Thua Thien Hue is a province in the key economic zone in central Viet Nam: the Eastern borders the Eastern Sea, the Western borders Laos PDR, the Northern borders Quang Tri province, the Southern borders Quang Nam province and Da Nang city.
With natural area 5.054 km2 and population about 1,1 million people, Thua Thien Hue province has a coastline of 128 km length with many beautiful beaches, and 22.000 hectares of lagoons with one of Asia's biggest system of lagoon Tam Giang and Tu Hien. Situated at the end of East-West economic corridor, Thua Thien Hue connects Myanma-Northeast Thailand - Lao - Central Viet Nam, in which Chan May deep seaport is considered as a gate to the Eastern Sea of the East-West economic corridor. The traffic system is very convenient, in which roads and railways are on the line over Viet Nam and Phu Bai international airport ensuring big size airplane taking off and landing in all weather.
Thua Thien Hue is a center of commerce, service and international transactions and is one of the traffic hubs of the Central Highlands and the country and also a big center of Culture-Tourism of the country, especially the complex of royal residences and pagodas, tombs and sanctuaries, culture and cuisine, history and misfortune in Hue City. There's no deficiency of idyllic pairings to portray Hue. Known as one the greatest Unesco World Heritage sites in Viet Nam, this profoundly vivid capital of the Nguyen emperors still resounds with the glories of royal Viet Nam despite the fact that a large number of its finest structures were collapsed by the time and during the war against foreign occupation.
The city of Hue owns a delightful position on the bank of the Perfume River – pleasant on a sunny morning, atmospheric even in less flattering climate. The restoration work to recover Hue royal splendor is at the heart of the city’s focus, yet today it remains a mix of new and old: modern houses sit cheek by jowl along the narrow streets and sleek modern hotels tower over crumbling century-old Citadel walls.
Visitors to Hue are astonished at the most pristine and beautiful beaches in Viet Nam, including Thuan An and Lang Co beach, twinkling in sunshine with the limpidly blue ocean and white silky sand. In addition, there are some mineral hot springs available like Thanh Tan in Phong An, Phong Dien; where you can totally be relaxed after a long walking day.
More interestingly, the old city is also the place where dining is not to satisfy human basic needs, but a form of art. Hue’s cuisine is elegant, light and noble and distinct from other regions. Spices, especially chili, play an important role in Hue’s cooking and cuisine decorating art.
WHAT TO SEE
Hue - An urban poem
Hue is a city in central Viet Nam that was the capital of Dang Trong Kingdom from 1738 to 1775 and of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945. Hue has existed for nearly three hundred and sixty years, but in terms of architecture, it still preserves almost intact the appearance of a Viet Nam’s ancient town built in the early 19th century. Hue has held its historical position for many centuries and enjoys advantages in exchanging and accumulating traditional essences, making it one of the biggest national cultural and historical centers.
Mountain and river; a pair of significant factors representing eternal harmony, was always foremost in the urban planning thoughts of the ancient architects who had constructed the Capital City of Hue. Thanks to this consideration, Hue is now still among very few cities that have survived in modern society, still dreaming in a deeply poetical nature. Mountains, rivers, lakes and sea collectively contribute to a marvelous panorama that opens a wide vision, as well as encompasses a colorful and illusory picture drawn by nature. This city, having been known for many glorious
centuries is still a precious natural gift for people and satisfies an irresistible desire of dwellers within modern metropolitan cities.
Nature constantly creates for Hue comfortable tranquility and shares it with the human spirit. Being different from the past quietness, it is now having an animated inner life with the heroic consonance of mountains, the saltiness of the sea, the reticence of the river, and of fruits and flowers all year round in Hue’s gardens. Nature here is not only a beauty for people to admire but also the vitality for human beings; it is the eternal poetical inspiration of the former capital city. Iu Murdin, a Russian architect, noted that there are various types of cities in the world, namely cities of workers, cities of science, cities of the port, huge and super cities, but, he says, “It is rare to find a city of a poem. Fortunately, there is a city of this type in Viet Nam. That city is Hue.”
A large number of giant architectural works, created by men, are assembled on that immense poetical ground. The architecture of the Nguyen Dynasty is a perfect heritage that would become national pride of creative talents and community thinking of the Vietnamese after the nation’s reunification in the early 19th century.
