Royal Tombs

Trip Start May 04, 2004
Trip End May 20, 2004

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Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Cicadas chirpping
Water hyacinths floating
Too damn hot for me

-Donna's Haiku in honor of Emperor Tu Duc

Even the locals are saying it's hot today. We stayed inside most of the morning as I have a cold and couldn't breath and we had no desire to face the oppresive heat. Of course, this meant we were heading out at 11:30, into the worst heat of the day. We bargained a couple of xe om down to 110,000 VND to take us to Emperor Khai Dinh's tomb. The town of Hue itself is not particularly please or nice. Too much communist cubism and too much third world litter and dirt. However, it's a must on any Vietnamese tour as it contains the archeological remains of Vietnam's empire, if ruins less than 200 years old can be refered to as archeological. All of the royal burial complexes are 4 to 16 km out of town.

Khai Dinh ruled from 1916 to 1925, though his tomb was not completed until 1931. After a half hour scooter ride, we entered the above ground complex, heading up a set of stairs flanked by dragon handrails. It was good to get out of the city again and there were good views of the countryside from the elevated complex. At the top was a pavillion inside which was a stele inscribed with the biography of Khai Dinh's life, in what looked to be Chinese characters, of course. Outside the pavillion, stone statues of elephants, horses, warriors, and mandarins stood guard over the tomb. Though built recently, the stone had turned black in many places due to the humidity and heat making it easy to forget the relative recentness of the complex.

Going up more stairs, we came to a building which housed a room that looked like a French salon with tacky Vietnamese decorative ceramics on the wall. Interesting to see how cultures merge. From there, we passed into another room which I believe held the actual tomb of Khai Dinh. It was ornate, but really too dark to see particularly well. There was a large golden statue of the emperor, but the way things were set up, it wasn't possible to see the front. The older man overseeing the complex spoke French and told us some of the history of the emperor's rule.

Back outside the entrance, we negotiated with our drivers, who had been chilling the shade the whole time-smart guys, to take us to Emperor Tu Duc's tomb as well. The xe om rides through the countryside have been one of the highlights of my trip so far. Beautiful views to take in, interesting towns to speed pass. At one point, we saw a big tarp out on the road where rice was being dried. Donna made them stop so we could take a picture (below right).

Emperor Tu Duc ruled from 1848 to 1883 and was unliked by the people because he squandered their money and forced conscription to build his mausoleum. He had 104 concubines but no children. Rumour has it, he became sterile after a bout with the chicken pox. His true burial place is a secret to this day as the 200 servants who buried him were beheaded after their task was complete. Tu Duc's complex was much more Vietnamese with various temples and the tombs of the empress and Tu Duc's successor. Tu Duc's tomb contains a "lake" (more like a pond, above left) which he would float around on warm afternoons as well as a pavillion where he would sit and contemplate the meaning of life and compose haikus. In honor of Tu Duc, Donna composed the haiku at the beginning of this entry. I don't know about most people, but I think I'd be a little freaked out hanging out in my own mausoleum all the time. Of course, from what I know of Emperor Tu Duc now, I would have to say he was a little "special."

Next, we took the motorbikes to a pagoda that's supposed to be to Vietnam what the Eiffel Tour is to France. Too bad it was under renovation and we couldn't see much. Instead, we came back to town and spent the remainder of the afternoon by the pool. We went to the Club Garden restaurant for some real Hue food (not a big fan) and stopped by a mom and daughter hair dresser's on the way back to the hotel where I got my hair cut (they loved my blonde locks) and we both got manicures.
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