Things To Do in Hue: 10 Pro Tips and Activities From a Hue Resident

There’s a general misconception with backpackers on the banana pancake trail. Hue allegedly has nothing to offer it’s visitors except for a citadel and an abandoned waterpark. Let me tell you that those people are quite simply banana pancakes. There’s plenty of things to do in Hue.

Hue food tour grit
Dessert along the Huong River.

Hue is definitively the place to get to grips with real Vietnam; it’s the country’s capital of culture! Hue demonstrates the country’s past, present and future in equal measures. All of this can be accessed much easier than larger cities such as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.

Beachside afternoon dining

While people may argue that Hoi An is a better representation of Vietnamese culture, it simply isn’t. The town is a 21st century tourist construct, built upon the age-old orientalist perceptions of east Asia and today permeates a sculptured culture to please the tourist masses (an academic agrees with us!). Hoi An has some incredible history but all this has been swallowed up by the density of what it has become. Is Hoi An more pleasant than Hue? Disputably so. Is Hue more ‘real Vietnam’? Undoubtedly yes.

10 Things to Do in Hue

1. Serendipity in the Hue Citadel

Hue citadel can be described in three parts; the imperial city, it’s surrounding citadel and the city beyond the citadel walls. The entrance to the imperial city comes at a steep 150,000VND per person. The imperial city is impressive but information for visitors is sparse and disappointing. If you’re there for the history, it’s best to hire a guide or do some research before visiting. The Hue citadel surrounding it is equally enjoyable to investigate if you’re short on cash.

Things to Do in Hue Grit Tour
Imperial City inside the Hue Citadel

Take a stroll through the various lakes and pavements that encompass the imperial city and you can find great food, friendly people, quirky establishments and remnants of history’s presence. The 200 year-old building hosting a cafe is lavish and can be accessed without paying the entrance fee. The labyrinth of hawkers and shops in the 100 year-old Dong Ba market is fun to get lost in. There’s even a restaurant that sells seaweed in edible varieties. There might not be tonnes of things to in the citadel but there’s plenty to explore. For a detailed guidebook to the history of Hue and the citadel, we suggest picking up Exploring Hue by Tim Doling which is available from Phu Xuan/Phuong Nam bookstore (two names, same bookshop). If you’re looking for a tour guide, we can help you find one. Contact us!

1. Hang outs at Hue’s Abandoned Waterpark

Due to it’s Instagram-appeal and minor Jurassic Park vibes, Hue’s abandoned waterpark is a quick riser on every backpacker’s list of things to do in Vietnam. #wanderlust. Truth be told, what more could you ask for when making a day trip out the city? the abandoned waterpark is a great place to recreate and more so to procreate. I’m not playing devil’s advocate here but I’m pretty sure that it would top any hostel story you encounter after you visit Hue.

Things to Do in Hue Grit Tour
Thuy Tien Lake: Hue’s abandoned waterpark

Plenty of space for a picnic here. Bring sandwiches and a sugarcane juice. At the time of writing, some local fellas guarding the premises in an attempt to keep curious visitors out. Be nice and charming. If they don’t let you in, take another route.  if they ask for an entrance fee, it’s your call. Remember your actions will impact future visitors. Think local, act global, yada yada yada. Check out our article For a better informed and more prosaic piece about Hue’s abandoned waterpark. If you don’t get in. No biggy. The banana pancake hype makes it seem way better than it really is. #coldfact. Maybe try #3 for an instagram substitute.

3. Visit Vietnam’s longest Graffiti Wall in Hue.

Growing hip-hop collective Block Party hosted international graffiti jam ‘Meeting of Styles’ in 2018. The result? a 820-metre wall that now features fantastic graffiti art from all over the world. Be sure to crawl under the fencing at the beginning of the wall to get to the other side.

Things to Do Hue Grit Tour

Hue’s graffiti wall is only a few kilometres country drive/ride from the abandoned waterpark. So why not kill two things to do with one trip? Here’s our article on the graffiti wall for more information.

4. Take an Alternative Tour in Hue

It’s tough engaging or understanding a culture, especially one that is so different than the one you come from. Have you found yourself walking in squares not sure what you’re doing or why you’re even visiting an area? Undecided on what things to do while you’re in Hue? Struggling to choose what to eat or even where? You want to get out of the tourist traps but don’t know how. I’ll admit, when traveling, these are the conundrums I face regularly.

