Royal Tomb Hopping in Hue, Vietnam

The day after visiting the Imperial City enclosure, I was going to be hopping around the resting places of the Emperors who reigned it. And these were the kind of resting places I had never seen before. Of course, it was nothing like the cramped Victorian cemeteries in London – but that is to be expected when talking about the resting place of Royals – yet even the fanciest I had seen had been the Mausuleums in Istanbul for the Sultan and his family. As with any mausoleum I have been used to seeing, these were small pavilions. In Portugal, the resting place of Kings and Queens can be found under the cold marble of Churches. But in Vietnam, it takes a village. The Mausoleums are not just a single building, a monument, no, nothing like that – enormous, and in some instances whole citadels for the dead. Located in the peaceful hills of Hue, surrounded by nature, I was split between thinking what a waste of space in one moment, to be in complete awe the other.

The mausoleums are outside of Hue – which makes a lot of sense when you look at its dimension. So either you have a car or a scooter to get there, you have to hire a driver. I went with the last option. The hotel organised it for me, so at 9am I was ready to go on my little tomb adventure. It was a hot day though, much hotter than it should be for this kind of activity, but hey ho – the driver kept offering me water, so I was hydrated for the whole journey.

Khai Dinh Tomb

My first stop was in Khai Dinh Tomb the most different from all of the others. In comparison, there is little colour and instead of blending with nature as the others, it sits on a hill, with a splendid view. The architecture is also a lot more intricate than the others, and I kept thinking this was Easterner Rococo.

Whilst the outside is colourless, as mostly white concrete was used for the facades, the inside is a complete contrast and likely where the most money was spent – walls and sculptures are covered in opulent mosaics and murals. It is beautiful indeed, but the opulence can be dizzying as you look around trying to identify every symbol and image in the interiors of the tomb.

Khai Dinh was known for being eccentric and unusual and this complex reflects his nature very well. He certainly didn’t enjoy much popularity. He embraced French colonialism and was known to enjoy imported luxuries. The money he spent on this tomb only deteriorated his reputation – the opulence comes with costs, and those costs were put on the shoulders of the people who were heavily taxed to allow the construction of the tomb.

The tomb took 11 years to complete – from 1920 to 1931.

Minh Mang Tomb

This was my favourite. I was enchanted with how nicely it blended with nature, with the perfect symmetry between the pavillions, and the beautiful lakes full of life. It is clearly heavily influenced by Chinese architecture and Confucianism, and I suppose this is why I was so taken by it. I learned during my time in Vietnam that Chinese-style gardens have a calming effect on me.

Minh Mang’s Royal tomb is a reflection of his reigning policy – traditionalist, crushing rebellions, and resisting the European threat. The Emperor did not live to see his tomb completed. He died in 1840 but his body was only laid to rest here in 1843 when his son got his tomb to be completed for him

Tu Duc Tomb

Considered to be the most picturesque, Tu Duc’s tomb reflects his love for art and poetry, and yet there is something tragic in the beauty of his resting place when you learn about his life and specifically when you find the stele he had to write himself – he had no son to do it for him. There is an English translation and it’s quite strange to see him admitting to his many errors as an Emperor, but it seems he was most troubled by the failure of providing the Empire with a son – he reigned the longest among the Nguyens, with 35 years on the throne, yet he died childless. It is thought that smallpox made him infertile and that this is the reason why he moved his household to this tomb.

Tu Duc was a witness to the influence of French colonialism and the consequent weakening of Vietnam. Somehow knowing this was a losing battle, he instead focused on building and enjoying his own tomb – not a very patriotic move, especially considering how the costs of this place were, as usual, put on the shoulders of the people.

It is said that while Tud Duc lived in his own tomb, his actual remains are not here and he was buried in a different and secret location in Hue. Moreover, to keep the secret safe, all the 200 people involved in burying the king were beheaded. The cruelty committed to protecting the secret of someone already dead is baffling.

There are many other imperial tombs to visit around Hue – I believe at least seven are listed as a must-visit. I definitely did not expect to spend so much time in each one of them, so it’s important you take your time and have at least half a day for these three (that’s how long it took me).

Love, Nic


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