Delightful Da Lat

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Da Lat, a city of beaty and spoils

The second stop on our motorcycle adventure around Vietnam was Da Lat and we knew little about it.

We knew it was coffee country, has spectacular scenery and some historical value. It’s also a much-loved domestic holiday destination, but other than that, we didn’t know much more about it.

None the less, we couldn’t wait to encounter this new destination and our first real piece of Vietnam. One that isn’t bursting at the seams with foreign tourist.

One thing I will say is that riding those last ten kilometers into Da Lat, was one of the most enjoyable roads to ride.

Cool air breathed new life into our tired bodies as we wound through the wide easy-going roads. Carving through dense jungle covered peaks, peppered with produce of all sorts.

It was a spectacular welcome, that’s for sure!

Leon and Tash Vlog

When your planned five hours of first day riding a motorbike in Vietnam turns into a 16 hour battle against traffic, exhaustion and almost getting killed.

Arriving in Da Lat

Our smiles were soon replaced with furious concentration as we hit the city dead on peak hour traffic. It was almost like we were back in Ho Chi Minh!  It came as a bit of a shock and we weren’t expecting a city this size, not the chaos of heavy congestion.

One of the first things we noticed was how clean and beautiful the city was. Precisely manicured gardens in all shades and sizes. Even a topiary VW Bug sitting in the city central round about proud as a peacock.

The other was the noticeable difference in temperature. It was the first time since February we can remember being cold. Actual, ‘I need a jacket and jeans’ cold and we loved it!

But first things first. We had to find our hotel and hit some much-needed hay. For us, and the bikes. They did a tremendous job of delivering a couple of newbies to their destination and without so much as a sputter. Respect earned!

We were incredibly well looked after at Maxim Hotel and thoroughly enjoyed our stay.  Have a read of our full review here.

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Not sure where to start looking for bus tickets, time tables and the like?

Da Lat is the transportation hub of the Vietnamese highlands. Everything from buses, trains and private transport scoots in and out of this busy city, making it easy to get to and from!

Affiliate disclosure: The information in this posts contains affiliate links for our travel partnerships.  You don’t get charged extra for using these links and we may earn a small commission from them which goes towards finding and managing all the awesome content on our site.  You are under no obligation to use them but if you do, we want to salute and thank you for your support, we appreciate it!

Showing the beasts some love

After an epic 400 kilometer or so trip up from Ho Chi Minh, it was time to show the Waves some love.

The plan was to get them washed, followed by a much-needed service. Ha gave us some ideas on where to find bike wash places and we had Honda dealership lined up for servicing.

Rua Xe (bike wash)

The rửa xe we chose was a short push from Maxim and the Honda dealership a short five-minute ride from there.

When we arrived at the bike wash there was a bit of a language barrier to get over. But after a few laughs we managed to convey what we wanted and set off to find a coffee.

Within an hour we had two shiny bikes back and made another new friend. The hospitality was simple but great and we didn’t expect that for a man sharing yard space with a beauty salon.

(On a side note: Before we left Da Lat, I went and had a pedicure done at that very same beauty salon. I couldn’t help but giggle as I watched Mr. Bike Washer expertly drying a customer’s hair while entertaining the waiting customers.

It’s moments like that I look for. That pure why of life, uncut, uncensored and you just melt into the medley with those in the moment.

My half hour pedicure turned into almost two hours of chatting, and laughing. I almost forgot I was in a foreign country all together. All from a ‘two chair out the front of the family home set up’. And it was the best thing ever!

Another memory that will stay with me forever.)

Washing the bikes cost us VND 50,000 (~USD 2.00 / ~AUD 3.00) per bike.

 

Genuine Honda service that didn’t break the bank

Servicing didn’t quite go to plan, but despite that, we still had a great experience with the team at Thang Loi 1 Head Honda.

We wanted a full service but due to the language barrier we only got an oil change and brake check on both bikes and my tail light fixed. Still for the VND 180,000 (~USD 8.00 / ~AUD 11.00) it cost us, we weren’t complaining.

