Central Vietnam

Demilitarised Zone - Dong Ha - Lao Bao - Quang Tri - Hue - Around Hue - Suoi Voi Bach Ma National Park - Lang Co Beach - Hai Van Pass Tunnel
Ba Na Hill Station - Suoi Mo - Danang - Around Danang - Hoi An - Around Hoi An My Son - Tra Kieu - Tam Ky


IDD Code: (+84) 54
If art and architecture matter more to you than beaches and beer. Hue will be high on your Vietnam must-visit list. The capital of the Nguyen emperors, Hue is packed with temples, tombs, palaces and pagodas - or at least the remains of those that successive armies didn't manage to completely destroy. Foodies won't want to miss the fussy degustation-style Imperial cuisine for which this city is rightly famous. On the banks of the enigmatically named Perfume River, the peculiar light of this historic place imbues photographs with a hazy, purple tinge. It would all be quite idyllic if it weren't for the constant dogging most tourists face as soon as they step off the bus. The touts in Hue are more incessant than most. While the offshoots of mass tourism may be annoying, it should be remembered that Hue's cultural sites were destined for oblivion without it. After 1975 they were left to decay -Imperialist reminders of the feudal Nguyen dynasty. In 1990 that the local People's Committee recognised the potential of the place and declared these sites 'national treasures'. In 1993 Unesco designated the complex of monuments in Hue a World Heritage site, and restoration and preservation work continues. The Festival of Hue is celebrated biennially in even-numbered years, with local and international cultural performers at locations throughout the city. Hotel accommodation is at a premium at this time, so book ahead if you can.
The citadel city of Phu Xuan was built in 1687, 5km northeast of present-day Hue. In 1744 Phu Xuan became the capital of the southern part of Vietnam, which was under the rule of the Nguyen lords. The Tay Son Rebels occupied the city from 1786 until 1802, when it fell to Nguyen Anh. He crowned himself Emperor Gia Long, thus founding the Nguyen dynasty, which ruled the country - at least in name - until 1945. In 1885, when the advisers of 13-year-old Emperor Ham Nghi objected to French activities in Tonkin, French forces encircled the city. Unwisely, the outnumbered Vietnamese forces launched an attack; the French responded mercilessly. According to a contemporary French account, the French forces took three days to burn the imperial library and remove from the palace every single ob¬ject of value - everything from gold and silver ornaments to mosquito nets and toothpicks. Ham Nghi fled to Laos. but he was eventually captured and exiled to Algeria. The French replaced him with the more pliable Dong Khanh, thus ending any pretence of genuine independence for Vietnam. Hue was the site of the bloodiest battles of the 1968 Tet Offensive and was the only city in South Vietnam to be held by the Communists for more than a few days. While the American command was concentrating its energies on Khe Sanh, North Vietnamese and VC troops skirted the American stronghold and walked right into Hue. Immediately on taking the city, political cadres implemented detailed plans to remove Hue's 'uncooperative' elements. Thousands of people were rounded up in extensive house-to-house searches, conducted according to lists of names meticulously prepared months before. During the 31/2 weeks Hue remained under Northern control, over 2500 people - including wealthy merchants, government workers, monks, priests and intellectuals - were summarily shot, clubbed to death or buried alive. Shallow mass graves were discovered at various spots around the city over the following few years. When the South Vietnamese army units proved unable to dislodge the occupying North Vietnamese and VC forces. General Westmoreland ordered US troops to recapture the city. Over the next few weeks, whole neighbourhoods were levelled by VC rockets and US bombs. Over the next month, most of the area inside the Citadel was battered by the South Vietnamese air force, US artillery and bru-tai house to-house fighting. Approximately 10,000d people died in Hue, including thou-sands of VC troops, 400 South Vietnamese soldiers and 150 US marines, but most of those killed were civilians. Journalist Gavin Young's 1997 memoir A Wavering Grace is a moving account of his 30-year relationship with a family from Hue, and with the city itself, during and beyond the American War. It makes a good literary companion for a stay in the city.
The city of Hue lies along either side of the Perfume River. The north side of the river is dominated by the Citadel and has a quieter local feel, while the south side has most of the tourist hotels and restaurants. The island on which the Phu Cat and Phu Hiep subdistricts are located can be reached by crossing the Dong Ba Canal near Dong Ba Market.
The fold-up Hue Tourism Map (50000d) is available in tourist outlets; there's not much detail, but handy to stuff in the pocket.
There are lots of internet cafes on the tourist strips of Đ Hung Vuong and Đ Le Loi, and a fast, cheap service can be found at the main post office and at Huenet 2 (22B Đ Le loi; per hr 2000d).