What sometimes first surprises the observer is the high scientific level apparent in Hue vestiges; for example, the golden scale observed on the main entrance of the Noon Gate (Ngo Mon). This skill also appears in the perfect hand-made bronze casting technique of the nine Dynastic Urns, in the marble resonant holes at Nam Giao Esplanade, in the decorative artifacts of Phap Lam. Even more skillfully crafted are the matrix arrangement of words that forms many different poems in Long An Temple or the mysterious arrangement of each poetic phrase on the roofs of the Minh Mang Tomb. All these are an intelligent puzzle that was only interpreted just recently. In 1957, a group of Oriental researchers, headed by the French academician Jean Cocteau, noted Hue in the list of “The World Wonders".
The garden is a unanimous notion which appears in the space surrounding all types of Hue architecture. Examples of this are House garden, Pagoda garden, Palace garden, Tomb garden, Village garden and as a whole, Hue is considered a Garden city.. The Tombs of Nguyen Kings are majestic architectures, which try to hide in the quietness of mountains and hills. Each tomb is full of its specific architectural features according to the principle: “Architecture should tell different stories to different people” as in the post-modern architectural concept of Charles Moore. At the same time, the tomb should be a flower garden for the living rather than a nihilistic world for the dead. The luxuriant relaxation in passing from this world to the other world is a humanitarian quality of Nguyen Tombs and simultaneously reflects the gentle manners of Hue people when faced with the unavoidable rule of birth and death in their life circle. The oldest relics in Hue are the Thien Mu pagoda, which was constructed in 1600AD, and many other constructions erected in the following centuries. Nevertheless, all are in such perfect harmony with the city complex, that the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr. A. M. M’Bow has evaluated Hue as, “A masterpiece of urban poetry”.
Throughout the centuries, Hue people have created their own literary and art traditions, a system of five sounds and five colors, a humanitarian philosophy reflected in behavior and worshiping customs. They have created their own unique style of cooking and dressing, of festivals and recreation, and their own gods and beliefs. This property of ‘intangible culture’ has been termed ‘a Hue voice’ and for all its good and bad aspects, it creates what is called ‘Hue style’.
It is well known that ‘the culture of Hue’ is not a product made only by the local people. Being the former Royal residence and the national capital, Hue in the old days attracted many talented people from over the country. Each of these people brought with him or her experience and skills from their homeland to enrich Hue community traditions, and in turn, they themselves became the owners of the property, which has since been enriched daily.
Hence, ‘the Hue culture’ has surpassed the limit of ordinary local traditions and reached a level of the cultural legacy of the whole nation. Hue claims not all of these achievements by herself, but that of many parts nationwide. These achievements have been recognized as “The World Cultural Heritage”, (UNESCO, 1993).
Hue Imperial City
The Royal Citadel took nearly thirty years to build (from 1803 to 1832). It is enclosed by a long rampart 6.6 m high and 21m thick, with an approximate perimeter of 9,000m. In the old days, twenty-four bastions existed here. The rampart is encircled by a deep moat for defensive purposes.
The Royal Citadel has a connection to the outside through eight gates built in eight directions: East, West, South, North, Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, and Southeast. Furthermore, there are two gates - The Nhon and Quang Duc located on both sides of the Flag Tower. At the two ends of Ngu Ha River are two more gates for waterways of the Dong Thanh Thuy Quan and Tay Thanh Thuy Quan. In the direction of the Imperial City, there is a small fortress called Thai Binh built under the reign of Gia Long and Tran Binh Dai in the Minh Mang Dynasty with an approximate perimeter of 1km at the northeastern corner. There is also a wide canal connected with the Imperial City’s moat to the outside.
According to the principles of Oriental geomancy, the philosophy of Yin and Yang and the five basic elements of the Book of Changes, the Royal Citadel faces a Southern direction, using the Ngu Binh Mountain as a natural screen. In addition, two small islets on the Perfume River (the Con Hen and the Con Da Vien) represent attending dragon and lying tiger (Left Dragon - Right Tiger). These islets were used for guarding the Imperial Capital. The Perfume River, running in front of the Royal Citadel, is used as a “Minh Duong” (or Bright Pond). The four sides of the Citadel are enclosed by a river system called Ho Thanh (or Citadel Protecting River).
Inside the Citadel, the Imperial City and Forbidden Purple City are generally called Dai Noi (or the Great Enclosure). The Imperial City is used to protect the most important ritual and political bodies of the Court and temples. The Forbidden Purple City was a daily working and living place of the Emperor and his family.
Constructed from 1804 to 1833, the Great Enclosure is almost square in shape with the front and rear sides measuring 622m in length and with right and left sides spanning 604m. The surrounding protective wall was built by bricks (4.16m high and 1.04m thick) with a system of defensive moats outside called Kim Thuy Ho. Four entrances, piercing each side, include the Noon Gate (front), Hoa Binh Gate (back), Hien Nhon Gate (left) and Chuong Duc Gate (right). The main entrance of the Noon Gate was reserved only for the Emperor.