Grit Tour Hue Vietnam Karaoke
Hue Grit Tour

The Hue Grit Tour is designed with people like you and I in mind. It’s a multi-purpose tour; an adventure of firsts, several challenges and a period of cultural understanding. Join us at the deep end on the Hue Grit Tour for a plunge into Vietnamese culture.

5. Get Out of Town and Hit Hue’s Beach

Want to experience Vietnamese seaside culture? Get to Thuan An Beach! 12 kilometers out of town is a bit of a stretch but if you’re in need of some seaside adventure, the trip is worth it.

things to do in hue grit tour
Thuan An Beach. 12km from Hue

There’s a few places to check out from the public beaches, the bus cafe and the lavish Beach Bar. A few places for accommodation and plenty of seafood bites. Check out our article on Thuan An beach for things to do there.

6. Eat Hue Food: Hue’s Distinguished Range of Vietnamese Cuisine

The Jury’s still out on where the best Vietnamese food is in the country but Hue has arguably the most distinguished local food in Vietnam. Restaurants around the country try to imitate Hue food or simply gentrify it, Hue is where Hue food is best.

Hue food tour grit
Popular local dish banh khoai

Eating is the most obvious activity on any things to do list, but are you eating how it should be done? Be warned that eating  is only half the experience. We suggest taking a food tour so you know where to eat, how to eat and why the food is eaten in Hue. Don’t go to trip advisor eatery for your Hue experience. A city’s cuisine can’t be summed up into a tourist restaurant!

7. Drink a Coffee Kick to Great Music at Cafe 054

If you’ve become irritated with the constant rotation of shitty pop songs during your travels to Vietnam, then Cafe 054 is right up your street. Great music, easy vibes, pool table and great people!

Hue cafe tour tours Vietnam
the homies of cafe 054.

Cafe 054 plays a collection of hip-hop and electronic-related music that will keep you happy over a drink or two. Soft drinks, budget cocktails and beer available. Be sure to try out the cafe’s signature drink the coffee kick. The cafe is run by some of the local hip-hop community and they are more than happy to tell you some more things to do in Hue.

8. Tomb Raider: Quest for the Royal Tombs

Hue was the capital of Vietnam for around 150 years (1802 to 1945) and the monarchy went through plenty of emperors during this era. Most travel websites count 6 or 7 royal tombs in Hue but they are WRONG. Technically speaking, Hue has tombs for 11 of the 13 Hue emperors and for the 9 Nguyen lords that preceded them. There’s also Prince Nguyen Phuc Hong Cai who was neither a lord nor an emperor but has a mausoleum for fathering three of Hue’s emperors.

Things to Do in Hue Grit Tour
Tomb of Minh Mang in Hue

Most tourists buy onto package tours which only include the more popular tombs of Minh Mang, Thu Duc and Khai Dinh . All mausoleums are accessible to the public but can take up to 2 whole days to see them all. Get a motorbike, bicycle or rent a private car driver and go catch ’em all! We once again recommend a tour guide since information at the tombs is sparse. Prices for each tomb range from 40,000VND to 100,000VND. You’ll be lucky to find an ATM near a tomb so go prepared to spend heavy.

Most blogposts about the tombs seem inadequate. The best around is here. We’ll make sure to write a one soon!

9. River Wander and Boating on the Huong River

The Huong River is the soul of Hue. When the Citadel was built, geomancers recommended it’s location on the river’s bend for it’s defensive attributes and the balance in feng shui provided by Hen island and Da Vien island. Com hen is a local dish that encapsulates the history of the river with it’s blend of baby clams and local produce. Hen Island is worth visiting for it’s islet culture and fame for com hen.  Le Loi street and Trang Hung Dao street run along the river’s opposing banks. Both have numerous shops and stalls set up that bring small pleasures and things to do for their visitors.

things to do in Hue Grit Tour
a makeshift cafe overlooking the dragon boats on the Huong River.

Behind the Ho Chi Minh museum lies a makeshift cafe; a great place to watch the day pass with the river breeze. Boats are available for rent by the hour for numerous uses including karaoke parties, cultural shows or a means to get to various landmarks. If you’re exhausted, river drifting might be the perfect. If you’re looking to rent a boat on the Huong River, the Dragon Boat company are reliable, responsive and flexible.

