The Reunification Express – Da Nang to Hue

Vietnam by train Reunification Express north to south

The Reunification Express and our two and a half hours on one of the top ten train rides in the world

The Reunification Express Da Nang to Hue

Trains, love them or hate them, they are still very much a part of our modern society.

Your daily commute on the local option doesn’t inspire romanticism or a burning desire to go travel either.

It’s usually more of a ‘get me the hell off this thing as fast as possible’ scenario. I know because I travelled by train to work and back for the better part of five and a half years.

Here in Vietnam though, we rediscovered the fun of journeying by train. This adventure took only 2.5 hours and it’s called the Reunification Express. Here’s why we loved every moment of it.

What is the Reunification Express?

It’s a beautiful sounding name isn’t it? And rightfully so but, here’s the thing, it’s not the name of a train, but rather the line itself.

The Reunification Express line spans approximately 1,726 kilometres. It links the capital, Hanoi in the north to bustling Ho Chi Minh City in the south.

Her trains faithfully creek, groan and rattle their way up and down this beautiful country every day, wooing her passengers with spectacular views along the way.

Views of verdant rice paddies, lush jungles and sublime coastal scenes. Not to mention the hair-raising acts of squeezing through tiny towns with practiced precision.

Main stops include Hue (the last imperial capital of Vietnam), Da Nang (tech and beach haven), Nha Trang (Cancun of Vietnam) and Mui Ne (desert meets beach). A stop for every adventure!

We spent three months living in Da Nang and enjoyed a spectacular few days in Hue. We highly recommend these destinations.

The Reunification Express Da Nang to Hue

Why is it called the Reunification Express?

Jean Marie de Lanessan commissioned the line as part of his vision for the future of Vietnam.

He wanted to create a train line from Hanoi to Sai Gon, calling it the ‘backbone of Indochina’. A trunk line from which other routes would spread. Construction started in 1899 and finished in 1938.

But it wasn’t all roses and sunshine. Sabotage, bombings and destruction inflicted some nasty scars over the years. Scars that were inflicted from World War II through to the end of the Vietnam war, leaving the line in ruins..

All was not lost though. At the end of 1975, Hanoi made efforts towards making the line operational again. At the end of 1976 she was back in business. Reunifying north with south and thereafter known as the Reunification Express.

Sadly, today she displays the signs of poor infrastructure, planning and maintenance. For such an integral part of the country’s transport infrastructure it’s surprising.

Yet through it all, she still performs her duties to the best of her abilities.

What makes this Reunification Express so special?

Simple. It runs along some of the most amazing scenes you will find in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. Not to mention, she’s on the list of top ten train rides in the world, and for good reason.

We took the opportunity to ride Reunification Express line between the coastal city of Da Nang and the last imperial capital, Hue.

If you’ve never seen images of the Reunification Express, then picture lush, dense jungle covered peaks on one side with a vibrant blue ocean on the other, sprinkled with colorful rural villages in between.

It’s a feast on the eyes and you get to experience the best parts of Vietnam’s 3,260-kilometre coast line. Yup, it is an epic coastline and we can’t wait to experience more of it!

The Reunification Express Da Nang to Hue

Sold? Want to know how to get in on the action?

Schedule

The Reunification Express schedule is on the Vietnam Railways website. It doesn’t just cover north to south and visa versa either.

The overall rail system can get you to most places in Vietnam and you’ll find al the schedules on that website.

Tip!: The Vietnam Railway website DOES NOT accept payment from international credit cards (only Vietnamese issued credit cards). If you want to book with an international card, head on over to Baolau . And another head’s up, they do charge extra for the convenience so check your transactions before you hit OK.

Alternatively, you can buy your tickets directly from the train station. We purchased our first round the night before and it pays to take you passport with you as they will ask for it. If you chose to buy your ticket on the day, get to the station well before you want to depart. The ques are long and the crowds vast.

There are four trains running between north and south daily, two in morning and two in the evening. Each full trip can take anywhere from 30 – 35 hours plus. And plan on delays. We’ve done the Reunification Express twice now on two different trips and got delayed twice by an hour plus. Nothing out of the norm for here though.

Our advice is to check for your preferred arrival time rather than departure time (if that’s an option). No point getting to your destination at 04:45 and you can’t check in until 14:00.

The Reunification Express Da Nang to Hue

No choice in departure time?

There are storage lockers available at a cost in Hanoi. Head through the main doors and towards the waiting rooms. Walk all the way until the last room, the lockers are in there. We haven’t used this service personally.  Last account we could find of costs were VND50,000 for 5 hours or VND100,000 for 8 hours.

Ho Chi Minh City offers lockers too, but we are unable to confirm the costs or location at this time sorry.

If you have some updated info on the locker situation, feel free to hit us up in the comments with the new info. Thanks, we appreciate it!