Hue Central Hospital (Benh Vien Trung Uong Hue; Tell: 822 325; 16 Đ Le Loi)
Vietcombank (Tell: 824 572; 78 Đ Hung Vuong) has an ATM and exchanges travellers cheques and foreign currency. There's another Vietcombank branch 30 Đ Le Loi; Time 7am- 10pm Mon-Sat) located at the Hotel Saigon Morin. You can find a Vietcombank ATM (Đ LuongTheVinh) outside the Imperial Hotel and another Vietcombank ATM (5Đ Le loi) located outside La Residence Hotel,
Main post office (Tell: 823 468; 8 Đ Hoang Hoa Tham, Time 6am-9.30pm); Đ Le Loi (Tell: 832 072; 38 Đ Le Loi); Đ ly Thuong Kiet (Tell: 825 850; 14 Đ Ly Thuong Kiet); Đ Bui Thi Xuan (Tell: 823 109; 1 Đ Bui Thi Xuan) Postal, internet and telephone services.
Cafe on Thu Wheels ( 10/2 Đ Nguyen Tri Phuong) Immensely popular cycling and motorbiking tours around Hue with a large dose of laughs.
Mandarin Cafe ( 3 Đ Hung Vuong) Watched over by the eagle eyes of photographer Mr Cu, this place is great for information, transport and tours.
Sinh Cafe ( 7 Đ Nguyen Tri Phuong) Books open-tour buses and buses to Laos,
The Lao Bao border Time 7am-6pm) is the most popular and least problematic crossing between Laos and Vietnam. You can get a 30 day Lao visa (US$30) on arrival in Dansavanh, but Vietnamese visas still need to be arranged in advance; drop in on the Vietnamese consulate in Savannakhet. Dong Ha is the junction town for Lao Bao, with regular bus services. Sepon Travel in Dong Ha has buses to Savannakhet (US$12, 71/2 hours), continuing on to Vientiane (13 hours); they leave Dong Ha at Sam every second day and return the next day. These buses also pass through Hue (US$14 to US$15, add 11/2 hours), and can be booked from the Mandarin and Sinh Cafes (see opposite). If you're travelling across the border by tourist bus, expect a wait while documents are checked. When booking a tourist bus, make sure to confirm (preferably in writing) that the same bus carries on through the border. We've heard plenty of stories of tourists being bundled off nice buses on the Vietnam side and on to overcrowded local buses once they reach Laos. The border post used to be 2km from Lao Bao town, but the town has expanded so fast it runs almost up to the border. From the bus station the local price for a xe om (motorbike taxi) to the border is 5000d (foreigners pay about 10,000d), or walk it in about 20 minutes. Between the Vietnam and Laos border posts is a short walk of a few hundred metres. Once in Laos there is only one public bus a day direct to Savannakhet, which leaves when full. Sawngthaew (pick-up trucks) leave fairly regularly to Sepon, from where you can get a bus or further sawngthaew to Savannakhet. Coming the other way, Route 9 from Savannakhet to the border is now one of the best roads in Laos. From Savannakhet, buses (US$3, 255km, five hours) leave at 7am and noon for the border. Alternatively, take a sawngthaew to Sepon (US$3, 210km, four hours) and another from there to the border (US$1.20, 45km, one hour). Travellers coming from Laos should be aware that no public buses go directly to Hue, despite what drivers may tell you! Some through-buses arrive at the border after it's closed, making for an uncomfortable overnight wait - we've had reports from travellers who have been groped and manhandled while trying to catch some sleep on buses packed with coal and rice.
Sights & Activities
Most of Hue's sights and a sizeable chunk of its population reside within the 2m-thick, 10km-long walls of its Citadel (KinhThanh) on the north bank of the river. Begun in 1804 on a site chosen by Emperor Gia Long's geomancers, it was originally made of earth and later strengthened with brick. Roughly square shaped, three sides of the Citadel are straight; the fourth is rounded slightly to follow the curve of the river. The ramparts are encircled by a zigzag moat, which is 30m across and about 4m deep. There are 10 fortified gates, each accessed via a bridge. In the northern corner of the Citadel is Mang Ca Fortress, which is still used as a military base. At the centre of the wall facing the river, the 37m-high Flag Tower (Cot Co) is Vietnam's tallest flagpole. Erected in 1809 and extended in 1831, it was knocked down in 1904 by a typhoon that devastated the city. It was rebuilt in 1915 only to be destroyed again in 1947. Two years later it was erected once again, in its present form. During the VC occupation in 1968, the National Liberation Front flag flew defiantly from the tower for 31/2 weeks. Located just inside the Citadel ramparts, near the gates to either side of the Flag Tower, the Nine Holy Cannons, symbolic protectors of the palace and kingdom, were cast in 1804 from brass captured from the Tay Son Rebels. Commissioned by Emperor Gia Long, they were never intended to be fired. Each is 5m long, has a bore of 23cm and weighs about 10 tonnes. The four cannons near Ngan Gate represent the four seasons, while the five cannons next to Quang Duc Date represent the five dements: metal, wood, water, fire and earth.
