Hué Tombs, Vietnam

Hué – it’s Definitely no Hanoi

Stepping off the overnight train at Hué station, we weaved our way through the crowds of persistent taxi drivers to find our free hotel pick-up. The sky was colourless and leaden but at least it wasn’t raining, which is apparently a common occurrence in this ancient city. Sore-eyed and groggy from the long journey we gazed half-heartedly out of the car window at the grey river running alongside us, its surface merging with the flat, dull sky above. I sighed. From the looks of things, Hué was definitely no match for the glitz and bustle of Hanoi, the city we’d loved and left behind.

Hué City Walls, Vietnam

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It’s always wise to have a nap after an overnight journey before heading out to explore, as a sleep-deprived brain doesn’t inspire the best first impressions of a place. For some reason we ignored this advice and made the forty-minute walk into the old town of Hué, shadowed by rickshaw drivers offering us rides. Restaurants were similarly pushy and on seeing us approach a waiter would be out on the pavement, trying to propel us inside before we’d even seen the menu. By the time we’d gotten a look at the outside of the ancient Citadel complex we’d had enough of the humidity and hassle and were ready to head back to our hotel for a nap.

Statue in Hué, Vietnam

The Hué City Tour

Vietnam as a country seems to generate wildly different opinions – some people hate it, others love it. We fall decisively into the latter category but still, there were parts of the country we didn’t feel a whole lot of love for and Hué was one of them. Maybe we didn’t explore the city in enough depth or perhaps it just wasn’t our kind of place but I know other travellers who absolutely love the city while others share our feelings – leave it to Vietnam to divide opinions so fiercely!

Dragon Boat ride in Hué

Given our less than favourable first impressions, we decided to see the main sites of Hué in one day and head onwards the next; the easiest way to do this was book a day-tour through our hotel which was extremely cheap at only £5.50 per person, including lunch. We generally tend to avoid group tours when we travel, preferring to make trips independently, but we found they were often the cheapest, easiest and sometimes the only option in Vietnam. It was incredibly difficult to visit Halong Bay, for instance, without booking a package cruise – which didn’t turn out quite as we’d expected it to.

Hué Tombs, Vietnam

Our Hué tour started on the outskirts of the city, where several old tombs of past emperors are located. We annoyed our guide from the get-go by refusing to pay him entrance fees to see three Hué tombs and the Citadel (also known as the Imperial City) as we knew from our research that you could buy a much cheaper triple ticket, costing £5.25 each, to see three attractions. So, we sat out one of the tombs before exploring the other two, which were quiet and picturesque, one set next to a wide man-made lake, the other on top of a hill.

Hué Tomb on the City Tour

After lunch we visited the Citadel, the emperors’ old palace complex. In the main reception room of the palace there was a statue depicting the four sacred animals of Vietnam; a dragon to symbolise power, phoenix for peace, tortoise to represent longevity and unicorn for intelligence. Yes, three of these beasts might be imaginary but they make for a pretty statue. The Vietnamese government are in the process of rebuilding the palace complex, which was destroyed by American bombing during the war so much of the area consists of simply crumbling ruins; there’s a good model inside showing what the complex used to look like though.

Pagoda in Hué Vietnam

Our final stops were at an old Vietnamese water garden and an impressive pagoda before we sped back along the river in a Dragon boat, taking in the drab views as we went. The day tour certainly hadn’t been a waste of time but after the incredible museums, sights and atmosphere we’d experienced in Hanoi, we found our lasting impressions of Hué to be grey, dull and underwhelming. We left full of hope that our next stop, Hoi An, would rekindle our love for Vietnam.

Us in Hué Vietnam

  • Matt Baker
    Posted at 12:20h, 24 March Reply

    Hue seems to get similar reviews from a lot of people. Luckily Hoi An is awesome – I’m sure you’ll love it. The white rose dumplings are pretty good and try eat at Miss Ly’s and Streets if you can…or half of the restaurants really – there are a lot of good ones. And hire bikes to bike out to the beach, its one of the few places in Vietnam where we felt safe enough to cycle around. Enjoy!

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:17h, 24 March Reply

      Hi Matt, we were actually in Vietnam back in December (we’re a bit behind with the blog!) and we did much prefer Hoi An, although not quite as much as we thought we would; our favourite places were Hanoi, Dalat and HCMC. Thanks for the recommendations, if we make it back to Hoi An we’ll check them out 🙂

      • Matt Baker
        Posted at 15:04h, 24 March Reply

        Ah, my bad. Thought you may have already passed through. Looking forward to hearing about the rest of Vietnam anyway!

        • Amy
          Posted at 15:44h, 24 March Reply

          Thanks Matt – lots more to come about Vietnam 🙂

  • James Long
    Posted at 01:19h, 25 March Reply

    Hi Amy,
    I remember doing the tours of Hue but honestly can’t remember much else :). Seemed pleasant enough back then but yes we stayed and enjoyed Hoi An much more. All these posts are making me want to get back there ASAP. We certainly fall into the latter category of loving Vietnam.
    Any more posts on Vietnam to come?

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:57h, 25 March Reply

      Hi James, yep we have more posts coming up about Hoi An, Dalat and HCMC, writing about these places is making me want to go back to Vietnam too!

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 01:04h, 26 March Reply

    Ack! This was so hard for me to read because I LOVE Hue (talk about divisive opinions, right?). I know most people have your reaction to it, but I honestly cannot understand why. There is SO MUCH HISTORY here and to me, it just (gently, lovingly) screams Vietnam—everywhere you look, you couldn’t possibly be anywhere else. I think Hue is one of the most interesting, unique places in the country, and also so beautiful. Maybe the difference is that Tony & I have always had a motorbike when we visited so we were able to visit things at our own pace and get of the tourist trail? It’s such a great city to explore—there are so many temples (and they are so colorful!) and the surrounding countryside is seriously some of the prettiest in the entire country.

    So, yeah, this post was a hard one for me to read. I’m sorry you guys didn’t like it more—I really do think it has a lot to offer (then again, neither Tony nor I liked Hanoi initially, though it did grow on us, so maybe we like different things about the country than you do!).

    • Amy
      Posted at 08:17h, 26 March Reply

      I had an inkling you wouldn’t like this Steph 🙂 Hué sounds great from your description and I expected to love it so I’m still not sure why we didn’t. As you mention, I think we might have liked it a lot more had we travelled around independently like you guys did and if we’d seen some of the surrounding countryside; the tour we took wasn’t exactly great and didn’t show Hué in the best light. I find it really interesting how we all have such different opinions about places, I guess that’s what keeps blogging interesting though!

  • MightyTravels
    Posted at 00:32h, 27 March Reply

    This looks way calmer than Hanoi or Saigon. Very tranquil! Btw just followed you on Twitter as well – like your site! Looking forward to connect!

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:30h, 27 March Reply

      It was definitely a change from the cities, that’s for sure! Thanks for commenting, I’ve followed you back on Twitter and will check out your blog 🙂

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