There were no storage facilities we could see in Da Nang either but most hotels in Vietnam will store your back until it’s time to check in or you’re ready to leave.

All aboard!

Now that you know what it is, where it goes and how to book it, you probably want to know how much a ticket on the Reunification Express costs. Costs and seats go hand in hand.

Take a seat please

On the two trains departing in the morning you have the choice between two options of seats and two options of berths and sleepers.

The prices listed below are for adults as at July 2018.  Children under 2 are free and if they are between 2 and 5 years (and shorter than 1.3 m) they are 75% of the adult fare. They have this strange measuring system for kids here too, we’re not sure what that’s about.

Well, let’s get to it then.

The Reunification Express Da Nang to Hue

The cheapest option is the hard seats at USD53 (approx. VND1,222,000) and they are as their name suggests, a hard wood bench seat.

The more comfortable soft seat varies between USD67 and USD68 (approx. VND1,545,000 and VND1,568,000) and is a nice leatherette seat that reclines and comes with a bit of personal space. The latter is gold when travelling in Vietnam, take it from us lol.

When we booked our last trip, the only seats left were forward facing seats, where you share a table with the seats directly opposite you. What we didn’t expect was ‘ol mate in the seat opposite us using the table it as his personal footrest. Bare feet and all lol! We were trying so hard not to laugh and wake him up.

He turned out to be a sweet old man, accompanying a younger family member all the way from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi. It was fun talking to them.

Also, there are NO HARD SEAT options available on the evening trains. Only soft seats and the two sleeper options.

Speaking of which.

Prefer to catch up on some zzz’s instead?

All four trains offer a choice of four (soft sleepers only) or six (hard sleepers only) berths.

The hard-sleeper will set you back between USD89 and USD91 (approx. VND2,052,000 and VND2,098,000) and we wouldn’t recommend this one for the whole 35-hour journey, but it’s your call.

The soft-sleeper comes with better linen and much softer padding and costs around USD93 to USD95 (approx. VND2,145,000 to VND2,191,000), depending on what time you depart.

Luggage Allowance

Believe it or not, there is a luggage allowance on the train. Although, we never saw anybody try and enforce it lol.

You’re allowed one cabin bag and one piece of luggage up to 20KG. If your sitting in a seat, be it hard or soft, you will need to fight for overhead compartment space. Most backpacks will fit up there or you can squeeze them in under your seat.

The hard seats are first choice for local travelers and you will have to fight for a bit of space to put your stuff, but it’s all part of the adventure ‘wink’.

Hard luggage, especially big suitcases are a bit of a pain in this situation. We had to jam one of ours in under out feet and then watch the other passengers commandeer it as a footrest lol.

The other one was sitting the half in the walk way. This meant we had to hold onto it for the whole trip and move it out of people’s way. Not ideal.

Other things luggage related…

Oh, and you don’t board from a tradition platform in Da Nang. You have to climb up into train then heft your bags up from the ground too. If you’re short like Tash lol, you’ll need help getting up there.

We have since moved to backpacks due to a change in plans. We’re hoping this will work in our favor as we are considering the sleeper option later in our travels.

Talking to others who have done the overnight trip, they say it’s best to try and grab the bottom bunks. That way you can put your bags under them.

If you’re on the top, your luggage goes up there with you so, something to think about. Anything of high value should stay as close as possible to you.

(If you’re considering this option and wondering how to secure your valuables, then head on over to this post.  There we tell you how we keep our valuables secure. It’s well worth the read.)

What to take with you

The first thing we always say is to take is water. We make sure to fill up out trusty 1L water bottles for short trips and take extra on longer trips. You can also buy water and other beverages on board.

Not one for Vietnamese cuisine or dubious about where your meal comes from? Then you’re safer option would be to pack your own snacks for the journey. Not saying the food is dodgy, just that the selections cater more towards local travelers and there is minimal English available on board. For our first journey two years ago, we departed at 02:30 and we had some collapsible food containers with snacks in them.  This time round it was a much shorter journey so we didn’t bother to pack snacks.

If you have had the pleasure of dining on the Reunification Express, please share your experience in the comments. We’re super curious to find out if it’s worth it or not. And we will update this post once we have experienced the things we missed out on.

(PS: those are affiliate links. You don’t pay extra to use them. By using them you help us earn a small commission that keeps us on the road to tell you about more awesome places like these! Thank you for your support, we appreciate it!)

Would we recommend the Reunification Express?

Riding along the Reunification Express reminds you of why it used to be so much fun riding the train. Sure, it’s not the cheapest option but there are three very good reasons to consider this train line.

One, flights are cheaper but domestic flights are prone to constant delays, cancellations and disruptions. If you’re short on time then flying is your go-to but you miss out on so much scenery by just flying over it.

