Getting to the Gia Long Tomb.
The secluded Tombs of Gia Long cannot be reached by dragon boat from the centre of Hue, everyone who wants to visit the mausoleum of Vietnam’s first king, will need to make separate arrangements, either by being energetic and cycling – as we experienced – or hiring a driver for the day. I would recommend combining a trip to off the beaten track tomb of Gia Long with some of the other sights in the areas such as the abandoned waterpark or the mausoleum of Minh Mang.
Crossing the Perfume River
After our visit to Ming Mang’s tomb we crossed the bridge over the Perfume River and stopped to gaze at the views and the boats below. A wooden houseboat lay ashore beneath the billowing bamboo leaves but no owner was in sight. We soon left the larger road for a single lane track that wound itself lazily through fields and lush green orchards. Here and there we passed houses in the jungle like vegetation, some were more like shacks, popped up between the trees.
Local Kid’s Joined Us For a Ride
For a while a group of local kids excitedly followed us on their bikes, their hats proudly topped with the khaki green hats reminiscent to those of the soldier helmets from the Vietnam war. They greeted us with a cheerful “hello” and were surprised when we answered with a “xin chao”.
Tomb of Lang Truong
Cows wandered across the street, completely oblivious to us and we had to stop and wait to let them cross to the other side. At some point we stumbled onto another tomb of Lang Truong, which had very recently been painted and therefore looked completely out of place in its surroundings. The gate to the tomb was locked, but the lotus pond with its white blossoms made it a peaceful spot for us to have a break and drink. We still had not been able to find a street eatery where we could have lunch, and the hunger was making my mood rather gloomy. The boys were happy to have crisps or a biscuit as a snack, but I would have much preferred something more substantial in my tummy, like a hot pho.
A Rural Village
The next cluster of houses had a little café, even with a billiard table and plenty of locals sat on the plastic chairs enjoying a drink and chat. When we asked if they served food they declined and sadly would not tell us another place where we might get something to eat. I then decided to just move on to Gia Long and find some food on the return, somewhere closer to Hue. On we rode, past grannies sitting on their front porches and kids playing in the gardens or on the street. Jerome was always overjoyed at the sight of a cat and could have stopped each time we passed one. At some point the path ran along, next to the river and then we turned off onto the road that would lead us directly to Gia Long Temple. We were hungry but decided our destination should be reached, food or no food!
Cycling through the Remote Countryside
The road seemed to stretch forever, few tourists must visit this way as we saw none of the usual signs of tourist activity and just locals in the fields. Soon enough, however, we saw tall pillars and a lake in front, so we knew from our previous visits that the tomb was close by. We parked our bikes at the bottom of the steps to the temple, hundreds of dragonflies buzzing overhead, no one else around apart from a man fishing in the pond.
Exploring the Pavilions at Gia Long
We climbed the stairs that led us to a two-storied pavilion. It looked rather drab and discoloured compared to the pavilions we had seen at Minh Mang a few hours before. However it had its own charm and the advantage that we were literally the only visitors around. A guard approached us and charged a small entry fee. His English was as basic as our Vietnamese but he was very friendly and gave us a private tour of the grounds and buildings, or I should say what is left of them. It made us wonder how the government or investors decided on which tomb or temple should be a priority. Surely, the first king’s tomb should have been among them? Especially as it is situated in such a charming valley surrounded by beautiful pines and the lotus ponds. Perhaps it was it due to the rather isolated location further from Hue, and so it was considered less important as a tourist sight and therefore not worth the money? In some way, looking back on it now it was definitely among our favourite places we visited in Hue, the off the beaten track location was one of the main attractions for us, plus the fact that it felt it was still in its original state.
Cute Little Kitty
Just as we were leaving a “meow” caught our ears and a little, undernourished kitty came out among the flowerbeds. The cute kitty must have been quite young and was surprisingly tame. Jerome immediately went gooey and started to stroke the cat. It started to follow us out of the tomb’s complex and down the steps to our bikes. Jerome wanted to feed it, he was feeling rather sorry for the skinny creature, it was clearly hungrier than we were. Unfortunately we did not have anything with us that would have qualified as cat food but Jerome thought an Oreo cookie might do, so we split it open and the kitten lapped up he creamy inside.
Cycling Back to Hue
The weather seemed to match my mood, thunderclouds were forming over the mountains and my head was brewing a migraine. I was all too aware that we had to cycle all the way back to the hotel near Hue, possibly about another 15 kilometers. The boys cycled ahead and left me to wallow and cycle at my own pace. I kept drinking plenty of water but from bitter experience I knew that my headache had its own mind.
A Peculiar Pontoon Bridge
We somehow made it back to the river and through the village and then turned down towards the river intersection where we came across a peculiar floating pontoon bridge. The bridge had been constructed of old oil drums and boats and then covered with metal sheets. There stood a small hut with a bed inside and a teapot on the stove at our end, the guard stood just outside collecting money from all the villagers crossing. He stopped us to charge 10.000 VND in order to allow us to cycle across. While we were painfully aware that we had paid at least double the fee the locals would pay as we watched a woman pay to cross the wobbly bridge shortly after us, it was only a few cents more for us but to him it probably meant another drink or even some food.
Pedalling Across the Bridge
The funny bridge was built with an arch in the centre to allow boats to pass underneath and the rest floated on the calm waters of the Perfume River. We stood halfway across the bridge and looked at the towering clouds in the sky. It looked like we would be lucky to get back without any drop of water falling on us, or even worse, the danger of thunder and lightning, which terrifies Jerome if he is not somewhere safe inside. The bridge wobbled like a pool float as soon as a moped sped across, cars were thankfully not allowed on the bridge.
The Community of Thuy Bang
Up on the embankment, we reached the outskirts of a larger village, Thuy Bang. A young girl sat in an empty café in the cooling breeze of the ventilator with a mobile phone in hand, watching a film on the device. She took absolutely no notice of anything else going on around her. We cycled on back towards Hue and soon arrived at the heart of the village where we found a small fruit and vegetable market. It was still busy with locals buying goods and the stalls along the road were stocked up with other household essentials and even packets of nappies.
Coping with Migraine
My migraine was still bothering me and the boys were keen to find me something to eat, thinking it might lift the cloud in my head. In the end they bought some packets of crisps with exotic tastes of kimchie and shrimp. The hunger was long gone by then, but I tried to have a few handfuls of the greasy snack. I now wish I had not have had a migraine then, the market would have been great to explore away from the main tourist drags, I still remember the curious looks on the faces of the locals (mainly) women and children at the crazy foreigners on their bikes passing through.
Return to the Hotel
Not long after the village we joined the main road that we had pedalled along the Perfume River that morning, the wedding dress store was still devoid of customers. We cycled straight back to our hotel without any longer stops besides taking a swig of the water bottle. Back at the Pilgrimage hotel, the boys left me to have a rest and recover in our quiet, cool room and went for a swim in the pool to ease their tired legs after the 30km round trip to all the tombs.
Dinner in Town
Thankfully my migraine eased after a tablet and rest, allowing us to go back into town for dinner that evening on the hotel shuttle. We were able to enjoy a well earned round of sushi at Ta.Ke restaurant to make a change from Vietnamese cuisine for a night. Over dinner we were able to discuss what to do the next day and if our legs would stand some more cycling, we made plans for a shorter ride to visit another of the tombs, the majestic Tu Tuc with an afternoon at the markets in Hue.