There were times when I was planning my two-week itinerary to Vietnam when I wondered about Hue. Was it worth it? At first glance, the Imperial City enclosure seemed like the main attraction, with the tombs being so far out of the city. Looking back, I am so glad I didn’t skip this little town – the grandeur of the old capital, and the majestic Royal Tombs made it more than worth it. In this place, I stayed in what was to become my favourite hotel for the whole trip. Most people in Vietnam were lovely, but in Hue the staff at the Jade Hotel made me feel so welcome with their warmth and patience, sitting with me and pouring delicious fresh watermelon juice, telling me about the places I should definitely go to eat, and all the options on how to visit the different Tombs. They also have a spa, where I got the best massage of my life (granted I never indulge myself too much, so I don’t have that much to compare it to).
So if you can, do stop in Hue. I spent two nights and almost 2 full days there, and it was enough to see the main things – getting to the tombs, exploring the Imperial City and also getting to the Thien Mu Pagoda. On the way to the tombs, my driver also stopped by what is known as the Incense village – clearly a shop stop, but I wanted to buy some incense anyway and if I can help the local commerce a little, why not?
The Thien Mu Pagoda is free to visit and it was definitely another highlight of Hue. It sits on the Ha Khe hill, in the Huong Long village, about 5 Km from Hue city centre – to get here you will need some sort of transport – this was included in the drive I booked to the Tombs. Thien Mu means Heaven Lady and it comes from a legend about an old woman who appeared on the hill announcing to the locals that a lord would come and build a Buddhist Pagoda for the country’s prosperity.
A pagoda did end up being built in 1601 and several kings got to restore it as years went by. It was initially a lot simpler, but it kept being expanded, with diverse and more intricate elements added. The Phuoc Duyen tower ended up being the most striking feature of this site, which was erected in 1884. It’s dedicated to a Buddha who appeared in human form. This is now the unofficial symbol of Hue.
The Pagoda has also become a hot point for political demonstrations since the 1960s and, in 1993, a man set himself on fire after leaving offerings in the pagoda.
Today, this is another oasis of tranquillity, with a beautiful garden surrounded by a forest of pine trees. It is so well taken care of.
After all of this sightseeing, you’ll be hungry and also potentially in need of relaxation. Perhaps because I was in Hue over the weekend, I was pretty surprised by how it came alive at night. Some of the streets were closed to traffic (which is in itself such a relief), and bars and restaurants were blasting music out loud and full of crowds of young people drinking, chatting, and laughing. Take a walk to the riverside and watch how the bridge changes colours and the beautiful reflection in the waters of the Perfume River.
I thought Perfume River was a very interesting name, so I looked it up – in the autumn, flowers from orchards located upriver from Hue fall into the water, and the waters of the river bring a very nice aroma to the city. Since I wasn’t there in Autumn, I cannot confirm the veracity of this.
When it comes to food, you cannot miss the steamed rice cakes with prawns. I definitely recommend the restaurant Madame Thu!
If you can, don’t leave Hue out of your itinerary. I did enjoy this little town and how friendly it was, giving me a bit of everything, culture, nice views, amazing food and a place to relax for a little while.