The ordinary 6-foot (1.82 meters) deep grave is nothing compared to this Emperor’s tomb. This is by far, the largest and grandest tomb I have ever visited in my entire life. The Tomb of Tu Duc offers not just great sightseeing, but also a journey back to the history of Nguyen Dynasty of Vietnam.
The exact size of the Tomb of Tu Duc is not stated officially, but based on my personal assessment, it stands on a one-square-mile area, at least. This undocumented fact is probably one of the effects of the people’s protest towards the construction of this tomb in 1864-1867 among many other reasons. And to spice up to the controversy, for some reason Tu Duc himself is not buried in this area. The 200 workers who constructed and buried the king in his real tomb were all beheaded, killed to keep the exact location a secret.
Don’t worry about having to keep this tomb’s location a secret, though. This area is open to the public and tourists are encouraged to spend hours exploring this area. Now, let’s begin our digital pre-exploration!
Who was Tự Đức?
Conflicts and suppressions colored Tu Duc’s reign of power from 1847 to 1883. A silent witness of that era can be seen here at Tomb of Tu Duc. Inside this complex, there is a large house where his wives and concubines used to live. How many did he have? More than a hundred! Despite, he remained childless. He had to adopt a son as the successor to his throne.
This house of concubines is now empty with dusty corners, but its construction remains intact. Its front yard is mostly just ruins, due to bombings during the Vietnam War. Walking through these ruins took me back to another dimension, a piece of 1960 inside the imperial site.
My first impression of the Tomb of Tu Duc
One thing you should know, each emperor of Vietnamese dynasty has his own tomb. It is believed that each tomb represents the emperor’s traits and how things were during his reign. The picture above is the first thing you will see as you enter the complex: the magnificent pond with pavilion and man-made islet. So, expect to be awed by the construction and architectural design of the Tomb of Tu Duc.
This pond is placed right in the center in front of the complex, dividing some temple and tomb areas. You can go around this pond. Because the entrance is slightly to the left, it is better to explore the area on the left side of this pond first. Oh yes, the only way to access and explore the whole tomb’s area is by foot, so, make sure you wear comfy footwear and bring an umbrella in case of heat or rainfall.
What is inside this vast area?
Basically, the tomb is divided into two areas: the tombs and the temples. The main temple, as you can see on the picture above, is like a museum where you can see artifacts, photos, and paintings from the emperor’s era, including the throne he used to sit in. Keep in mind that when you enter holy sites like temples in Vietnam, there are certain rules you must follow. The sign can be seen right beside the entrance. Some temples, like this one, allow photography with the flash off but some others don’t allow it at all. Besides, you should dress properly, covering your knees, shoulders, and chest. The officers guarding the temples will not reprimand if you don’t follow the rules, but please follow the rules anyway as this is a big deal in this part of the world.
The king of poets
The overall design of the Tomb of Tu Duc screams arts. The panoramic views here are poetic. That sounds about right, considering Tu Duc himself was known for his poetry. This picture was taken right on the steps up towards Tu Duc’s symbolic tomb. Inside that grand, gate-like pavilion stands a big stone carved with ancient poetry. The statues of mandarins standing at the courtyard, aligned with a horse and an elephant all carved from stones, represent ceremonies they used to have back in the days. I suggest you come here after 3:00 pm to avoid the heat and to get the best lighting for your photos with the setting sun.
The symbolic tomb of Tu Duc
From the poetry pavilion, just keep walking, passing two tall towers acting as the grand entrance gate towards the emperor’s resting place to get to the (symbolic) Tomb of Tu Duc. A big man-made pond sits right between them and the main tomb complex. Take a moment to enjoy the view as you walk around the pond!
There is only one way in and out of this big tomb. In fact, it is sort of hidden behind a big beautiful marble wall. Right in the middle of it, there’s a platform and a big metal pot where incenses burn. This is how Vietnamese pray for the departed. Usually, it is just a small metal pot, a bowl, if you will. But for the king, only a bigger, more grandeur pot will work. If you’d like to pray and pay a respect to the emperor this way, please ask the guards at the ticket entrance. However, keep in mind that this is a sacred thing and they may not allow you, depending on the day and time.
How to get there?
Tomb of Tu Duc opens daily from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm with a 2-hour lunch break at noon. The ticket for domestic and international tourist is sold at the same price: 100,000 VND (approximately 4.30 USD). The location is quite easy to find and accessible from wherever you are in the Hue area. Google Maps pretty much covers it. You may not see any signs leading to this site, but as you exit the highway, just follow the main road and it will lead you there.
They don’t have any official parking area but there are plenty of locals offering you free parking service in exchange for purchasing food or beverages they sell. I paid 20,000 VND (approximately 0.80 USD) for one bottle of iced tea. Considering they kept my motorbike safe and covered for about two hours I spent at the tomb, it was a good deal.
Where arts meet natural beauty!
That is exactly what the Tomb of Tu Duc is all about. It is nothing like a tedious history museum we often find downtown. You can spend the whole day in this area, exploring and examining everything from the artifacts to the ruins. If that’s what you’re planning to do, come early in the morning! Don’t worry about getting hungry because there are canteens and shops inside the tomb area. Just keep in mind that they close down not long after lunchtime.
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