Constructed in 1804, this massive fortress designed for the Gia Long Emperor, is surrounded by a zigzag moat and defensive barrier that’s 21 meters thick. But visitors to this citadel-in-a-citadel-in-a-citadel won’t need to swim across rivers or scale towering walls to get a look inside. The Imperial Enclosure is accessible by crossing one of the 10 pedestrian bridges into the once royal land. Pass through Ngo Mon (Noon) Gate, once reserved for those in power, then wander through Flag Tower (Cot Co) and stare up at the nation’s tallest flagpole before weaving through the Nine Dynastic Urns representing different Nguyen kings.
On the north bank of the Huong River is Hue’s lively Dong Ba Market, stretching out for 16,000 square meters. Still retaining its old bell tower from when it was first opened by King Dong Khanh in 1887, the atmospheric market is divided into separate sections, with the whole upstairs floor dedicated to clothes.
Though Hue has plenty of supermarkets, Dong Ba is an important market for locals and a great place to experience Vietnamese life, with 5,000 to 7,000 people coming here to barter daily.
While you’re at Dong Ba Market, look out for popular local handicrafts like non la bai tho (conical hats with poems woven in the design), xung sesame candies, and Tuan black tea. Dong Ba is also a great spot for trying traditional regional food like beef vermicelli. You’ll find the street vendors serving specialty dishes on the ground floor of the market, on the street parallel to the river.
The Perfume River may have gotten its fame from the film Full Metal Jacket, but visitors to Hue traveled on this scenic body of water even before the movie’s 1987 debut. Each fall, blossoms from nearby orchards drop into the river, producing the unique fragrance that gives this river its name. The unpolluted waters offer cooling breezes for cyclists riding along the winding banks of local rice fields, and breathtaking views of Ngu Binh Mountain. Watch the sun go down and the city light up while you enjoy a cool beer on a late-afternoon dragon boat ride through Hue.
Encompassing more than 154 square miles (400 square kilometers) of an old French hill station, Bach Ma National Park protects one of the most visually stunning natural areas of Central Vietnam. More than 1,400 species of plants grow in the park — a fifth of the total flora in the country — alongside 132 species of mammals and 358 species of birds. Among the rarer residents, many of them nocturnal, are the douc langur, leopard, stump-tailed macaques and Asiatic black bear.
The ruins of French resorts and villas lie scattered throughout the park, evidence of the era when French residents of Hue retreated to the cooler climes of the park during the hottest parts of the year. Well-marked trails wind through the park, and there are a few guesthouses at the summit.
This royal structure, which sits at the center of Hue’s Imperial Enclosure, was once reserved for exclusive use by the emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. Only eunuchs passed through its halls, since even his most trusted servants weren’t allowed beyond the gates. Today, this historic citadel sits mostly in ruins, destroyed during several wars throughout the nation’s history.
Despite some recent rebuilding efforts, travelers can easily spend a long afternoon wandering paths that crisscross the grounds, exploring portions of the foundation, now overgrown with foliage, and examining the painting, woodwork and architecture that still remains. A 10 kilometer moat surrounds what was created to resemble the Forbidden City of Beijing, and 10 gates protect these once royal grounds.
On Hàm Long hill by the Perfume River in Hue, Bao Quoc Pagoda is a Buddhist temple that dates back to the Nguyen Dynasty, when it was commissioned in 1670 by Chinese Zen Master Thích Giác Phong.
Though Bao Quoc was renovated in the mid-20th century, it still retains its traditional charm. A spring flows from the top of the hill down into the grounds of the temple, where the peaceful courtyard is surrounded by balconied buildings and stupas built in honor of Buddhist patriarchs, the oldest of which was built in 1714 and dedicated to Thich Giác Phong. At the temple, look closer at its four pillars carved with dragon figures.
Bao Quoc Pagoda is also famous for its monk training center, which has been running since 1940 when Vietnam initiated a revival in Buddhist education.
Travelers will find unparalleled beauty, spaces for quiet contemplation and nothing short of inspiration on a visit to the iconic Cat Tuong Quan Zen House in Hue. This one-of-a-kind religious center is a destination for Buddhists and mindfulness experts, thanks to spacious gardens, stunning pagodas and quiet grounds.
Stationed among the Thien An Hill pine forest, travelers can participate in Qigong, mindfulness workshops, meditation and yoga on a visit to this incredible destination. Expert chefs prepare satisfying vegetarian meals and local Buddhists offer insight into the practice, culture and traditions that make Cat Tuong Quan Zen House an almost holy escape.