The Forbidden Purple City is also almost square in shape, measuring 3.7m high. The front and rear sides of this enclosed city are 324m long with left and right sides of 290m long with ten entrances. Dai Cung Gate, now completely damaged, is the main gate at the front side - reserved only for the Emperor. The big screen constructed behind Can Chanh Temple (place of daily work of the Emperor) separated the private world of the kings and their families from the other areas. Within this City, hundreds of imperial maids and tens of eunuchs resided to serve the Royal family. Here exists nearly fifty resplendent architectural works, including Can Thanh Palace (the Emperor’s residence), Khon Thai palace (the Queen’s residence), Duyet Thi Duong (the Royal Theatre), Thuong Thien (the Royal Kitchen), Thai Binh Lau (the Royal Reading Pavilion), Quang Minh palace (princes’ residence), Trinh Minh palace (royal concubines’ residence), Kien Trung palace, Cam Uyen Garden, and many others.
The architectural system of the Great Enclosure was planned in accordance with the strict and well-proportioned principles. All locations in the front, back, left, right, top and bottom are consistently divided. This division shows the concepts of the Confucian political philosophy of the Orient. Most of the architectural works here are made of precious wood.
Deriving from Truong Son mountain, the two springs Ta Trach and Huu Trach meet at the junction of Tuan (or ‘Bang Lang') and create the Huong river. The river then flows in South-North direction past the temples of Hon Chen and Ngoc Tran and then turns North-West, meandering through the Nguyet Bieu and Luong Quan plains. Continuing on, the Huong river then flows to the North-East to Hue city, only an echo of Truong Son mountain, and passes the place where Nguyen emperors spend their rest in peace forever. The river of green water, which is as soft as silk, continues its itinerary, passing Hen islet and tranquil villages, crossing Sinh junction known as the capital of ancient Chau Hoa, before pouring itself into the Tam Giang lagoon, and then dissolving into the sea.
White river - green leaves, Huong river is like “a silver sword upright to the sky”. Huong river is really an invaluable Godsend to Hue. And who will remember Hue without its reminder - the Huong river? Lord Nguyen Phuc Lan is deserving as the founder of the capital city when he decided to move his residence from Chau Hoa fortification to Kim Long and chose the Perfume river as the main axis to construct the town. It is really exceptional to have such a river, like a stream of epic carrying with it all the symphonies of an area of a specific culture. Flowing through the valient poetical inspiration of the Gong culture, the river, the jungles, becomes as meditative as a philosopher, resting at the foot of the hills scattered with royal tombs, ancient pagodas and vestiges. The river then appears as dreamy as a beautiful girl when running through the capital city and at last, happily joins Tam Giang lagoon near the sea. Here, the lagoon will act on behalf of the river to carry the city southwards to the famous resorts of Bach Ma overlooking Cau Hai lagoon. The river then continues its travels through the ideal beaches of Canh Duong and Lang Co at the foot of Hai Van pass, where an old phrase of four words: “The First Majestic Landscape” engraved on the stone is still visible.
Chuon Marsh village
Chuon marsh village is beside the lagoon, where villagers catch fishes. It is either a traditional village or a new tourist attraction. The marsh of Chuon has occupied an indispensable position, which runs 27km along the village.
The sunrise and sunset at Chuon are so beautiful that you must see once in your life. You can take many delightful photos. since the sky is displayed in purple, yellow and other colors. In that case, every sunrise and sunset will be particular. The local food in Chuon is very amazing. The local people usually engage in aquaculture in the lagoon and create their ponds by fencing areas with bamboo. The seafood there is not only fresh and delicious but also cheap. Nonetheless, there is one kind of endemic fish species named “Ca Kinh”. The villagers make the famous Hue pancake by using Ca Kinh as the main protein of the cake. You must have a try.
Thuan An Beach
Far from Hue 15 km, only 15 minutes by car, you head to Thuan An Beach, situated near by Thuan An mouth, where Huong River flows into Tam Giang lagoon and then to the sea. Plenty small boats drift up and down the river, while the wayside is dotted with cottages, temples, pagodas, lush rice fields and gardens. Thuan An Beach is an enjoyable escape after a full day visit to the Imperial Citadel, mausoleums, pagodas, and so on. Locals head here to enjoy fresh air and sea-bathing in summer time. Beach activities last from April to September, whenthe temperature in Hue is fairly hot. Sometimes, the beach is packed with tourists, so it is not enough space for camping.
