The Ungraceful Guide | Budget Travel Guides

Vietnam: Hue, Forbidden Cities And Abandoned Dragons

This was a stop that we were really excited for. Every now and then we hit a city with a load of really cool things to do and Hue was one of those cities.

A popular stop on the backpacker trail, Hue sits split into North and South by the Perfume River, kind of like Dublin.

Home to Emperor’s Tombs, forbidden cities, a city of ghosts and abandoned dragons there was just HUE too much cool stuff here for us not to spend a few days in “The Festival City”.

Table of Contents

From Phong Nha To Hue:

In the end, it actually worked out cheaper and more convenient to book a direct bus from Phong Nha to Hue. We booked through our guesthouse Nhat Tan Hotel for 310,000 VND (€11.89). The bus picked us up at stupid o’clock (5 am) from outside our guesthouse where the lady who runs the place was kind enough to not only wait for the bus with us but also packed us an omelette baguette for the journey. Bless.

The journey took approximately 5 hours and the bus dropped us at the TM Camel office on Nguyen Sinh Cung, a rather convenient 5-minute walk from our hostel.

Note: Always double-check the terminal or stop of a bus when booking, especially in Vietnam. You don’t want to end up at a station 10 km from the city centre or your accommodation.

 For more online prices, options and schedules, visit

Accommodation In Hue:

Daisy Hostel

130,000 VND (€5) private room per night.

Note: the first room we were in was quite small with no a/c and a shared bathroom, as we wanted to stay for a good few nights we negotiated and got a bigger room with a/c and a private bath for the same price.

Shared kitchen and free tea/coffee, although the owner does come into the kitchen every time you go in to cook something. Also, we had cooked food for the next day’s lunch and the cleaning lady threw it out (this still annoys me to this day) but the owner bought us fruit and cakes to make up for it.

Motorbike rental – 100,000 VND (€3.80) per day From 6 am-12 am, although we ended up having to pay an extra 200,000 VND (€7.60) when had a MASSIVE tire blowout in the pissing rain and rush hour traffic on our way home from the city of ghosts, because, you know, the universe loves to mess with us.


Things To Do In Hue:

Imperial City:

Vietnam: Hue, Forbidden Cities And Abandoned Dragons
Wooooah oh-oh-oh oh-oh-oh Mysterious girl

Perhaps Hue’s most famous tourist attraction and, judging from the number of taxi drivers who assumed we were going there, the main reason people go to Hue is the Imperial City. The walled fortress nestled snugly in the centre of Hue wrapped in the ever-expanding urban sprawl of the city, like the hazelnut in a walnut whip.

Entry to the Imperial City is 150,000 VND (€5.70) per person and it’s open from 8 am – 6.30 pm Monday to Sunday. It’s a great day out, especially if you’re into history and culture.

Things to Note:

1. It can be hot and you will be outside a lot so bring plenty of water.

2. Unless you want to pay ridiculous prices, bring a little packed lunch with you. There is a co-op supermarket nearby where you can buy cooked packaged lunches and cheap snacks.

3. In some of the more sacred buildings, especially the houses of worship you will need to cover your knees and shoulders. There doesn’t seem to be a hugely strict “cover-up policy” but be respectful and at least bring something to cover up. While the guards may turn a blind eye to tank tops, string tops could be an issue, short shorts and mini skirts being a no, no! Some buildings will have shawls for women to cover themselves but better to bring a shirt or a shawl of your own. Walking around the grounds itself in say shorts or a string top is no problem, so do wear something cool it can be stifling during the day!!

4. Some places within the grounds forbid photography. Please respect their wishes and save yourself any embarrassment.

5. If visiting without a tour, dedicate a good 4 hours to really explore the city. We took our time and spent a total of 5 hours. There are informative signs, interactive videos and documentaries shown so you don’t necessarily need to hire a guide. But if you wanna hire a guide you can hire them at the main entrance for 50,000 – 100,000 VND (€1.90 – €3.80) per person.

6. You might have seen advertised or mentioned on other blogs that you can visit the Imperial City at night, unfortunately, this is no longer the case. We were a little disappointed to find this out as it is extremely beautiful when lit up at night. So make sure you pass by it when the lights switch on around 6.00 pm – 6.30 pm.

Vietnam: Hue, Forbidden Cities And Abandoned Dragons
So that’s why they call it the Purple City

7. Any performances that take place in the Royal Theatre will cost an extra 200,000 VND (€7.60). There is a 40-minute show which starts at 10 am and another at 3 pm (unless you plan to pay and see the show, there is no point visiting the theatre during these times as you can’t get in). Although there’s a place to fill water here (we think for free?)

8. There is a Change of Guards every morning from 8.30 a.m. – 9 a.m. at the main gate. You do not need a ticket to witness the ritual. The signs near the ticket booths state 9 a.m. but the times have been changed.

