A one time capital of Vietnam, during the Vietnamese Nguyen Emperor period from 1802 through to 1945 on the site of land acquired by peace treaty from the Champa kingdom in 1306, the city of Hue still visibly retains much of its history despite the encroachment of modern life and the serious destruction by both American and French occupiers during the wars of independence.


Additionally, in the post-independence communist fervour, the new government was intrinsically not ideologically inclined to cherish the monuments of a past that it regarded as symbolic of imperialistic privilege, and the neglect of this historic jewel inevitably continued.

The eventual failure of Soviet-style economics led to a liberalisation of Vietnamese trade policies and the resultant advent of international tourism, which revealed such sites to be of considerable value to visitors, and a welcome re-appraisal of Vietnam's historic legacy took place.

In modern times, the Citadel continues to undergo careful and faithful periodic careful restoration in accordance with its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

At the heart of the Old City, bordering the Perfume River, lies the walled Citadel, within which is encased the Imperial City and its inner sanctum, the Forbidden Purple City which, while influenced by the more famous citadel in Beijing, is gentler in style and scale, featuring gardens and pavilions, and is more peaceable in nature than the grand ostentation of political power that so characterises the Chinese city.

Although many of the buildings are damaged, the citadel with its gardens, gates and pavilions provides a remarkable insight into the historic wealth of Vietnamese culture. Supplementary displays of surviving royal goods can be found in the Museum of Antiquities, housed in Long An Palace, whilst an account of the impact of the American War on the city is described in the Provincial Museum.

Across the Perfume River bridges lies modern Hue, home to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Ho Chi Minh Museum, and the many restaurants catering to the highly celebrated Hue Cuisine, its distinctive recipes inherited directly from the royal imperial traditions.

One of the most popular activities around Hue is to enjoy a short cruise of the Perfume River and its waterways, which offers a variety of sights along its shore or a gentle walk away inland. Another pleasant alternative is to visit the area by bicycle.

The royal tombs of Hue’s Emperors past were sited according to geomantic intuitions, similar in nature to the principles more widely known as Feng Shui, and their resplendent tombs and the grandeur of their outer buildings set in 'favourable' locations and surrounded by beautiful landscaping.

The most splendid example is widely considered to be the lakeside mausoleum of Tu Duc, set in a twelve acre garden. Aside from his rulership duties, Tu Duc was a poet with a passion for drinking tea made with fresh morning dew, and this romanticism is reflected everywhere among the pavilions and gardens. Another very fine example is the Mausoleum of Minh Mang.

Another often cherished visit along the riverside are the famous and attractive Garden Houses, many of which are open to the public, which were the courtly homes of dignitaries to the imperial palace, some of which are still inhabited by their descendants. Other sights in the area include Thien Mu Pagoda and Hon Chen Temple.

To the east of Hue, 8km from the centre, another historic feature is the Thanh Toan wooden bridge, dating back to 1776, a charming example of its type, of which very few now remain.


North of Hue, the demilitarized zone (DMZ) was set up in 1954 by international agreement following the peace accords in Geneva, and was the area of demarcation between North and South Vietnam prior to proposed elections to provide a unity government in the wake of French withdrawal from Vietnam.

The promised elections failed to materialise and civil war ensued, leading ultimately to the catastrophic American intervention, and the bitter and bloody struggle that followed.

The DMZ and the adjoining provinces to the north and south were consequently the focus of the heaviest bombing and highest casualties of the American War. The whole area remains a modern-day pilgrimage destination for surviving veterans and their relatives.

Still a potentially dangerous place due to unexploded ordinance, guided tours to the region are consequently well advised and generally take in sites such as the Vinh Moc Tunnels and Truong Son Cemetery.

For veterans and others with a particular interest in the war, Hamburger hill, The Rockpile, Khe Sanh Marine Combat Base, Quang Tri Citadel, Con Thien Firebase, Ai Tu Base and Airfield, Doc Mieu Base, Dak Rong Bridge and Lang Vay Special Forces Camp are among the many sites which resonate with deeply experienced memory for so many.