When looking for what to do in Hue, Vietnam it pays to know more about it. Right in the middle of Vietnam, Hue was the capital for 143 years (1802 – 1945), so there are many cool things to do in Hue. It is a city rich in history. Hue is home to 7 imperial tombs as well as the ancient imperial city. During the Vietnam war, Hue suffered badly. The “Battle of Hue” was one of the longest and deadliest battles. Along with human casualties, many historic sites were damaged or destroyed. The best things to do in Hue, Vietnam are related to its history, Buddhism, culture and natural environment.
The city has also long been the center of Buddhism in Vietnam and several major events during the Buddhist Crisis of 1963 are connected to Hue. Add to the historical significance of the city, the beautiful landscape, and breathtaking monuments. It seems like everywhere you turn in Hue there is something new to learn about and explore!
1. Hai Van Pass in Hue, Vietnam
If you are driving to Hue from Da Nang, you have two options. The first is to take the Hai Van Tunnel. Hai Van Tunnel is the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia at a length of 6.28 km. The other option is to take the Hai Van Pass – one of the best things to do in Hue, Vietnam.
If you don’t know what to do in Hue with your spare day. Hai Van Pass is a mountain road which takes you up and down and around the coastline. The views are spectacular, and this is a route that is incredibly popular with people traveling by motorbike in the area. Drivers and tour buses park for a few moments at the highest peak of the pass to take in the view and stretch their legs. Hai Van Pass is known to all travelers as one of the most exciting things to do in Hue, Vietnam.
Not only known for its beauty, but the pass is also known for its danger and difficulty (a reason why the Hai Van Tunnel was built). At times the sharp curves make it completely impossible to see oncoming traffic. Often the road is covered in thick fog. There are cement railings to help prevent falls off of the mountain into the ocean, but they are broken in places. Occasionally you pass shrines marking where travelers met their end. If you are not careful, this could become one of the most dangerous things to do in Hue, Vietnam! Not to mention a cow or two and motorists driving like they are racing along a flat country road. Is it worth the trip? You bet!
2. Hue, Vietnam Imperial City
One of the more historic things to do in Hue Vietnam. This walled fortress and palace were once the home of Vietnam’s emperors. Also called “The Citadel” the palace grounds are surrounded by an impressive moat filled with waterlilies. Much of the structure was damaged in battles, but the restoration is ongoing. Once inside you can see different buildings in their original, restored and damaged stages. Once you know about the Imperial City, it’s easy to decide what to do in Hue!
Make sure your taxi driver drops you off at the correct gate! There is only one entrance to the Imperial City but some taxi drivers like to pretend that they don’t know that tourists wish to be dropped off at the main gate.
3. Hue Provincial Museum
Are you wondering what to do in Hue to beat the crowds? Just a little down the street from the Imperial City is the Hue Provincial Museum. The museum is in bad need of maintenance. The grass hasn’t been cut in ages, and there are holes in the walkways. There is an indoor museum with photos and artefacts but few English explanations. Considering the significance of the battles which took place in Hue the museum doesn’t do the memory justice. With just a little effort, this could be one of the most interesting things to do in Hue, Vietnam.
If you are interested in history or wars then the museum is worth a quick visit. It is easy just to pop over if you are already visiting the Imperial City and it costs only about $1. In the front grounds, they have several tanks, planes and a helicopter from the Vietnam War. There are placards in both Vietnamese and English explaining where the vehicle was captured and from whom which are quite fascinating. In particular, children from both local and tourist families seemed to be thrilled to be able to check it all out without the crowds.
4. The Perfume River in Hue, Vietnam
Not sure what to do in Hue that’s perfect for a romantic couple’s day out? Through the center of Hue flows the Perfume River. Many tourists choose to take a boat tour along the river. Passengers can enjoy the river views, have a meal and visit some of the major tourist sites around the area that are accessible by boat.
Another way to take in the river is to stroll along the walkways along the river’s edge. In the morning joggers take their morning runs here and in the evening the area becomes transformed. Little shops and restaurants that were closed during the day open at sunset and lanterns are lit.
Families gather to chat and play. Vendors sell snacks, and small toys and some musicians can be heard.
5. Khai Dinh Tomb
The Khai Dinh Tomb is the last of the imperial tombs in Vietnam. The tomb took 11 years to build and was completed in 1931. Despite being quite a recent addition, Khai Dinh Tomb is one of the more popular tombs in the area.
In his lifetime Emperor Khai Dinh spent some time in France. As a result, the tomb is a mixture of both Eastern and Western designs.
A climb up 127 steps up the side of the mountain will bring you to the temple fortified by statue guards. Once inside visitors are in awe of the walls which the builders adorned with images inlaid in glass and porcelain. This view from the top is one of the most spectacular things to do in Hue, Vietnam.
6. Minh Mang Tomb
How did emperors decide what to do in Hue? Simple, they just built tombs to commemorate themselves! The tomb of Emperor Minh Mang is another of the more popular tombs in Hue. Unlike Emperor Khai Dinh’s tomb which took more than a decade to complete, they completed this tomb in only three years. Emperor Minh Mang started construction of the tomb in September 1840 but passed away around four months later.
Visitors to the grounds of the tomb can freely explore most of the sites, but they only open the gate to the tomb once a year on the anniversary of Emperor Minh Mang’s death.
7. Thien Mu Pagoda
Overlooking the Perfume River on Ha Khe Hill, the seven-story Thien Mu Pagoda is the tallest religious building in Vietnam. The temple itself was established at the location in 1601, but the tower was later constructed in 1844.
The temple grounds are not only beautiful, but it is also a site of political significance. During the “Buddhist Crisis” of 1963, the Catholic government cracked down on Buddhism in the country, despite the majority of Vietnamese being Buddhist at the time. When the government shot nine unarmed Buddhists in Hue, Thein Mu Pagoda became an organizing point for those involved in the movement. When the government refused appeals for religious equity, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc drove to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and in protest, sacrificed himself by setting himself on fire.
Malcolm Browne captured the event in a world-famous photograph. In the back of the photo, you can see the car which Thich Quang Duc drove. If you don’t know to look for it, you may even miss it, but tucked to the side in a building behind the main prayer hall of Thien Mu Pagoda the car sits on display commemorating those events. A visit top this historic pagoda, with these events in mind, will be one of the more poignant things to do in Hue, Vietnam.