A visit to Central Vietnam isn’t complete without a trip to Huế- pronounced “hway.” Hence the title – get it? (total dork alert) The city of Huế is about 78 miles north of Hoi An and completely worth the day trip. Our new friend Jerry, who was staying at our Airbnb, invited us to join him – we really didn’t know much about the place so we said sure!
Given that Huế is a bit far – we opted out of taking our scooters. We found out that we could rent a car with a driver for about 1,900,000 VND which is about $85/USD. Not bad for splitting it between 3 people. And it was round trip! Say what?! Amazing! Plus the driver would stop at a few places along the way for pics and sightseeing. Couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
One of the major perks of driving from Hoi An to Huế is going over the Hải Vân Pass. It’s about a 13 mile stretch of a highway that goes up and over a mountain of the Annamite Range. In Vietnamese, the name of the pass actually means “ocean cloud pass” – fortunately and unfortunately for us – due to some pretty crappy weather, it lived up to its name.
People rave about the stunning views when going over the pass but for us – it was just a bit too cloudy and rainy to see much. Although the rain and clouds ended up bringing their own element of beauty to the drive.
When you reach the summit of the pass there are remnants of lookout points and structures from past wars. Even though the weather wasn’t cooperating – it was still really cool to see. It started to pour rain so we popped into a little cafe for some Vietnamese coffee which is always a great decision. We were also happy to have rented a car at this point and not on scooters.
First Stop? Food!
Before we ever left on our little road trip – Jerry wouldn’t stop talking about the city’s specialty dish. Bún bò Huế. Bún bò is basically a simple beef noodle soup with vermicelli noodles. But this was, of course, their special version.
Our driver took us to a super local spot – definitely the only white people there. Okay, technically Jerry is Vietnamese but really – he’s Canadian – so we were definitely the only foreigners there. This is always a good sign for some yummy local food. Jerry couldn’t have been more on point.
Like everything we’ve had in Vietnam so far – it was delicious. The balance of flavors is just spot on in every dish – sweet, sour, salty and spicy. All in one. The broth is a beef broth with lemongrass, some shrimp paste and spices. Then it all comes together with the noodles, some greens and the meat. The meat was thinly sliced pieces of beef, a meatball looking thing that I had no idea what it was and then cubes of congealed pig’s blood. I know, I know – sounds gross – but it wasn’t at all. It didn’t have that super metallic taste you’d imagine – it was just mild with a tofu-like texture. SO good.
Sightseeing in Huế
Huếis just completely saturated in culture and history. It was actually the capital of Vietnam from 1802-1945 and also another UNESCO World Heritage site. The city also played a major role during the Vietnam war so there’s a lot of military history as well. Buddhism is taken very seriously in this city so there’s lots of religious sites to visit too – it’s an extremely cultured place.
The Most Over-Priced Boat “Tour” Ever
Before arriving in Huế, our driver asked us if we were interested in a 45-minute sightseeing boat tour down the Perfume River (the major waterway in the city.) It would be about $10/USD per person. Again – we couldn’t pass it up. We were in a city we would probably never go to again so we said ‘what the hell – let’s do it.’
Our driver dropped us off at the dock and we boarded our own private tour boat. It was a bit janky with some plastic seats that were more like cheap patio furniture so I was immediately excited for the adventure. But in reality – it couldn’t have been less than an adventure at all.
So we start putting along on the river – it’s still pretty gray out but we’re taking it in. Not much to see really but it was cool to see some other boats go by. Fifteen minutes in and we’re enjoying ourselves – excited to see where our first stop on this sightseeing tour will be.
Well – 25 minutes goes by and after not seeing any sights at all – we finally dock at a gorgeous pagoda. We were thinking – sweet! Our first stop on this tour, let’s check it out! Well – no – turns out that was the end of the boat “tour” and they were basically kicking us out. Most expensive 25 minutes ever – they essentially earned about a dollar a minute from us without showing us anything at all. *Sigh* What are you gonna do? But at least we were at this beautiful pagoda!
The Thiên Mụ Pagoda
Right on the Perfume River is this 7-story tall beautiful temple called the Thiên Mụ Pagoda. It’s actually the tallest religious building in the entire country. It is really quite shocking at just how stunning this structure is – surrounded by gardens and prayer rooms. Amazing.
We walked around the grounds, took in the sights and then met up with our driver afterwards. Making no mention at how lame that “boat tour” was – we were happy with where we’d ended up.
The Imperial City and The Citadel
Our next stop was a visit to The Citadel located in the Imperial City. The Imperial City itself is basically a walled fortress from when Huế was the capital – it also houses a palace. It’s a really incredible place to see – situated right in the heart of modern day Huế. It even has a moat surrounding it!
There was a pretty brutal attack on Huế in 1968 – surprisingly, the U.S. was ordered not to bomb or shell the city. But lots of damage was done by the Tet Offensive; the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong soldiers did some major damage to the city but thankfully a few sites still remain.
The Tomb of Khải Định
Our last stop on our tour of Huếwas the Tomb of Khải Định. It’s located just outside the city on Chau Chu mountain – and it is EPIC. It’s one of those places that you all of the sudden turn a corner and just go – “WOAH.”
Khải Định was the Emperor of Vietnam from 1916 to 1925. Turns out – the guy wasn’t even that popular with the Vietnamese people due to his closeness with the French government. But regardless of his unpopularity – he had ordered a preparation of his tomb before he died. This thing is ELABORATE.
It’s apparently smaller than other tombs of past emperors but it’s one of the most decorated and ornate tombs of the era. There’s stone statues outside of the tomb that serve as “bodyguards” and giant structures that greet you as you walk up to the actual room where the tomb is located.
And then – you walk into the palace where the tomb is held. Oh. My. Goodness. These rooms were out of control. The entire place is just covered in super intricate porcelain and glass decorations. Extremely detailed painted ceilings. It was just insane looking.
Khải Định’s tomb itself is raised in the center of the palace and again – just covered in decoration. It was quite impressive given that no one really even liked this guy. Still – absolutely gorgeous. By far our favorite stop on the trip.
That’s a wrap!
We couldn’t have been happier to make the effort to go up to visit Huế. Mad props to Jerry for inviting us along for the ride. It was well worth spending the entire day making the round trip. We even stopped for some pickled goods and some more Vietnamese coffee from a roadside stand on the way back.
We highly recommend visiting Huế if you’re ever in Vietnam. Just don’t do the boat tour.