Housing the emperor's residence and the main buildings of state, the Imperial Enclosure (admission 55,000d; Time 6.30am-5.30pm summer, 7am-5.30pm winter) is a citadel-within-a-citadel, with (6m-high walls that are 2.5km in length. The enclosure was badly bombed during the French and American wars, and a large part of it is still park-like ruins. Restoration of the least dam-aged sections and the complete rebuilding of others is an ongoing project. The Enclosure is divided into several walled sections, with the Forbidden Purple City (op-posite) at its centre. The formal state palaces are between this and the main gate. Around the perimeter are a collection of temples and residences, the better preserved of which are along the southwestern wall. Situated along the opposite wall, nearest to the main gate are the ruins of the Thai To Mieu temple complex (now housing a plant nursery) and behind it the University of Arts, housed in the former Royal Treasury. To the rear of this is a park and lake, spreading into the far corner, where a couple of elephants are kept. This is a fascinating site, which you could easily spend the better part of a day explor-ing. It's completely iniquitous that most day tours include a only brief stop here - it's easily reached on foot from anywhere in Hue and much more enjoyable as a leisurely stroll.
Ngo Mon Gate
The principal entrance to the Imperial Enclo sure is Ngo Mon Gate (Noontime Gate; 1833), which faces the Flag Tower. The central passageway with its yellow doors was reserved for the use of the emperor, as was the bridge across the lotus pond. Other mere mortals had to use the gates to either side and the paths around the pond. On top of the gate is Ngu Phung (Belvedere of the Five Phoenixes), where the emperor appeared on important occasions, most notably for the promulgation of the lunar calendar- On 30 August 1945 the Nguyen dynasty ended here when Emperor Bao Dai abdicated to a delegation sent by Ho Chi Minh's Provisional Revolutionary Government.
Thai Hoa Palace
Built in 1803, Thai Hoa Palace (Palace of Supreme Harmony) is a spacious hall with an ornate timber roof supported by 80 carved and lacquered columns. It was used for the emperor's official receptions and other important court ceremonies, such as anniversaries and coronations. During state occasions the emperor sat on his elevated throne and his mandarins paid homage. Nine stelae divide the two-level courtyard into separate areas for officials in each of the nine ranks of the manuarinate; administrative mandarins stood to one side while the military mandarins stood to the other,
Halls of the Mandarins
The buildings in which the mandarins pre pared for court ceremonies were restored in 1977. The structures are located directly behind Thai Hoa Palace on either side of a courtyard, where there are two gargantuan bronze vac dong (cauldrons) dating from the 17th century. The hall to the left has been set up for cheesy tourist photos; you can pose in Imperial costume on the throne for 20,000d, while two flunkies will pose with you for 40,000d. The opposite hall houses a collection of gowns and porcelain from the Nguyen era. Behind the courtyard are the ruins of the Can Chanh Palace, a large hall for receptions.
Forbidden Purple City
Behind the palaces, in the very centre of the Imperial Enclosure, the Forbidden Purple City (Tu Cam Thanh) is a citadel-within-a-citadel-within-a-citadel. Reserved solely for the personal use of the emperor, the only servants allowed into this compound were eunuchs who would pose no threat to the royal concubines. It was al¬most entirely destroyed in the wars, and a large part is now draped in green foliage. Take care as you wander around the ruins as there are some gaping holes. To the right the Royal Theatre (Duyen Thi Duong; tickets 20,000d), begun in 1826 and later home to the National Conservatory of Music, has been rebuilt on the former foundations. Cultural performances are held here daily at 9am, 10am. 2.30pm and 3.30pm. Behind this, the two-storey Emperor's Reading Room (Thai Binh Lau), decorated with interesting roof mosaics, was the only part of the Forbidden Purple City to have escaped damage during the French reoccupation of Hue in 1947.
