Summer in central South East (western north middle up) Asia is, in a word, hot. Move away from the coast and it gets even hotter. Enter Hue (pronounced hway). To get to Hue from Hanoi we took the overnight train, which, while not quite as fancy as the train to Sapa, was confortable enough and a longer trip (14 hours) meant a ‘proper’ nights sleep.
Hue served as the capital of Vietnam from 18-something to something-something and is full of old. It’s also full of tourists, which means it’s full of touts and hawkers. The touts and hawkers in Hue are of an entirely different breed to what we have experienced in Vietnam. ‘No thank you’ doesn’t mean anything, ‘I already have’ means ‘I want a second one’, ‘Please go away’ means ‘follow me a little longer and I might change my mind’, and ‘Just f**k off’ means ‘I’ll take two at the higher price thanks’ (in all honesty, we only played this last one out in our minds. Only Americans are that rude).
Not only are the touts and hawkers on another level but so is the driving. During our travels we have ridden scooters and bikes in different places, including other parts of Vietnam and only in Hue has it been truly terrifying. While it’s quite common in Asia for a red light to be a suggestion, Hue drivers see them more as an inconvenience to be ignored, kind of like pedestrians or other motorists. So you have everyone doing whatever they want wherever they want and no one is looking, or slowing down just in case. It’s a very reactionary way of driving.
If you can look past the hawkers, the heat and the suicidal driving, you will find lots of history and culture and old buildings to match. You might even find an elephant or two randomly chilling in a field (turns out said elephant will get annoyed and rear at you if you are a group of Japanese tourists and get too close. One has to assume it has something to do with the group and or proximity rather than the Japanese-ness). My advice is to not do a tour, but to take yourself to the sites as they are easy enough to find and the information you get on your own is all the information you will get, tour or not.