Da Lat Attractions

It was hard not falling in travel-love with Da Lat. It has a lot on offer, both in the city and the surrounding areas.

We arrived at the beginning of the wet season and thought we’d be okay with it being the start but we wrong.

Wet season is wet season and when it kicks in, its long downpours and lots of cold, cloudy spells in between. But mostly rain.

We wanted to go to a few things like Elephant Waterfall and visit to a well-known coffee plantation. (The latter offers weasel coffee and you can meet the famous critter in person.)

Plus, a number of other things. Sadly, we missed out on much of the outdoor attractions due to the wet weather.

I caught a nasty cold three days into our visit and was finding it hard to shake it. Ending up in a doctor’s room was not happening either.  We had travel insurance but I’d prefer to not have to use it.

While it was a nuisance, it wasn’t the end of the fun. Oh no, there was still plenty of that in the city itself.

Below are some of the things we did get to experience.

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Affiliate disclosure: The information in this posts contains affiliate links for our travel partnerships.  You don’t get charged extra for using these links and we may earn a small commission from them which goes towards finding and managing all the awesome content on our site.  You are under no obligation to use them but if you do, we want to salute and thank you for your support, we appreciate it!

DA LAT CENTRAL MARKET

If you love fresh fruit and veg then Da Lat is your haven! The best place to find all the best fresh goodies, was the Da Lat market. Or better known as Cho Da Lat by the locals. The varieties on offer looked mouth-watering.

Situated in the heart of the city and you can find anything and everything needed for everyday life here. The stalls and shops weren’t limited to food either.

Clothes, shoes, hardware, homeware, wet market, dry market you name it. The best part was they were all within a ten to fifteen-minute walk of each other.

The markets came in handy for our preparations of the next leg of our ride.

At night, the market transforms into food stalls of every kind with a delicious selection of local and well-known treats on offer. We didn’t get to try the night market due to bad weather but will try it out on our next visit if it’s drier.

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XUAN HUONG LAKE

At the heart of Da Lat is a large man-made lake called Xuan Huong Lake. It’s named after a famous Vietnamese poet of the mid-19th century.

The lake sits in the general area where several of the indigenous people of the central highlands use to live together. Da Lat got her name from one of these ethnic groups, the Lat. In their language, Da Lat means “Stream of the Lat”.

The lake offers a few of its own attractions. You can take a paddle boat out onto the lake or a ride around it in a horse-driven carriage.

If gimmicks aren’t your thing then there is plenty of green grass on offer to chill or have a picnic.  You don’t even have to pack food, there are snack vendors everywhere.

Heck you can even go finishing if you have the gear.

DA LAT LAKEFRONT

One of Da Lat’s most recognizable icons is Doha Café and the unique lake front she sits atop.

From a distance it looks like nothing but a large paved area with two strange looking structures on it. As you get closer, you realize one of the structures resembles a flower bud made of glass.

We’re a couple of natural curious cats and decided to go check it out. We have a vlog and blog about the experience, feel free to have a read and a look.

There’s a what, where?

After Doha, we headed over to the other strange shaped building and never actually made it there lol. Turns out there is a whole underground mall below the two glass buildings. The entrance was cleverly disguised as a glass spiral ceiling coming out of the ground.

There we found three levels of shops, a very large supermarket, an arcade and kid’s playground area and a food court.   We later found an underground cinema too. You’d never know all this was there just by looking at the area from a distance.

We decided to leave the mall to head back to the hotel, only the torrential rain had set in and for the night by the look of it.

No taxi, no worry

Trying to hail a taxi turned out to be a little harder than anticipated.  So, we opted for a movie instead.

The Cinestar cinemas were lower in height than we’re used to but it didn’t take away from the experience. If anything, it felt really cozy.

As luck would have it, it was cheap Monday and we only paid VND 90,000 (~USD 4.00 / ~AUD 6.00) for the two tickets. Then decided to splash out VND 105,000 (~USD 5.00 / ~AUD 7.00) for a two drinks, medium popcorn and M&M’s combo. Score!