To Mieu Temple Complex
Taking up the south corner of the Imperial Enclosure, this walled complex dedicated to the Nguyen emperors has been beautifully restored. After entering through the ornate temple gate, you must then pass through the three-tiered Hien Lam Pavilion. On the other side of this stand Nine Dynastic Urns. These dinh (urns) were cast between 1835 and 1836, each dedicated to a different Nguyen sovereign. Engraved into the sides are heavenly bodies and landscapes. About 2m in height and weighing 1900kg to 2600kg each. the urns symbolise the power and stability of the Nguyen throne. The central urn, which is the largest and most ornate, is dedicated to Gia Long. Also in the courtyard are two dragons, trapped in what look like phone boxes. On the other side of the courtyard is the long, low, red and gold To Mieu Temple itself. Inside are shrines to each of the emperors, topped by their photos. Under the French only the seven liked by the colonial power were thus honoured - Ham Nghi, Thanh Thai and Duy Tan were only added in 1959. The temple is flanked on the right by a small robing house and on the left by a shrine to a soil god. Behind each of these, a gate leads into the next part of the complex - a Divine Kitchen and Divine Storehouse sit on cither side of a small walled enclosure housing the Hung To Mieu Temple. This is a restored 1951 reconstruction of the original, built in 1804 to honour Gia Long's parents. Both temples were used by the court on death anniversaries, but women (including the Empress) were strictly forbidden.
Phung Tien Temple
Behind To Mieu, Phung Tien Temple still lies in ruins. It once served a similar purpose to the former, although women were permitted to worship here.
Dien Tho Residence
Behind the two temples is the stunning, partially ruined Dien Tho Residence (1804). This comprised the apartments and audience hall of the Queen Mothers of the Nguyen dynasty. The audience hall houses an exhibition of photos illustrating its former use, and there is a display of embroidered royal garments. Just outside is their Highnesses' enchanting pleasure pavilion, a carved wooden building set above a lily pond.
Truong San Residence
The rebuilding of this war-devastated compound was near to completion at the time of research. This landscaped flower garden was originally constructed under Emperor Minh
Mang in 1822, comprising a crescent-shaped lake, a rockery, palace and pagoda. In 1844 Emperor Thieu Tri, acting like a latter-day magazine editor, listed it as one of the top 20 beautiful spots in Hue.
In the middle of Tinh Tarn Lake, which is 500m north of the Imperial Enclosure, are two islands connected by bridges. The emperors used to come here with their retinues to relax. Now the bridge has been appropriated by fisherman.
An island on Tang Tau Lake, which is north east of Tinh Tarn Lake, was once the site of a royal library. It is now occupied by a small Theravada Buddhist pagoda, called Ngoc Huong Pagoda.
MUSEUMS Museum of Royal Fine Arts
The beautiful hall that houses the Museum of Royal Fine Arts (3 Đ Le Truc; admission 22,000d; Time 7am-5pm) was built in 1845 and restored when the museum was founded in 1923. The walls are inscribed with poems written in nom (Viet namese script). The most precious artefacts were lost during the American War, but the ceramics, furniture and royal clothing that remain are well worth the visit. The outside courtyard has interesting ceremonial cannons stone court sculptures and large brass bells and vats.
General Museum Complex
The equally exquisite building across the street was once a school for princes and the sons of high-ranking mandarins. It's now a gallery, and forms part of the General Museum Complex (Tell: 522 397; Đ 23 Thang 8; admission free; Time 7.30-11am & 1.30-5pm Tue-Sun). It combines, in an odd juxtaposition, a pagoda devoted to archaeology, a small Natural History Museum and a building devoted to the 'movement of revolutionary struggle and anti-French colonialism resistance war'. There's a tank collection out front.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
On display at this museum (Tell: 822152,7 Đ Le Loi; admission 10,000d; Time 7am-2pm Tue-Sun) are photo-graphs, some of Ho Chi Minh's personal effects, and documents relating to his life and accomplishments. All have English captions.
Bao Quoc Pagoda
Last renovated in 1957, Bao Quoc Pagoda (Pagoda Which Serves the Country; Tell: 820 488; Ham Long Hill) was founded in 1670 by Giac Phong, a Buddhist monk from China, It was given its present name in 1824 by Emperor Minh Mang, who celebrated his 40th birthday here in 1830. To get here, head south from Đ Le Loi on Đ Dien Rien Phu and turn first right after crossing the railway tracks.
Dieu De National Pagoda
The entrance to Dieu De National Pagoda (Quoc Tu Dieu De; 102 Đ Bach Dang), built under Emperor Thieu Tri’s rule (1841-47), is along Dong Ba Canal. It is one of the city's three "national pagodas', which were once under the direct patronage of the emperor. Dieu De is famous for its four low towers, one to either side of the gate and two flanking the sanctuary. There are bells in two of the towers; the others contain a drum and a stele dedicated to the emperor. During the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem (1955-63) and through the mid-1960s, Dieu De National Pagoda was a stronghold of Buddhist and student opposition to the South Vietnamese government and the war. In 1966 the pagoda was stormed by police, who confiscated the opposition movement's radio equipment and arrested many monks, laypeople and students. The pavilions on either side of the main sanctuary entrance contain the 18 La Ha, whose rank is just below that of Bodhisattva, and the eight Kim Cang, protectors of Buddha. In the back row of the main dais is Thich Ca Buddha flanked by two assistants.
