For every Vietnamese city that races headlong into the future, there’s one that’s just as firmly rooted in past. Hue is a historical destination and a fantastic stop for travelers who want to plunge into Vietnamese culture. This city isn’t completely frozen in time — Apple stores, large hotels, and sleek pubs have begun pop up just beyond historic district — but Hue is still largely a city where life drifts along with the leisurely current of the Perfume River.
Hue’s historic treasures are drawn largely from the Nguyen Dynasty, the feudal lords and kings who ruled Vietnam from this seat of power from 1802 until 1945. The Nguyen Emperors used Confucian and Feng Shui principles to select all their building locations; most notably the site of their Imperial Citadel. On the pine-covered slopes surrounding Hue, each emperor designed his own personalized tomb. The UNESCO-listed tombs and citadel of Hue are perhaps the most compelling historical attractions in all of Vietnam.
The Perfume River stitches together the fabric of life in Hue. Denizens of Hue have long relied on the Huong or Perfume River for cooking, bathing, and washing. The water flows between wide grassy banks, changing colour from golden brown to deep blue, depending on the rain. The rain in Hue is something of an attraction in itself, and the locals have all sorts of sayings about their legendary rain storms.
Within Vietnam, Hue has made a name for itself with refined culinary traditions. All over the city, vendors serve up toasty banh mi, slippery banh beo, and an irresistible noodle soup called bun bo Hue. For this soup, the cook has a huge vat of meaty broth bubble over the flame for hours. The cook will fill each bowl with a handful of soft rice noodles, arrange slices of boiled pork knuckle on top, and ladle the steaming broth over the entire bowl. A handful of herbs, a squeeze of lemon, and dab of chili paste round out the experience.
For Vietnamese Buddhists and many others, Hue is a sacred because of its connection to Zen Buddhism. Tu Hieu Pagoda, the root pagoda of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, is one of countless thriving pagodas in the Hue countryside – each one has its own unique story. This is just one part of Hue’s culture, and you’ll sense Hue’s enduring serenity before you ever set foot in a temple.