The decadent city of Hue is a must visit on any trip to idyllic Vietnam. The UNESCO World Heritage City sits along the romantically named Perfume River, a few kilometers from the sea, flanked by the Annaminte mountain range. The mystical city was the former Imperial Capital during the Nguyen Dynasty (1802–1945) and in that time extravagant tombs were built for the dynasty’s Emperors. These mystical complexes are a must visit whilst in Hue and in our latest blog post we give an overview of our favorite mausoleums, and as usual give some insider Backyard Travel tips.
Khai Dinh’s Tomb
The 12th Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, Khai Dinh, only ruled for nine-years and in anticipation of his own death, ordered the construction of this impressive tomb. Funded by a 30% hike in takes for Hue’s residents, his tomb took 11 years to construct, longer in fact that his actual reign. Whilst being one of the smaller Hue tombs, it is certainly one of the more elaborate and Khai Dinh sent ships to Japan and China to bring back the stained glass he desired. He even travelled to France himself to buy the cement, tiles and steel to construct the mausoleum. The European influences in the design are obvious (unique amongst the tombs of Hue) and Khai Dinh’s close relationship with the disliked French Government, did not help his own popularity amongst the locals during, and post, his reign.
Not to miss: Look out for the dragons that have been carved into the railings alongside the 37 steps after crossing the gateway that leads up to the imperial tomb. These dragons are the largest of their kind in Vietnam.
Minh Mang’s Tomb
Minh Mang’s tomb, set 10km outside of the city on Cam Ke Hill, is arguably the most beautiful of all Hue’s tombs and therefore it’s not surprising that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Minh Mang was the second emperor of Vietnam’s Nguyễn Dynasty and reigned from 1820 to 1841. Like Khai Dinh’s Tomb, construction started before his death, with tens of thousands of soldiers and workers involved in the building process. Minh Mang was a popular emperor, partly down to the fact that he was wary of the French, restricting trade with them to instead focusing on developing Vietnam’s infrastructure through the building of roads and the setting up of a postal service.
The tomb is located on the west bank of the Perfume River amongst an exceptionally tranquil setting of ponds and gardens. There are 40 different buildings (pagodas, temples, palaces and pavilions) within the impressive complex and highlights include the three doored Dai Hong Mon Gate and the Imperial Minh Mang tomb that is reached via a narrow bridge across a beautiful lake of lotus flowers.
Backyard Travel Insiders Tip: The most scenic, and often quickest, way of getting to Minh Mang’s Tomb from the center of Hue is to travel the 10km or so by bicycle, along the banks of the Perfume River. This can be combined with a visit to the beautiful Thien Mu Pagoda, also on the banks of same said river, en-route to Minh Mang’s tomb.
Tu Duc’s Tomb
At 35 years, Emperor Tu Duc enjoyed the longest reign of any monarch in the Nguyen Dynasty. Ruling between 1848 and 1883, the emperor had over 100 wives but despite this never had any offspring, believed to be due to the fact that he contracted smallpox as a young man. Situated about 5km south of Hue on Van Nien Hill, the Tu Duc Tomb is one of the most popular to visit and it’s hard not to see why with the attractive pagodas and pavilions, built to honor his reign, all surrounded by pine trees, frangipani and large lotus ponds. Look out for the beautiful courtyard full of stone horses, and elephants and also the large stele pavilion dedicated to Tu Duc’s exploits as an emperor.
Legend has it that although Tu Duc used the tomb as his palace, his actual remains were buried elsewhere in Hue. So that the secrecy of the location of the burial was maintained, the 200 or so workers that were involved in the burial were all beheaded, as to ensure the location of the actual burial would never be revealed!
Not to miss: Pay a visit to the nearby Hieu Pagoda, built to dedicate the Nguyen Dynasty’s eunuch servants. Once the home of revered Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, Hieu Pagoda is Located in a pine forest. The domed pagoda was built in the shape of the Chinese character “Khau” (meaning mouth) and sits in front of an attractive lotus lake.
Gia Long’s Tomb
Gia Long Tomb is one of the least visited in Hue hence why we like it so much. This seems surprising considering the fact the Gia Long was not only the founder of the Nguyen dynasty, and unified modern day Vietnam in 1802, but also at the time, built the imperial city of Hue as the new capital. The construction of this tomb set the precedence for other emperors to build their own extravagant monuments, and the fact that it’s some 18km outside of Hue, explains the lack of visitors. Whilst the tomb is showing its age (due to damage endured during the Vietnam War and a lack of funding from the Government), the sprawling site is well worth a visit, partly due to its picturesque setting in the hills surrounding Hue and that it is reached via a scenic boat trip down the Perfume River. Despite many buildings at this serene site being destroyed during the Vietnam War, Gia Long’s sarcophagus remains to do this day, along with a large number of tombs for the King’s family and relatives.
Not to miss: Gia Long’s tranquil Tomb can be visited on a day’s bicycle tour from Hue City along mostly flat roads. The tip passes through some stunning scenery with local village visits included in the program.
If you would like to experience the Hue Tomb or any other destination in Vietnam, do get in touch with one of our local Travel Specialists based in our offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, who will be happy to tell you more about the region and any of our unique insider tours to this wonderful country.