We the christ, on a warm summer’s day, in the direction of what I consider to be the most impressive of the royal tombs of Hue. Scenes of the countryside and river life mesmerized us – kids part playing, part washing in the water, narrow but covered boats designed for permanent living, rows of corn fields and rice paddies – a colourful motley of scenery and one best absorbed, as we were, from a boat.
While visiting the royal tombs such as Gia Long (the first of the Nguyen Emperor’s and the last reigning royal family line of Vietnam) and Minh Mang (the son and successor of Gia Long) is more romantic via boat, it must be noted that the journey to both tombs is quite lengthy. Minh Mang is around 2 hours just one way if you choose to take the waterways and Gia Long another hour on top of that. However, taking a boat is a highly recommended form of travel if you have the time for a more protracted and relaxed means of soaking in the contemporary river life and ancient culture of Hue together.
Now, let me tell you what I love about Minh Mang and how it differs from any of the other royal burial grounds. Two words: symmetry and grandeur. On my first visit to Ming Mang, I had already been to a slew of Hue’s attractions and it was the last on a day’s journey of stops which included both Tu Duc and Khai Dinh’s tomb sites. While the latter emperor’s built impressive complexes, I felt a true sense of the regal nature of MinhMang’s tomb. It was older, more austere, and yet its landscaped lakes, canals and architecture all revealed a precise nature in the design that appealed to me more than the others.
You can tell a lot about the personality of a ruler by the design of their resting place and I believe Minh Mang’s dedication to symmetry represents a willingness on his behalf to achieve balance during his reign as emperor. Known as a staunch Confucian, who was sceptical of Christian missionaries – and, in fact, any form of proselytism (the act of trying to convert people to a certain religion or ideology) – Minh Mang was largely disliked by his European counterparts. He was wary of European visitors to Vietnam, proclaiming that all French entries should specifically monitored: “lest some masters of the European religion enter furtively, mix with the people and spread darkness in the kingdom.” Moreover, he restricted trade with the West and instead opted to focus on building and refining Vietnam’s infrastructure. His achievements included the construction of highways, a postal service, public storehouses for food and a variety of monetary and agricultural reforms aimed at helping the poor. All attributes that I personally find admirable and possibly – on a subconscious level – provide the reasoning as to why I love this tomb site the most.
The main point of entry to the tomb is the Dai Hong Mon Gate, regardless of your mode of transport. You will walk a dirt path (lined with vendors such as those selling sugarcane drinks) before reaching a ticket office. The Dai Hong Mon gate has three openings – a right and left side as well as a central opening. Visitors can enter through either of the side gates but not through the centre which was only used once by the emperor himself (typical of royal tomb architecture, the middle is always reserved for the emperor while other royal family members used the side gates).