Everyone in Hue, it seems, peddles variants of an eight-hour day tour to various tombs and pagodas down the Perfume River. Here’s a breakdown on the ways you can do it.

  • Widely available BUDGET BOAT TOURS are about US$2 including lunch. Yes, it’s cheap, but it’s not really the best way to go. These tours go from 8am to 4pm or so, include a lunch and see Thien Mu pagoda, Tu Duc’s tomb (just 45 minutes), an incense and conical hat village, the riverside Hon Chen pagoda (which can only be visited by boat; it’s not crucial to see), Khai Dinh’s tomb and Minh Mang’s tomb. The catch is you have to pay an extra US$2 or so for a motorbike taxi to reach Tu Duc’s and Khai Dinh’s tomb, which aren’t at the riverside. And you’ll have to pay the quite high admission prices at all as well.
  • Some Hue agencies, however, offer BUS-AND-BOAT TOURS (about US$7) that save you motorbike taxi expenses and get you a little more time at some tombs. Typically these tours include lunch (but not admission) and go to Minh Mang’s Tomb, Khai Dinh’s Tomb, Tu Duc’s Tomb (each 45 minutes), plus a village that makes incense and conical hats, Hue’s Citadel (90 minutes) and Thien Mu pagoda (30 minutes). The 45 minutes at each of the tombs is still a bit too quick. Mandarin Café (see Basics/Travel Agencies) offers this trip.
  • High-end agent Exotissimo (in La Residence hotel) books HIGH-END BOAT/CAR TRIPS that go to Thien Mu Pagoda by boat, then visit Minh Mang, Khai Dinh and Tu Duc tombs by car and finish at the Imperial City in Hue. Prices include guide, entrance and meals. It’s US$70 per person if two people go, US$55 per person if four go.
  • You can also go on your own, and stay longer if you like at the tombs, by HIRING A PRIVATE BOAT – via your guesthouse or along the boat wharf (just north of the Trang Tien Bridge, at Le Loi St). It’s about US$9 to US$12 for the day, though wharf offers may start at a ridiculous US$5 per hour. The ride is not necessarily stress-free though, as your drivers will continually peddle souvenirs, beer, water and meals along the way; generally it’s not a bad idea to take them up on an excellent fresh fish meal they prepare in the back of the boat (it’s about US$4 or US$5 – more expensive than a restaurant, no doubt). Arrange ahead to take a bicycle or three on the boat and ride to Tu Duc and Khai Dinh on your own.
  • The easiest (and my favorite) way to tomb-hop is going BY MOTORBIKE. Some agencies – such as Stop & Go Café and Café on Thu Wheels (see Basics/Travel Agencies) offer motorbike tours of the area – or you can go on your own. The Hwy 1 bypass road crosses the Perfume River about 12km south of Hue, near Minh Mang’s Tomb, so you could theoretically see Tu Duc, Khai Dinh (and other sites) south from Hue, then cross the Perfume to see Minh Mang’s tomb and return to Hue on the opposite side of the river, stopping at Thien Mu pagoda. The only place you can’t go that boat tours access is Hon Chen pagoda. Rental motorbikes are about 50,000D to 80,000D per day (US$3.25 to US$5).

Detailed road maps of the area are sadly not available in Hue, but all travel agents – and most guesthouses and hotels – hand-out barebone area maps that list the tombs listed here, and a few others like Gia Long’s Tomb.