Published: June 29th 2012June 29th 2012
I meet Mr. Tommy this morning in the hotel lobby. He sees me get out of the elevator and gives me his best smile. When I ask him what is making him so happy, he tells me it’s Lang day today. I respond that it’s been Lang day every day so far as I feel very fortunate on this wonderful adventure. What he meant instead is that the word “lang” in Vietnamese means tomb. Scattered across the scenic countryside to the south of Hue, the tombs of the Nguyen Emperors are among the area’s most compelling attractions. Although 13 rulers sat on the imperial throne between 1802 and 1945, only seven were given the honor of their own mausoleum, or lang, as the others died during exile or in disgrace. All seven tombs have features of outstanding architectural merit, and we start with the tomb of Tu Duc. Considered by many to be the most elegant tomb in Vietnam, the mausoleum of Tu Duc, who ruled from 1848 to 1883, was designed by the king himself. Set on a pine-forested hill, it is flanked by beautiful lotus ponds and aromatic frangipani trees. Tu Duc was known to have preferred the quiet
comforts of his future tomb to his own palace. It is said that when Tu Duc died, he was buried secretly with a great treasure. All those involved in his burial were later executed to keep his final resting place safe from desecration. As a side note, he also had 500 wives and 142 children…
Next is the tomb of Minh Mang, located on the west side of the Perfume River. The mausoleum of Emperor Minh Mang, who died in 1841, is one of the most impressive royal tombs. The complex comprises picturesque lakes and gardens, as well as numerous buildings. It is very quiet and quite serene, and I enjoy the grounds for a long time. Our last tomb of the day is Khai Dinh’s (1916-1925), the penultimate Nguyen Emperor, who was the last to be buried in a royal tomb at Hue. His tomb makes use of concrete, combining European and Vietnamese architectural styles in a unique but not entirely successful fusion. Built into the side of a hill, the tomb rises steeply through three levels. In the temple at the summit is a bronze bust of the emperor, cast at Marseilles in 1922.
I wander once more through the streets of Hue and decide this time to go south in the more modern part of town. It is a mix of stores, markets, motorbike dealerships, and Hue’s biggest and quite impressive mall and supermarket. There are security guards everywhere and the high-tech electronics stores are pumping the jam with Vietnamese techno music. In the middle of this district is also the Notre Dame Cathedral, built between 1958 and 1962 in a hybrid Franco-Vietnamese style. This large and somewhat unappealing church serves around 1,500 local believers. The heat is still suffocating and I head back to my hotel. After a nice long swim, it is time for dinner consisting tonight of a delicious mushroom soup with shrimp (I have to try this recipe out myself), fried shrimp rolled in green rice, grilled pork rolled in paper rice with peanut sauce, sautéed noodles with seafood, watermelon, and strawberry ice cream. Another very fulfilling day before the long drive to Hoi An tomorrow!
Some of Vietnam’s most breathtaking vistas can be seen at Hai Van Pass on Truong Son Range, about 18 miles north of Danang. The summit of the pass offers splendid views of
mountains covered in thick clouds, with the blue waters of Danang Bay below. To appreciate the full beauty of the Lang Co Peninsula (yes, there is my name yet again), it is best to catch a first glimpse of it from the summit of the Hai Van Pass. Looking north from here, an idyllic picture in shimmering blue, white, and green appears. Narrow spit of pristine white sand runs south from the Loc Vinh commune, dividing a gleaming saltwater lagoon to its west from the choppy South China Sea to its east. It is an idyllic location, with miles of palm-fringed, soft white sand contrasting beautifully with the aquamarine waters of the lagoon and the changing shades of the wave-flecked sea.
Shortly after reaching Danang, we stop for lunch and a visit to the Museum of Cham sculpture, or Bao Tang Dieu Khac Champa, one of the city’s highlights. Founded in 1915 by the French, the museum showcases the world’s best collection of Sham sculpture, including altars, sandstone pieces, and busts of Hindu Gods such as Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. The Cham Empire existed in Vietnam for around 1,600 years, from the second century AD to its downfall in
1832. It was present both at My Son in Vietnam and Angkor in Cambodia. A short distance southeast of the city are the Marble Mountains. As the name suggests, these rocky formations are made of marble, and comprise several temples, pagodas, and caverns that have long sheltered a series of shrines dedicated to the Buddha or to Confucius. I take my time visiting this very peaceful and serene place before our final stretch to Hoi An where I’ll be taking residence for the next two days.
I check into the Glory Hotel, another cute boutique hotel with great rooms and a sumptuous swimming pool, a necessity with this heat. After a quick swim, I head to the Old Quarter. Located on the north bank of the Thu Bon River, the historic town of Hoi An was an important trading port from the 16th
to the 18th
century. Attracting traders from China, Japan, and even Europe, the town acquired a rich cultural heritage, rivaled by few other cities in Vietnam. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, Hoi An features long, narrow tube houses, Chinese pagodas and ornate community halls, family shrines, and the Japanese Covered Bridge. I will
provide more details as I explore extensively in the next couple of days. For now, I just wander the streets, stop for happy hour at a local restaurant for “buy one get one free” mojitos, and a huge bowl of Pho with prawns, followed by passion fruit sorbet. I have the slight impression that Hoi An might just be my favorite place thus far, but more on that later. Until next time…
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