Stairs leading towards the Khiem Cung Gate
Still part of Hue’s UNESCO sites are the numerous Royal Tombs scattered along its area. Most of these are form the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) which is the last of Vietnam’s Royal families. There were 13 kings then but for some reasons there were only 7 royal tombs constructed on the hilly regions just south of the Imperial Citadel. In order to access to these tombs, you can hire a scooter or a motorcycle to drive you in each tomb, most popular though are the Dragon Boats which will cruise you along the Perfume River. Dragon boats, which are the leisurely way to travel, cost about $3 USD per pax for a whole day including lunch. Downside here is once you docked on different points; you still have to hire a xe om (scooter) to take you to the tombs since. And you know you have to haggle for a really good price and a good price starts around $1 USD and in addition to that is the 55000 Dong in each of the tomb entrance. It takes a couple of days to see all the tombs. For us however, having only limited time, we were able to visit two tombs, via motorcycle (which we contracted for the duration of our trip). Our first stop it the Tomb of Tu Duc in Hue.
Lily covered lake and Xung Khiem pavillion
The first tomb we visited is the Tomb of Tu Duc the emperor who enjoyed the longest reign during the Nguyen Dynasty. It’s just interesting to visit a dead man’s grave as an attraction since for us Filipino’s, talks of death or choosing maybe a coffin design would be a taboo. But for these emperors, these Royal Tombs are made and designed before they even died. And each of these Royal Tombs is designed with the unique characters of the Emperors in mind.
Du Khiem Pavillion and Khiem Cung Gate
From entering the gate of the tomb, we were greeted by a picturesque lake covered in blossoming lilies and a view of a Pavillion across it. Since Emperor Tú Ðúc is well versed in eastern philosophy, history and literature, he spent some of his time in the Xung Khiem Pavilion composing poetry.
Chap Khiem temple behind the trees
On our left from the entrance beside the lake are a tier of stairs leading to a complex of palaces where the Emperor spends his time resting, worshipping, watching theaters and even reading. The emperor was known to have many wives as well where he would take them here for a retreat after boating or fishing on the nearby lake. Despite having numerous concubines though he only left one son after becoming sterile due to smallpox.
Empress Le Thien Anh’s tomb
The emperor is quite a romantic and ordered the construction of his tomb to be likened to a fairy land, inspired by poetry. You could actually see this while walking around the complex as the paths leady you through a grove of high thin trees and temples and other family tombs settled perfectly up on a hill.
The Stela Pavillion and two watch towers
Walking further along the complex on a counter clockwise direction after the Xung Khiem Pavillion, you’ll pass by his son, Emperor Kien Phuc’s Tomb, a small temple, Chap Khiem and then his first wife, Empress Le Thien Anh’s Tomb. Crossing by Luu Khiem Lake on a minature bridge will bring you to the Stela Pavillion with two watch towers beside it. On this stela, considered as the largest in Vietnam, is where he wrote his own epitaph of deeds during his reign.
Tomb Guardians at the Pavillion
Behind the pavilion is considered as Tomb of Tu Duc, which is ironically, very simple in construction. To add to the mystery, despite the time the emperor spent in this grand fairy tale place, his true remains are hidden somewhere in Hue. Some even believed that his remain are buried within the island in the middle of Luu Khiem Lake. To protect this secret, the 200 workers who buried the emperor and returned from a secret route were all beheaded. Even until now, the whereabouts of his remains is uncovered.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.