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Hue

Orientation

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

The Citadel, the former seat of the Vietnamese government when it was the capital of the country, 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 famed 'Forbidden Purple City' where the emporer and his concubines used to bed down. Most people head straight to the southern bank for accommodation, but there are some good options in and around the Citadel if you're up for something different.

The southern bank has two budget areas -- one is "Side Street 66" off Le Loi Street, which borders the river, between Pham Ngu Lao and Chu Van An. The other is on an alley off Nguyen Tri Phuong, just to the west of, and parallel to Hung Vuong. You won't see either on any map unless you're looking at a guidebook. Luxury accomodation 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 sides of the river are connected by four bridges -- the northern-most bridge is too new to be included on the maps, but it connects Nguyen Gia Thieu in Phu Hau district to the other side. The next is Truong Tien Bridge, with its distinctive ironwork arches, at the north end of Hung Vuong, connecting to Tran Hung Dao on the other side. This is a narrow bridge and can get quite congested, so if you have a choice, use Phu Xuan Bridge which connects Ha Noi to Tran Hung down, just a bit to the west. A fourth bridge, Con Da Vien, named for the island it crosses, is a railroad bridge that goes from the station to the south-west corner of the Citadel. There are two narrow paths intended as footbridges that are now used by cyclists and motorcyclists. The walkways are unforgivingly narrow, so don't even attempt it unless you have mad bike skills (that 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, just head west on Le Loi until it ends. The Southern Bus Terminal (Ben Xe Phia Nam) is best reached by heading south on Hung Vuong, 3 km from Le Loi. For the Northern Terminal (Ben Xe Phia Bac), cross the bridge to Le Duan on the north bank, head west, and take a right on Le Duan, which turns into Highway 1A once it passes the north wall of the Citadel -- the station is about 5 km further on, on the right.

There are at least two decent maps of Hue available at most book stores. 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. Both are available at Nha Sach Hung Vuong. Also, stop by the Mandarin Cafe, at their new address on Tran Cao Van across from the Imperial Hotel, for their 'walking tour' map -- a good activity you can do on your own on the cheap.

Mandarin Cafe: 24 Tran Cao Van, Hue. T: (054) 821 281. E-mail: Mandarin@dng.vnn.vn. Hours: 06:00 to 22:00
Nha Sach Hung Vuong: 34 Hung Vuong, Hue. T: (054) 823 386. Hours: 07:00 to 21:00

Hue is well-supplied with banks and ATMs. There are several 24-hour machines at the Vietcom Bank, on 24 Hung Vuong. They cash travellers checks at no commission to receive dong. The Incom Bank on Hung Vuong has a US$2 minimum commission per transaction, but they are open on Sunday, and offer Western Union services seven days a week. All the major hotels seem to have an ATM -- the one in front of the Hoang Giang Hotel on Le Loi near the Dap Da bridge is conveniently located.

Incom Bank: 12 Hung Vuong, Hue. T: (054) 825 102. Hours: Mon - Fri 07:30 to 19:00, Weekends, 11:30 to 19:00.
Vietcom Bank: 24 Hung Vuong, Hue. T: (054) 827 337, F: (054) 827 338. Hours: Mon-Fri 08:00 to 11:30 and 13:30 to 20:00, Sat: 08:00 to 11:30 and 13:30 to 17:00

Internet is just as cheap in Hue as it is elsewhere in Vietnam -- 3- to 4,000 VND per hour. That doesn't stop Jerrynet on Sidestreet 66 from charging 8,000 an hour. You can find much cheaper connections nearby just by walking around. We found great computers and fast connections at the Thanh Thien 1 Hotel on Nguyen Cong Tru -- at only 5,000 VND per hour, a better deal for the price and worth the walk.

Jerrynet: 66 Le Loi, Hue. Hours: 07:00 to 22:30. 8,000 VND per hour
Thanh Tien 1 Hotel (Internet): 10 Nguyen Cong Tru, Hue. T: (054) 834 666, F: (054) 834 555. Hours: 07:00 to 22:00. 5,000 VND per hour

One-month tourist visa's can be extended for an additional month for about US$22. No use going to immigration -- you need a 'sponsor' to get the visa, which means an outfit in town 'takes responsibility' for you. It's all pro-forma and can be done easily anywhere.

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