The Royal Tombs: The Legacy of the Nguyen Dynasty (Tu Duc)

Earlier, I wrote about the Royal Tombs of Minh Mang and Khai Dinh. You may read the post here. In this post, I highlight our journey to Tu Duc’s Tomb. Nonetheless, the visit to Tu Duc’s was not really an intended one. After visiting Minh Mang and Khai Dinh tombs, we wanted to see next Gia Long’s.

The primary reason for us wanting to see it: Gia Long was the first emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. Several online posts describe the tomb as a sort of “must-see” because its location is 25 miles outside the city, making it the farthest Royal Tomb of the Nguyen Dynasty.

In relation, several online commentators note that other emperors took inspiration from Gia Long’s intricate design. We were also told that the Royal Tomb was partially damaged during the war. Despite the government not restoring the former grandeur of the monument, those who have been there still describe it as equally magnificent as the other popular Royal Tombs near the city center. 

But since the visit was only for a day, our travel guide recommended that we see Tu Duc’s instead or we might just end up our afternoon with only one site to explore. The helpful tour guide explained very well that we had to experience the citadel (Hue Imperial City) without rushing. His words were somehow telling us that we had to listen carefully to the stories of the imperial house as narrated by the ruins and other structures left by the war. 

So we traveled to Tu Duc’s.

Upon entering the Royal Tomb, I was in awe. I felt that the tomb exemplifies an emblem, signifying the inter-marriage of East and Southeast Asia.

Visitors are welcomed by the Luu Khiem Lake as they enter the gates of the Royal Tomb of Tu Duc (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
This was the Instagram post (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
A Chinese-inspired motif in the site (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
Another Chinese-inspired motif (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
The Xung Khiem Pavilion reverberates Japanese monuments such as those in Kyoto and Nara (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

The first thing I did was to post on my Instagram account a view of the inside from the entrance and wrote a caption referring the site as a crossbreed of Japan, China, and Vietnam. The pagoda by the lake and the landscape surrounding it reverberate Japanese styles, particularly those in Kyoto and Nara. The huge buildings opposite the lake are reminiscent of Chinese temples. Inside the temples, ornaments such as dragons, arches and circular entrances are displayed. 

The pagoda on the side of the lake is called Xung Khiem. The brochure notes that it was Tu Duc’s “pleasure palace” – a recreational place for him and his concubines (wink wink!). Nonetheless, it was also in the pavilion where he wrote verses and read them before his concubines. Perhaps, that was his romantic side.

How romantic? The two lines below are examples:

I break the old mirror to find your shadow
I fold your fading clothes to keep your warmth

Taken from his most popular love poem titled Khóc Bằng Phi (loosely “Crying from Afar”), the poem was written and dedicated to Bang Phi, his most loved concubine. He delivered the poem on the day of her funeral. 

Perhaps, the serene ambiance and the relaxing songs of the water and the wind enabled him to write beautiful and melancholic verses. The entire “water park” area was so relaxing that my partner even fell asleep for about fifteen minutes when we stopped for a rest.

The Pavilion as viewed from the Duk Khiem (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
The bridge going to the Pavilion (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
A groupie at the Duk Khiem Boat Landing Station (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
Tinh Khiem Island in the middle of the lake (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

Some 100 ft away from the pavilion is the Duk Khiem boat landing station – a covered docking station where Tu Duc embarked and disembarked during his hunting trips to Tinh Khiem Island in the middle of the lake (Luu Khiem Lake). According to the brochure, the island was filled with animals such as deer in order for the Emperor to hunt at his pleasure. 

Some 40 to 50 meters from the pavilion is the necropolis and the sepulcher of Tu Duc. Similar to the other Royal Tombs, the frontcourt of the necropolis is lined up with the usual honor guards plus a series of animals such as horse and elephants. Then navigating a little further is another pavilion with an inscription of his autobiography. He wrote his own story because he had no son. 

The passage leading to the necropolis (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
The burial chamber of Tu Duc. However, Kien Phuc, Tu Duc’s adopted son is entombed here. (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

The tomb is a simple structure compared to the other tombs of the Nguyen emperors. Nonetheless, we were told by a fellow-tourist (a local tourist) that the tomb is more “symbolical” because Tu Duc was secretly buried elsewhere. No one knows the exact location of his final resting place. Legend has it – the workers who spent days and days of constructing his burial chamber were beheaded by the guards. Even the guards who beheaded the workers/slaves were murdered by the loyal guards of Kien Phuc, the adopted son of Tu Duc. This is because all his treasures were also buried with him when he passed on. 

Today, Kien Phuc is entombed in Tu Duc’s burial chamber. 

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