Southeast Asia travel · Travel · Vietnam travel

Huế’s imperial tombs

Going back to my Vietnam trip last year, I’ve still got a few places to post about, such as Huế’s imperial tombs.

Huế is famous for being the capital of Vietnam for almost 150 years under the Nguyen Dynasty until 1945. Yet it was during that time when Vietnam slowly became taken over by the French and absorbed into their colonial holdings. Hue was also a main battleground during the Tet Offensive during Vietnam War, which caused a lot of damage including to the Imperial City, the palace of the emperor.

While the Imperial City is probably Huế’s most famous landmark, the imperial tombs are also well-known. I visited three of them on a day tour, along with the Thiên Mụ Pagoda. The tombs were the Minh Mạng, Khải Định, and Tự Đức. The tombs were all located outside the city, amid forest but in clean and impressive compounds. Two of them were in scenic outdoor settings, while one was inside a stone building. The outdoor compounds were really pleasant and featured wide open space, lakes, and forest, and it seemed. The buildings were a bit worn but had a historic and dignified aura befitting the resting place of emperors.

First, the tour went to Thiên Mụ Pagoda. Located on a small hill overlooking the Perfume River (which also runs through the city), the 7-story pagoda is attractive, but the most interesting aspect of it is the car on display on the grounds, which was driven by a monk to Saigon who protested the South Vietnamese government’s policies by burning himself to death. The two photos below show the view of the Perfume River and the pagoda. The photo of the car is far below near the end.

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Minh Mang tomb
This is located in a large, pleasant open-air compound with a lake, temples and pavilions. Minh Mang reigned from 1820 to 1841, and he was known for his opposition to the French and to Christian missionaries. He rebuffed contact from the US and other Western nations, and had an isolationist approach to international relations. However, his rule was regarded as fair and effective.
The actual tomb is located in a crypt protected by walls that visitors can’t pass. There were a series of animal and official statues, that represent guardians which accompany the emperor in the afterlife. This is similar to Chinese imperial tombs, such as the Ming tomb in Nanjing, that also feature spirit ways with statues of animals and officials. The Vietnamese statues are not as numerous, and flank both sides of a wide walkway leading up to a pavilion (see the last photo below for this tomb) whereas the Chinese pathways flanked by statues are narrower and longer.

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Khải Định tomb
This emperor ruled during the 20th century from 1916-1925 so his tomb complex incorporates both Vietnamese and French designs. The interior of the complex is incredibly opulent though in reality he wasn’t a very powerful or notable emperor. Unlike the other two I visited, this tomb is inside one large building overlooking a hill with no gardens or lake.

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Tự Đức tomb
This one had a small attractive lake as well as a pavilion and a broad walkway flanked by animal and imperial official statues. Tu Duc reigned from 1848-1883, quite a long time, but war with the French and internal rebellions weakened his reign to the point that he agreed to give southern Vietnam to the French, from which Vietnam began to lose its sovereignty and become a French possession.

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Car driven by monk Thich Quang Duc to Saigon to protest the government by setting himself on fire and committing suicide.
Woman making incense at a small workshop we stopped by during the tour.


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