Chieu Ung Pagoda
Founded by the Hainan Chinese Congregation in the mid-19th century, Chieu Ung Pagoda (Chieu Ung Tu; opposite 138 Đ Chi Lang) was rebuilt in 1908. The pagoda's sanctuary retains its original ornamentation, which is becoming faded but has been mercifully unaffected by the third-rate modernistic renovations that have marred other such structures. The pagoda was built as a memorial to 108 Hainan merchants, who were mistaken for pirates and killed in Vietnam in 1851.
Chua Ong Pagoda
Founded by Hue's Fujian Chinese Congregation during the reign of Vietnamese emperor. Tu Duc (1848-83), Chua Ong Pagoda (opposite 224 Đ Chi lang) was severely damaged during the Tet Offensive when a nearby ammunition ship blew up. A gold Buddha sits in a glass case opposite the main doors of the sanctuary. The left-hand altar is dedicated to the goddess of the sea, Thien Hau Thanh Mau, who is flanked by her two assistants, 1000-eyed Thien Ly Nhan and red-faced Thuan Phong Nhi, who can hear for 1000 miles.
One of the most famous secondary schools in Vietnam, the National School (Truong Quoc Hoc;10 Đ LeLoi; Time after 3pm) was founded in 1896 and run by Ngo Dinh Kha, the father of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. Many of the school's pupils later rose to prominence in both North and South Vietnam. One of them was General Vo Nguyen Giap, strategist of the Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu and North Vietnam's long-serving deputy premier, defence minister and commander-in-chief. Pham Van Dong, North Vietnam's prime minister for over a quarter of a century, and the secretary-general and former prime minister Do Muoi also studied here. Even Ho Chi Minh attended the school briefly in 1908. The school was given a major renovation in 1996 to celebrate its 100th anniversary and a statue of Ho Chi Minh was erected. The National School cannot be visited until after classes finish.
Many sights in the vicinity of Hue, including Thuan An Beach, Thien Mu Pagoda and several of the Royal Tombs, can be reached by a journey along the Perfume River. Rates for chartering a boat are around 60,000d for an hour's sightseeing on the river; a half-day charter to one or more .sites will cost around 150,000d. Ask directly at any of the four main river-boat moorings on the south side of the river; it's cheaper than chartering through an agency and you can negotiate your own route. Be clear on your requirements, preferably in writing: you may find yourself paying more for lunch at the family's restaurant than for the boat. Most hotels and travellers' cafes are keen to push shared tours, which typically take in the tombs of Tu Duc, Thieu Tri, Minh Mang and the Thien Mu Pagoda. Prices vary, but are generally implausibly cheap at around US$2 per person (which may include lunch but not entry fees). The journey takes about six hours, and usually runs from 8am to 2pm, Given the time constraints you'll need to catch a motorbike to get from the moorings to the first two tombs. The third tomb's less than a kilometre's walk, but they'll try to get you on a bike for that one as well. Once the various entry fees have been factored in. main' travellers wish they had cycled or arranged a motorbike instead.
There are two main clusters of budget accommodation on the south side of the river. One is in the triangle formed by ĐHung Vuong, Đ Nguyen Tri Phuong and Đ Hanoi. The other is a few blocks north in the little laneways between Đ Le Loi and Đ Vo Thi Sau. The numerous guesthouses offer varying degrees of comfort for invariably cheap rates; given their proximity it's easy to shop around. The trade-off is that this puts you in the heart of tourist town, where the hawkers swoop before your hotel door closes behind you.
Phong Nha Hotel (10/10 Đ Nguyen Tri Phuong; r US$6-15;) The facilities in this spotless minihotel differ from room to room, but what doesn't change is the good reports we hear about the friendly and enthusiastic staff.
Binh Duong Hotel 2 (Tell: 846 466; 8 Đ Ngo Gia Tu; r US$8-15;) On a side street a little apart from the main tourist scrum, this hotel has rooms ranging from cheapies with internal windows to larger ones with bathtubs and balconies.
Thai Binh Hotel 1 ( 6/34 Đ Nguyen Tri Phuong; r US$8-18;) An excellent option. Thai Binh offers midrange standards at budget prices.
