Surprisingly, while teaching in Vietnam most of my life centres around well, teaching. So even 48 hours in Hue seemed like a dream to me. I have one day off each week and I usually spend my time recuperating from a week spent with highly energetic kids. So when I learned that we would be having two days off due to national holidays, I was excited to get some exploring in - and I’ll admit, a little apprehensive about what it would mean for my energy levels for the rest of the week when I was expected to teach #teacherlife.
The time limit meant my colleague and I had to cram as much as we could into 48 hours, and I was satisfied with the result at the end of the trip. We got our fair share of sightseeing done, loaded up on western food unobtainable in our rural area and even got some rest in (you’ll see why we needed it). Here’s my guide to Hue in 48 hours:
How to Get There
We live a few hours south of Da Nang which meant our trip was expected to take an average of 6 hours by train. I use this website when booking trains throughout Vietnam or an alternative route is to go directly to a train station or tour agency. We had to book the train quite a while in advance because obviously the national holidays meant that everyone was travelling during this time. It is also common for trains to be late as ours was. We left straight after class on Sunday evening and got to Hue at 2:30am (not the most ideal time, but we were on a limited time schedule).
The highway between Hoi An and Hue is popular due to the scenic route and I recommend travelling it by motorbike if you have the time. Flights to Hue are also a quick and cheap option via Hanoi, Da Nang or Ho Chi Minh City, but I personally love travelling by train.
What went wrong
I have travelled extensively throughout Asia and beyond, even in the most rural areas and never came out of any of it with a “what went wrong” story to tell. I guess this will be my first! Two factors led to problems in the early hours of the morning upon arriving in Hue: firstly, our arrival time meant everything was closed and everyone was asleep and secondly, so many local and foreign tourists had flocked to Hue because of the national holidays. Hue was jam-packed with tourists.
We exited the station and it was pouring with rain. Because rainy season is long gone (apparently) we weren’t carrying any raincoats or umbrellas, and none of the taxis were willing to take us to our guest house because it was too close. We opted for a motorbike who agreed to take the both of us and so our journey of three began. I’ll admit becoming closely acquainted with the driver having to be pressed up against him in order for all of us to fit on the bike was not my idea of fun. Add the pouring rain and the fact that he dropped us off at the wrong location, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. We had to backtrack and use Google Maps to find the location of our guest house. Time slowly ticked away and we just COULDN’T FIND the street. Google took us to one location but our guest house was at another. It was all very frustrating and we were soaked after an hour and a half of searching.
We knocked on the door of our guest house and woke the sleeping receptionist. I was so exhausted at that point and seriously needed to crash if I was going to do any exploring the next day. Not to mention my bladder was seriously full after trying to stay hydrated on the train. He proceeded to tell us that he had given our room away and that we wouldn't have a bed for the remaining hours of the morning, even though we had booked this way in advance. To be fair, we hadn't secured our booking with any payments but had clearly stated the previous day that we would be arriving early hours of the morning. We were told to sit on the floor of reception while he slept until check in time the next day. Lots of arguing was done but because of the rain and inconvenient time we really had no other option. At 5am we left and never returned to the guest house again.
Finding a Hotel
I’ve used booking.com before when booking hotels and I’ve never had a problem but because of the national holidays hotels were giving away rooms left, right and centre. I would recommend paying a deposit to secure bookings on popular travel dates or risking finding a hotel when you arrive. We were left no other choice and had to go with the latter, which was surprisingly easy and a pleasant experience after the one we had just encountered. We ended up staying at Golden Star Hotel and I was so impressed with their rapport with customers, the cleanliness of their rooms and the breakfast which featured pancakes, fruits, noodle bowls and your usual egg and bread combo. I am not affiliated with them in any way, I’m just recommending them based on a good experience. They are also budget friendly and the location is amazing. We were so happy that our previous experience turned out to be a blessing in disguise because of the location of our new hotel, which is right in the centre of where everything is happening!
