We arrived in Hue on a motorcycle after our Easyrider Vietnam adventure (having selected Hue as the only feasible destination for that trip)….so it was more of a necessity to visit than a desire. Did the visit to Hue turn out better than expected, a nice surprise?


The outer moat at Hue. Pretty.

The Imperial Citadel (Dai Noi)

The big draw of Hue is the huge, historic walled-city where the Nyugen Dynasty had it’s seat of power for 150 years up to 1945 (when Ho Chi Minh seized power). It’s a sprawling site of palaces, temples, pavilions, gardens, moats etc but was mostly destroyed during various wars, including some American bombing when the Viet Cong seized Hue in the war. So it’s an interesting place, but with only a few really stunning buildings left and just plenty of grassy fields.


Drum on the upper level of the Ngo Mon gate

Time for a reconstruction

You start your visit of the Imperial Citadel by crossing over the murky waters of the huge Perfume River. You then see the outer city walls and moat, with a huge tower proudly flying the Vietnam flag high above. Crossing that moat and through a gate, you then enter a wide open space…and find another moat and stretch of high wall in front of you. A city within a city. (Stay with it, there’s a city within that city too – three cities deep.) You certainly get the impression that the layout is organised and in its pomp this place must have been both highly impressive and a formidable defensive fortress.

Ngo Mon Gate

You enter this inner city via the mammoth Ngo Mon gate having crossed one of the bridges over the pretty inner moat, with lotus pads floating on the surface. Choose the middle bridge and you’re using the one reserved for just the Emperor himself.


The inner moat, the lotus pads and the Ngo Mon gate - the main entrance into the Imperial Citadel.

You look up and are dominated by the U-shaped Ngo Mon gate surrounding you. It’s impressive and gets more so as you climb the steps to ascend up to the top. You can really imagine the Emperors sitting on the balcony, resplendent in their best garb, being entertained by a huge show of military force marching past.


The Ngo Mon gate - dominant and impressive


View from the Ngo Mon gate, where military processions would take place.

Walking back down the steps and in towards the inner buildings, you pass through the first courtyard and into the next building. You feel you are retracing the steps the Emperors would have taken. The next building is the one he receives his highest ranking military officers in. This is the best part, seeing the connection between buildings, imagining the pomp and ceremony of yesteryear, of a different time.


Inside the complex there are just small glimpses of what it must have looked like, just 60 years ago

Forbidden Purple City

The quality of the remaining temples, palaces, gates and walk-ways deteriorate from this point on, although there are still some beautiful buildings, decorations and objects to see as you explore them all. It’s just hard to see how they all relate to each other due to the sheer spread (it’s a hard slog around in the heat to see the main sights), they are all quite disparate. The city within a city within a city is the Forbidden Purple City, which was a palace and gardens reserved for just the Emperor himself…but there’s nothing to see now, it’s fully destroyed. Meh.


The walkways and passageways within the Imperial Citadel


One of the minor gates, needs a lick of paint


One of the buildings inside - they were height-restricted so the Emperor himself had the tallest building


Inside one of the temples

Other attractions in Hue

There are one or two other attractions in Hue, including a circuit of tombs to visit and river cruises on the Perfume River. For Western eating and drinking there’s a pleasant little district that bustles with backpacker bars and pizza places. We had a great meal in a little restaurant down a side street, where they seemed to cook the food in small passageway; we later saw a rat run through the seating area – eek! But the food was still really nice!

Oddity after Oddity

One lunchtime we were starving (and hot) and couldn’t find anywhere to eat until we stumbled upon a little old lady’s restaurant – we were her only customers and sat down on the miniature plastic chairs they seem to prefer. She didn’t speak a word of English and the menu was in Vietnamese…she kept bring us oddity after oddity – some edible, but mostly cold, unidentified things individually wrapped in rice paper, including some very strange-looking meats which Carly refused to touch. Eventually we felt compelled to stand up and thank her and pay. No doubt it cost more than it should have done but it was an experience. Time for a pizza.

Summary of Hue

Hue is a big place, with large areas of urban sprawl on both sides of the wide Perfume River, and we found it difficult to really connect with it. There didn’t seem to be a city centre, a heart – ironic given it once had a city within a city within a city! Maybe we missed some of the other things on offer, some more highlights and together with what we saw that would make it a must-see place. Maybe…

Your views on Hue? Please add your tips, recommendations or general thoughts about Hue to help other round the world travelers:

2 Responses to “Hue”

Escape Hunter
February 21st, 2014 @ 9:29 am

So vintage, decaying… a little restoration would be great. Still, there is a beauty in decay as well.

February 21st, 2014 @ 9:55 am

hi there – agree, we loved that vintage, crumbling look. A lot of the forbidden city is beyond restoration, it was fully destroyed

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