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Hue

Orientation

Hue is set on the banks of the Song Huong (Perfume River) as it widens and jogs diagonally from the northeast to the southwest. Numerous natural tributaries and canals branch throughout the city, making it a watery place, especially during typhoon season, when many streets may become impassible and the river may overflow some of the lower bridges.

The Citadel, the former seat of the Vietnamese government when Hue was the capital, dominates the northern bank. It's surrounded by two moats, the outer of which connects directly to the river -- an impressive feat of engineering. Ten gates allow access in and out of the area, and make for a tight squeeze for large trucks. Most of the interior of the Citadel is inhabited by common folk, and it's really just part of the town. A smaller enclosure within the Citadel, up against the southern wall, is surrounded by yet another moat and houses the Forbidden Purple City, where the emperor and his concubines used to bed down.

The southern bank has three budget accommodation areas. One is Side Street 66 off Le Loi Street, which borders the river, between Pham Ngu Lao and Chu Van An. The second is on an alley off Nguyen Tri Phuong, just to the west of and parallel to Hung Vuong. And the third is a little alley off Nguyen Cong Tru Street. You won't see these on any map other than in guidebooks. Luxury accommodation seems to organise itself along the southern bank of the river, though the new Imperial Hotel takes advantage of its inland location to give you a great view of all the other places you could have stayed.

The two banks of the river are connected by four bridges. The northernmost bridge connects Nguyen Gia Thieu in Phu Hau district to the other side; the next is Truong Tien Bridge, with distinctive ironwork arches, at the north end of Hung Vuong connecting to Tran Hung Dao on the other side. This narrow bridge gives the most direct access to Dong Da night market but can get quite congested. If you have a choice, use Phu Xuan Bridge, which connects Le Loi to Tran Hung Dao, just a bit to the west, and grab a cyclo. A fourth bridge, Con Da Vien, named for the island it crosses, is a railroad bridge that goes from the station to the southwest corner of the Citadel. Two narrow paths intended as footbridges are now used by cyclists and motorcyclists. The walkways are unforgivingly narrow, so don't even attempt it unless you have mad bike skills (this doesn't stop the locals from doing it with a TV set strapped to the back and a baby on the handle bars, of course).

To get to the train station, head west on Le Loi until it ends. The main bus terminal (Dong Da) is best reached by heading across the Truong Tien bridge, where it lies 200 metres to the left beside the market. For the southern terminal (Ben Xe Phia Bac), head down Hung Vuong Street, continue straight at the big roundabout (passing the Big C supermarket on your left), cross the bridge and continue for three kilometres till you see the left hand turn for An Duong Vuong and you'll find it a further four kilometres down -- the airport (Phu Bai) is about 14 kilometres further on, on the right.

Most book stores (and tour offices) sell at least two decent maps of Hue. The Hue Tourist Map gives a good, wide view of Hue, and has an inset that marks the approximate location of all the major tombs to the south. The Hue Cultural Tourist Map is easier to read, but useless for the far-flung tombs. It does, however, have a very good map of the entire province which would be useful to motorbike trekkers. Neither of these maps includes the new Highway 1 bypass road that now loops around Hue City to the west. Do also stop by the Mandarin Cafe on Tran Cao Van, across from the Imperial Hotel, for their walking tour map, a good activity you can do on your own.

Mandarin Cafe: 24 Tran Cao Van, Hue. T: (054) 382 1281. E-mail: mrcumandarin@gmail.com. Daily 06:00 to 22:00.

Hue is well-supplied with banks and ATMs. Several 24-hour machines are located at the Vietcom Bank, 78 Hung Vuong. They cash travellers checks at US$4 per transaction commission to receive VND. The Incom Bank on Hung Vuong has a US$2 minimum commission per transaction and offer Western Union services. Sacom Bank has a branch near the Citadel that provides card transfers and cashes travellers checks at 4% commission along with an ATM outside. All the major hotels seem to have an ATM – but only the HSBC ATMs have a withdrawal limit exceeding 2 million VND. You can do multiple withdrawals at a time but this does rack up bank fees back home (unless you have a travel card).

HSBC (ATM only) 25 Hai Ba Trung St, 91 Tran Hung Dao St.
Sacom Bank: 126 Nguyen Hue, Hue T: (054) 383 4979.
Vietcom Bank: 78 Hung Vuong, Hue. T: (054) 381 1900. Open Mon-Fri 07:00-11:30, 13:30-20:00, Sat 08:00-11:30.

Free WiFi is available just about everywhere and even the cheapest guesthouses offer free use of an in-house computer as well as WiFi throughout the building, although coverage can be patchy at times. If you are looking for a speedy connection, the local internet gaming cafes dotted all over town are the way to go, charging 5,000 to 10,000 VND an hour -- probably not the best places though to Skype home from if you want to hear anything above the racket.

One-month tourist visas can be extended for an additional month for about US$25 at most guesthouses and hotels. The service takes a couple of days so if you are planning on moving on it might be best to find out how easily it can be done in your next destination and to take copies (or photos) of your old visa and passport in case of any delays – your passport can easily be sent to your new hotel, but you'll not be able to check in without those copies!

Post Office: 14B Ly Thuong Kiet St, Hue T: (054) 382 3496

If you are going to need a doctor anywhere in Vietnam, Hue is quite a good place to find one. The international hospital on Le Loi is the third largest in the country and offers Western standard treatments and staff who speak a number of languages. They also accept payment through credit cards (one of the few businesses that do) and health insurance companies.

Hue Central Hospital: 16 Le Loi St, Hue. T: (054) 382 2325

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