Hue is commonly known for its imperial heritage. It should come as no surprise since this city was the center of Nguyen Dynasty’s reign. The emperors built their own palaces for when they lived, and their tombs for when they passed away. And this is where Emperor Khai Dinh rests.
Khai Dinh was no ordinary emperor, and the Tomb of Khai Dinh is no ordinary tomb. In this article, I share my experience exploring this architectural gem of Vietnam.
Who was Khải Định?
What is most distinctive about Emperor Khai Dinh is the influence of the French colonial regime on him. In early 20th century, there were independence movements against the French in Vietnam. But Khai Dinh stood up against the natives, choosing the French side instead. So, the regime exiled the other emperors and enthroned him as the rightful emperor.
The French influence reflects on his tomb’s architectural design as well. Compared to other emperors, Khai Dinh’s royal items, from clothing to furniture, mostly came from or were made in the French design.
Entering the Tomb
The Tomb of Khai Dinh is actually located just outside the city of Hue. It is on the Chau Chu Mountain, right on a steep hill surrounded by forests. It is easy to find by following directions on Google Maps. Like other tourism sites in Vietnam, I recommend you to rent a bike and drive here. However, if you don’t really know how to drive, please consider renting a taxi instead.
Parking fee for a motorbike is 5,000 VND (approximately 0.2 USD). They will give you a numbered card and write the same number on your bike. It is better to pay the parking fee when you leave the site to avoid confusion on whether or not you have paid for it. Keep in mind that most people in Vietnam don’t speak English.
Buying a ticket is necessary before you enter the tomb. The ticket booth is located right by the road. The entrance fee is 100,000 VND (approximately 4.3 USD) per person.
Before entering, here are some things to consider. Tomb of Khai Dinh, like most tombs, shrines, temples, and other places of worship, is considered a holy place. So, there are rules visitors are expected to obey while entering this area. First is the clothing. Wear something appropriate, covering your shoulders, knees, and chest. Taking photos is allowed only with the flash off. When indoor, please take off your hat and keep quiet.
What is inside the Tomb of Khai Dinh?
Since the complex is located on a hill, you need to walk up the staircases to get there. It’s quite high, so make sure you have your comfortable footwear on. Right at the top of the stairs, there is an entrance gate to the frontcourt, as you can see in the picture above. Like most tourist sites in Hue, you use the ticket you purchase earlier to get through the gate manually. From this frontcourt, there are more staircases to get to the courtyard. Then from there, there are even more staircases to get to the main building, but that’s about it.
Yes, the tomb of Khai Dinh is rather small compared to other emperor’s tombs. It may seem like there’s not much to explore. However, its location and beautiful design make it as worth to visit.
The Emperor's courtyard
If you ask me the thing I love the most about visiting these Vietnamese emperor’s tombs, is the courtyard. With all the statues of elephants, horses, and mandarins standing in line so neatly, the courtyard takes me back to the imperial era. The experience is better than reflected in the pictures if you are present there. Yes, that is how things were back then. During some royal ceremonies, they would line up on the courtyard. Elephants didn’t just stand in line neatly in front of the king, but they were also taught to kneel. Impressed yet?
The grand architecture
As mentioned before, the architectural design of the Tomb of Khai Dinh is a mix of Vietnamese and French influences, an amalgamation of Eastern and Western styles. Everything from the construction to the smallest details was carefully placed and worked on by hand. The outdoor area may appear dark and gloomy, but wait until you get inside, it’s all so colorful from the floor to the ceiling!
The Emperor's final resting place
The main building, called the Khai Dinh palace, is divided into two main chambers with two small chambers at its side, housing royal items used during his reign. In the front chamber, there’s a shrine with his picture. The rear chamber is a temple with his grave.
Unlike Tu Duc whose real tomb’s whereabouts are unknown, Khai Dinh is actually buried here. The sign next to this grandeur grave says “The place of the Emperor’s remains, with his bronze statue above, cast in France in 1920.” It is surrounded by beautiful walls decorated with colorful porcelains and marbles. What amazed me the most is the nine dragons on the ceiling.
Exiting the area
The whole area of Tomb of Khai Dinh is basically accessed by going up and down the staircases, from one area to another, the same route up and down. During the rainy season, these staircases can be a little slippery, so please watch your steps. There are two staircase paths: on the left and the right side. As the entrance gate is located on the right side, it is better to go up from this side and go down through another. The exit gate is located in the same area as the entrance gate. Keep in mind that once you exit, you cannot re-enter without getting a new ticket.
A rather small palace, yet so magnificent
Because of my limited time in Hue, I could only visit two of the emperor’s tombs, Tu Duc and Khai Dinh. I chose Khai Dinh simply because its architectural design is unlike the others. During my pre-traveling research, it caught my attention right away. If you can, I would recommend visiting the other tombs as well. But if you could only choose a few, make sure this tomb is on the list!
Read my story on Tomb of Tu Duc here: Explore The Majestic Tomb Of Tu Duc, Vietnamese Emperor
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