Hue has something of a tempestuous history. Having been the heart of the Nguyen Dynasty from the early 19th to mid 20th century, the city was then subjected to the brutal edge of the Viet Nam war, being taken by the Viet Cong, suffering widespread executions and then being bombed heavily in an American recovery mission. Hardly an ideal history for a riverside tourist Mecca, then, but fortunately the city has maintained much of its original allure, with many of the most impressive buildings surviving the war.
The outstanding Imperial Citadel is Hue’s biggest claim to fame, with many parts of the mammoth complex still impressive viewing despite the desolate corners turned to rubble by fighting. Sadly, the Forbidden Purple Palace was amongst the war victims, but pagoda-topped buildings, sizable moats and an intricate selection of temples makes the citadel and essential stop off nonetheless.
Perhaps it’s not surprising given Hue’s history that the city’s other major tourist attraction is tombs. The ornate resting places of the various empires are spread out along the Perfume River, a total of half a dozen gentle buildings that range from the ancient and crumbling to entire delicate complexes including spots for the emperors various love interests.
When you’re done with the photo-worthy attractions, head into the humid heart of the city and explore the shambolic local markets, or make the most of the sulfurous hot springs, which offer attractive and affordable luxury. Massages are another great local experience, though you have to be a little careful what you’re getting (!). Perhaps the best on offer are the traditional blind massages, a favorite spot both as the parlors provide and ideal income for blind locals, and as you can guarantee an strong, reputable service.
In the surrounding countryside you can discover the less disguised remains of the Viet Nam war, including taking a tour of the ‘DMZ’, where you can explore the tunnels where soldiers spent years hiding from shells, as well as heading for the nearby beach. With ample noteworthy attractions, the unfortunate history of Hue has made for a wonderful present, and mark the city is an essential Vietnamese stop off.