Hue was the capital of Vietnam during the decadent 19th-century Nguyen Dynasty, and it is still an important literary and cultural center.
This city 340 mi/545 km southeast of Hanoi was dramatically affected during both wars with the French in the 1940s and later with the Americans in the 1960s-70s: Most of the structures in the centuries-old citadel were severely damaged. Some of those royal buildings have been repaired and rebuilt, including the Forbidden Purple City, the emperor's private residence.
The city is bisected by the Song Huong, or Perfume River (named after a scented shrub that grows there), and along its banks south of Hue lie the many and impressive tombs of the emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945). You can visit the tombs by bicycle or boat. We recommend having your hotel arrange a longboat for you. The driver will take you to the riverbank nearest a tomb or interesting pagoda, show you around or wait while you explore, and then take you to the next one.
Be sure to arrange stops at Tu Duc (an extensive site with lots of character), Minh Mang (a large and very well-preserved site), Khai Dinh (modest in scale but quite ostentatious) and the Thien Mu Pagoda (a lovely, seven-tiered structure surrounded by gardens).
It is not possible to walk all of Hue, but much can be seen on foot. Always carry an umbrella, as the city has a reputation for bad weather. Hue makes a good base for exploring the Demilitarized Zone. It's best to see the area's historical sites (including the U.S. base at Khe Sanh, the Vinh Moc tunnels, the Ho Chi Minh trails and the Truong Son National Cemetery) with a guide. Various travel agencies in Hue can set you up with one.
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