DMZ Hotel (T ell: 826 831; 1 A Đ Pham Ngu lao; s/d US$9-14) From the people behind the popular tourist bar, this brand-new minihotel has a range of comfortable rooms of different sizes and facilities.
Minh Quang Guest House (Tell: 824 152; 16 Đ Phan Chu Trinh; r US$10;) Located near the railway station, a long way from tourist traps, this friendly family offers new, clean rooms with TVs, fridges and bathtubs. English is not their strong point.
Bamboo Hotel ( 61 Đ Hung Vuong; s/d US$10/12;) The owners made an effort with the decor, with (unsurprisingly) bamboo decoration downstairs and elaborate green cornices in the rooms. The bedding's nice and all the rooms have TVs, fridges and bathtubs.
Our pick Thai Binh Hotel 2 (2 Đ Luong The Vinh ; rUS$12-15;) The recently arrived, more upmarket sister of the longstanding budget favourite. Thai Binh 2 is excellent value for money. The attractive bedrooms have mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture, while the bathrooms have tubs and novelties such as shower curtains. There are stunning views from balconies on the higher floors.
Thanh Tan Hotel (12 Đ Nguyen Van Cu;
s/d US$12/15;) A similar standard is set at this superb new place, just removed from the main tourist neighbourhood.
Thanh Thao Hotel (33 Đ Nguyen Truong To; r 250,000d) On what would be a quiet street near the Catholic cathedral if it weren't for the railway tracks, Thanh Thao has comfortable rooms with good facilities including wi-fi internet access.
Duy Tan Hotel ( 12 Đ Hung Vuong; r US$10-25;) About as central as it gets, the more expensive rooms are large and bright and have balconies.
Thanh Noi Hotel (Imperial Garden;57 Đ Dang Dung; r USS18-45;) Located in a quiet street in the heart of the Citadel, near the Imperial Enclosure, the residential surroundings offer a very different view of Hue life. The peaceful tree-shaded compound has a restaurant and a fair-sized swimming pool with water jets.
Hoa Hong Hotel ( 1 Đ Pham Ngu Lao;
s US$25-70, d US$30-80;) Although a little older, the rooms are well-appointed - some with views, spa baths and (luxury of luxuries) shower curtains. Breakfast is included in the price.
Ngoc Huong Hotel ( 8-10 Đ Chu Van An; r US$30-40, ste US$80;) Located in a popular part of town, this is a smart, friendly hotel. The large rooms include all the creature comforts one might want, plus there's a Jacuzzi and sauna for winding down.
Hue Heritage Hotel ( 9 Đ Ly Thuong Kiet; r US$40-80. ste US$90-120;) The mock-classical frontage sets the scene for an upmarket hotel, with a cool roof-top swimming pool. The comfortable rooms have space-age massaging showers and wooden floors.
la Residence Hotel & Spa (5 Đ Ie Loi; r US$95-135, ste US$150-165;) Housed in the former French Gov¬ernor's residence, this chic boutique hotel has lovely river views, lush gardens and beautiful rooms. The Colonial suites are ostentatiously themed: Suite d'Ornithologue, Monuments d’Egypte and Voyage en Chine.
Imperial Hotel (8 Đ Hung Vuong; r US$159, ste US$239-719;) Hello big boy! Critics will surely bemoan the arrival of historic Hue's first hefty hotel tower - but this 16-floor, five-star megalith is actually pretty fab. The grand lobby has a dramatic lotus-shaped chandelier, and a number of excellent bars and restaurants carry on the opulence.
We have the famed fussy-eater Emperor Tu Duc to thank for the culinary variety of Hue. While the elaborate decoration of Imperial cuisine may seem a little silly, the degustation-style banquets are sublime -well worthy of a splurge. The best restaurants aren't necessarily easy to find, and many tourists sadly settle for the Western-oriented eateries of the budget ghettoes. A local speciality worth hunting for is the royal rice cakes, the most common of which is bank khoai. You'll find these along with other variations (bank beo, banh loc, banh it and banh nam) in restaurants around Đ Nguyen Binh Khiem, on the island to the northeast of the Citadel. For another gastronomic adventure, explore the noodle stalls set up around the Citadel at night. Vegetarian food has a long tradition in Hue. Stalls in the Dong Ba Market (Đ Tran Hung Dao; dishes 5000-10,000d) serve lots of options on the first and 15th days of the lunar month. You'll find several vegie options on most menus in town, some using soya-bean mock meat.
Ngo Co Nhan (Tell: 513 399:47 Đ Nguyen Bieu; dishes 15,000-35,000d; Time lunch & dinner) Raised up on stilts in a quiet Citadel street, this open-sided dining platform serves excellent grilled seafood and beer to a mainly Vietnamese clientele.
