2 Days in Huế: Sights, Food and Family

Located in central Vietnam, Hue was the countries capital from 1802 to 1945. During this period, Nguyen Dynasty emperors ruled throughout Vietnam and were the countries last ruling family.

Today the modern city surrounds ancient palaces, shrines and pagodas, some of which are a must see when visiting Vietnam.

Here’s how we spent our 2 days in Hue.

The Idiots Top 4 Sights in Hue

(Or ones we visited between coffee shops and people watching anyway…)

1. Imperial City, Hue (The Citadel)

In the middle of Hue’s mayhem you can find peace and tranquility inside the old palace walls. The Imperial City suffered damage during the initial phases of the Battle of Hue in 1963.

The remains have since been made a UNESCO site and are fascinating to wander around.

Palace Gates, Imperial City, Hue

Entrance to the palace is 150,000VD ($6).

Inside the palace walls there are various different buildings, all of which have their history on display. It is easy to spend 1-2 hours wandering through the city reading and learning about Hue’s history and the history of the last ruling family.

Imperial City, Hue

Some of the palace has been reconstructed. It is clear to see the original buildings against those that have been refurbished.

Original Building, Imperial City, Hue

None the Less, it is still beautiful.

2. The Pagoda of the Celestial Lady

On the outskirts of Hue, 20 minutes from the city centre, The Pagoda of the Celestial Lady can be found.

This impressive 7 story pagoda was built in 1601 and is still standing strong today. Locals still attend services at the site, so please take this into consideration.

Pagoda of the Celestial Lady, Hue

It is free to visit the pagoda and it doesn’t take too long to walk around and take it all in. Making it a great short evening attraction or something to incorporate on your final day in the city.

It is possible to find tour guides near the entrance, but for us, Google was sort of our friend here. As we arrived in the early morning and just as the first tourist bus of many pulled up.

Later in the day we can imagine it got a lot busier. So that’s a second thing to take into consideration.

There’s a few shops around the parking lot that sell general tourist crap, with other street food vendors that are convenient if you are arriving at lunch.

3. Tomb of Khải Định

Hue is basically a city that’ll allow you to drown in history. Whether drowning in history sounds like a dream, or a nightmare, the sites you can visit and the air around them is nonetheless impressive.

Next up on our tour was the Tomb of Khải Định.

We didn’t really have this on our list when we visited Hue, but after driving out to The Pagoda of the Celestial Lady and taking a ‘scenic’ route home (thank god for downloadable Google maps) we just sort of discovered it…

Sadly, we didn’t have to fight any snakes or evade any demonic rituals to reach the site. But instead just threw ourselves down small and random country roads on our rickety and splutturing moped. Like a 16 year old council estate Indiana Jones.

The Tomb of Khải Định was built in 1920 and took 11 years to complete. It’s a fairly big and green site that’s well maintained and still in active use.

The Emperor Khải Định, was seen as an ’employee’ of the French Government, more than a real Emperor of Vietnam. He was also the last person to be buried with such style in the country and funded the construction through and a fair 30% increase in tax.

4: Freestyle Walking Tour of Hue

So this isn’t exactly a thing ‘to do’, that’d feature on conventional list. But some of the best moments we had in Hue were exploring just out of the centre of the city.

By walking around the Citadel and moving away into the nearby housing, you’ll find lots of amazingly happy and welcoming Vietnamese people, brilliant food (without any English on the menu, so strap yourself in) and amazing spots for a beer or a coffee after a long hot day.

Start wandering about from 4pm and get down and sit with the locals. See if you can master any Vietnamese or if they’re interested in trying to talk English with you.

Street Seller, Hue
Street Seller, Hue

Take a walk along the riverside and if you are feeling flash head back to the centre and then take a cruise along the Perfume River for around 100,000 DONG, more if you have dinner aboard.

If you want an early morning activity, then local markets are a fantastic place to grab some fruit for breakfast and feel a real sense of the culture and way of life of so many Vietnamese people. Barter hard though, lot’s of people will see you coming a mile off and instantly add a hefty percentage to their price.

Ben Ngu Market is a smaller local market out of the centre and a short grab ride away, or for those keeping more central, the bigger.

