Cycling to Tu Duc Mausoleum
After two days cycling in the area around the Perfume River near Hue the last tomb on our list to be discovered was the impressive Mausoleum of Tu Duc. It was also our last full day in town before we would move on to the beautiful, tranquil lagoon just South of Hue.
Visiting Tombs with Kids
You might ask yourself how many tombs should you try and see during a stay in Hue, especially if you are visiting with children? Many kids might already consider one too many! We had seen three in a day but combined the different mausoleums with a bike ride and Jerome had enjoyed them all. This made the exploring more fun, if also quite strenuous in the heat. If you really would have to choose just one of the tombs in the area, I would highly recommend the Tu Duc mausoleum, the last tomb we would visit. It was a short cycle ride along quiet back lanes from our hotel and we tried to be there early, before the tourist groups would arrive by busloads later in the day. Most of the coaches start in the Hue centre in the morning before spreading out to the tombs in the afternoon.
Geting to Tu Duc Tomb
The Tuc Duc tomb is located on the fringes of Hue and easily reachable by taxi or bike from the town centre. The entrance fee was included on our combination ticket from the Imperial Palace and we found a parking spot for our bicycles with one of the souvenir shops out front, after agreeing to buy a drink after our visit of the Tu Duc mausoleum.
The Scenic Grounds and Lakes
Immediately after entering the gate we found ourselves on the shores of the scenic Luu Kiem Lake. In contrast to the other tombs we had explored, the Tu Duc mausoleum and grounds were used by the king for pleasure and relaxation during his lifetime, rather than for the sole purpose of a final resting place. This was immediately noticeable to us when we stepped inside the walls that surround the tomb’s complex. In front of us was the Lake with Thinh Kiem Island to its right dotted with several viewpoints and two pleasure pavilions perched along its shore. The king used the island as a hunting ground, although it is hardly imaginable how any animal, even small ones, could hide from a hunter on such a tiny islet. It is very regrettable that visitors have no access to the island, I am sure it would provide a beautiful panorama of the site’s buildings and landscape and children would love exploring the little paths that run across the mini-hills. I also much preferred the colour scheme of subdued orange and khaki on the buildings and walls, in comparison to those we had witnessed at the brightly painted Tomb of Minh Mang the previous day.
Hoa Kiem Pavilion
Our starting point for the discovery of the Tu Duc’s complex was the buildings up the main stairs that led us to the Hoa Khiem Pavilion where the Tu Duc and his wife were worshipped. To its left was a structure with several gilded coffins inside and behind the crumbling walls of further buildings.
Exploring the Pavilions
The main pavilion displayed some historical arte facts, including the two thrones, the larger one was actually for the empress as Tu Duc was rather short. We enjoyed the paintings the king had created during his lifetime, they were surprisingly detailed and could have certainly been taken for a collection of skilled artworks by a famous painter. Jerome was quite taken by the pictures, he much prefers paintings that show the beauty of nature, including animals, flowers and the countryside than modern art. To the right, behind Hoa Khiem temple is Minh Kiem Chamber, originally built to house a theatre. These day’s tourists are able to dress up in royal outfits against a fee and have their photos taken. This might be a fun experience for older children and some adults, I am sure.
We strolled back to Luu Kiem Lake and sat down on the wooden floor of the smaller pavilion after having taking off our shoes. For a moment everything around us stood still and we were able to savour the serenity, like King Tu Duc must have done over a hundred of years ago. The scenery with the calm water and the island reminded us a lot of Japan and that might be one of the reasons why we enjoyed the Tu Duc complex the most of all the tombs we visited during our time in Hue. Our silence was eventually disturbed by other tourists mounting the platform where we were seated.
Xung Kiem Pavilion
Moving on, the larger of the two pavilions, the Xung Kiem Pavilion, was reached across a little bridge. This building, much larger than the small pavilion, was used by king Tu Duc, as a place where to sit with his concubines (he had 104 wives and several concubines) and compose or recite poetry. There were more of his paintings on show and the view was just as beautiful.
Other Notable Sites to See
Further up the lake is the honour courtyard, stele pavilion and the tomb. The tomb never served its real purpose, Tu Duc and his many treasures were buried at an unknown place to keep it secret from grave robbers. To this day it has not been found and may stay undiscovered for eternity. We skipped these parts of the site and left the tomb’s complex through the main exit.
The sun was already high in the sky and we were glad to have a cool drink before our bike ride into Hue to explore the markets. The woman at the souvenir stall where we had parked our bikes “for free” seemed quite happy to make up for the lost parking fee by selling us expensive drinks, we should have known that might be the case by now…
Coming up next, the colourful markets of Hue.