It turned out to be a fun night, despite the weather and we had to catch a taxi back to the hotel as it was still raining. For the VND 30,000 (~USD1.00 / ~AUD 2.00) we paid, it didn’t break the bank and kept us dry!

UNIQUE TOURIST SPOTS

These two experiences were so unique that we gave them each their own blog.

The first is the 100 Roofs Cafe with a strange labyrinth of nooks and crannies wedged into a tiny four level building with a pretty spectacular view from the rooftop.  If you can find it!

The second was Crazy House, also known as Hang Nga Guesthouse.

One of the craziest experiences you’ll ever have in Vietnam, for sure!

ALL THE KING’S PALACES

If you follow our vlogs you would have seen our visit to the Imperial Palace in Hue and the reference to Boa Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam.

Boa Dai was an avid hunter and pleasure seeker and Da Lat was his favorite playground. So much so that Da Lat boasts three of the late emperor’s palaces.

Two of the three palaces are open to the public. The third is for dignitaries visiting Da Lat and while the public are welcome to roam the garden, they cannot enter the palace building itself.

We create a blog with all the juicy bits on these two soon, so keep your peepers peeled.

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DA LAT ART DECO RAIL STATION

French influence is evident across Da Lat and none more so than the Da Lat Rail station.

Designed in 1932 by two French architects, Moncet and Reveron. Then built and completed by Swedish engineers in 1938.

The story goes that the French were great at design, but in this instance, the Swedes were better at building it. They could build rail lines at an altitude and landscape like that of the Da Lat plateau.

The design was unusual for a building of this period too. It was both art deco and traditional Vietnamese communal house. Very clever!

At inception, the line connected Da Lat with two daily runs to Nha Trang and Saigon respectively.

Like so many other icons, it got destroyed in latter part of the Vietnam war.

In 1991 the rail station reopened to the public after 7 kilometers was rebuilt. The new line takes visitors to nearby Trai Mat and back in an hour round trip, five times a day.

We got there a bit late and missed the last train for the day.  But we were still able to walk around the rail station and see some the carriages and fixtures. One of the original locomotives is still on display and you can enjoy a coffee inside a carriage for a bit of fun.

Only thing we found bothersome was the hawkers clogging the old platform. The fact that they were trying to make a living was fine. It was the fact that they were selling wares that had no connection to the rail station and her history.

But if you can look past that, it’s still a neat hour’s visit to a piece of Da Lat history.

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EATING LIKE A LOCAL IN DA LAT

As we mentioned before, Da Lat is famous for her produce.

Hà, again was kind enough to take us to some of his local favorite eateries. He introduced is to some very different kinds of dishes and we loved them all!

We tried so many new things that we’re writing another blog piece covering all our favorite morsels from Da Lat.

We’ll leave you with a hint of what we experienced for now though.

There were the sweet smelling fried balls from the side of the road, the deep fried pig’s lung (yeah, we had that look on our face too), and a green rice porridge with salty boiled eggs.

Leon and Tash Vlog

Pig's fried what now?? Find out how to eat like a local in Da Lat

THE GOOD STUFF – DA LAT COFFEE

We love the coffee shops in Vietnam it’s not secret. Da Lat was an exception to our usual experiences in that we were IN coffee country.

The fact that there was no Cong Ca Phe or even a Highlands Coffee had us intrigued at first. But, the more we explored the local coffee shops, the more we realized what was on offer was amazing in its own right. Coffee in its most delicious form.

We tried different coffees from different cafes and they were all good.

At one cafe, we attempted to order using the words on the menu only as there were no pictures. We had a good laugh as we ended up with a cà phê đá which is basically a cold coffee mixed with condensed milk and poured over ice.

Not so great on a cold, wet day ha-ha!

 

Stand out coffee moments

There were two stand out coffee moments during our visit to Da Lat.

