March 16 – 23, 2017
So much History … so little time to take it all in! Fortunately, we had Phan Thanh Vinh, the owner and founder of VM Travel, to make sure we saw the highlights of the city without missing out on the vibrant social scene.
The day after we arrived, we met Vinh at a coffee shop (one of literally hundreds in Hue!) about a block from our hotel. He briefed us on VM Travel and the impressive range of services the company offers. He also recommended an itinerary for us which included the Imperial City and two of the Nguyen Dynasty Tombs. We were ready to start exploring but first, a little information on Hue and the Nguyen Dynasty.
Located in Central Vietnam along the banks of the Perfume River, Hue was the capital of Vietnam between 1802 and 1945 under the rule of the Nguyen Dynasty (to pronounce Nguyen just change the Ngu to a W. That’s close enough!) The walled Citadel and Tombs are testament to the glory and opulence of this period. The last of the 10 Emperors “abdicated” in favor of Ho Chi Minh’s revolutionary government.
Unfortunately, the people and buildings of Hue suffered tremendously during wars with the French and, most recently, during the Battle of Hue,one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. Located just south of the DMZ, Hue was overrun for a short time by the Viet Cong who proceeded to slaughter close to 3,000 people suspected of being sympathizers of the South. In retaking the city, the American forces had to use heavy artillery and air support, resulting in extensive damage to the ancient buildings.
Despite this tragic past, we found the resilient people of Hue to be extremely friendly and welcoming.
Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh
And so our first morning tour began when we met our English speaking driver, Son (pronounced Shoon), from VM Travel and were driven six miles (10Km) into the Chau Chu mountain area where the tomb is located. We think this mausoleum is a “Must See” because its architecture and location (on a hillside) is completely different from other tombs.
Khai Dinh was the second to last Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, ruling from 1916 to 1925. A very unpopular Emperor, he was considered a puppet of the French and, more importantly, the construction of his grandiose tomb took eleven years to build, cost a fortune and resulted in a 30% tax increase for his people. This was not well received, as you can imagine!
Son warned us that in order to appreciate the Tomb – and the view – we would have to walk up 127 steep steps to the 4th level but it would be worth it! Built in a combination of Vietnamese and French architectural styles, the black concrete outer walls are somewhat grim and uninviting.
However, as we climbed, the view from each level became more spectacular and once we entered the main building on the fourth level we were mesmerized! The walls and ceiling are completely covered with intricate inlaid porcelain murals (all done by hand, of course), and in the rear of the room, a gilt bronze statue of Khai Dinh sits on top of his grave. Wow! Such extravagance!