Hue (part one) – the best alternative to Hoi An

Hue is a highly likable city located at the banks of the picturesque Perfume River and bursting with spectacular monuments. Having remained in ruins for years, it is barely mid-way through the monumental task of renovation. The fact that large swathes of the imperial city and some of the imperial tombs are still derelict only adds to its charm. Most of the monuments are within a cycling distance from each other. Moreover, Hue is one of the cheapest places in Vietnam and its cuisine is exquisite.

The  enormous flagpost at the Hue citadel at night

Hue on a budget

We found a small bus company which took us for a very competitive price from Hoi An to Hue. It was just around 3 hours long drive and we were happy to discover that the drop off point of this company was just round the corner from our mega-budget accommodation.

The main tourist zone was spreading all along the southern bank of the Perfume river. We were very glad to stay north of the Perfume River’s tributary- Song Nhu Y- far away from the busy tourist zone. Had we stayed across the bridge, our experience probably would have been different.

We were extremely lucky with the choice of accommodation. The room might have been basic but both the hotel’s owner and the receptionist spoke perfect English and were the friendliest and the most helpful people on Earth.

It seemed as if the boy was hired more for his language proficiency than skills. Nevertheless, it was thanks to both of those guys that we got to know about the incredulously cheap places to eat and hidden attractions not featuring on any blog.

In Hue, we ate like kings without breaking the bank. The local food was simply delicious and very affordable. Bahn mi (filled baguettes), coffee and sugar cane juice sold round the corner from our accommodation were cheapest we’d encountered anywhere in the country.

A plate full of steamed VIetnamese snacks made of rice flour and wrapped in leaves

Our favourite dining place in Hue was the Than Lieu vegetarian restaurant located on the other side of the canal, within the tourist ghetto. It was subsidised by Vietnamese diaspora in the US, therefore not only was the food unbelievably cheap but also the interior looked quite decent, with wooden furniture and freshly painted walls.

The restaurant was teeming with people at any time of the day and rightly so. I was thrilled with the opportunity to try various local delicacies made of gooey rice flower. Those would usually be filled with meat or shrimp but that place obviously served the vegan versions, for mere 2 000 dong a piece!

Pots with colourful ingredients for making che, Vietnamese sweet coconut milk dessert served with beans or jelly

We spent the first evening in Hue walking along the river in the tourist area (opposite to the citadel). The riverside night market was geared towards tourists and the vendors were selling mostly snacks. Even though the prices there were higher than where we stayed, they were definitely much lower than in Hoi An.

PRACTICALITIES

How to get to Hue?

Hue has a small airport with flight connections to Hanoi, HCMC and Da Lat operated by the cheap Vietnamese airlines. The flights would be much more expensive than the train or bus, though.

Hue is also on the main train line from HCMC to Hanoi. It takes 13-15 hours to Hanoi and 20-22 hours to Ho Chi Minh City. Hard seat to Hanoi would be slightly more expensive than a bus ticket, the sleeper berth roughly twice as expensive as the sleeper bus.

Hue is within a reasonable bus journey distance from Da Nang (2-3h), Hoi An (3-4h), Phong Nha (5h). Hanoi is slightly further: 11-13h.

Prices [in Vietnamese dong as of August 2018]

360 000 combined ticket for 3 imperial tombs and imperial citadel
140 000 Hue to Phong Nha sleeper bus
128 000 budget double room
80 000 Hoi An to Hue sleeper bus
30 000 bicycle rental for a day
20 000 meal at com binh dan (buffet)
12 000 coffee

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