The first was the Da Lat Nights special coffee. We’re not sure what was in it as it seemed to be a guarded secret lol. It was strong, slightly sweet and had something extra in it, but we’re not sure.  It was a thick, slow coffee and it was very enjoyable. We do recommend giving it a go!

If you’re ever in Da Lat looking for something to do at night, go visit Da Lat Nights Café. It’s worth the trip up there to enjoy a view of the city from a different perspective (wink).

The second was more of an experience (thanks to Hà again) as we went to a café owned by actual coffee grower. At Là Việt you can enjoy an expertly made coffee, and also learn about their beans and the roasting and blending processes they undergo.

We were also lucky enough to walk away with two of their blends. Leon’s favorite is the 100% Arabica Traditional blend which is a bold, dark roast that is suitable for most methods of brewing.

I preferred the 100% Arabica Classico blend which is a slightly lighter roast and again suited to most methods of brewing. Great choices to take on the road with us. We’ll let you know what they are like once we cracked those bad boys!

A huge thank you to Hà and Là Việt for a great evening.

What we thought of our visit to Da Lat

Our overall impression of Da Lat is nothing but happiness. We extended our stay here twice, despite the weather, that’s how much we enjoyed it.

Even then we didn’t get to do it all.  We will definitely try to get back to this amazing slice of heaven tucked away in the Vietnam highlands. If we do, we’ll let you know what we find next time.

From a practical point, the city is easy to navigate, foreigner friendly, relatively cheap with plenty of amenities. It was a winner for us.

On offer is loads of fresh air (a godsend after Ho Chi Minh City), and plenty to keep you busy. You can enjoy amazing food and refreshing beverages at an array of cool, quirky and unique venues.  Da Lat has it all!

Leon and Tash Blog

Things to do in Da Lat

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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The Reunification Express – Da Nang to Hue

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The Reunification Express - a top ten train ride !

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

The daily commute on the work doesn’t exactly inspire romanticism or a burning desire to go traveling either.

It’s usually more of a ‘get me the hell off this thing as fast as possible’ scenario. I know because I traveled 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 kilometers. 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.

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 the 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-kilometer coast line. Yup, it is an epic coastline and we can’t wait to experience more of it!

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

TRAIN 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.

Travel 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 (or hit up the link below for more options). 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.

Not sure where to start looking for train tickets, time tables and the like?

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Affiliate disclosure: The information in this posts contains affiliate links for our travel partnerships.  You don’t get charged extra for using these links and we may earn a small commission from them which goes towards finding and managing all the awesome content on our site.  You are under no obligation to use them but if you do, we want to salute and thank you for your support, we appreciate it!

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.

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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 VND 50,000 (~USD 2.00 / ~AUD 3.00) for 5 hours or VND 100,000 (~USD 4.00 / ~AUD 6.00) 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 YOUR 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 cheapest option is the hard seats at USD 53.00 (~VND 1,222,000 / ~AUD 78.00) and they are as their name suggests, a hard wood bench seat.

The more comfortable soft seat varies between USD 67.00 and USD 68.00 (~VND 1,545,000 / ~AUD 99.00 and ~ VND 1,568,000 / ~AUD 100.00), they are nice leatherette seat that recline and come 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.

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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 USD 89.00 and USD 91.00 (~VND 2,052,000 / ~AUD 131.00 and ~VND 2,098,000 / ~AUD134.00) 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 USD 93.00 to USD 95.00 (~VND 2,145,000 / ~AUD 137.00 to ~VND 2,191,000 / ~AUD 140.00), 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 store your bags, 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 the 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.)

TRAVEL SUPPLIES TO PACK

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.

Is the Reunification Express worth the trip?

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.

Leon and Tash Vlog

Riding one of the top train rides in the world and our introduction to Hue!

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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The Imperial Palace Hue Vietnam

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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!

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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!

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

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.

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

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)

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.

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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 Hue, UNESCO 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 Hue, UNESCO 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 Hue, UNESCO 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.

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

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 Hue, UNESCO 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…