Undertakers steal land, extort the bereaved

March 20, 2009
Unoccupied burial plots at a cemetery in Lam Dong Province’s town of Da Lat.

The gorgeous and serene mountain town of Da Lat, one of Vietnam’s premier holiday spots, is anything but pleasant if you’re looking to lay your loved ones to rest.

One Da Lat cemetery worker told Thanh Nien he illegally sells burial plots for VND4-40 milion (US$229-2,287) each, depending on the location.

Although Lam Dong Province authorities offer free burial plots for the deceased, workers at several cemeteries in the Central Highlands’ premier resort town say buyers think a good spot is worth the high price.

Some buy for their deceased relatives, others book a place for people who are still alive.

The undertakers, managers and other staffers have even sold off pieces of forestland around their cemeteries. They’ve taken over vast swaths of land in and around the resort town where they sell plots illegally.


A 2005 inspection of the Du Sinh Cemetery by the Dalat Urban Project Management Company found graveyard workers occupying 2,000 square meters of forestland around the cemetery.

In 2006, another 2,000 square meters of pine forest around Du Sinh was found occupied. The cemetery’s workers knew about it, but did nothing.

On a recent visit, Thanh Nien found five groups of people operating the illegal trade of burial plots at Du Sinh. They said they’d been doing it for several years.

While Du Sinh undertakers and managers continue selling graves on land that’s not theirs, they’ve also involved outside grave constructors who are now also marking off land and selling plots.


A local resident living on Nha Chung Street in Da Lat’s Ward 3 said her family had to pay VND37 million ($2,115) for three burial plots at the Thanh Mau Cemetery. But only one grave was dug with a proper cement chamber while the two others were merely demarked plots of land.

Another man said he had bought two plots at Du Sinh Cemetery for VND28 million ($1,600) as future burial places for his parents.

He said it was a cheap price because the two plots had once been sold at VND33 million ($1,887) to another family who had abandoned the lots after moving to another country.

Those who refuse to buy graves are given the worst spots on the land. Cemetery workers also force buyers and non-buyers alike to use their grave-construction services at unreasonable prices.

They often damage and vandalize graves built by outside contractors.

Nguyen Thi Lan from Ward 9 said she had asked an outside contractor to build a grave for her son at the Thai Phien Cemetery for VND23 million ($1,315).

A cemetery worker then stopped the outside contractor and told Lan he would build the grave for the same price. However, she said she ended up having to pay VND35.5 million ($1,915).

Many residents also said workers at several cemeteries demanded to build the graves themselves at high prices, warning that graves might be damaged by vandals if not built by the graveyard’s workers.


For several years, local authorities in Da Lat Town have failed to revoke a piece of land inside the Thanh Mau Cemetery illegally occupied by contactor Nguyen Quang Hien.

Hien occupies the land and sells burial plots and even rents rooms on the grounds.

He’s sold hundreds of plots and even constructed his own house there.

Chairman of the Ward 7’s People Committee Nguyen Vien said the Da Lat Urban Project Management Company had ordered Hien to return the land but he said he would only return it if the authorities compensate him to the tune of VND700 million ($40,000).

Reported by Thanh Nien staff

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