Based on the unique Fengsui element of Hue’s geography alongside its strategic location, this place was the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty, under which the spiritual life of the Vietnamese had been taken care of and thrived to its utmost glory.
The spiritual life of the locals during the time was heavily shaped by Buddism and the Chinese-like belief system in the afterlife. It explains why constructing a tombs system took a lot of resources and time, and the practice of funeral rituals in Hue has been so sophisticated until now.
The main spots for spiritual exploration in Hue include the King's tombs, pagodas, and temples. Here is some basic info on the top destinations, and the guides to transportation, locations, timing, and fees for entering those places.
Minh Mang Mausoleum. Photo by The Hue of Hue
- The tombs/mausoleums
There is a total of 13 kings who reigned under the Nguyen dynasty however, only seven of them built their tombs. Those are Gia Long, Minh Mang, Thieu Tri, Tự Đức, Duc Duc, Dong Khanh, and Khai Dinh, listed in chronological order.
Being heavily influenced by the belief system of Chinese feudalism, the Nguyen Kings were obsessed with the idea of the physical resting place for the afterlife. They believed that eternal life is life after death, not one while they’re alive. The phases of constructing the tombs are first, searching for the location, the grand seeking of the country’s top Feng Sui experts, Grand Maester, and the search could take years to find the one. The second phase is to draw the map, planning the areas within the tomb. Construction comes next, this process could take up to 11 years, but typically it takes several years to complete. After finishing building, they host the ceremony of worshiping the mountain’s god, the god of the soil, and the god of the local area.
Dong Khanh Mausoleum. Photo by The Hue of Hue
Most of the tombs comprise two areas, which are called 'Bi Dinh' and 'Bai Dinh'. 'Bi Dinh' is used to put on tombstones in honor of the King’s contribution to the country. 'Bai Dinh' is for the King’s descendants to host memorial rituals. It's also the place to put statues of the King’s army, horses, and elephants for serving Him in the afterlife.
The most notable mausoleums are:
The spacious space inside Minh Mang Mausoleum. Photo by The Hue of Hue
Minh Mang Mausoleum- the earnest tomb of a mighty king
Minh Mang Tomb, as known as Hieu Mausoleum, is used as the final resting place for King Minh Mang, the most thriving one of the Nguyen Dynasty. This place situates on the vast mountain land, around 18 hectares, where the two brands that make the Huong River, Huu Trach (the right river branch) and Ta Trach (the left river branch), meet.
This mausoleum took the longest time to find the location, up to 14 years, plus three years for construction. Unfortunately, Minh Mang passed away before finishing building the tomb, so his son further completed this mausoleum. The stunning nature of this place makes it an incomparable one among others.
Thieu Tri Mausoleum. Photo by The Hue of Hue
Thieu Tri Mausoleum - delicacy legacy of a humble King
Another name for Thieu Tri Tomb is Xuong Mausoleum. The word 'Xuong' means merry and positive things. This tomb was built under the reign of his son, King Tu Duc. Following his father's will, Tu Duc constructed it on a mild sloped hill for the convenience of the workers and in a reasonable size and budget to save the resources of his citizens. Although it was completed in under ten months, the majesty of the tomb is still ensured. Distinct from other mausoleums with stone or concrete walls, this tomb has tree rows, canals, and lakes as walls and fences, which makes this one and harmony and delicate compared to the rest.
Tu Duc Mausoleum. Photo by The Hue of Hue
Tu Duc Mausoleum- A poetic resting place
King Tu Duc was one of the kindest and gentlest emperors of the Nguyen. He has a poetic soul and to some extent a lonely life because he had no biological children. Thus his place, located in the small valley of the city outskirt, was used for resting and hiding away from the bustling citadel.
Tu Duc Mausoleum. Photo by The Hue of Hue
Once the King passed away, the name Tu Duc Palace or Khiem Palace changed into Tu Duc Tomb or Khiem Mausoleum. ‘Khiem' in Vietnamese means 'humble'. If it is described in some words, they will be delicate architecture, pleasant interior, and exterior designs, and humility and harmony with nature. The wind blowing music through the pine hill, the sound of the spring, and the birds singing are waiting for you to experience once coming here.