All the Food
You’ll find a fair share of western food options in this list simply because we live in rural Vietnam and get a tad tired of eating Vietnamese cuisine 24/7. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it, but I also love pizza.
- Nook Cafe and Bar is a vegan friendly restaurant a little ways away from the centre of town. We stopped here for breakfast and were happy with their homemade granola and vegetarian breakfast plate.
- Risotto Restaurant is walking distance from our hotel and is in the centre of town. I highly recommend this restaurant if you are looking for tasty Italian pizza or pasta. We might have eaten here two nights in a row. They provide free bruschetta and passion fruit for dessert, and our pizza came with a free beer or glass of wine. I mean, who doesn't like free food??
- Madame Thu Restaurant provides vegetarian and vegan friendly traditional Vietnamese cuisine with local Hue recipes. My options as a non-meat eaten can sometimes be limited in Vietnam so I was grateful that I still got to experience some Hue food.
- DMZ Bar was a fun place to be in the evenings for a drink and we even ate here before our train left on our second day. They have a well stocked bar and restaurants on the second and third floor. They are also connected to a backpackers hostel.
There are also tons of little street food stalls and local restaurants. I always look at which ones are packed with locals and know they are bound to be good. We eat our fair share of Vietnamese food so our goals for food for this trip were a little different. If you’re a teacher abroad living in a rural area, you’ll get what I’m saying.
Sights to See
Imperial City (The Citadel)
We walked from our hotel for about 4km to reach the Imperial City. Hoards of local and foreign tourists flocked here from every direction and I supposed the sheer size of the place is beneficial for this reason, to accommodate everyone. We didn't hire a guide or take the motorised carts but rather made our own way around. I’m not sure if it was my exhaustion from the ordeals the day before, but I was rather unimpressed with the palace. It’s difficult to get around or know where you’re going or where you’ve been because the grounds are so big. I suppose it could be more interesting if you had a guide, but I heard some of them speaking and they were really giving out information that was common sense. When we got to the theatre room the one guide said, “This is where the royals would watch plays and at these tables they would have a party”. Obviously. Cost: 180,000 Vietnamese Dong. *You can also purchase a ticket for around 300,000 Dong for access to see all of the historical sites in Hue.
Tu Doc Tomb
We accidentally visited this when trying to get to another tomb. We hired bicycles for the day for $2 and cycled for about 9km. The route on Google maps took us through small streets and past monastery’s (what is up with Google maps lately?). Anyway, after a lot a side tracking and basically getting lost we found lots of tour busses and people outside this tomb on the way and thought it might be what we were looking for. I enjoyed this far better than the Imperial City as there were less people, less walking around and the buildings were more interesting. I would recommend seeing it. Cost: 100,000 Vietnamese Dong.
Thien Mu Pagoda
I realised halfway through our cycle trip that I was wearing shorts which is a big no-no when entering pagoda’s in Asia. Although there were tons of tourists walking in wearing shorts, despite the signs outside cautioning you not to, I didn't feel comfortable disrespecting the culture in such a way. I waited outside while my colleague explored around. Since this is the tallest pagoda in Vietnam I was able to admire its beauty from the outside. It is positioned along the river and a great lookout point as well with a peaceful atmosphere despite being a tourist attraction. I highly recommend seeing this, in respectable clothing of course. Boats also drop you off at the pagoda directly. Cost: free.
Hard to miss as it is the centre of Hue. There are people along the river forever trying to get you to take a boat trip to a “fishing village” which we didn't do because we’ve seen enough of the real Vietnam and live near a local fishing village. It was nice to take an evening stroll along the river as many others do.
Hue is a wonderful city with a rich history and culture, whilst still providing access to western amenities and food. It is definitely worth a visit and spending a short amount of time here is all that is needed. I felt I was able to see everything I needed to in less than 48 hours.
Have you travelled to Hue? Or is it on your travel bucket list?
Disclaimer: This post contains NO affiliate links but rather just states recommendations based on first hand, real experience. I am not responsible for any advice you choose to take.