10. Night Prowling on Hue Walking Street

To my own dread, Hue authorities announced the opening of Walking Street; the part-time pedestrianization on the streets surrounding the tourist area in late 2017. Comically titled ‘Pho Tay’ (westerner street) by local residents, rental prices on buildings have sky rocketed since it’s inception. Strangely enough, walking street has transformed the area into a bizarre hybrid of ‘fashionable’ Vietnamese beer drinking restaurants and a few nightclubs for local millenials. Although walking Hue street still retains numerous tourist traps, it has become a focal point for the amalgamation of Vietnamese culture and the population’s desire for modernity. This area is fast moving; restaurants and bars close as quick as they open. It’s hard to keep track on what’s happening there.

things to do in Hue Grit Tour
Sunset view from Midtown Hotel’s sky lounge

Walking Street is transport-free from 6pm until 11pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Not so many things to do but plenty to drink and eat. Midtown Hotel’s rooftop bar is a great place to watch the 18:00 sunset. Tevet bar is a lively millenial restaurant for barfood eats. Ta coffee shop’s balcony is fun people watching, as is the intersection between Vo Thi Sau and Chu Van An streets. Brown Eyes and Factory club for the party, burger shack for drunk food on the way home.

Hue Grit Tour

Why wait? Book now!
Want to know more? Check out the itinerary.
Looking for some gritty tips? head over to the blog.
Have some questions to ask? Contact us.

Hue Food: 10 Local Dishes You Must Try When You’re in Hue, Vietnam

Dessert Vietnamese Hue

10 Hue Foods You Must Try

Regional specialty dishes are often overlooked by visitors travelling Vietnam. While pho and banh mi are world-renowned as Vietnamese food, there are some less-discovered creations awaiting your enjoyment in every province of the country. This is especially true for local Hue food. The city’s cultural heritage and long-standing affluence has produced foods that solely belong to the area yet celebrated around Vietnam. To spare you the search and mind-boggling google translations, here is a guide of 10 local Hue foods you have to try. Although the majority include meat, There are vegan options available around the city. If you want to pack as much in as possible during your time in Hue, why not take a deepdive into the food scene with a Hue Grit Food Tour? We not only show you where Hue’s best local food is but tell you how to eat it and the social-historical context of each dish. Check out our tripadvisor if to see we’re the best Hue food tour the city has to offer!

The Noodles, the Rice & the Meat

1. Bun Bo Hue: Hearty Noodle Meat Feast

noodles hue vietnam bun bo hue best food
/>If pho vacates it’s title of ‘most famous Vietnamese noodle dish’, I’m sure that bun bo hue would be next in line. A direct translation would be ‘beef (bo) vermicelli noodles (bun) from Hue’. Bun Bo Hue is a meat feast. It’s primary ingredients, beef brisket, oxtail, pig knuckles and congealed pig’s blood are stewed in a huge pot along with lemongrass and some chili then served with veggies and leafy greens. It might seem too much for one dish but foodies find themselves ordering more. Best eaten on colder days for central heating at the back of a packed hole in the wall.

2. Com Hen / Bun Hen: Majestic and Appetizing

Com Hen Hue Grit Tour Local Food
One of the more gracious entries to the local Hue food list. Com hen translates into baby mussels (hen) and rice (com). The dish’s supporting cast include fresh produce (starfruit, green mango, banana leaf,variety of herbs) and fried treats (pork rind, peanuts). Com hen can be served dry or wet depending on your preference. Chili relish, shrimp paste and fish sauce are the usual sauces to accompany com hen. vermicelli noodles (bun hen) is also an optional substitute for rice. One serving is usually too small for a whole meal, be ready to order more. Com hen has a unique spot in the culinary history of Vietnam. Read our article about the dish and it’s relationship with the city here. Can be eaten at any time of the day and any time of the year but best on a warm day with a cooling lemon juice.

3. Bun Thit Nuong Hue: Sassy Tropical Tongue-Melter

Bun Thut Nuong Hue Food Tour
Another tasty Hue noodle dish. Unlike bun bo hue, bun thit nuong is a food served dry and cool. When hot soup-based noodle dishes don’t work in sweltering heat, bun thit nuong is the answer. Grilled pork and vermicelli noodles topped with papaya, scallions, leafy greens, herbs and crushed peanuts. An optional tablespoon or two of fish sauce. The result is an explosion of flavors perfect for a light meal. Best eaten on a scorching summer day.

