Hue – Ancient Capital of Vietnam
Pronounced “hway”, this deeply evocative capital of the Nguyen Dynasty still resonates with the glories of Imperial Vietnam, even though many of its finest buildings were destroyed during the war against the American.
Hue owes its charm partly to its location on the Perfume River – picturesque on a clear day, atmospheric even in less flattering weather. Today, the city blends new and old as sleek modern hotels tower over crumbling 19th-century Citadel walls.
A few touts are a minor hassle, but Hue remains a tranquil, conservative city with just the right concentration of nightlife.
Location and history
Located on the bank of Song Huong (Perfume River), Hue – the capital of Thue Thien Hue province in Central Vietnam, is 700km southern Hanoi, 1100km northern Ho Chi Minh City, and only a few kilometers from the sea.
Hue people take their pride in a long-lasting history. The city has gone through 7 centuries of establishment and development. In 1802, Hue became Vietnam’s capital when Emperor Gia Long, the first King of the Nguyen Dynasty chose the location for the imperial city. The city remained the nation’s capital until 1945, when Bao Dai – the last Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, abdicated and a communist government was established in Hanoi.
Imperial Citadel and Tomb Architecture
Hue is one of the main cultural, religious and educational centers of Vietnam. So far, Hue remains to be the only originally historical vestige city in Vietnam. Many of Hue’s attractions are found along the banks of the romantically named Perfume River with 11km length. This valuable construction includes more than 100 architectural works, which are the reflection of the life of Emperors and mandarins under Nguyen’s reign.
Architecture in Hue is the combination of royal architect, folk, religious ones, traditional and modern sides. On December 11th, 1993, it was classified by UNESCO as the World Cultural Heritage. On the north bank of the river is the Imperial Citadel, built along the line of Peking’s Forbidden City, enclosed by 10-meters thick walls and surrounded by a moat. A few kilometers further up the river are perhaps Hue’s best-known religious site. Inside the citadel, there are still wonders. For example, the seat of the Nguyen Emperors occupying a large, walled area on the north side of the river. Inside the citadel was a forbidden city, where only the concubines, emperors, and those close enough to them were granted access, the punishment for trespassing was death penalty.
If you like something mysterious and valuably architectural, you should take a visit to the tombs of ancient Kings. Situated in the middle of the hills on the Southern bank of Perfume River are very beautiful tombs of Nguyen Emperors. Among these tombs are the four famous ones with the name and the arrangements of the tomb reflecting each Emperor’s point of view, personality, and tastes. This s majestic Gia Long tomb, imposing Minh Mang tomb, poetic Tu Duc tomb and magnificent Khai Dinh tomb. No architects who would like to discover ancient architecture of Vietnam could ignore Hue’s old citadel vestiges.
A lot of foreign tourists are curious about Hue’s ritual royal music. Originated from 8 kinds of ritual music under Le Dynasty, under Nguyen Dynasty, it has improved into 2 kinds of music: “Dai Nhac” and “Nha Nhac”, which are really magnificent, and skillful. Those are only played on formal occasions. This city is proud to be the cadral of traditional music. The Royal Refined Music was proclaimed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and intangible Heritage of Humanity on December 1993.
What to do in Hue
Besides visiting ancient monuments and tombs, coming to Hue, you can also have a chance to bath and lying under the sun on the most wildly beautiful beaches in Vietnam. Thuan An and Lang Co beach are among the most wonderful ones, twinkling in sunshine with limpidly blue ocean and while silky sand. Moreover, there are some mineral hot springs available like Thanh Tan in Phong An, Phong Dien; where tourists can totally be relaxed after a long walking day.
At the height of 1450 meter, Bach Ma Mountain, 60km southern the city, represents the four-season type of weather of the temperate zone.
You can also take a boat trip along the Perfume River, in which tourists can witness the splendid sceneries while enjoy Hue specialties and watching royal court music performance.
What to eat in Hue
Hue is the place where dining is not to satisfy human basic needs, but a form of art. Hue’s gastronomy is elegant, light, and noble, different from other regions of Vietnam. Spices, especially chili, play an important role in Hue’s cooking and cuisine decorating art. Nowadays, consuming Hue dishes, it will be extremely interesting for everyone to know that they are trying what mostly were served to the Emperor in the past.
One of the dishes that you cannot miss in Hue is “com hen” – rice with baby clams – a very simple and low-priced specialty. A bowl of “com hen” will bring you the sweet-smelling flavor of rice and herbs, mixed with the buttery, sour, bitter taste of spices, grease, baby clams.
Other flour-based dishes are worth trying: banh bot loc (rice pastry with meat and shrimp), banh la cha tom (soft pastry wrapped in leaves with meat, shrimp, and egg), and banh hoi thit quay (roast pork pastry), and banh la (sweet sticky rice wrapped in leaves)… Bun thit nuong (rice vermicelli with grilled meat), Bun bo gio heo (rice vermicelli with beef and pork) are loved by many tourists.
Hue is also famous for its extraordinary special “che” (sweet soups). There are nearly 50 kinds of “che”, from the simple common to elaborate ones. Four typical kinds of “che” that Hue citizens most proud of are: “che khoai mon” (purple sweet potatoes sweet soup), “che long nhan boc hat sen” (longan wrapped in lotus seed sweet soup), “che troi nuoc nhan tom thit” (floating sticky rice cake with shrimp sweet soup), and che dau van bot loc “bean and rice pastry sweet soup).