Street Food, Hue Night Market
Street Food, Hue Night Market

I’m not going to try and write down how you say ‘I would like’, or ‘too expensive’, but when you get chance, learn these words and phrases. They will be as invaluable as ‘thank you’ and ‘hello’ when it comes to shaving a trillion VND off a bunch of 6 grapes.

Other sites to Visit in Hue…

Hue is a city very much focused around it’s center, further afield there are nature reserves, mountainous regions and even more history to be uncovered.

But to get the most from your 48 hours in Hue, we’d recommend sticking in and around the city itself.

For history buffs especially, you’ll feast on information and a visit to the Hue war museum to learn about the tragic past of the city is a must. This includes relics of the American war.

Behind the war museum sits a few galleries and other points of interest. If you do want to go slightly out of the centre, but don’t want to use a Grab or don’t fancy riding a motorbike, there are plenty of guides who can take you around key sites in about 4-5 hours. This will cost you around 300,000 VND. But as ever, might be more, might be less.

Tiles in a Hue Cafe
Tiles in a Hue Cafe

Where to Stay in Huế?

As we’d just stayed in a more conventional ‘resort and hotel’ during our Tam Coc adventure we opted to stay at a homestay for our time in Hue. And what an excellent decision it turned out to be.

Hue is absolutely packed with hotels to suit any budget though, and also has a well located ‘backpacker’ street, which contains hostels and plenty of bars if you don’t fancy a homestay or AirBnb.

But for us, we wanted to keep things affordable and also get a bit of guidance from locals on both the city of Hue and our new home for a year.

Purple Hue Homestay

After scouring ratings and reviews on AirBnb we found The Purple Hue Homestay, a cosy place just East of the Imperial City in Thuận Hòa (10 minute walk) and nestled in a bustling community of Vietnamese people.

We were made to feel so welcome by Binh, Tinh and their parents. A family with two charming daughters and an incredibly comfortable and tidy room to stay in.

Breakfast every morning was cooked by the Grandmother, and is some of the best food we’ve had so far in Vietnam.

Purple Hue Homestay, Hue
Purple Hue Homestay, Hue

Sitting and chatting to Binh and Tinh one evening was invaluable to us two idiots trying to find our way around in a completely new country. The local advice on where to eat is also something we recommend you follow!

The Grandparents, even though they didn’t speak English, were nothing but smiles, belly laughs and support. And for a small fee you can have an evening meal there, get your laundry done and rent a scooter for your stay.

Safe to say we will be back.

Eating in Hue

Eating in Hue is like anywhere in Vietnam. You can opt for the more expensive ‘conventional’ restaurants, or stray away from the main streets and find the menus that defy your comprehension.

If you do this, you’ll recognise Pho, Bun and Banh Mi. But it’s good to get an understand of things like egg, chicken, beef and pork. Just so you can have a reasonable guess.

Don’t be surprised when you get offal or another surprise (chickens feet anyone?) in your food though, it’s very common. Luckily it’s also very tasty.

Top restaurant recommendation for us has to be: Lẩu Bò A Bình. Which is located here.

This is a beef focused restaurant and offers a traditional Vietnamese hotpot as well as incredible beef wrapped in steamed leaves. Dinner for 2 cost us around 150,000 VND, which of course included a few beers.

We also tried Lac Thien restaurant, recommended by the Lonely Planet guide. Sadly we found this a little disappointing. Whilst the food was ok (we had a local deep friend omelette thing), the hygiene was a little lacking. Even for Vietnam. And the service was a little shoddy and rushed.

If you need a quick lunch though, it’s still worth a visit. If you can get a table through the crowds of other Lonely Planet readers doing the same.

48 Hours in Huế Conclusion

Hue was a turning point in our first few weeks in Vietnam. With the overnight train bringing us to a comfortable stay with a traditional Vietnamese family, we learnt far more about our home for the next few months than if we’d have just checked into a standard backpacker hostel.

If you can spend a little more than 48 hours in Hue, there is more than enough to do. But if you’re just interested in the main sights and places to eat then 48 hours is enough.

One day in the centre and another touring around the edges is the best way to see this beautifully old and oldy beautiful city.

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