Two, buses and sleeper buses  are a popular option too. But if you’ve been in Vietnam for an extended period of time, or like us, travel on the roads yourself you would know why this is a terrifying prospect. If you want examples, head on over to our travel updates page.

Apart from safety there are many scams and perils to consider when travelling by bus. Do your homework is all we’re saying.

Three, if you have time up your sleeve for slow travel, try at least one part of it, if not all. The sights will not disappoint and you’ll end up wanting to do either more or all of it next time. Not to mention, slow travel is sooo much more relaxing and enjoyable.

The Reunification Express Da Nang to Hue

Thank you for your time and hope you found what you were looking for. If not, feel free to contact us with your questions.

If this is your first time with us, we have a few things Vietnam you can read about, and we vlog our adventures too.

Thank you for reading and see you in the next one…

Hong Thien Ruby your heavenly stay in Hue

Hong Thien Ruby

Hong Thien Ruby

Heavenly Hong Thien Ruby in Hue is waiting for you!

You’ve heard about the beauty of Hue and decided to go see what the Forbidden Purple City is all about.

The list of things to see is long, the way to get there clear. What is unclear, is where to stay.

How we found Hong Thien Ruby hotel?

We found this little gem purely by accident after a rough start to our Hue adventure.  It was our third hotel in three days and our first two experiences were a tad hair raising.

Thankfully Hong Thien Ruby restored our faith in Hue hospitality.  And why it is our first option when planning our next trip back to Hue.

Where in Hue is Hong Thien Ruby?

She’s tucked away in smallish alley off Chu Van An, right in the middle of the tourist area. If you were to simply walk down the street, you would never know it was there.

Hong Thien Ruby Chu Van Anh

The location is also perfect for getting around Hue on foot or by taxi and ride share.

An added bonus is that even though it’s in the busier part of town, you would never know it. The hotel sits at the back of the lane way, making it a quiet and enjoyable option. (Town can get rowdy over the weekends.)

How long did we stay at Hong Thien Ruby?

For this visit, we stayed five nights and would happily have stayed longer.  But we had work commitments to attend to at a different venue.

How much does Hong Thien Ruby cost?

We paid VND350,00 per night (~USD16 or ~NZD23 per night) for a double room with en suite, including daily breakfast.

We thought it was a great price for the location and what was on offer. (Feel free to check HotelCombined for comparisons.)

[Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link. If you make a booking via the link, we get a small commission that helps keep us on the road. For that we thank you immensely.]

Why choose Hong Thien Ruby?

There are plenty of reasons to choose Hong Thien Ruby.

For a smaller, lower price point property it delivers a high level of quality and service.

The rooms are comfortable and well laid out (even the smaller double rooms). This one came with a queen size bed which is larger than the standard double bed you’ll find in most of the other hotels.

Hong Thien Ruby Double Room

We also work on the road. So, the desk in the room came in handy for one of us and the other had the option of working at a table in the reception area.

I worked in reception for a couple of days and was rewarded with regular delivery of freshly made fruit juice during the day. Not something you get up in the room or a working space LOL. It was a nice touch and made the working day a lot more enjoyable.

Hong Thien Ruby fresh fruit juice

The en suite was very clean with no signs of water leaks or mold and had ventilation to the outside. This may sound silly but in a tropical humid country it can be an issue that could spoil your stay.

An added bonus here was the shower. It was tall enough for 6’3” Leon to fit under comfortably and it had the best pressure! Not to mention plenty of hot water (also an issue that seems to crop up regularly here in Vietnam).

They offer laundry services, so you don’t have to run around trying to find it yourself.  Our laundry came back in good condition and was done on the same day.

The best part about Hong Thien Ruby?

The norm here in Vietnam is fresh bread rolls and eggs (which is a good way to start the day). But here at At Hong Thien Ruby they spoil you a bit more. You get a cooked to order breakfast and you can have as much as you want! The letter being very unusual for other accommodation options.

Hong Thien Ruby included breakfast

The selections are great and cooked with that homemade touch. Very yummy!

Hint: Try the banana pancakes. It’s a house specialty and they are scrumptious!

We will admit that we’ve had better coffee elsewhere, but their juices are a great alternative.  Made from fresh fruit and vegetables every day, they are very tasty.

Another great thing about Hong Thien Ruby’s  and her location is that Chu Van An turns into a walking street from Friday to Sunday between 6PM and 12AM so you’re right there for the action too.

If you want some free entertainment. Wander down to the intersection of Võ Thị Sáu and Chu Văn An. On the weekends, they have random people come together to play musical instruments and sing. It’s a form of street karaoke and it is great fun to watch.

Parking at Hong Thien Ruby

Scooter parking is available but limited. If you are travelling on your own bike, best check before you make the booking, but we’re pretty sure it won’t be an issue.

