. We’d love to hear more about your trip! We actually went through Cez’s tips before we started and they were super helpful! :-)

      • That’s superb. We are glad you find our cycling tips useful. In this way you will definitely see the real side of the country and experience what backpackers never will. Have fun!
        Agness recently posted…5 Free Things To Do in Santa Fe, North AmericaMy Profile

  2. Gorgeous shots! We really wanted to visit Hue, but with only 10 days in the country decided to focus on Siagon, Hanoi and Halong Bay. But we’ll definitely go back to spend time in the places we missed!
    Heather recently posted…7 Things You Might Not Know About ChinaMy Profile

    • Thanks! With only 10 days it sounds like you saw some good spots. We looooved Halong Bay, it’s popular for good reason. I hope you get the chance to see more of Vietnam in the future. :-)

    • Good luck! I know you’ll love it when you get here. :-)

  3. When we were in Vietnam we spent 2 or 3 days in Hue, can’t remember. We did no sightseeing at all. We are no party travelers but all I remember of Hue is the incredibly cheap cocktails and the amazing food.
    Angela recently posted…Apple & Pear CrumbleMy Profile

    • We missed out on the cheap cocktails but we did get a taste of the food. Super delicious. We eat Sinh To just about everyday now :-p

  4. Hue was one of our favorite places in Vietnam! I loved how much character the city had—everywhere you looked there was some breathtaking photo to take. I had only read lackluster reviews of the city before our arrival so had pretty low expectations but we wound up staying a few extra nights because we loved it so much. And we had some truly amazing food while we were there… What I wouldn’t give to be back there right now!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Everything You Ever Wanted to Know (& More!) About: TAIWANMy Profile

    • Glad you had such a great time! :-) There is so much history to explore in Hue it’s easy to stick around.

  5. Cycling through Vietnam. That’s pretty awesome. I think could only cycle early in the morning though, because of the heat. Is that a problem for you guys?
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted…Capture the colour competition 2013My Profile

    • Early August when we began was pretty brutal. We refused to check the weather because we didn’t even want to know how hot is was. :-p We tried to get an early start most days (we became a little too friendly with the snooze button) but we were almost always on the road by 8am.



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