July in Vietnam: The Imperial Tombs

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I was glad to have taken a bit of a break before going to see the imperial tombs as quite a lot of the architecture was unsurprisingly similar to that of the imperial palace. I went first to the Tu Duc tombs where lots of stuff was under restoration. It was a huge complex with plenty of atmospheric, crumbling buildings.

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This place was huge, with pavilions leading into pavilions. Here, there was a stele pavilion that housed a stele listing Tu Duc’s reflections on his life and its meaning.

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Some side pavilions were in serious disrepair and waiting for the restoration crew to arrive.

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They were appropriately marked “dangerous area” so we were warned. The building could come down any moment!

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Leading up to the tomb was a gauntlet of officials, both military and administrative, attesting to the rank of the emperor.

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Before getting to the tomb proper, you have to get past the gate. It’s designed so that the tomb can’t be seen from the outside – a stone screen protects it from prying eyes.

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And the tomb itself, a little bit of an anti-climax but still impressive with its slightly austere air. Too bad about the graffiti marring it though.

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I was too palace and tombed out to explore further and went only to the outside of the Khai Dinh tomb to have a look round. The entry gate was absolutely impressive, with its ornate carvings in the grey stone and the long staircase forcing one to stare upwards.

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August in China: Guangzhou’s Nanyue Tomb

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In terms of tourist attractions, Guangzhou is a bit like Singapore. While there are lots of little things here and there, there aren’t really a whole load of interesting things to see. Sure, there are some historical sights and lots of parks, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a theme to the place and not much really stands out as a must-see for a foreign tourist. Guangzhou is more a place to be experienced by walking through the streets and observing life as the locals live it.

The only place billed as a tourist attraction that I really liked and felt was worth the entry fee was the Nanyue Tomb. This place was discovered, as per the typical case, by excavations for a spanking new skyscraper. It was not to be when they found the 2000-year old tomb of Zhao Mo, the grandson of the founder of the Nanyue kingdom. The tomb was pretty much intact and there were loads of precious artefacts and (gulp) skeletons of concubines and servants buried together with the ruler.

The imposing front edifice of the place had some odd carvings probably copied from the tomb. It was a nice non-tacky touch, quite atypical compared to other museums I’d been to.

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Unfortunately, they couldn’t resist references to Egypt and I.M. Pei. This is as good as it gets.

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The tomb itself wasn’t too impressive because it was pretty much empty. All the articles of note were put in the adjoining museum and only little scraps put behind glass were left. Not surprisingly, it was rather claustrophic and had lots of little side chambers. The most chilling bit was how the side chambers contained the remains of real people with real functions, even for the afterlife. There was a kitchen section with skeletons of the cooks and kitchen workers, and there was a concubine section where at least three wives were identified from their jewellery near their remains.

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In the museum proper were lots of beautiful things, from jewellery and musical instruments to weapons and religious symbols. It was all pretty cool. The best part of the museum was the burial suit consisted of lots of little jade pieces stitched together to form something like full body armour. It was obviously custom-made, all the way from the hands and feet to the little paunch for the emperor’s spare tire. (The red thread was also a modern reconstruction.)

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This place was so good that I spent two hours there and left reluctantly at closing time. I’d definitely have spent longer there had I known what was inside.