Hue Imperial Citadel, The Combination Ticket, and How to Avoid Being Scammed

On our first day in Hue, at around 5 in the afternoon, we stepped inside the gates of the Imperial Citadel. A rickshaw driver, in uniform approached us, offered us a deal of 300,000VND (676PhP) for a tour of the citadel and surrounding royal tombs. It was our first day and it was a tempting offer but I thought it was a too-good-to-be-true offer especially because we already learned ahead that the citadel ticket costs at least 150,000VND (338PhP) per person.

Entrance to the Imperial Citadel and the Combination Ticket

The inner gate to the Citadel.

We said no politely, bought some chocolate kem (ice cream) and walked to the ticketing office to buy some tickets. Indeed, the one-day ticket for the Citadel costs 150,000VND per person BUT the citadel closes at 5:30 p.m., and last entry is 5:00 p.m., unless there are special night events. That day, there were no night events and the ticketing ladies won’t issue tickets for us anymore because they advised that we cannot thoroughly tour around the citadel for only 30 minutes.

As a cheaper alternative to the 150,000VND ticket, they also offer a combination ticket worth 360,000VND (811PhP) per person. This combination ticket will give you access to the citadel and three royal tombs within 48 hours. The 48 hours though starts counting on the day you bought the ticket, and the first 24 hours will end at 11:59 P.M. that day, so if we bought the combination ticket that Monday at 5p.m., the ticket will expire at the closing time of the attractions the next day. Royal tombs also close at 5:30 P.M.

Around the Citadel

We visited the Imperial Citadel on our last full day in Hue. I thought it was a kind of awkward scheduling since we already visited the royal tombs two days before (read about that part HERE). I think the best, logical, and most recommended schedule would be to visit the Imperial Citadel first and the royal tombs the following day. Just note that the tombs are NOT near, NOT walking distance, the citadel, which means you need to hire transportation to get you from the citadel to the tombs. There are many tour operators all over Hue and in the nearby cities of Da Nang and Hoi An that offer a one day tour of both the citadel and the tombs. You can save when you do this but time at each site would be limited. It shouldn’t be very difficult to do a tour of both the citadel and the tombs independently. You just have to make a reasonable deal with a taxi or car driver.

Back to the citadel. It is a huge complex, consisting of about 147 different structures, most of which have been razed to the ground during the Vietnam War. The city of Hue suffered substantial damages because of that war because it is near the DMZ. The imperial citadel was also a symbolism of the monarchial form of government, which communist Vietnam was fighting against. There are many renovations and renovations going on but many buildings are already almost completely restored. The biggest fully restored building is the throne hall — no pictures allowed — but the sturdy wood columns and the glittering throne are there.

Most Beautiful Part, at the Northwest

The most beautiful part of the Citadel for me was the Truong Sanh gardens built in 1822 as a recreational space for the queen, at the northwest portion of the complex. Here the structures were fully restored and painted in accordance with the original colors. The garden area is small compared to the queen’s living quarters but the colors here were vibrant, so vibrant in fact that two women were creating watercolor renditions of the garden. Next to the Truong Sanh gardens is the Dien Tho Residencial complex, where the queen mother or the emperor’s grandmother lived. This complex was also well restored

After walking from the south to the north gates through the middle of the complex, and rounding the whole east side, entering into two of the complexes there, one of which was the garden, and second of which was the queen’s quarters — which was amazingly intact, we crossed to the west side and exited. We were planning to go around the west side, but we have drained two bottles of water already, and I was aching for some mid-day perk-me-up coffee.

At the west gate, there were many cyclo drivers waiting for tourists, and I was reminded of what happened the Monday before.

How to Avoid Getting Scammed in Hue

Scams should not be a “norm” when traveling. I do not believe in the principle behind scamming people — the few extra dollars you earned through your scam will not make your life better. In fact, it’s the opposite. One act of scamming at a certain place will tarnish the good reputation of the many other people making an honest living. It will turn travelers off, resulting to less income not just for you, the scammer, but for the whole community. If you are a tourism service provider, please do not scam. If you are a traveler, please do not let people scam you.

Having said all that, here are some of my tips on how to avoid being scammed in Hue:

1. Read up facts about the city. While travel blogs, like this one, are insightful, they often leave out the facts and relay only the feelings and experiences. Hue is a small city, compared to Hanoi and Saigon, but it has an airport and a train station, and can be reached easily by private car or taxi from Da Nang or Hoi An. We reached Hue by train. Read our 32-hour journey aboard Vietnam’s Reunification Express here. Getting around Hue is easy. I prefer to walk because the to me everything was walking distance and the streets are tree lined with wide sidewalks. The royal tombs though are not walking distance from the citadel. So a separate transportation is needed or a separate tour is needed. We booked a day tour for the royal tombs that also included stopovers at the An Hien Garden, the Thien Mu Pagoda, and the Hon Chen Temple.

2. Don’t expect the Vietnamese people to speak your language, even if they do advertise foreign language-speaking guides. The Vietnamese defeated the Americans and all other American allies, why do we expect them to speak fluent English when they drove away foreign invaders? Manage your expectations when it comes to having a meaningful conversation with the Vietnamese people using English as your language. BUT, don’t let this deter you from making meaningful conversations with the Vietnamese especially the tour guide and the people involved in the tour. They will help you.

3. Read up facts about Hue, the imperial citadel, and the rest of the cultural complexes. Because of tip No. 2, it’s best to do your own research about Hue and its cultural significance. The citadel was an English brochure but that would prove scant considering the fact that the city is truly rich in culture (and arts, architecture, etc.). At the royal tombs and temples, there were no brochures and very few written signage in English so you will have to be resourceful. Ask your guide, and take your time around the complexes.

4. Book tours through reliable tour agencies. The truth is, I don’t know really know how to determine whether tour agencies are legit or not, reliable or not. But these are the things I ask for: 1. receipt, 2. contact number of the person who made the booking, 3. contact number of the tour operator because oftentimes the booking agent and the tour operator are not the same, and 4. location of the tour agency/office.

5. If the deal is too-good-to-be-true, then it must be not good. If you read my writings above (and other blogs about Hue) you will have a good idea of how much to spend in Hue. If the deals you get from your lodging host, or the cyclo driver, or anybody are too low, then it must be not good.

All in all, Hue is a beautiful city and we loved it there. We enjoyed our time there and we loved all the people we’ve interacted, including the tour guides. They were very generous, accommodating, warm, and downright friendly, and all making a good and honest living.

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