Vietnam was a country divided in half in the mid 20th century, with Hue on the South, a couple hours south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Hue was also the Imperial capital during the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802-1945. Between the Citadel/Imperial Palace, and the nearby DMZ, Hue is full of history which can really make you think about Vietnam’s interesting past and the struggles the embattled nation has overcome.
Located on the river Hương, Hue is the location of the Imperial Capital of the Nguyen Dynasty. Here, you can easily hire a cyclo (a small bicycle-powered carriage) and its driver to show you around for as long as you’d like for 50,000 dong (about $2.70 US) an hour. He will be able to show you all the sites for as long as you can tolerate the history, but he may not be able to explain them well. If you really care about the history, hire a proper tour guide. Otherwise, your cyclo driver will be happy to take you around to the Thien Mu Pagoda, Tomb of Tu Duc, Forbidden Purple City, and various other tourist attractions. Don’t miss the Hue Imperial City (The Citadel), which encompasses a moat guarding a gorgeous palace, beautiful gardens, as well as ancient tombs and temples.
Spend another day at Hue on the DMZ tour, if you’re prepared to spend twelve hours on a tour, seven or eight of which will be on the bus. Different tour companies will charge you different prices for the same tour, from 7 to 18 US dollars. This is common Vietnamese tourist industry practice. The tour highlights include visiting the Vinh Moc underground tunnels, where people lived during the war, monuments, historical sites, as well as battlefields containing unexploded bomb fragments, discarded helicopters, and various bunkers and ground artillery.
One of Hue’s other big attractions is the handmade tailored clothes. Tailors have ready-made silk finery, as well as the know-how to create custom-made suits and dresses either from their design or your own. It’s fairly cheap; I designed and purchased my own waistcoat for 10 US Dollars.
At night, when you’ve had too much history, take a break and party on Pham Ngu Lao Street. The DMZ bar is the loudest and most exciting, with good food, free computers, and pool tables, but the whole city block is a backpacker area. Of course, with great party comes great noise, so choose your accommodation carefully.
Hue is definitely worth a few days visit. If you come on the night bus from Saigon or Hanoi, first look for a place to sleep in the Pham Ngu Street area, and then browse the silk shops to get measured for clothes. Spend the day touring the city on the back of a cyclo, relax at night at one of many bars, and book a DMZ tour for the next day. On your third day, you can probably pick up your tailored clothes and then catch a four-hour bus to Hoi An, the big tourist side trip from Hue.