Note, there is no parking or access to the hotel for vehicles. Something to think about if you’re travelling with luggage that is not easy to move.

We can’t stop talking about the service

The staff at Hong Thien Ruby were outstanding which made our trip to Hue even more memorable. They were always happy to help with anything and offered great recommendations for food and attractions in Hue.

They spoke very good English and were a pleasure to interact with.

Would we recommend Hong Thien Ruby?

For us and our accommodation needs, it’s a winner! We couldn’t find fault with this property, hence why it is our go to option for Hue now. If you choose to stay here, please let us know what you think of it in the comments.

That’s it for our stay at Hong Thien Ruby

Many thanks for reading our review on Hong Thien Ruby. We would like to mention that this is not a paid piece either, we truly enjoyed our stay here and wanted to share it with you.

If you’d like to read more reviews like this, please head over to Our Two Cents!

And if you want to read about our adventures in Vietnam, check out our Destinations Page.

Thank you for reading and see you in the next post…

 

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Vespa Safari tours – serious fun in Hue

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Vespa safari, vespa safari hue, vespa safari rural life discovery tour, things to do in vietnam, things to do in hue, discover vietnam culture, vietnam tourist attraction, hue culture, hue history

This Vespa Safari is way more fun than you can imagine

Looking for something different to do in Hue?

Then look no further than a Vespa Safari Tour!

We’ll admit being motorcycle riders ourselves, we’re not too keen on being pillion passengers. Hence why we each have our own bikes haha.

But on the Vespa Safari tour we didn’t even think about the fact that we were pillion passengers. Owner Tu Doan and his team looked after us so well, that when it came time to say goodbye we were reluctant to let them go lol.

What is a Vespa you ask?

We’re glad you asked.

If you’re not already familiar with the name Vespa, it’s pretty much a synonym for Italian scooter.

Vespas have long been the inspiration for romantic rides along the Amalfi coast or just looking super chic rolling through the city.

In Vietnam they are THE vintage way to see the city and country sides whilst still looking very chic. (Even when you are a 6’ plus man hehe).

They are a fun and comfortable to travel on and you get to relax while you see the sites and learn more about Vietnam.

Vespa safari, vespa safari hue, vespa safari rural life discovery tour, things to do in vietnam, things to do in hue, discover vietnam culture, vietnam tourist attraction, hue culture, hue history

Who and what is Vespa Safari?

Along with Go Explore Vietnam, we enjoyed the Rural Life Discovery tour.

One of four organized by Vespa Safari and guaranteed to meet your tour needs. They are;

  • Free & Easy 3 Hours – plan your own itinerary
  • Twilight over the Perfume River – a quieter, romantic tour through the Citadel
  • Twilight Foodie Delight – yuuuuuummmm! (clearly on Tash’s future must see list)
  • Rural Life Discovery – see the real side of Vietnam.

Did we mention these guys are the bees knees?

They are passionate about what they do and it shows in every part of the tour. From well maintained and beautiful looking Vespas to their well-designed tours. They pride themselves on delivering a top-notch service.

Not to mention the great relationships they have with the local community.

That sense of community is one thing we enjoyed most about the tour. When we arrived at a stop, we didn’t feel like we were just tourists coming for a gawk. Welcomed with open arms, it felt like we were old friends coming round for a tea and a catch up. No awkwardness and no stiffness.

That was something really special.

Their knowledge of Hue and the way they tell their stories too will have you hanging onto their every word. Meanwhile you’re learning about Vietnam and her amazing people and culture without even realizing it.

Let's go on the Rural Life Discovery Tour

Tour Duration

This tour is normally done between 7AM and 11:30AM, when you get a real feel for rural life.

Our tour was a little different. We did it in the afternoon to meet some work obligations and they were happy to help us out. That’s the best part about these guys, they are flexible and can work with your needs.

Pick up

Tu and his team arrived at Ruby Bistro riding a rainbow colored Vespas fleet. This brought big grins to all our faces and we couldn’t wait for the tour to start.

We went through the itinerary for the afternoon which included four stops. A visit to a community house, a temple, a local family and then a small commune for refreshments. After which we would head back to our starting point.

We were then given the opportunity to ask questions. We only had one, “Are we able to stop randomly for photos?”. Like most tours we expected a ‘no’, and were pleasantly surprised to get a ‘yes’ this time. (We never made use of it because there were plenty of great spots along the tour to take photos.)

Once the Q&A was out of the way, each passenger met their rider. Introductions where followed by a safety run down and then a helmet placed on our head.

We then got a demonstration on how to get on and off the Vespa pillion seat. Yes, there is a clever little maneuver to get onto these things, and it had Tash in stitches lol.

