City of Ghosts Vietnam- Not on the usual tourist trail
City of Ghosts – not what you expect to see on your tourist itinerary for the day. As indeed, it probably isn’t.
Most tourists bus off to see the historical highlights of Hue, the former imperial capital city of Vietnam. Meanwhile, I had spied a colourful looking place on the internet while googling ‘what do to in Hue’. So having had our fill of ancient pagodas, we booked a car and headed off in another direction.
Poverty in life: luxury in the afterlife
The city of ghosts is a 40-minute scenic drive out of Hue to a quiet village called An Bang. Built along 3km of sand on the edges of Thuan An Beach, you find the most beautiful, elaborate cemetery. While the average family in the village earns around USD 2000 a year, they spend upwards of $30,000 – USD 70,000 on their family’s final resting place. Family members living and working mainly in the USA and Australia send money back home, enabling them to be built. And – the monuments are astonishing.
Some say there is an element of one-upmanship going on with each family trying to outdo the others in size and colour. I don’t know if that is true, but what is clear is that it is an extraordinary way to honour the dead.
Walking through the city of ghosts is eerily stunning. It was a hot mid-day when we arrived. The clear, dark blue sky seemed to highlight the vibrant colours on the tombs. We could hear the sound of the waves lapping on the shores nearby, but could not see the ocean through the myriad of towers, some stretching 6 meters high.
We spent about 30 minutes wandering across some small, still exposed patches of fine white sand, crunching beneath our feet as we strolled through the cemetery. At times, we stumbled upon recently constructed tombs, their pristine surfaces awaiting the names of future occupants. It was evident that every inch of this sacred place was cherished and carefully maintained by the families whose love transcended borders as they sent money from distant lands to honour their ancestors.
Built on the sand
City of ghosts remains unspoilt
Throughout our time there, we didn’t encounter another tourist. And as we reflected on the experience, we realized how privileged we were to witness this intimate and deeply personal aspect of Vietnamese culture. It was evident that the City of Ghosts remained unspoiled by mass tourism, allowing visitors like us to observe the reverence and respect that the villagers held for their ancestors without intruding upon their solemn space.
In this hidden gem of Vietnam, where ordinary day living and opulence coexisted through the living and the dead, we were left with a profound sense of awe and admiration for the City of Ghosts and its inhabitants’ enduring devotion to their departed loved ones.
We arranged our trip through our hotel in Hue and although not on the main tourist trail there are one or two companies such as Viator who include a trip to the cemetery as part of a whole day tour.