What do you do in the ancient imperial capital of Hue after having visited the citadel, royal palaces, tombs and other tourist sites? Actually, the central city offers you more than you’d expect, particularly after dark.
In the late afternoon, many tourists like to stroll along Song Huong, the Perfume River, that flows through Hue. They enjoy the romantic scenery of the river, hills, Thien Mu Pagoda and boats slowly going up- or downstream.
Spanning the river is Trang Tien Bridge, which has come to symbolize the former imperial capital and inspired many poets and musicians. It also forms the backdrop for numerous music clips and films.
Colored lights adorn the old bridge, attracting tourists to come to take photos at night. Not far from the 400-meter-long, 6.2-meter-wide bridge are boats lining up on the river’s southern bank for you to get onboard.
Instead of a night cruise, music performances are on for one and a half hours. The show only starts after an audience has gathered and been rowed to somewhere in the middle of the river, near the old ironwood bridge.
Men and women in traditional Hue costumes recite poems, sing modern and folk songs and explain the stories to that the songs refer. During the interval, the artists light colored paper lanterns and let the audience release those on the water, together with a wish.
Though it is uncertain whether the wish will really come true, it is great to see the shining lanterns flow downstream. People in the many other boats drop their lanterns more or less at the same time, creating a splendid pattern of bright dots on the dark, smooth water surface.
Souvenirs and Hue specialties are also sold before the second part of the show begins. In addition, you can buy roses to present to the performers with a tip after a song.
When the show ends at around 8:30 p.m., the spectators can take photos with the artists before the boat goes back to the bank for tourists to continue discovering the city at night.
They can go along the riverside street Le Loi, stopping by a restaurant to try bun bo (beef noodle soup), banh canh cua (rice noodle soup with crab meat and sliced shrimp) and other Hue specialties.
Hue has earned a reputation for its wide selection of banh (pancake-type dough). There is banh nam (ground shrimp and pork steamed with rice flour and wrapped in banana leaves), banh khoai (rice pancake dried with bean sprouts and pork) and banh bo (steamed rice pancake).
Vendors also set up foldable tables and plastic chairs here and there on the pavement of Le Loi Street at night to sell snails steamed with citronella and chili slices. It is safe and delicious to taste one or two dishes with beer while watching what’s happening on the river and the street. A plate of hot snails costs VND3,000 to VND5,000.
After the snack, you can keep strolling along the city’s main streets. An even better idea is to hop on a cyclo to tour Hue, which is more quiet at night than Ho Chi Minh City. The cyclo driver can take you slowly across the Trang Tien Bridge to the northern bank of Hue and then back to the southern bank via the concrete bridge Phu Xuan.
The route continues past lit old buildings on Le Loi and Nguyen Hue streets and past bars on Hung Vuong Street. Many backpackers who stay in the nearby cheap hotels gather at the bars.
The cyclo tour takes in any spots that you want to see so do not hesitate to tell your driver where you want to go or ask for advice.
A cyclo ride costs some VND30,000 per hour, and a cyclo can carry two people at a time. Remember to bargain before you hop on.
Many cyclo drivers wait along the Huong River and in front of hotels. Tourists can ask at their hotels to arrange a tour to make sure that they get a driver who can speak English and French. The drivers often turn into impromptu travel guides with much useful information about Hue.
In the end, the night passes faster than you’d think. And the next morning, you have to get up early again to visit more sights or continue your trip. But who needs sleep when there’s so much to do!