Travel Tip!: Take plenty of sunscreen.  You won’t feel it but it’s super easy to get a sunburn on the back of a bike.  If you have a light long sleeve shirt, you can use that for the ride or use arm socks (like the guys have in the picture above).  You can buy them for dirt cheap at almost any motorcycle or motorcycle accessory shop in Vietnam.

Time to hit the road

With everybody onboard and ready to go, we left the city of Hue behind in search of natural beauty of rural Hue.

The ride out to our first stop was amazing.

The journey started on winding narrow lane ways lined with traditional houses. These would run past markets, where you can hear the friendly banter of locals everywhere.

We continued on a small road along a river feeding water to verdant rice paddies on one side. A picturesque scene dotted with buffaloes and conical hats. So Vietnam!

The scenery was mesmerizing and there was no way we would ever have found these roads by ourselves. It was a real treat to see a very non-tourist side of Vietnam. One where you’re greeted by giant smiles and friendly hospitality.

Stop 1 – The Communal House

Our first stop was a large communal house. Here we learnt the history behind rural communities and its impact on the country as a whole. It was interesting to hear how the tradition began and how it’s been upheld for centuries. Passed down from generation to generation.

Stop 2 – The Buddhist Temple

The next stop was a temple where we learnt a bit more about Buddhism in Vietnam and its origins. We had the great pleasure of sitting down to tea with a nun which at first we weren’t sure how to react to.

We were the only westerners in the group and not familiar with how to behave properly in this situation. In the end there was nothing to stress about. Tu managed to translate for us and it was a fun experience.

Afterwards, we were treated to a lotus pod harvest demonstration and shown how to eat the seeds! They are delicious but you just have to remember to take out the bit in the middle.  That bit’s a bit bitter lol.

What we really enjoyed about this stop was that it was so peaceful and not rushed at all. We enjoyed the tranquil atmosphere and great company.

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Stop 3 – Meeting a local farming family

Our third stop had Tu introduce us to a local family and into their home. They make and supply the local market with Vietnamese staple called banh chung. We don’t want to give too much away, but it certainly was a good laugh and a lot of fun.

Here you can really appreciate the simple life and get a feel for what that’s like. We wandered the roads past local farming houses and patches laden with produce. It was beautiful.

Again, we had many friendly locals greet us and the kids were hilarious!

Stop 4 – Farming Tools Museum

Oooops!! Due to having so much fun making the banh chung, we totally missed the museum as it was closed by the time we got it.  Rest assure this will not be the case for you as the tour is normally conducted in the morning when the museum is open.

Stop 5 – The Thanh Toan Bridge

Tu showed us the Thanh Toan bridge and told us more about the Thanh Thuy Chanh commune. We sat under a tree listening to Tue’s fascinating story on the area and it’s unique lagoon, all the while enjoying local produce. (The harvest from the lands we’d be riding through all afternoon.)

We finished the tour off by meeting the local village keeper. Turns out she’s not only a great host, but a talented singer and great poet too.

Sadly, it was time to go and we were dragging our feet.  (The Vespa Safari crew patiently waiting in the wings for us at every stop.)

We had so much fun on the tour that we went slightly longer than planned and the sun was beginning to set. But the day had a final show in store for us.

Heading back into the city

On the way back, we rode past vast rice paddies, bidding farewell to the day with a spectacular sunset. It was the perfect way to end the tour.

We reached our starting point safely, with a chorus of ‘Ciao’s’ to a fabulous Vespa Safari crew.

Things to know

How much is the tour?

The tour costs VND 1,550,000 (~USD67.00 / ~AUD100.00) and includes pretty much everything from entry  fees to bottled water.

We did give each of our riders a tip to say thanks for looking after us. But that is totally up to your discretion.

The crew provide water regularly so you don’t have to worry about carrying any with you if you don’t want to.

What to wear

Comfortable casual is fine. Nothing too tight or constrictive lol, that climb onto the pillion seat is different. Ladies, we wouldn’t recommend wearing a dress either it might get a bit annoying trying to get on and off too.

We both opted for closed in shoes as they seem like a safer option on a scooter, but again it’s up to your discretion.

Also, take something small that you can carry on your front for personal belongings. Your back will be against the seat and having something on your back might make it uncomfortable.

Worried about helmet hair, fear not!. The helmets are pretty much what you see everybody riding around with. They just sit comfortably on top of your head, without covering your face and not to rough on your ‘do’.

You will be in the sun a bit during the tour, so we would suggest taking a hat to keep you cool.

What to take

Your camera! The scenery is out of this world and you’re sure to get a great Insta shot!

If you are taking a bag, we’d say take a small day pack or backpack.  Something light that will sit on your back comfortable.  Anything else, might be a bit of a nuisance.

And don’t forget your sunscreen!

Would we recommend Vespa Safari Tours?

This was definitely a highlight of our time in Vietnam!  We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Vespa Safari to anybody interested in doing something seriously fun and different in Hue.