4. Nem Lui: Aromatic Grilled Beef Spring Rolls

pork skewers best food Hue Grit Tour

Grilled ground pork skewers are nothing new but when those skewers are made from lemongrass, nem lui holds itself up pretty well. Another Hue food now found nationwide. As with all Vietnamese street foods, Nem Lui isn’t a one-trick pony. Straight from the grill, you should take the meat off the skewer, wrap it in rice paper with greens (to make something akin to a spring roll) and dunk into it’s accompanying sauce before taking a bite. Only after taking these steps, you’ve reached Nem Lui nirvana. Best to eat as an evening snack, street food straight from the BBQ. Nem Lui can be found with the sense of smell, most BBQs selling Nem Lui waft the aromatic combination of lemongrass and grilled eat through the street. We can’t find a vegetarian Nem Lui in Hue but Lien Hoa has mecan on bamboo which is mildly similar and damn tasty.

The Banhs (savoury cakes)!

5. Banh Khoai: the Hue Pancake

Banh Khoai Vietnam Hue pancake
If you’ve tried banh xeo and loved it, banh khoai is it’s local hue food cousin and you don’t want to miss it. A rice-flour savoury pancake filled with pork, shrimp and beansprouts. Sometimes with quail eggs too! Served sizzling hot from the frying pan with a side of starfruit and local herbs. A spoonful of peanut sauce on top of the banh khoai adds the 4th dimension to the flavour-packed dish. Experiment with the quantities of the condiments to get the balance right. Unlike banh xeo, these aren’t rolled up. Eat them straight from the bowl. It’s a greasy affair so roll up your sleeves. Best eaten as a sundowner/evening snack.

6. Banh Beo Chen: Your Edible Beer Buddy

Hue Grit Tour Banh Beo Chen
Banh beo is quite simply a jelly-like savoury cake consisting of rice flour and tapioca. Topped with pork rind, grated shrimp and finely chopped onions. Servings usually come in batches meaning it’s best shared with a friend or two. When eating banh beo, drip some onion oil on top then dig it out from it’s dish with a spoon. Best eaten as a snack any time of the day. Always great with a shared conversation and a beer to compliment the spice.

7. Banh Ram It Hue: Devils’ Delight

Banh Ram It Hue Grit Tour
This one is a personal favourite. Banh ram it is a triple-layered circular stack of varying textures. At the cake’s base is a crispy, deep-fried rice cracker. Sitting above is a rice dumpling stuffed with pork and shrimp. Topped with scallions and minced shrimp. Not so different from banh beo chen but more filling, more crisp. All in bitesize pieces, that’s if you have a big mouth like me. Best eaten as a snack at any time of the year.

8. Banh Trang and Banh Ep: Vietnamese Pizza

Vietnamese Pizza Hue Grit Tour
Two local hue foods that are highly popular with students are banh ep and banh trang. Banh ep is a soft thin pancake with vegetables and spicy condiments to be rolled up into a spring roll and eaten fresh off the smoker. Banh Trang is a fried rice cracker topped with herbs luminous sauces and meat. People refer to this as Vietnamese pizza but prepared to be heart broken because this thing doesn’t include a doughy base or elaborate cheeses. The best street-food stalls selling banh ep and banh trang are usually sat beside student dormitories and open until very late at night. Although Hue claims it as it’s own, banh ep actually comes from nearby Thuan An beach.

The Sweet and Fruity

9. Va Tron: Exclusive Local Fruit

Vietnamese salad Hue Grit Tour
There aren’t many fruits and vegetables on this list of Hue foods but this entry makes up for it. Trai va (fig) is particularly special because it only grows in Hue and rarely outside of the region. It’s an unusual fruit since it doesn’t has the properties you would associate more with a vegetable. It’s freshy and savoury. Sometimes brown and sometimes pink. It is used in local salads, soups and even as a meat alternative. Lots of restaurants with larger menus have Va Tron. If you’re feeling unsure, go to the vegetarian address below. I dare you, carnivore.

10. Che & Chè Bột Lọc Thịt Heo Quay: Sweet Dessert for All the Family

che hue grit tour best local food in hue

The only Vietnamese pudding on this list. Che is not only a popular Vietnamese dessert but all over South East Asia. While Che comes in plenty of varieties, Hue has it’s own take on the regional favourite. Chè bột lọc thịt heo quay is a sweet flour dumpling topped with ginger and a porky surprise within! Certainly one of Hue’s stranger local foods. Nevertheless, if you’re not keen on the meaty addition to your dessert, try another of the many che varieties on offer. Some stands boast more than 20 varieties. If you’re a sweet-toothed kind of human being, challenge yourself to try them all. Me? I would rather take a cigarette to conclude a food gorge. Excuse the cough.

