Palaces and pagodas, tombs and temples, culture and cuisine, history and heartbreak – there’s no shortage of poetic pairings to describe Hue (pronounced ‘hway’). A Unesco World Heritage site, this deeply evocative capital of the Nguyen emperors still resonates with the glories of imperial Vietnam, even though many of its finest buildings were destroyed during the American War.
Hue owes its charm partly to its location on the Perfume River – picturesque on a clear day, atmospheric even in less flattering weather. There’s always restoration work going on to recover Hue’s royal splendour, but today the city is very much a blend of new and old as sleek modern hotels tower over crumbling century-old Citadel walls.
The city hosts a huge biennial arts festival, the Festival of Hue, in even-numbered years, featuring local and international artists and performers. Journalist Gavin Young’s 1997 memoir A Wavering Grace is a moving account of his 30-year relationship with a family from Hue and with the city itself, during and beyond the American War. It makes a good literary companion for a stay in the city.
Tourism has brought an excess of touts (who can dog your every step), but, minor hassles aside, Hue remains a tranquil conservative city. There’s no real bar scene and local tourism authorities have lamented the fact that locals go to bed before 10pm.