If you’d like to know more about Vespa Safari and their tours, head on over to their website, or Facebook account.

Or feel free to ask us a question or share your Vespa Safari experience in the comments below.

A massive thank you to Tu and his team at  Vespa Safari, Go Explore Vietnam and Vietnam Discovery Travel for the great experience!

(Disclaimer:  This is not a paid piece.  We paid for the tour ourselves and our views are purely our own.)

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UPDATE:   Eeeepp! We’re so excited that Vespa Safari decided to share this post with their community.  Check it oouuuuttt.  thanks for the love guys, we appreciate it!

If this is your first visit to our site, then welcome!  Head on over to our Things to do in Vietnam Page where we tell you about more things you should add to your Vietnam itinerary.

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Thanks for reading guys and we’ll see you in the next post…

The Imperial Palace Hue Vietnam

Things to do in Vietnam, Vietnam tourist attraction, things to do in HueUNESCO World Heritage site Hue Vietnam ancient architecture Vietnam history culture
Things to do in Vietnam, Vietnam tourist attraction, things to do in HueUNESCO World Heritage site Hue Vietnam ancient architecture Vietnam history culture

What is the Imperial Palace and what makes it worth a visit?

Should you ever find yourself with spare time in Hue and not sure what to do with it, then we’re here to tell you why the Imperial Palace is a good place to start.

One of our favorite things to do in Hue is visit the Imperial Palace.  These ancient ruins convey a history of power, struggle, courage and culture.

This famous UNESCO World Heritage site should be on your must see list for a Hue one day itinerary!

Things to do in Vietnam, Vietnam tourist attraction, things to do in HueUNESCO World Heritage site Hue Vietnam ancient architecture Vietnam history culture

Things to know before you go

Length of visit

Reviews we read said visits lasted anywhere from two to four hours. Four hours seemed excessive, so we planned for a two-and-a-half-hour visit.

As soon as we walked through the first gate and saw the Nine Holy Canons, we knew it was going to be an epic day. We enjoyed five whole hours there and we weren’t disappointed!

If you love taking photos, then prepare to spend some time here. I couldn’t pick what to point my lens at first.  Leon too struggled to work out how to fit the whole citadel visit into our vlog.

Best time to go

Hue weather is typical for central Vietnam. Hot and humid in summer and wet and cloudy in the wet season.

We visited Hue in June, at the beginning of summer, probably the hottest time of the year. There isn’t much shade but we’ll cover ways to combat that later.

It is cooler from September to March during the wet season. There is also a lot rain during those months, making your visit less pleasant. If any of our readers have been to the Hue Imperial City in winter, please feel free to share your insights.

Crowds

Tour buses roll in early! A few tour groups went through the main entrance with us and we wondered what the crowd would be like on the inside. Once on the other side, we realized it wouldn’t be an issue. The complex is so big that there’s enough space for everyone. Hooray!

Citadel Hours

To the best of our knowledge, the park opens at 6:30AM during the summer months and 8:00AM during the winter months.

It pays to get in early during summer to avoid most of the heat.

Getting there

We walked from our hotel on Chu Văn An in the tourist area and it took us about 20 minutes.

Hue is also home of the cyclo and a good way to see this gorgeous city and all she has to offer. If that’s not your thing, there are plenty of taxis and Grab share rides on offer too.

Imperial Palace Hue address: Thành phố Huế, Thua Thien Hue

Imperial Palace dress code

For the heat, wear light, lose clothes and good shoes.

Please take noteTo enter some building and all the temples, one has to cover both shoulders and knees. This includes men and women.

I had shorts on but threw a sarong over the top and that got me in. Also, hats are another big no-no when entering these buildings.

They have attendants on guard enforcing a zero tolerance policy. We saw them turn a few people way.

Also, keep an eye out for signs by entrance doors for no cameras. Again, frowned upon and reinforced.

These places have cultural and religious significance to locals. Please try to respect that.

Things to take with you

Water, lots of it! You can buy food and drinks on the grounds but it’s pretty pricey. For example, we bought a couple of Revive drinks that would normally cost VND8,000 (~USD0.30 / ~AUD0.50), each in the city. They charged us VND20,000 (~USD0.90 / ~AUD1.20) each in one of the cafes in the palace. We had our 1L water bottles with us and they lasted all day.

Shade, there isn’t a whole lot of it. A couple of ways to combat this is to

  • carry a UV umbrella with you,
  • wear a hat (wide brim or even the traditional conical hat is best – don’t laugh, it works!), or
  • plan your visit so you hit the indoors a few times more than wandering outside in the heat.

Around the Imperial Palace there are tree lined roads with benches. Not only are they beautiful but a great way to escape the heat for a picnic.

Snacks are a good option too or if you prefer to pack your own lunch, there are plenty of spots to sit down and enjoy it.