Lang Co Beach
Bordering a section of 1A National Highway, nearly Hai Van pass, and 24 km from Bach Ma area, Lang Co Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in Hue. It is covered with powdery fine white sands, have clear warm water with gradually sloping ocean floors. The average depth is less than 1 meter and the average temperature during the bathing season is 25°C.
Lang Co Sea is home to various kinds of shrimps, lobsters, crabs, butterfishes, mackerel fishes, oysters, etc. Not far from the beach is Lang Co fishing village, making it a popular hotspot for fresh and tasty seafood.
Canh Duong Beach
Situated between Chan May and Eastern Chan May, just about 60 km from Hue city, Canh Duong Beach is about 4000 meters long and 200 meters wide and arc-shaped with silky white sand beach and crystal clear blue water, making this place so romantic. The beach promises to be an interesting dining spot with fresh and delicious seafood.
Phuoc Tich Village
Phuoc Tich village is an ancient village, which dates back to the 15th century. The village is about 37 km northwest of Hue city. It is besides O Lau River, which causes the quiet village surrounded by trees and water. The building in the village is the traditional buildings. It may make you think that you are back to the 15th century.
There is only one entrance to the village by crossing a bridge to the west. Upon the village’s entrance, the ancient village, temples, old buildings and wharfs will come into view. All you see can prove that this ancient village is untouched... The local government also collaborates with local artisans to help them produce high qualities pottery, which can be bought as souvenirs.
When visiting Phuoc Tich village, you can have lunch with local people. T. While enjoying lunch with the local people, you can understand more about the history and culture of the village. If you are interested in making desserts, you should take part in making a popular local cake, which is made from rice flowers mixed with green bean. Alternatively, you can also ride the bike beside the O Lau River. The scenery along the way may help you release your mental and physical pressure.
Royal Tomb of King Tu Duc
The Tu Duc Royal Tomb was built between 1864 and 1867. The opulence of Tu Duc’s tomb stands in contrast to the tragic length of his life. Tu Duc was the longest-reigning Nguyen emperor, dying childless after 35 years on the throne and cursing the French for their growing influence.
Tu Duc is the only Emperor who moved his family into his own tomb, constructing a Forbidden City of his own on the grounds of his tomb. Out of the Emperors who built their tombs in Hue, Tu Duc is the only one who wrote his own particular style, as he had no child to do this crucial obligation. No other Royal Tomb in Hue can be on a par with the size and lavishness of Tu Duc’s royal tomb. The tomb’s architecture perfectly matches with the carefully-manicured landscape. The monuments are arranged along two axes – one for the royal residence and living quarters, and the other for the necropolis.
Royal Tomb of Kinh Khai Dinh
It took 11 years to complete the tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh and his enduring unpopularity was due in part to his heavy taxation on peasants to fund the construction of this tomb.
From the street facing Khai Dinh’s Royal Tomb, visitors must climb up a series of steps to reach a wrought-iron triple gate that limits access to the tomb which looks gray and imposing. It was built from out of modern materials like concrete and wrought iron.
This is the first tomb equipped with electricity. Despite the Eastern design sensibility, the tomb’s architecture is partly influenced by the Western world. It has been told that Khai Dinh Emperor visited the Marseilles Colonial Exhibition in France in 1922, where he was inspired by European architecture. Guests will find it interesting when they come here and see a riotous battle between Eastern and Western design elements, colorfully decorated with pieces of broken glass and porcelain.
Thien Mu Pagoda (Pagoda for the Celestial Lady)
Situated on Ha Khe hill, on the north bank of the Perfume River, in Huong Long village, about 5 kilometers from Hue city, Thien Mu Pagoda(so-called Heaven Fairy Lady Pagoda in English), also known as Linh Mu Pagoda, is one of the oldest and greatest pagodas in Hue.
The pagoda was built in 1601 by Lord Nguyen Hoang. Afterward, the pagoda was restored by the Emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty such as Gia Long, Minh Mang, Thieu Tri and Thanh Thai. According to the royal annals, while Lord Nguyen Hoang was touring the vicinage, was told of the local legend in which an old lady, known as Thiên Mụ (literally “Celestial Lady”), dressed in red and blue sat at the site, rubbing her cheeks. She foretold that a lord would come and erect a pagoda on the hill to pray for the country’s prosperity. She then vanished after making her prophecy. Upon hearing this, Lord Nguyen Hoang ordered the construction of Thien Mu Pagoda.
