irthdays come but once a year and in Hoi An there are so many amazing options it needn’t be just booze and balloons.
Because nothing says you've had a well-rounded cultural experience than a shiny, ill-fitting suit and a small painted wooden boat.
The central coast has four distinct seasons: the monsoon season begins in October and ends in January is plagued by some of Vietnam’s worst and most unpredictable weather; *typhoons are not unheard of during this time.
Just as the low-lying coastal towns of Hoi An, Danang and the mountain valleys of Phong Nha, Hue is particularly prone to flooding during October and November.
The cooler months of spring begin in February and end in April. Perhaps the best time to visit Hue, as it's generally dry and you avoid the intense heat and humidity of the summer months.
From April to August both the temperature and the humidity rise making touring and any time spent in the city exhausting and uncomfortable, this is a good time to consider accommodation on Hue's cooler coastline, a 30 minute drive from the citadel.
September heralds the cusp of Hue's monsoon season, humidity reaches its peak and thunderstorms roll in off the mountains in the evenings providing welcome relief from the heat. These monsoon storms increase in frequency towards the months end. During this time days are usually sunny and dry.
Like the rest of the country, the area comes alive during Tet - the celebration of the lunar new year which takes place in January or February. Due to long national holidays this can be a difficult time of the year to travel.
* Severe weather warning systems and protocols are in place and in most instances, this need not effect your holiday
Getting To Hue
Plane Hue is served by Phu Bai International Airport (15 kilometres from the city). The airport serves only the major Vietnamese airports - HCMC, Ha Noi, Da Lat and at the time of writing, no international flights. For most visitors the larger Da Nang International airport (a few hours south of Hue) serves as the main gateway.
Train: Hue railway station is served by all Reunification Express trains and a few slower stopping trains. Stops include Da Nang (two to four hours), Lang Co (two hours), Quang Ngai (four to six hours), Tuy Hoa (10 hours) and Nha Trang (10 to 14 hours). The train ride to Da Nang is one of Vietnam’s most spectacular, and is worth it just for the journey itself.
Car: From neighbouring destinations Phong Nha in the north (four to five hours) and Da Nang in the south (two to three hours) it's possible to arrange inexpensive car transfers through hotels and local tour operators. Most will give you the option of stopping at a few sites along the way. To Da Nang it's well worth taking the more beautiful (but slightly longer) route along the breathtaking Hai Van Pass combining a lunch stop at Lang Co Lagoon for some of the best seafood in the central region. For daytrips to Hue's further flung tombs, a private car and driver can be arranged through your hotel.
The train ride between Danang and Hue is like passing through a postcard. Crossing mountainous landscapes, the route gives way to patches of emerald and blue, where jungle then rice fields meet lagoons and bays. The public TN train takes four to five hours and includes stops at the smaller coastal stations in between the two cities including Lang Co, while the more expensive Reunification Express (SE trains) take two and a half hours. The later costs roughly 300,000 VND and is offered four times daily. The SE train also continues on to Dong Hoi - the main station for Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, the journey from Danang takes 6 to 7 hours, or 4 to 5 hours from Hue.
For five star experiences you’ll find your money goes a lot further in Hue, where luxury hotels and resorts are for the most part, located just outside of the city. However, for those hoping to tick Hue off in the usual two-day, one-night stay, the centrally located La Residence, an opulent colonial mansion overlooking both citadel and river would be a better option, or the cheaper Villa Hue - a beautiful pool hotel on a quiet tree flanked boulevard that doubles up as a training centre for Hue's tourism university.
For Hue’s best value mini-hotels and guesthouses look outside of the main backpacker area surrounding Pham Ngu Lao (on the east bank of the river) and you’ll be rewarded with fantastic service, larger rooms and the possibility of a pool.
As long stay beach vacations become more fashionable, coastal areas that were once considered remote have started to develop, large international resorts like the Banyan Tree and Intercontinental have opened on large stretches of beach in the area between Danang and Hue, easily accessible via the two international airports that service both cities.
Little known are the beaches nearer Hue's city centre - long stretches of undeveloped white sand beaches and just a scattering of hotels. The most beautiful of the all is the Ana Mandara Hue Beach Resort, a luxurious spa hotel with spacious beach villas a twenty minute drive from the city.
In stark contrast to neighbouring Da Nang and Hoi An, you could count Hue’s best restaurants on one hand. Fine dining venues La Parfum, Les Jardins de la Carambole (in the citadel) or the garden houses, Ben Xuan or Tha Om are very worthy of the splurge, while the tourist focused places concentrate around the backpacker area on the east side of the rivers offerings are mediocre at best. Fortunately, this isn’t a bad thing, Hue’s local and Imperial cuisine is as richly diverse as the city’s past, and equally as interesting. Bun bo (a lemongrass and chilli infused beef and pork noodle soup) originated here as did the ‘kingly table’, sociable, family style dining where tables are loaded and food is shared tapas style.
By avoiding the tourist centric restaurants, a local lunch or dinner will come in at a couple of dollars, leaving plenty of dong in your wallet for a fine dining splurge.
How Long For Hue?
Though we'd love to be able to arm you with the exact mathematical formula as to how long you should set aside for Hue, it's complicated. What we can tell you is it that after many two day trips, it wasn't until we experimented with a longer stay that we began to enjoy the city and it's surrounds. A big part of that was discovering the beach..
Most will advise just half a day at the citadel - we say double that. Though the imperial palace is the main draw (and that can easily take up several hours to tour), the area surrounding within the walls makes for some of the most rewarding exploration in the city (take a bicycle, it's huge).
The tombs are scattered throughout the countryside surrounding the city, and the most worthwhile to visit are the biggist - Tu Duc and furthest flung tombs Khai Dinh and Gia Long. Even if you choose just to see these three, it's a long and very tiring day.
A frequent mistake made by visitors to Hue is forgetting to include the time it takes to travel both to and from the destination. Add hotel check-ins and outs, a coffee stop and realistically you are looking at several hours lost in transit. Leaving for Hue at the crack of dawn to allow a few extra hours is not a grand idea either, touring the sites of Hue is tiring and a lot of love is lost for the place by visitors rushing around ticking boxes.
Beach Vacations: The beaches of Hue fall very much under the tourism radar, yet Thaun An's striking resemblance to Hoi An's An Bang village before tourism hit, makes it one of the few coastal areas in the central region where you can enjoy the luxuries of a fancy resort without the hassles of hawkers and parking attendants should you wish to explore. The fishing villages surrounding the area are made up of small cottage industries - fresh markets, mom & pop restaurants - none of it focused on tourism. The food is cheap, fresh and served as it should be. There's a sleepy ambience and the people are warm and welcoming, and while there is no nightlife outside the resorts, the beach is just a twenty-minute commute from the city and ten-minutes from Tam Giang lagoon (the largest lagoon in SE Asia) where you can dine on some of the best seafood in the region from stilted wooden houses overlooking the lagoon.
Food Vacations: Architecture, tombs, palaces and pagodas are just a small part of Hue's attraction, yet can be the main reason those not interested cross the destination off their list.
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