There are also plenty of roadside vendors outside the citadel. They sell fresh fruit, beverages and snacks if you want to stock up before you go in.

Imperial Palace Entry Fee

Between the outer wall and the citadel gate is free. If you want to go into the palace grounds you have to pay an entry free.

Entry to the Imperial Palace is VND150,000 (~USD6.00 / ~AUD9.00) per person (same rate for children).

To buy tickets, head to the small wooden kiosk next to the map of the citadel located at outside the Meridian Gate. Tickets are the form of electronic swipe cards.

Also, at the entrance there are two sets of turnstiles. Tourists on the left and Vietnamese visitors on the right (looking at the gate). We’re not sure why that but make note to rock up to the right gate.

Other things to consider

You can hire a tour guide to take you around the citadel and palace for VND300,000 (~USD13.00 / ~AUD18.00). We read plenty of reviews. Some were griping about not getting value for money and other not learning much at all.

Private tour guides are available too. You’ll find them easily by walking the streets of the tourist area around the citadel or in Hue city. Don’t be afraid to shop around though. We didn’t look into these options as we prefer to do our own research and do our own tours most of the time.

Recommended spots for self guided tours

If you’re on a tight schedule then head to these spots first to get the most out of our visit,

  • The six Imperial City gates or cua (Chinh Bac, Chinh Dong, Dong BacDong Nam, Tay, The Nan/Ngan)
  • The forbidden city main gates or cua (Hoa Binh, Hien Nhon, Ngo Mon, Chuong Duc)
  • The Inner and Outer courts
  • Temples and Pavilions
  • Thai Hoa Palace (perfectly restored)
  • Cung Dien Tho (the Queen Mother’s residence)
Things to do in Vietnam, Vietnam tourist attraction, things to do in HueUNESCO World Heritage site Hue Vietnam ancient architecture Vietnam history culture

Let's head inside the Imperial Palace

First off, who knew Vietnam even had royalty?

This Imperial Palace certainly taught us a thing or two! Things like they had an emperor up until 1945! We didn’t even know Vietnam had a monarchy. It wasn’t the only surprise the citadel had in store for us.

We walked across a small bridge over an impressive looking moat towards a hole in an intimidating looking wall. Walking towards the entrance to the Imperial Palace gave us a good idea of just how massive the palace was.

Turns out it wasn’t the entrance to the palace after all but rather a gateway into the whole citadel! The Imperial Palace was still a fair walk away.

How did it become the imperial Palace?

Nguyễn Ánh was the first emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty, one that would span 140 years and also be Vietnam’s last dynasty.

Nguyễn Ánh, know as Gai Long took control of Vietnam in 1789.

One of his first acts of state was to use geomancers to find the most auspicious location for the new royal palace. And they delivered!

(Definition of geomancy – a method of divination that interprets markings on the ground or the patterns formed by tossed handfuls of soil, rocks, or sand. Per Wikipedia)

Who built the actual palace?

The exquisite craftsmanship used to build this city is evident everywhere.

For example, the ceramics used as decoration for both the palace and grounds. All pieces designed and made by one family.

Even ceramics used in modern restoration efforts are by the same family!

Imagine that!

He’s an 18th generation decedent from the original ceramicist, still creating works of art today. How awesome is that?!

It gets better too! They can make the exact same ceramic piece, using the original palace design specifications from the early 17th century. Right down to the original color. That’s something special.

In fact, there was a family for pretty much each craft, from stone, metal and wood to ceramics. Each a master of their craft. Each intricate craft meticulously handed down to the new generation.

Delivering a Palace fit for a new emperor

Ancient oriental philosophy helped determine the chosen site for the proposed citadel. It also decreed the city had to respect the conditions of the site.

The chosen site sat between mountains and two rivers (Perfume and Sia). The mountains provided protection from malevolent spirits and the rivers from physical attacks.

Even the buildings within the citadel had to cosmologically align with;

  • the Five Cardinal Points (center, north, west, south, east),
  • the five elements (fire, wood, earth, metal, water) and,
  • the Five Colors (yellow, white, blue, black, red).

Construction started in 1802 and completed in 1832. The citadel is 502 ha in size and the Imperial Palace alone made up 12 ha of that!

The geographical location was carefully chosen to ensure effective defenses.

It was the best location to deter their biggest threat at the time, China. It meant that the citadel was out of reach to almost all physical attacks.

The capital at the time, Hanoi was within an easy reach two-day reach. It left the capital venerable and within reach of well stocked enemy forces. They would get there in one day, execute an attack and spend another getting back to base.

Not so great for Vietnam.

Hue however, was far enough out of reach that the enemy had to travel two or more days to get there. Even if they got that far, they wouldn’t have enough provisions to attack a well-protected citadel. Let alone and make it back.