The pagoda’s most striking feature is Phuoc Duyen tower, initially called Tu Nhan tower. It was constructed in 1884 by King Thieu Tri to commemorate a Buddha who appeared on earth in human form. This octagonal tower consists of seven stories, each of 2m high. It is the highest stupa in Viet Nam and has become the unofficial symbol of Hue.
On the left of the tower, there is a pavilion sheltering a big bell, called Dai Hong Chung, cast in 1710 by Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu. It is 2.5m high and 3,285 kg weight. It is a great example of 18th-century bronze casting.
On the right of the tower, there is another pavilion containing a steal of 2.58 m high, dating back from 1715. The stela is placed on the back of a giant marble turtle which is a symbol of longevity.
The pagoda is also famous for stunning artworks, for instance, Dai Hung shrine, the bronze gong cast in 1677, the wooden gilded board with Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu’s inscriptions dating back from 1714s.
Thien Mu pagoda is like a tropical garden of ornamental plants and flowers today. At the far end of the garden stretches a calm and romantic pine-tree forest. Visit the pagoda in the afternoon while the monks are praying inside the pagoda and enjoy the beautiful sunset on the Perfume River.
WHAT TO EAT
Banh Beo (Seamed rice dumpling)
Banh Beo is a special local food in the life of Hue people. No-one knows when “banh beo” was created, but it can be found many places in Hue city, Viet Nam. With the local people, it is said: "eating is enjoying, but enjoying is not just eating”. And, we see that clearly when we enjoy “Banh Beo”.
Ingredient to make it is just rice which is ground into fine flour, and mixed with water. We wait some minutes so that it can be soft; then we pour it into small disks and steam them. When we EAT them, we will add some spices, shrimps and a little vegetable oil. The sauce of “banh beo” is cooked from fresh shrimps so it is both sugary and fatty.
If there is a chance to come to Hue, you will see that Banh Beo is an important part of the life of Hue People. About from 3 p.m to 5 p.m, women carry small baskets on their shoulder to go to sell Banh Beo through streets. Hue people really like to taste Banh Beo as ordinary meals, which become their habit of daily life. In fact, if someone has a chance to come to Hue, Banh Beo will be the special local food which is a must-tasted food.
Bánh bột lọc (Sweet rice dumpling cake)
At the bottom right corner of the above photo is what Bánh bột lọc traditionally looks like. It is covered with banana leaf. In each cake, there is a piece of shrimp and ground pork. The fish sauce goes with Bánh bột lọc is different from Bánh bèo. It is saltier, therefore, it is served in a very small plate
Bun bo Hue (beef and pig's knuckle vermicelli)
Bun bo Hue is a popular Vietnamese vermicelli dish and one of the most typical foods of Hue. The soup is prepared by simmering beef and pork bones for a few hours before adding lemongrass, chili, and shrimp paste.
Hue people usually add thin slices of beef shank, chunks of boiled oxtail and pig's knuckles or pork into the bowl. The specialty is commonly served with plenty of herbs like sprouts, lime wedges, cilantro sprigs, onions and sliced banana blossom. Hue is the best place to try this unique dish. Unlike normal shrimp sauce, Sour shrimp sauce is orange in color with the shrimps maintaining their original shape.
To make this sauce the shrimps are cleaned in salt water and “cooked” in strong rice wine. The shrimps will turn red from the wine. Carefully mix the shrimp with sticky rice, sliced galangal, garlic and chili before combining the mixture into a jar covered by guava leaves. In just 5-7 days and the mouthwatering sour shrimp sauce will be ready
Com Hen is a very unique cuisine from Hue. Made from rice, boiled mussel, star fruit, fish sauce, cabbage, onion, pepper, peanut, chili, and a variety of herbs. The specialty is all of these elements are cold. To cook Com Hen, you add all the ingredients into a bowl and slowly add boiled mussel broth with chili sauce. Com Hen has an extremely spicy flavor which makes you remember it after just one bite.
Banh khoai (Delicious pancake)
Banh khoai is very similar to Banh xeo (sizzling pancake). The pancakes are made from rice flour, water and turmeric powder. The toppings are usually slivers of fatty pork, shrimp and bean sprouts before being pan-fried.
Banh khoai and Banh xeo are sometimes wrapped in mustard leaf, lettuce leaves or rice paper and stuffed with a variety of herb such as mint leaves, basil before being served with a sweet and sour mixed sauce. In Hue, Banh khoai is placed open-face instead of being folded in half like Banh xeo. Due to its greasiness and spicy taste, most Hue citizens only make them in winter.