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Welcome to Hué

Hué

Former capital of the emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty, the royal city of Hué is situated on the country's central coast, midway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It is a serene place, a small city of canals boasting splendid historical sights, and is dominated by its massive Citadel, and the former Forbidden Purple City. Most of its beautiful imperial architecture was destroyed during the 1968 Tet Offensive, when the North Vietnamese launched an attack on the south, yet despite a tumultuous history it retains much of its cultural identity and has been recognised as a Cultural World Heritage Site.

Hué is also an important centre for Buddhism and hundreds of temples and pagodas exist around the city, such as the Thien Mu Pagoda, one of the most famous structures in the country. The Perfume River lies between the city and the remains of the mighty Citadel with many attractions along its banks. Sampan boat trips on the river offer an enchanting way to see the main sights in and around Hué, including the splendid tombs of the Nguyen emperors a few miles south of the city.

Along with its historical sights, Hué is also the main starting point for day tours to the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone), a historical area spanning both sides of the former border between North and South Vietnam, and the Vinh Moc underground tunnels.


Information & Facts

Climate

Hue is renowned for being just about the wettest city in Vietnam, having very few dry days; even during the 'dry' season between May and August there is usually some drizzle. Average annual rainfall is 110 inches (2,800mm). Like the rest of Vietnam, Hue also experiences distinct extremes of temperature between winter and summer, sweltering mid-year and the mercury plunging in January.

Language
The official language in Vietnam is Vietnamese. Some Chinese, English and French are spoken. Tour guides can also speak Russian and Japanese. Numerous ethnic languages are also spoken in parts.
Money

The official currency is the Dông (VND). There are no smaller denominations. Currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change, hotels and on the black market. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are becoming more widely acceptable, particularly in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, but it is best not to rely on them elsewhere. It is recommended that visitors bring travellers cheques in US Dollars, which can be cashed at major banks in the main cities and tourist areas. US currency acts as unofficial tender and is useful as a back-up when banks won't cash travellers cheques outside the main cities, but notes must be relatively new and unmarked. Dông can be withdrawn from ATMs, which are becoming more widespread.

Time
Local time in Vietnam is GMT +7.

Under the Geneva Accords of 1954, Vietnam was split into North and South along the 17th parallel. The Ben Hai River was selected as the temporary demarcation line. A three-mile (5km) strip of no-man's land on either side of the border was known as the DMZ, or Demilitarised Zone that was bombed into a desolate wasteland, riddled with land mines and surrounded by barbed wire during the war. The area surrounding the DMZ and the land in between was the worst affected, and the amount of explosives, napalm and chemicals used, including Agent Orange, has left the once heavily forested land with stunted growth and infertile soil. Historical sites and landmarks include the Hien Luong Bridge spanning the river, entry to the Ho Chi Minh Trail that bypassed the border, the American firebase at Con Thien, U.S Marine base at Khe San, and the Truong Son War Martyr Cemetery dedicated to the thousands who died on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. A guided tour is strongly recommended as there are no signs and the area still contains unexploded landmines. Vinh Moc is known for the extraordinary complex of tunnels constructed by the villagers as an underground village in which to shelter from the American bombardments. Faced with the total destruction of their village in 1965, they dug an underground network consisting of three layers starting at a depth of 33ft (10m) with room for 300 people, including wells, a school, clinics, storerooms, observation posts, ventilation shafts and a maternity room where 17 babies were delivered during the war. A section has been restored and is open to visitors and there is a small museum at the entrance.

South of Hué are eight splendid royal tombs of the Nguyen emperors, situated among the hills on the banks of the Perfume River. Often designed while the emperor was still alive, each mausoleum was built to serve as a palace for the afterlife. They are complexes with many buildings that include a paved courtyard lined with mandarin statues, a stone stele inscribed with details of his reign, the main temple dedicated to the worship of the deceased and containing personal effects, and the tomb itself. Surrounding the complex were artificial ponds in a garden-like setting. The Tomb of Tu Dac, with its lotus-filled lake and central pavilion, the remarkable mosaics of Minh Mang's Tomb, and the simple and serene Tomb of Khai Dinh are the most interesting.

Constructed by Emperor Gia Long in 1804 for the private use of the emperor and his household, the enormous moated Citadel is comprised of three separate walled enclosures. The outer citadel, surrounded by a six-mile (10km) perimeter wall punctuated by 10 gates, frames the Imperial Enclosure used for official business. At the very centre is the Forbidden Purple City, the restricted residence of the emperor and his concubines. This once magnificent Imperial City originally included many magnificent features, with tombs, pagodas and temples, lakes and lavishly gilded pavilions. Today remnants of the palaces contain ornate ceremonial halls and throne rooms, mosaics adorn roofs and pillars, and beautiful landscaped gardens surround the remaining buildings. Sadly much was destroyed during the Vietnamese War, and a fire further damaged the Forbidden Purple City, but it is still possible to see evidence of its past glory. The main entrance is through the Ngo Mon Gate (Noon Gate), a stunning example of Nguyen architecture, with separate entrances for the emperor, his mandarins and the royal elephants. A soaring multi-roofed pavilion used for important royal proclamations, sits elegantly on top.

A boat trip on the Perfume River is one of the highlights of a visit to Hué and includes stops to visit some of the city's main attractions. Passing other sampans (traditional rowing boats) on their way to market, houseboats and dragon boats, a typical trip will take visitors to the Thien Mu Pagoda, Hon Chen Temple and the Royal Tombs. The Thien Mu Pagoda is one of the oldest and most attractive religious structures in Vietnam, dating back to 1601. Its most striking feature is the seven-tiered tower, representing the seven steps to enlightenment. Another way to experience the Perfume River is on an evening boat trip hosting a traditional folksong performance, a tradition that goes back to the rule of the emperors when artists would play music and recite poetry from a rowing boat on the river.

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