Hue, a 2 hour train ride north of Da Nang, is a lesser-known city in the middle of Vietnam that is increasingly becoming popular with tourists. A visit to Hue is best utilized as a brief (2 – 3 night) stopover along your travels up to the north or down to the south of the country. Though there aren’t a tonne of tourist attractions, there are a handful of interesting things to do in Hue that will fill your days with food, pagodas, temples, markets, and fun!
1. Dong Ba Market
What’s a trip to any city without a visit to the local market? The Dong Ba Market (Cho Dong Ba) in Hue is filled with food stalls (both cooked and otherwise), souvenirs, ceramics, spices, clothing, and accessories. Walking into the market can be rather intimidating, as it’s huge with only narrow paths guiding you, and there aren’t many foreigners wandering about. Visiting Dong Ba Market is quite the experience, regardless of whether you’re looking to buy something, that should not be missed.
2. Imperial City
One of the main reasons most tourists have for stopping in Hue is a visit to the Imperial Palace (also known as the Forbidden Purple City). While large parts of the palace have been destroyed and are still in the process of being repaired, the beautiful still-standing temples and buildings will more than make up for it. The colors, architecture, and history throughout the Citadel are mesmerizing. For more information, read my article on the Imperial Palace.
3. Thien Mu Pagoda
Another big attraction is Hue’s oldest pagoda: the Thien Mu Pagoda. Located only a few kilometers west from the Imperial City along the Perfume River, making for an easy and enjoyable bike ride (once you get out and away from the city’s mental traffic) to get there. The pagoda is seven stories high and is Vietnam’s tallest religious building. If you’re able to make it out on a clear day, it’s well worth a visit.
4. Regional Food
Depending on where you are in Vietnam, you’ll come across a handful of dishes that are only found in that one region. Two of the must-eat dishes while in Hue are Nem Lui from Hanh Restaurant and Crispy Vietnamese Pancake from Banh Khoai.
Nem Lui consists of barbecued minced beef and pork on a stick of lemongrass. You then put the skewer on a piece of rice paper, add some veggies, wrap it all up, dip it into peanut sauce, and enjoy. While you can get Vietnamese pancakes (known as banh khoai in Hue and banh xeo elsewhere) throughout Vietnam, these pancakes in Hue differ greatly from other regions, as the pancake is much smaller and thicker. Made with beef, shrimp, and bean sprouts stuffed inside, and cucumber fig, lettuce, and peanut sauce on the side. Just don’t make the same mistake I did and eat this like an actual pancake – you’re meant to put everything together in one bowl.
5. Rent A Bicycle To Explore The Streets
Hue is a fairly large city with its fair share of heavy traffic (though nowhere near the likes of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh), so if you don’t fear for your life every second you’re walking along the streets, you should rent a bike for a day and explore the city. For only $1 – 2 USD you can spend the day aimlessly biking around both sides of the Perfume River – just remember to keep your eyes peeled for crazy motorbike drivers (AKA everyone).
Other Things To Do In Hue:
- Take a boat cruise along the Perfume River
- Rent a motorbike (if you dare) and explore a wider range of the city
- Take the train to/from Da Nang – it goes along the coast and makes for some great views (if you can handle the mess and locals)
- Visit the various tombs of the emperors
- Go on a cyclo ride around the city (just be sure to agree on a price beforehand)