What Other Local Food is Out There?

Finding Hue restaurants is only half the challenge. Knowing how to eat them can be just as difficult! Want a guided culinary adventure? Join us on the Hue Grit Tour! We’re more than happy to show you around and how these foods are eaten!
These aren’t the only dishes available in Hue. In fact, this is just a cornerstone of the Hue culinary experience. If you’re an adventurer. Get out to the streets of Hue and dive deep into the endless amounts of restaurants and street food available.

Looking for a homely lunch? Check out Nha Cafe.

More inclined to some buddhist-leaning vegetarian food? Visit our list of best vegetarian restaurants in Hue.
There are also plenty of fantastic seafood restaurants. Others also serve some very bizarre dishes. Both of these will be covered in future articles.

Have you visited Hue already? Which foods did you try? Which dishes were unforgettable? Are there any you’re trying to forget? Comment below.

Hue Grit Tour

Why wait? Book now!
Want to know more? Check out the itinerary.
Looking for some gritty tips? head over to the blog.
Have some questions to ask? Contact us.

 

Photos by Ana Fortuna.

Mi Op La 33: Best Vietnamese Breakfast Restaurant in Hue

Mi Op La 33: The ‘Full-English’ Vietnamese Breakfast!

best Vietnamese breakfast Hue Grit Tour
Birdseye view of the first floor during Tet Holiday.

Any visitor who likes a drink will find out that Vietnam has some of the cheapest beer in the world. Following that evening of small serendipity will be the second realization that tropical hangovers are brutal. Read more “Mi Op La 33: Best Vietnamese Breakfast Restaurant in Hue”

Five Fantastic Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants in Hue

Updated October 2018: We’ve found a few new places that definitely deserve to be on the list.

Vegetarian Restaurants in Hue

Vegetarians and vegans  travelling Vietnam may be surprised that the country has a plethora of restaurants to suit all meat-free diets.Twice a month, the population will go to their local meat-free restaurant to gorge on vegetables and tofu. Restaurants on the ‘pancake trail’ serve some really shitty meat-free dishes, fact. After living in Ho Chi Minh City and Danang, Hue has provided me with the variety I desire and a few surprises too. I’m not sure why there are so many vegetarian restaurants in Hue, maybe something to do with the city’s age-old culture and affluence from both the upper and middle classes. A large percentage of street-side restaurants also turn veg every month on the 1st and 15th of the lunar calendar. Look for signs including ‘chay’ (with absolutely no accents on the word) on these days to get a budget fill.

vegetarian restaurants in Hue Grit Tour
Despite his clean-living lifestyle, Buddha has been unable to hit the gym for some cardio since being trapped behind a barricade of potted plants.

Read more “Five Fantastic Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants in Hue”

Video: Vietnamese Traffic in Central Vietnam

My friend Mitch came to visit me in Central Vietnam recently. We spent three days between Danang, Hoi An and Hue, which I wrote about here.

On our way to Hue, we stopped at Phu Bai town for a nuoc mia (sugarcane juice) and a cigarette. We chose a nuoc mia cart perched besides a crossroads and watched the Highway 1 traffic roar past. It’s very easy to people-watch on street corners and delve into existential thought. The high-level of traffic can keep you entertained for hours.

Read more “Video: Vietnamese Traffic in Central Vietnam”

*Closed* 054 Cafe Hue: Community, Urban Art and Creativity

Cafe 054 is now closed and has been reopened by some former employees under the name of ‘Dope 75’. Although a lot has changed since its reopening, it still remains a place for youth to hang out and good music being played.

Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world. Unlike many other countries, Vietnam’s relationship with the caffeinated beverage has produced a cafe culture that is poetic in simplicity. Even with the introduction of Starbucks to Vietnam, locals have mostly kept to their favored soft-drink spots over the modernity of multinational conglomerates. Coffee is the People’s drink and you’ll rarely find anyone that doesn’t have a cafe to recommend. Coffee shops come in every variation imaginable. Owners can be artistic in their interior design and particular about the atmospheres they create. One of my favorite cafes of recent times is 054 Cafe Hue.

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