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Hue Attraction Sites

Imperial Citadel (Đại Nội)
The former imperial seat of government and Hue’s prime attraction, this is a great sprawling complex of temples, pavilions, moats, walls, gates, shops, museums and galleries, featuring art and costumes from various periods of Vietnamese history. Thanks to its size, it is also delightfully peaceful – a rare commodity in Vietnam.

The citadel was badly knocked about during fighting between the French and the Viet Minh in 1947, and again in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, when it was shelled by the Viet Cong and then bombed by the Americans. As a result, some areas are now only empty fields, bits of walls, and an explanatory plaque. Other buildings are intact, though, and a few are in sparkling condition. For the rest, while restoration has been going on for 20 years, there is still quite a long way to go. Allow several hours to see it properly. Entry 55,000 dong (for foreigners, less for locals of course) and it is open 06:30-17:00. Inside you can pay $1.50 (30,000dong) to dress up in the King or Queen’s clothing and sit on the throne for a fun photo opportunity.

Ngọ Môn. The main southern entrance to the city, built in 1833 by Minh Mang. The central door, and the bridge connecting to it, were reserved exclusively for the emperor. Climb up to the second floor for a nice view of the exquisite courtyard. The Ngo Mon Gate is the principal entrance to the Imperial Enclosure. The Emperor would address his officials and the people from the top of this gate.

Thái Hòa Palace. The emperor’s coronation hall, where he would sit in state and receive foreign dignitaries.

Trường Sanh Residence. Translated as the “Palace of Longevity”, the Truong Sanh Palace was the residence of King Tu Duc’s mother, Empress Tu Du, under the Nguyen Dynasty in the 19th century. It lies in Tu Cam Thanh, one of the two major parts of the Hue Citadel. Currently under renovation, the project, estimated to cost almost VND 30 billion (roughly US $1.8 million), includes the restoration of Lach Dao Nguyen, the Palace’s protective moat, decorative man-made rock formations and mountains, bonsai gardens, and the palace gate. The restoration is expected to be completed in 2009, but this is doubtful. While not officially open to the public, it is possible to enter the grounds and should be seen, as even in it’s overgrown state, it’s beauty is recognizable.

Forbidden Purple City. Directly behind Thai Hoa Palace, but it was almost entirely destroyed during the 1968 Tet Offensive and only the rather nondescript Mandarin Palaces on both sides remain.

Tombs of the Emperors
The other great attractions in Hue are the Tombs of the Emperors, which are located along the Perfume River south of the city. They are accessible by taxi or bike from the city, but the best way to see them is to hire a river boat and go for a cruise. Plan to make a full day of it. Most of the tombs are open from 7:30AM or 8AM to 5:30PM, depending on the season; note that the tour groups arrive around 10AM and leave around 3PM in order to get back before dinner, so plan accordingly to avoid the crowds.

The tombs themselves are worth the cost and effort. They mostly date from the late 19th or early 20th centuries, when the Emperors had been reduced to figureheads under French colonial rule and had little else to do than build themselves elaborate tombs. The finest of them are the Tomb of Tu Duc, the Tomb of Minh Mang and the Tomb of Khai Dinh, all of which are excellent examples of Vietnamese Buddhist aesthetics and architecture. The older ones have been allowed to crumble into picturesque semi-ruin, although some are now being restored. In order of age:

Tomb of Gia Long (40km) – the most remote of the tombs, quiet and fallen into disrepair as Gia Long, the first Nguyen emperor, was notoriously despotic.

Tomb of Minh Mang (12km) – in this opulent complex, the main buildings are arranged on an east-west axis, including a courtyard surrounded by warrior statues and several temples and pavilions. Several bridges cross two lakes before the axis ends before the vast burial mound (which is circled by a fence). The mausoleum features large gardens and lakes: a pleasant place to sit and relax. If you’re dropped off by boat note that there is a stretch of souvenir sellers to navigate during the short walk to the mausoleum entrance.

Tomb of Thieu Tri (8km) – built in 1848. This Emperor and his wife were the most revered and loved throughout the country. Although he only ruled for 7 years, he was the most sorely missed. In a time of strife and economic problems, he was careful with the country’s Treasury and made sure to improve his people’s living standards. His last will was that he be placed in a tomb that was not extragavant, parting ways with the tradition of creating lavish final resting places for their Emperors.

Tomb of Tu Duc (7km) – Constructed from 1864 to 1867, the complex served as a second Imperial City where the Emperor went for “working vacations”. Tu Duc’s contemplative nature and poetic spirit is reflected in the landscape and arrangement of the 50 buildings that at one time stood here. A vast, sprawling complex set around a lake, with wooden pavilions and tombs and temples dedicated to wives and favored courtesans (Tu Duc had 104 to choose from). The courtesans’ quarters are in ruins, with only outlines and crumbling walls left amid waves of overgrown grass and silence, but other areas are stunningly well-preserved. The Emperor’s tomb itself, tucked away in the back, is surprisingly modest – the final courtyard is nearly empty with just a stone coffin in the middle. (The tombs of Empress Le Thien Anh and Emperor Kien Phuc, who briefly ruled in 1884, are also located here.) Try to dodge the crowds for this one.

Tomb of Dong Khanh – built in 1917.

Tomb of Khai Dinh (10km) – dating from 1925, this is the best preserved of the lot and, while comparatively compact, quite grand at first sight. While it follows the classic formula of forecourts leading up to the tomb of the Emperor, complete with statues in attendance, architecture buffs will spot some European influences. The tomb itself is completely over the top with incredibly detailed and opulent mosaics of cavorting dragons. Try to get to this one early, as it is a favorite stop for Asian tour-bus groups. Also, you may want to leave the tourist path and head up the hill on the right side of the tomb, where a small temple stands. You will have a great view of the tomb and the valley it faces.

Other sites
Thien Mu Pagoda (4km) – perched on a bluff over the river and housing some very fine gold and silver Buddha images. The Thien Mu Pagoda overlooks the Perfume River and is the official symbol of the city of Hue. Thien Mu means “elderly celestial woman”, and refers to an old legend about the founding of the pagoda. Brimming with opportunities for great photos.

Phu Bai Airport is a must-see if you are interested in the war. The airport was a dirt strip during the Indochina War. Then, during the Vietnam War, an American garrison was assigned there and built up the airport with concrete bunkers, a paved airstrip, and a few other luxuries. The airport was vital in keeping Hue supplied during the Eastertide Offensive of 1972 when “Charlie jumped the line”. The airport retains the original buildings built by the Americans; however, they have been retrofitted for use by the Vietnamese.

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