9. There is an influx of day tours heading in at this time (9 a.m.) so if you want to miss the crowds, we suggest heading to see the change of the guards and then pop off for a nearby coffee or breakfast. There is a cheap breakfast and coffee place on the opposite side of the bridge as you leave the imperial city.

Facing the flag, head left and cross the second bridge on your right on Dinh Tien Hoang Street. There are a number of family-run restaurants on the left-hand side. Lac Thien serves 10,000 VND (€0.38) coffee and 20,000 VND (€0.76) pancake or egg dishes (omelette, boiled eggs, fried eggs etc.)

Then make your way back for some tourist-free strolling!

10. There is a song and dance performance at 2.30 pm in front of the Thai Hoa Hall, near the entrance to the city itself. It’s a quick show but the musicians then head over to the “Thai Mieu” temple.

We recommend you don’t follow the crowds as there is no predetermined route for visiting the city, instead, we went the opposite way to the crowds and found ourselves alone for the majority of our visit.

Abandoned Waterpark:

Vietnam: Hue, Forbidden Cities And Abandoned Dragons
It’s just you and me now Dumbo

You heard correctly. Abandoned. Water. Park. An apocalyptic wasteland that once was a child’s dream, not a scene from Mad Max or The Walking Dead. Plants and graffiti consume the old fibreglass slides and thrashed pools. The inside of the giant dragon aquarium looks like the vampire’s lair from the Lost Boys. Now this place is a playground for different kinds of kids! Big Kids!

We visited in September 2018 and, despite rumours to the contrary, you can still access it with a simple bribe!

If renting a bike, use for the directions, it will give you options for two entrances. One with security guards and one without i.e. “free”. You know exactly which one we went for.

The security guard would drive around the park looking to catch and throw people out but he kept missing us. While this made for a very entertaining game of cat and mouse, some tourists told us when caught if you hand him 20,000 VND (€0.76) he will leave you alone.

Without a bike, you may need to use a cab or Grab motorbike which will cost you around 200,000 VND (€7.60), maybe arrange a pickup time or fee to return back to the city too!

You could also cycle the 7km and arrive within 40 minutes, any way you go it’s definitely worth a visit. The earlier the better as it gets busier in the afternoon. The park is quite big so if you have a bike do use it to get around. Simply follow the pathways, and be careful on the slides, they’re rickety AF.

Vietnam: Hue, Forbidden Cities And Abandoned Dragons
These seem perfectly saaaaaaafe!!

Dong Ba market:

Enjoy the not-always-pleasant sights and smells of a really chaotic Vietnamese local food market. Open daily from 6 am-6 pm, there is no entry fee.

Gia Long Tomb:

Vietnam: Hue, Forbidden Cities And Abandoned Dragons
Ancient stone guardians… and a Muppet.

Normally people will take in at least one of the emperor’s tombs as part of the tour package with the Imperial city.

Rather than doing a tour, we had opted to rent a moto and head for the furthest and therefore least touristy tomb, Gia Long. It was a beautiful drive out and we’d brought a packed lunch for a picnic but the tomb itself probably isn’t worth the newly introduced 40,000 VND (€1.50) entry fee.

The Gia Long Tomb is open from 8 am to 4 pm.

Karaoke Lane:

Down Le Hong Phong off Nguyen Hue main street you. will find a laneway with nothing but karaoke bars. Have a stroll past lots of flashing neon lights, and if you are a karaoke queen, this is your new Hue home.

Note: We have since been informed that these are actually brothels, but cannot verify or dismiss this, either way, so do let us know if you go!

Thien Mu Pagoda (Heavenly Lady):

Vietnam: Hue, Forbidden Cities And Abandoned Dragons
Just the tip of the pagoda…

One of the best places to visit for a sunset in Hue. You could even look into taking a boat down the river from Tao Kham boat station. Open from 8 am-6 pm, entry is free.

Vietnam’s City of Ghosts:

Vietnam: Hue, Forbidden Cities And Abandoned Dragons
And if I lay me down to sleep… bury me in a huge mansion!

This was by far the coolest thing we did in Hue. Located about 40 Km from Hue in the village of An Bang is a place where the dead inhabit better digs than the living.

On paper, it’s basically a cemetery, but in reality, it’s sooooo much more.
It’s here that both expat Vietnamese and locals sink all their hard-earned cash into hugely elaborate tombs for themselves and their loved ones. And we mean these things are MASSIVE and so beautiful.

Families spend up to 70,000 USD on their tombs, which is mental considering the average annual income is 2,000 USD.

Although there is no entry fee, there’s also no way to get out here except to hire a car or moto. But it’s totally worth the trip. We hope this guide was of some use to you in planning your visit or inspiring one, or maybe just as a daydream or coffee break fodder, either way, thanks for reading.

As always if you have anything to add, ask or advise please feel free to get in touch or leave a comment.

If you fancy a giggle and the visual experience you can watch our Instagram Hue highlights here.

In the meantime…Happy Travels TUG x

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