Welcome back to Vietnam.
William continues his visit to the tombs of the Nguyen emperors, located some distance outside the city of Hue.
I was determined to try to visit what was said to be the most remarkable of all the tombs, that of the founder of the Nguyen dynasty, the notoriously tyrannical emperor Gia Long. Started in 1814, the tomb was in fact the first to be built and served as the template for those that followed. Covering some 28 square kilometres in total, it is constructed on a flat hill and surrounded by remote mountains. The problem is that Gia Long’s tomb is far outside Hue and almost inaccessible. Faced with such a goal, this is the point at which the savvy traveller will realise that he needs the assistance of a local guide, preferably a lustral one. Luckily I have travelled around Vietnam over the past several years in the company of one such - the inestimable Quoc Le Hung.
He is a highly experienced guide/companion who takes care of everything, from finding the best value hotels to tracking down the finest street corner noodle shop and much more besides. I was, as always, travelling with him around Vietnam but this time even Hung, who had visited Hue countless times with tourists, was unsure. He had never visited the tomb of Gia Long.
Nevertheless, undaunted, we set off in roughly the right direction on a small motorbike which Hung, in his indefatigable way, had quickly rented for the day from the young woman who served our breakfast in the hotel. We stopped at a variety of shops both to stock up on some provisions and for Hung to try to ensure that we were on the right track. Many of those who he asked had no idea of the correct route but one or two pointed us along the river-side road which gradually deteriorated into more of a muddy track. It was a fascinating journey through small villages which, although close to the big city, seemed to exist in a timeless world of their own. But the biggest hurdle was still ahead: we knew that at some point we would have to cross the river - the Huong Giang or perfumed river (incidentally Huong is the same Chinese word as in the name of that famous place some thousand kilometres to the north east known to the world as Hong Kong, the perfumed or fragrant harbour – though in both cases the celebration of the joyous scent of the waters is perhaps optimistic in these modern, polluted times). Again my guide Hung asked a succession of passers-by until finally we were pointed to a distinctly lustral boy standing in bright, tight t-shirt and designer blue jeans by a precipitously steep path leading to the river. Both Hung and I decided to get off the motorbike at this point and walk as the bike was commandeered by what turned out to be the (lustral) boatman and careered at full speed down towards the water before being steered across a narrow plank onto a tiny boat.
After some negotiation by Hung (we wanted to ensure that we would not only be able to be transported over but also be assured of a return crossing later) and the arrival of a couple of other local bikes, we set off for the short trip across the swirling river and thence into an even more deserted warren of paths between rice fields and small dwellings. Again we had to ask directions several times: there were no signs but at least everyone thereabouts seemed to know the tomb of Gia Long and pointed out the turnings that we needed to make. Mostly the places we passed seemed very poor and literally cut off from the outside since the only access is by the river. And yet we passed a quite extensive school at one point and at another a tiny, beautiful temple. The rough track we were following became increasingly difficult to negotiate on the bike but then around a corner was suddenly transformed into a concrete boulevard fringed with elegant streetlamps. ‘This must be the old approach to the tomb’, said Hung. He was proved right when finally we reached our destination and at last there was a sign and a plan of the vast parkland which surrounds the tomb – or rather tombs since not only Gia Long himself but many members of his extended family were eventually buried here.
Quoc Le Hung: Guide/Companion in South-East Asia
If the adventure below whets your appetite to explore Vietnam (off or on the beaten track), lustral Vietnamese boy Hung offers a full guide/companion service around his country including planning your trip, booking all required accommodation & internal travel and accompanying you at every stage of your journey. He speaks fluent English and good French & Flemish/Dutch; he can also guide you around neighbouring Laos and Cambodia in addition to Vietnam.
Hung is currently spending part of the year in Antwerpen, Belgium. If interested in discussing ideas and possibilities further with him, please email him at email@example.com or call/text on his Belgian phone number: 0032 4 77 72 35 63.
Catch the final part of William's adventure next month.
Join our mailing list
- February 14th, 2017
- December 30th, 2016
- December 30th, 2016
- December 30th, 2015
- March 9th, 2015
- February 9th, 2015