Inside Khai Dinh Mausoleum. Photo by The Hue of Hue
Khai Dinh Tomb - the meticulous artwork
Khai Dinh (also known as Ung Mausoleum), 10km away from the city center, is the final place of Nguyen's twelfth emperor. Although being the smallest in size compared to other tombs, it took 11 years of construction to complete. The outstanding feature is its royal mosaic art, costing a lot of time and huge effort.
Exterior design of Khai Dinh Mausoleum. Photo by The Hue of Hue
This tomb is a combination of both European and Asian influences, which primarily used constructing materials of concrete and wrought iron. Besides, another unexpected feature is the contrast between its exterior and interior design. While the outside seems cold with a dark grey tone, the inside reveals the warm and vibrant color of royalty, and the meticulous glass and porcelain mosaic walls and paintings.
- The temples and pagodas
The funeral ceremony of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in Tu Hieu Pagoda. Photo by Hieu Truong/Another Hue
Tu Hieu pagoda
Known as the ancient pagoda of Hue, it was constructed in 1843. Initially, the pagoda published Buddhist scripture and discipline codes, later on, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh took refuge in the triple gems and spent his childhood there. He, then, came back to rest his final years in Tu Hieu Pagoda after 70 years of living abroad.
Tu Hieu has systems of ancient tombs and extensive land for breathing space and meditation. Coming here, the peacefulness of the scenery, the sound of the spring, and the singing of the wind bells heal you on every step.
Thien Mu Pagoda. Photo by Hiroyuki Oki/ Designboom
Thien Mu Pagoda
The name means Heaven Fairy Lady, which derives from an old tale about an old woman who appeared on the hill and told the locals that the Lord would come here and build a pagoda for the sake of the country's prosperity. The seven-storey, Phuoc Duyen tower, located in front of the pagoda, is one of Hue's symbols alongside the Trang Tien Bridge.
Hon Chen Temple during the festival. Photo by Visit Hue
Hon Chen Temple
Hon Chen was initially erected to honor the Cham’s Goddess, Po Nagar. She is believed to be the mother of land and nature, and she taught people to cultivate and farm. However, once fused with the Vietnamese culture, the place becomes the worship center of “Dao Mau”, which means “the religion of Goddess Mother”. This folk festival of worshiping “Thanh Mau”, the Mother Goddess (also known as Thiên Y A Na in Vietnamese culture), occurs annually in March and July of the Lunar Calendar. This special ritual attracts so many believers around the country to participate.
The line goes like this: “July is for worshipping Father, March is for Mother.”
The annual spiritual festival in Hon Chen Temple. Photo by Hieu Truong/Another Hue
There are two ways to get there; the first one is to travel on land through Bui Thi Xuan street, make a turn to Huyen Tran Cong Chua, arrive at Ben Than Port, and cross the river by boat, which leads you directly to the main gate of the temple. The second route is via a small road, Long Ho, across the pomelo village, traveling beside the river to the other entrance of Hon Chen. for the second route, it's best to travel by motorbike (the road is a bit small for cars, but it's still possible).
Truc Lam Bach Ma Zen Monastery is located inside Truoi Lake. Photo by Le Hoang Bao Duy/ phatgiao.org.vn
Truc Lam Bach Ma Zen Monastery
The most notable thing about this place is the astonishing geographic wonder encircling the Monastery. Located 35km away from the city, the main palace is situated on Linh Son mountain (the name means the Holy Mountain). The rest of the complex is located in Bach Ma National Park, which is surrounded by a vast natural lake, Truoi Lake. The joy of getting to the site is that tourist has a chance to travel by boat through the lake, then climb 172 steps to get to the main palace. The area contains a complex of Buddhist architecture and a zen monastery, with a gigantic statue of the Buddha holding a lotus in his hand.
Truc Lam Bach Ma Zen Monastery is covered by Bach Ma national park. Photo by Le Hoang Bao Duy/ phatgiao.org.vn
The climate is quite cold as it is a 5 km skyway and is covered by a national park and an expansive lake. The serene atmosphere of Truc Lam is a suitable one to cultivate a peaceful mind via meditation. This destination is unlike other pagodas, people don’t come here seeking blessings and practice rituals and chanting most of the time, but rather to find inner peace via meditation.
Those are some ground information for you to pick and design your spiritual exploration in Hue. Let’s make it a memorable and enjoyable one!