Tropical Garden Restaurant (Tell: 847143; 27 Đ Chu Van An; dishes 22,000-85,000d; Time dinner) This poplar place offers romantic dining in a Iush garden. It specialises in central Vietnamese cuisine, and is the best place in Hue to catch a traditional music performance (from 7pm nightly). While it's a regular stop for tour groups, they don't tend to spoil the atmosphere - although they do slow the service down.
Temple Restaurant (Tell: 830 716; 5 Đ Chu Van An; dishes 22,000-85,000d; Time lunch & dinner) A similar option, but this one has a stylish indoor dining room.
Our pick Y Thao Garden (Tell: 523 018; 3 Đ Thach Han- set-course meal US$8; Time lunch & dinner) Tucked in a quiet corner of the Citadel, a seven-course set menu is served among the huge palms on the garden terrace of a traditional Hue home that's brimming with antiques. This is Imperial cuisine at its fiddliest - peacocks with carved carrot heads and pineapple-stalk tails play pin-cushion to spring rolls on toothpicks, and green bean cakes are moulded to look like fruit and served on a branch. The overall experience is enchanting - particularly on a steamy night with the rain battering the tropical garden. It’s best to book ahead, as it can get busy.
Mandarin Cafe (3 Đ Hung Vuong; dishes 5000-40,000d; Time breakfast, lunch & dinner) A magnet for travellers, the cheerful owner, Mr Cu, speaks English and French and serves big dollops of travel advice along with pho, BLTs, calads and pancakes.
Hung Vuong lnn (Tell: 821 068; 20 Đ Hung Vuong. pastries/meals 5000/30,000d; Time breakfast, lunch & dinner) Right in the heart of the budget strip, this little guesthouse is a great breakfast option serving delicious French-style pastries and bread. More expansive meals featuring Hue specialities are also on offer.
Japanese Restaurant (Tell: 834 457; 34 Đ Tran Cao Van; dishes US$1-8) There's no prizes for guessing the cuisine on offer. What's more surprising is the heart-warming story behind it. The food's excellent and the service exceptionally polite.
Minh & Coco Mini Restaurant (Tell: 821822; 1 Đ Hung Vuong; mains 10,000-30,000d) Run by two lively sisters, this humble joint is a fun place to get an inexpensive feed.
Phuong Nam Cafe (Tell: 849 317; 38 Đ Tran Cao Van; mains 10,000-30.000d; (Time breakfast, lunch & dinner) This little eatery has good, cheap food and amazing fruit shakes.
La Carambole (Tell: 810 491; 19 Đ Pham Ngu Lao; mains 2S,000-90,000d; Time breakfast, lunch & dinner) Extrava-gantly decorated with hanging lanterns and dragon's heads, this place has a good range of French-style dishes, including steaks and grills, There are also Vietnamese dishes and pizza to keep everyone happy, plus a healthy wine list.
Omar Khayyam's Indian Restaurant (Tell: 821616; 10 Đ Nguyen Tri Phuong; curries 30,000-60,000d) This vegetarian-friendly curry house is low on at mosphere but high on flavour.
Ca thi 24 (Tell: 831 210; 64 Đ Le Loi) Based in and around the garden of a French-colonial home, this little cafe specialises in therapeutic herbal teas - although the less pure will also find caffeine and alcohol on offer. At night it's particularly romantic, lit up with oil lamps. Order a drink and free plates of crackers, bread and fruit keep arriving.
DMZ Bar & Cafe (44 Đ Le Loi) Long the leading late-night spot, the beer flows into the night. the tunes match the mood and there is a popular pool table in the middle of things.
Bar Why Not? (Tell: 824 793; 21Đ Vo Thi Sau) Loud rock music, cheap cocktails and a pool table make for a winning formula. Why not, indeed?
King's Panorama Bar ( 8 Đ Hung Vuong; Time 7am-midnight) Quite the swankiest (and priciest) boozer in Town, the rooftop of the Imperial Hotel has tasteful decor and unhindered views.
Hue produces the finest conical hats in Viet nam. The city's speciality is 'poem hats which, when held up to the light, reveal shad owy scenes of daily life. It's also home to one of the largest and most beautiful selection of rice-paper and silk paintings available in Vietnam, but the prices quoted are usually inflated to about four times the real price.
Dong Ba Market (Đ Tran Hung Dao; Time 6.30am-8pm); On the Perfume River north of Trang Tien Bridge, this is Hue's largest market, where anything and everything can be bought.
