Unlike Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and most other Vietnamese cities, HUE somehow seems to have stood aside from the current economic frenzy and, despite its calamitous history, has retained a unique cultural identity. It’s a small, peaceful city, full of lakes, canals and lush vegetation, all celebrated in countless romantic outpourings by its much esteemed poetic fraternity. Since the early nineteenth century, when Hue became the capital ofVietnam, it has also been a city of scholars; there’s a discernible atmosphere of refinement and easy-going tolerance in the city, though it’s considered highbrow by the rest of the country,.
Hue repays exploration at a leisurely pace, and contains enough in the way of historical interest to swallow up a few days with no trouble at all. The city divides into three clearly defined urban areas, each with its own distinct character. The nineteenth-century walled citadel, on the north bank of the Perfume River, contains the once magnificent Imperial City as well as an extensive grid of attractive residential streets and prolific gardens. Across Dong Ba Canal to the east lies Phu Cat, the original merchants’ quarter of Hue where ships once pulled in, now a crowded district of shophouses, Chinese Assembly Halls and pagodas. What used to be called the European city, a triangle of land caught between the Perfume River’s south bank and the Phu Cam Canal, is now Hue’s modern administrative centre, where you’ll also find most hotels and tourist services.
Pine-covered hills, scattered with tombs and secluded pagodas, form the city’s southern bounds, where the Nguyen emperors built their palatial Royal Mausoleums And through it all meanders the Perfume River, named somewhat fancifully from the tree resin and blossoms it carries, passing on its Way the celebrated, seven-storey tower ofThien Mu Pagoda). If you can afford the time, cycling out toThuan An Beach makes an enjoyable excursion. Hué is also the main jumping-off point for day-tours of the DMZ ).
With all this to offer, Hué is inevitably one ofVietnam’s pre-eminent tourist destinations. The choice and standard of accommodation are generally above average, as are its restaurants serving the city’s justly famous speciality foods. Nevertheless, the majority of people pass through Hué fairly quickly, partly because high entrance fees make visiting more than a couple of the major sights beyond many budgets, and partly because of its troublesome weather. Hué suffers from the highest rainfall in the country, mostly falling over just three months from October to December when the city regularly floods for a few days, causing damage to the historic architecture, though heavy downpours are possible at any time of year.