Score for the Emperor and his team of geomancers!

Defending the new Imperial Palace

A 10-kilometer moat protects the entire citadel. A system of slues fed directly from the Perfume river constantly feeds the moat. Very clever for its time indeed.

The inner court, further fortified with a smaller wall that had one gate and three bastions. Protected by a secondary, smaller moat.

A defense structure of a different kind popped up during our explorations.

Each on sat directly behind a palace or temple gate. We found this both odd and interesting.

To get to the building on the inside, we had to walk through the gate and around the wall. Every time.

We later learnt these walls helped stopped malevolent spirits from entering the space. Much like a nice ‘do not enter’ sign for nasty spirits.

Things to do in Vietnam, Vietnam tourist attraction, things to do in HueUNESCO World Heritage site Hue Vietnam ancient architecture Vietnam history culture

How the Imperial Palace and history collided

The citadel and palace survived three major wars.

The last significant event being The Battle of Hue in 1968. Considered one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam/America war.

Things to do in Vietnam, Vietnam tourist attraction, things to do in HueUNESCO World Heritage site Hue Vietnam ancient architecture Vietnam history culture

Eighteen Southern battalions fought ten northern battalions for 33 days straight. Each side suffering significant losses.

Sadly, the battle destroyed most of Hue and lot of her history. The true tragedy is that of the more than 5,000 civilians who lost their lives during that battle too.

Battle scars mar the entire palace grounds. Sadness seeps into your soul when you think of the loss and impact.

In 1993 the citadel became a UNESCO World Heritage site. Kicking off efforts to save what remained of the citadel and restoring it as much as possible.

Donations and international auctions have proved invaluable in obtaining historical palace artifacts, many of which are on display today.

What remains of the Imperial Palace today?

Most of it is ruins and what surprises most visitors.

The citadel walls and a small number of original city buildings still stand. It’s hard to fathom the true scale of the citadel based on what you can see today.

Organisations responsible for leading conservation efforts are,

  • the Vietnamese Government,
  • the Hue Monuments Conservation Center,
  • the local Thua Thien Hue Provincial People’s Committee and
  • other international organizations lending a hand.

Conservation and restorations efforts look to continue well into the future too. You can read all about them on the info boards around the complex.

What remains of the citadel, can only lead one to day dream about what this city used to looked like. Hopefully restoration can fill in the gaps one day.

Things to do in Vietnam, Vietnam tourist attraction, things to do in HueUNESCO World Heritage site Hue Vietnam ancient architecture Vietnam history culture

Three things we enjoyed most about the Hue Imperial Palace

Cung Dien Tho

Elegant residence of the Queen Mother. Built in 1804, and located in the outer courtyard of the Imperial City. The smaller building overlooking the koi pond used to be the Queen Mother’s hobby and tea room. It was also where she kept all her favorite art pieces. Words has it she was an avid art lover with an impressive collection to boot.

Today you can sit at one of the wooden tables and enjoy a cool beverage, catching your breath. There are still koi’s in the pond and for VND5,000 (~USD0.20 / ~AUD0.30), you can buy a packet of food and feed them. They’re huge too and a lot of fun to feed!

Finding a bullet casing

Seeing bullet holes in the walls was surreal but picking up an actual shell casing is something else! It felt like holding history in our hands! Thing is we weren’t even looking for them. This one just happen to be lying in the dirt by a spot we chose to sit and cool down.

The last emperor of Vietnam

What surprised us the most is that the last emperor of Vietnam was still alive in our lifetime. Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy was the 13th and final emperor, reigning from 1926 to 1945. He abdicated the throne in 1945 and died in 1997.

Not certain why it surprised us so much. Guess it was the fact that we didn’t even know Vietnam had royalty, let alone one a living one in our lifetime. Also, Da Lat also happened to be his favorite summer destination in Vietnam and we went to a couple of his palaces there too.

The Hue Imperial Palace in a nutshell

It’s massive! It’s interesting, it won’t be what you’re expecting and it’s worth the visit. This felt like it was our first real Vietnamese history experience and we loved it.

We relished every nook and cranny we could, wishing for more. If you do come for a visit, we highly recommend you pop into the Imperial Palace in Hue.

Things to do in Vietnam, Vietnam tourist attraction, things to do in HueUNESCO World Heritage site Hue Vietnam ancient architecture Vietnam history culture

Leon and Tash Vlog

Watch as we wander around the once spectacular Imperial Palace of Hue and relive some epic moments in Vietnamese history

More Hue adventures to be had

We have a whole playlist of adventures in Hue for you to enjoy, go check it out.

And if this is your first visit to our site, welcome!  Head on over to our Things to do in Vietnam Page where we tell you about more things you should add to your Vietnam itinerary.

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Thanks for reading guys and we’ll see you in the next post…