Getting There & Away
The main office of Vietnam Airlines (Tell: 824 709; 23 Đ Nguyen Van Cu; Time 7.15-11.15am & 1.30-4.30pm Mon-Sat) handles reservations. Several flights a day connect Hue to both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).
The main bus station is 4km to the southeast on the continuation of Đ Hung Vuong (it becomes Đ An Duong Vuong and Đ An Thuy Vuong). The first main stop south is Danang (40,000d, three hours, six daily). An Hoa bus station (Hwy 1A, northwest of the Citadel, serves northern destinations, including Dong Ha (25,000d, 11/2 1hours). Hue is a regular stop on the open-tour bus routes. Most will drop passengers off around the Đ Hung Vuong tourist ghetto and pick up from the hotels. Expect a complete circus when the bus stops, as you're likely to be fol¬lowed by several persistent touts, ail keen to direct your wallet to (heir hotel.
Mandarin and Sinh Cafes can arrange bookings for the bus to Savannakhet, Laos.
Some of the principal destinations from Hue include Hanoi (689km), Dong Ha (77km), Lao Bao (152km), Danang (108km) and HCMC( 1097km).
The Hue train station (13- 822175,2 Đ Phan Chu Trinh) is at the southwestern end off) Le Loi. Destinations include Ninh Binh (205,000d, 121/2 to 131/2 hours, three daily), Vinh (143,000d, 6V2 to 10 hours, seven daily), L)ong Hoi (65,000d, 21/2 to 10 hours, eight daily), Dong Ha (25,000d, \Vi to IVi hours, six daily) and Danang (40,000d, 21/2 to four hours, seven daily).
Getting Around
Hue is served by Phu Bai Airport, once an important US air base, 14km south of the city centre. Taxi fares are typically around US$8, although share-taxis cost as little as US$2 -- inquire at hotels to find these vehicles. Vietnam Airlines (Tell: 824 709; 23 Đ Nguyen Van Cu; Time 7.15-11.5am & 1.30-4.30pm Mon-Sat) runs its own minibus from its office to the airport, a couple of hours before flight times (tickets 20,000d).
Pedal power is a fun way to tour Hue and the nearby Royal Tombs. Many hotels rent out bicycles for about US$1 per day. Self-drive motorbikes are available from US$5. A car with driver is available from US$25 per day.
While Hue is an easy city to walk around, a typical street scene is a foreigner walking down the street with two cyclos (pedicab or bicycle rickshaw) and a motorbike in hot pursuit - the drivers yelling, 'hello cyclo' and 'hello motor-bike' and the foreigner yelling, 'no, thank you, no!' There's a pretty standard fare for both of 10,000d per kilometre.
There are several metered taxi companies in Hue. Try Co Do Taxi (Tell: 830 830), Gill (Tell: 828 282), Mai Linh (Tell: 898 989) or Phu Xuan (Tell: 87 87 87).
Warning: visiting Vietnam can change your life fifteen years ago Mr Michio Koyama was a teacher in Tokyo, working with kids whose biggest concern was where their next Hello Kitty accessory would come from. It was during a visit TO Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in 1992 that his eyes were opened to the plight of Vietnam's street children. Here were youngsters no older than the ones he was teaching, living in extreme poverty and turning to crime to fill their bellies. Many of them were orphaned or were the abandoned encumbrance of a marriage split, discarded at the insistence of the new husband or wife. It shocked him so much that the next year he left his life in Tokyo, determined to do something for them. He first got a Job teaching Japanese at the university in Hue, earning money to set up a house. Built in 1994, 10 years later 300 children had passed through its doors - having received shelter, food, schooling and vocational guidance. At present, 66 children aged from five to 22 years live at Streetchildren's Home. Normally They're expected to be self-sufficient by their 18th birthday, bur an exception has been made for those who have gone on to university. Mr Koyama bursts with paternal pride as he talks about one of his young charges who is currently completing her medical degree. This extraordinary man (who speaks fluent Vietnamese, English and French) has brought this about by working with communists and capitalists alike. The first Japanese person to be granted citizenship of Hue, he has the support of the local People's Committee and was recently awarded with a Friendship medal from the Vietnamese government. The funding has largely come from Japanese sources, including government grants and donations from individuals and companies. He has established his own NGO, Japanese Association Supporting Streetchildren (JASS), which now has 14,000 members and donors. With this added support he's also been able to broaden his program to work with disabled children throughout the province. Another new initiative is Japanese Restaurant, a little like KOTO in Hanoi, where some of his protégés have been given training in Japanese cuisine and employment in the restaurant. Eating at the restaurant is an inexpensive way to support this worthwhile cause .