If you’re traveling through Vietnam from south to north like we did, it may be pretty easy to skip past Hue. A mid-sized town with a few sights may seem like more of the same as you make your way to the more famous Hanoi and Halong Bay, but Hue is unlike any other city we went to in Vietnam and to miss it would almost be criminal.
As you know from some of my guides about eating in places like Singapore and Malaysia, I like to follow my nose and tastebuds as I travel to really get a sense of the local culture. After spending two weeks in Vietnam with plenty of pho ga and banh mi in my stomach, I was pretty over Vietnamese food. However, saying that Hue’s cuisine is like southern Vietnamese cuisine is like calling New York and Chicago pizza the same thing; it’s just plain wrong and people on both sides will be mad at you forever.
Here are some of the unique things that you should absolutely check out when you’re in Hue that you may not have come across in other parts of the country:
Bun Bo Hue
This soup is a dish that is so iconically Hue that the city’s name is built right in. Bun bo Hue – or just bun bo to the locals – is almost nothing like pho, with a thick braised beef bone stock, strong flavors of lemongrass and lime, big meat chunks such as beef shank or oxtail, mung bean sprouts and round vermicelli noodles. It’s easy to find all around the city of Hue and definitely a treat for your tongue.
This is another dish that has its roots in Hue, although it can be a little more common throughout northern Vietnam. Banh xeo is a rice pancake with diced pork and shrimp cooked in and topped with an array of fresh sprouts and herbs. Usually served with a spicy dipping sauce, but is also great on its own.
Another dish with Hue right in the name, these fresh spring rolls are another item that seems similar to what you may have been eating, but couldn’t be more different. Served in a build-your-own style, cuon hue usually comes with pork, shrimp, glass noodles and fresh spring herbs and greens.
There are many other iconic dishes from the Hue region and I do wish we could have stayed a little longer in the region just to try more of them. Like with any other destination, do a little bit of culinary homework beforehand so that you don’t feel overwhelmed if the menu isn’t in English.
Just as temple-trekking in Ayuttayah gives you a look into the former capital of Thailand, seeing the sights in Hue allows you to glimpse the glory of Vietnam’s historic capital. Just like Ayuttayah, Hue’s tourism is centered around one famous UNESCO-listed site, but that’s not all there is to do in the city.
The Citadel of Hue
This is the focal point of Hue tourism, the former center of the Vietnamese government until power was handed over to the communist party. We were initially looking to take a tour of the Citadel, thinking that it would be like many Southeast Asian sites that don’t have a ton of information. However, we ended up striking out trying to find a guide and weren’t much worse off for it. There is plenty of signage inside several of the buildings, as well as online resources to help guide you through the site. You will learn about the opulent lifestyle of Vietnamese emperors, their very unique traditions and somewhat progressive methods for selecting advisors (advisors were given formal exams and selected based on merit).
Free Walking Tour
If you’re looking to get a free tour of the area, check out Hue Free Tours, which have good reviews and a price that’s hard to beat. Their free tour goes all over the city and then ends at the Citadel where the same company has a paid tour of the famous site. This combo was actually our plan for our sightseeing day in Hue, but most unfortunately, our scheduled guide had an accident the day of and wasn’t able to make it.
If you walk down by the river in the middle of town, you won’t struggle to find some entrepreneur who wants to give you a ride, but there are also several organized cruises down the water. If riding a boat down a river at sunset while you relax and take in the sights is your cup of tea, then Hue can definitely accommodate.
Hue may not be on your Vietnam radar, but being a short bus ride from Hoi An or Da Nang, it should definitely make the cut for a few days of your time. If you’ve been to Hue and have any other great recommendations, leave them in the comments below!