I'd intended to begin with a general post, but instead, while it's fresh in my mind, I thought to post some notes on how to find the tomb of Gia Long, near Hue in central Vietnam. I had quite a bit of trouble finding this tomb myself, so I hope these notes may be of use to someone!
(Note: this information is correct as of September 2013 - depending on how fast the area develops, it may be out of date when you read it.)
Gia Long was the first emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty (ruling from 1802 to 1820), and despite unifying the country and establishing Vietnam as a regional power his tomb is much less popular than those of his successors and rarely visited by tourists. Although it's a little dilapidated, his tomb is set among hills and lakes in a beautiful setting and if you have time to spare in Hue it's well worth the trip.
Note: difficulties finding the tomb can be bypassed by hiring a motorbike taxi, car and driver, boat, or joining a tour group (although few tours seem to include it). But it's more interesting and more fun to rent a motorbike or bicycle and make the journey independently! The scenery is pleasant and you pass through a couple of small villages. The land is quite flat and the distance not too far, but I chose to be lazy and use a motorcycle. If you do rent a bike or motorbike, check it thoroughly before setting out! Unfortunately I missed this step and only 10km down the road realised that the petrol gauge, speedometer, and odometer were all faulty on my motorbike. As a result, I'm not entirely sure of the distance traveled!
Start at the tomb of Kai Dinh. This is on a major road and hard to miss, so I'm not going to give any directions. The tomb is definitely worth a visit, although rather busy. If you want to avoid the crowds, try timing your arrival for lunchtime, when most coaches return to restaurants in Hue.
From Kai Dinh's tomb, proceed south down the road, away from Hue. You'll pass under a large road, and reach a crossroad.
Continue straight over, and after a couple of minutes you'll come to a T-junction.
At this junction, turn left. You'll be passing through a small village, and through the trees and houses you'll see a small river on your right. The next goal is to cross the river. Less than 5 minutes down the road, on your right you'll see a small turn off that does down the river bank.
Go down this side road and you'll almost immediately find yourself at a bridge.
(Note: it's quite easy to miss this turn off, if there are no houses in sight, you've gone to far. If you cross a bridge without turning left or right, you've definitely gone too far!)
Cross this bridge. At the far end you'll have to pay a small toll to the guy in the shack. Continue straight and you'll almost immediately come to a junction.
Turn left at this junction. This is now the point where you need to continue for quite some time, ignoring the growing feeling that you're heading in the wrong direction. If you get worried you may be lost, try calling "Gia Long?" and smiling at any passing Vietnamese cyclists, almost invariably they'll smile back and wave you in the right direction. In fact, all locals I met along this road were extremely friendly, I had a small child respond in excellent English with textbook perfect directions. If you speak Vietnamese, you'll have no trouble, but if you speak Vietnamese you probably don't need to read this blog for directions. Anyway, continue for maybe 20 minutes or so, even though the road may degenerate into a dirt track.
You'll see the river on your left.
You know you're getting close when you pass under a concrete arch into a small village.
Continue through the village and you'll see a turning on your right, next to a small shop.
After turning right, continue for a short distance and you'll reach a small junction where you need to go left or right. You want to turn left here. I forgot to take a picture of this one, but it's the first junction you come to. If you're heading the right way, after a few hundred metres you'll be heading down a narrow paved road lined with trees and curiously ornate lampposts.
And that's pretty much it, you'll reach a small lake, in the middle of the tomb area. There is a map showing where you are, to the right are some of the minor tombs, the main temple / tomb complex is round to your left. You may or may not see officials, I encountered someone at the temple who informed me the main tomb was closed, but offered to unlock it for 20,000 dong. Whether this is official policy, a scam, or a kind favour I couldn't tell you!
Photos over on google plus.
Coordinates are 16.363771,107.597124 - you can paste these numbers into google maps to see the location, or click here. Note that if you're using google maps for directions (not recommended as you may not be able to get a reliable mobile data signal) the bridge I crossed is NOT shown on google maps, it's roughly at 16.386294,107.577907, or click here to see.