Huế is a city located in the geographical centre of Vietnam, exactly halfway between Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. Although Huế does not appear as an obligatory destination in most of Vietnam tourist guides (which place more emphasis on other locations such as Sapa, the Halong Bay and the routes through the Mekong Delta) the city of Huế is interesting and important historically and architecturally. If you are going to spend several weeks in Vietnam or you are going to move along the geography of the country we recommend you to make a stop at Huế. In this article we explain what is special about this Vietnamese city and what to do in and around it.
The imperial capital of Vietnam: Huế
Huế has been a key place in the history of Vietnam. The first ruins in this area of what is now Vietnam date back almost 1,600 years.
The feudal Huế of the Middle Ages
The first human settlements in the area where Huế stands today date back to the 4th century AD, a city about 3 kilometres west of the present city and which was known as Kandapurpura. During much of the Middle Ages and up to the 19th century Huế was the capital of several feudal dynasties that dominated all of what is now southern Vietnam, among which the Nguyen dynasty stands out.
Huế during the French colonization and Vietnam War
During the French colonization of Vietnam that began in 1887 Huế was part of the Annam protectorate, the name given by the French to Vietnam and the border areas they controlled. After the independence of France Huế was the capital of the country until 1945, when Emperor Bao Dai abdicated and the city lost its capital status. The then communist government of North Vietnam (the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) in 1945 established its capital in Ha Noi, in the north.
Destruction and death during the Vietnam War
Being on the border between South and North Vietnam, Huế suffered much material and human damage during the Vietnam War . The United States, for its part, carried out a large number of indiscriminate bombings that destroyed a large part of its historic buildings, and the Communists perpetrated during Operation Tet what was known as the massacre of Huế, mass executions that went down in history as one of the black episodes of the Vietnam War.
How to get to Huế
The airport of Huế has no direct connections with Europe, so to get there you will have to first go through Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh and from there take a connection to Huế. You also have the option to travel by train on the well-known Reunification Express that connects Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh or also (less recommended because of the inconvenience) a bus from either of these two cities.
What to visit at Huế
Huế is one of the main tourist destinations in Vietnam for those travellers who want to see the historical and cultural facet of the countries they visit. Huế is considered the main historical city of Vietnam and was declared World Heritage by UNESCO already in 1993 . Its imperial past has left a deep imprint of Vietnamese traditional culture, and Huế is considered one of Asia’s gastronomic capitals.
Citadel of Huế
The great fortress built in the 17th century by the aforementioned Nguyen dynasty served as a defensive bastion for the Nguyen for more than 100 years. Its design is reminiscent of the Forbidden City of Beijing, mixing palaces, temples, imperial tombs and walls in the same space. In the walls there were 10 access gates to the interior of the citadel. Inside the same citadel there are also three enclosures: the imperial city, the civic city or capital and the purple city or forbidden city.
The places that are included in each and every visit to Hue are:
- The tombs of the emperors Khai Dinh, Minh Mang and Tu Duc
- Thien Mu’s pagoda (another essential icon).
In addition, other interesting putnos within the citadel are the following:
- Hung Mieu Temple, built in honor of Emperor Minh Mang’s parents
- Residence Dien Tho or Queen Mother’s palace
- The temple of The Mieu, dedicated to the generations of the Nguyen dynasty.
- Hien Lam Pavilion and its nine dynastic urns
- Thai Hoa Palace , where the throne of the Nguyen emperors is located.
- The Royal Theatre , place of entertainment of the emperor and the royal court
- Royal Library or Thai Binh Lau, the emperor’s private reading room
- The forbidden city or Purple city , so called because this place could only be entered by the emperor in person
La ciudadela de Hue es tan grande que es imposible visitarla toda a pie en un solo día. La mejor opción es contratar un tour guiado o alquilar una bicicleta para desplazarte por el interior de forma ágil y respetuosa con el medio ambiente.
Dong Ba Market
Dong Ba market is a good place to take the pulse of the city. Dong Ba is located at the southeastern end of the Imperial Citadel and is one of the busiest and most hectic markets in Asia. In the Dong Ba market you can find almost anything. The sellers of the Dong Ba market are expert hagglers and very persistent, so we can assure you that in addition to enjoying the bustle you will leave the market with something under your arm.
The Perfume River
The Perfume River divides the city of Huế in two and a very attractive way to travel it is sailing its waters on board of its dragon-shaped boats. If you want an even more special experience cross the river at sunset. The Perfume River also serves as a connection between the different palaces of the citadel of Huế or to reach it from another place in the city.
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