History of Hoàng A Tưởng Palace
Hoàng A Tưởng Palace (Hoang A Tuong Palace for us) was built in 1914 and completed in 1921. Hoàng Yến Chao was from the ethnic Tày group, he was the father of Hoàng A Tưởng. He decided to build this Palace for himself. Is a bizarre palace constructed in a kind of ‘oriental baroque’ style on the northern edge of Bac Ha. After nearly 100 years of existence, it is still standing between the majestic land known as the “White Highland” and the Sun.
During his reign from 1905 – 1953, with the protection of France, Hoàng Yến Chao owned much of the fertile land in this area, and had the full right to exploit the surrounding forests and native products. He established a tax regime that required all of the people to pay tax on the products that they grew or made. He also had a monopoly on the sale of salt, drugs, food and other consumer goods, considered essential necessities in the region. During his long reign, he accumulated a huge amount of assets. Based on economic strength, in 1914 he decided to build this Palace to represent his wealth and power.
Hoang Yen Tchao family history
Hoang Yen Tchao had three wives and total of seven children, including two sons and five daughters. His first wife was of the Tay ethnic. She met Mr. TChao when he was just a regular civilian and they were married out of love for one another. She bore him three children, two sons and a daughter. The eldest son was Hoang A Tien and the second one was Hoang A Tuong. His second wife was the most miserable because she married him for his wealth and riches. She was only his second wife for a short time and then she got sick and died. She did not have any assets and nobody knew that she existed. She bore him two daughters and died while she was still very young.
Mr.TChao and his first wife. Image from sapa-tourism.com
However, she didn’t die long before, Hoang yen TChao quickly took over as his third wife. She was of the Chinese descent. She went to Bac Ha to do business, with the sharp beauty of Chinese girls, her appearance caught the “eye” of the ” Hmong King”. She was a business woman and was very independent. She also had a successful business in which she was doing very well. She was married to Mr. Tchao for a short time and bore him two daughters. She did not like living in Mr. Tchao’s palace and so she moved to live outside of the palace. There she did business herself and did not rely on him for anything.
The third wife and her daughters. Image from sapa-tourism.com
Among Mr. Tchao’s children, Hoang A Tuong was revered as the most intelligent and was the dearest of Hoang Yen Tchao’s children. He was chosen as his father’s replacement to take over all the work. Mr Tchao was the “Hmong King ” but he didn’t name his palace after the eldest son, but his youngest son.
Leaving Bac Ha and the palace was short lived but the stories of their families still having lasting imprints on my mind. There is still so many mysteries around the palace.
Building Hoang A Tuong Palace
In order to prepare for the construction of this Palace, Hoàng Yến Chao had to plan very carefully. First he consulted with Chinese feng-shui experts to find the best location to build the Palace. The site was selected according to the Feng-shui theory of location. It was built on a large hill, facing south east, protected on both sides by mountains, the front has a spring and facing the mountain named “Mother is holding her baby”. Overall the topography in the area is beautiful, a charming “painting”, capturing the picturesque views and perfect Asian climate.
Hoang A Tuong had deliberately prepared materials for building the castle. Cement and steel were flown from the plains, while the bricks and tiles were manufactured on the spot with clay in the heart of the mountain range under the supervision of Chinese experts. The whole edifice was built of baked bricks and employed a binding agent with lime and beeswax. Workers were the best builders from prisons. Surrounding Hoang A Tuong Castle was the thick fence consisting of 3 gates (1 main gate and 2 auxiliary ones). Four side walls were crenellated fences and guarded by 2 platoons. In particular, behind the castle offered a solid and extremely secretive escaping tunnel.
The mansion was left uninhabited for many years as Hoang A Tuong had to live in exile in France after the region was liberated by revolutionary soldiers in the autumn of 1945. Nearly a century has gone by since its completion, the building remains intact and its Asian European-architecture still shines under sunshine.
The main two-storey mansion is surrounded by auxiliary houses on the left and the right, and has beautiful decorations on its façade and inside its rooms. Internal structure of the castle is fairly beautiful. Through the main entrance, a large yard inside is former home to organize main activities of the tribal mandarin’s family. Backcourt main building retains two floors with an area of 420m², which is often used for the meeting place of the family. Tourists setting foot in the castle have to walk up 17 stairs from both sides, then to the sheltered lounge. Additionally, the castle also has other construction items such as two auxiliary blocks on both sides. Each has two floors and is lower than the main building with an area of 300m². This is private space of Hoang Yen Chao’s wives and Hoang A Tuong’s wives. There are also two sub-blocks with simpler architecture used as accommodation for soldiers and servants.
The castle covers an area of 4,000m² in which the main building occupies 420m², Occupying a pivotal position overlooking the Bac Ha valley. In front of its arched doors are earthen banks. Its network of walls, bunkers, and battlements were reinforced by a mortar mixed with sugar molasses. In a distance, the white castle jutting out from the valley looks imposing and majestic. At present, this castle is put under a restoration scheme to better help tourists get insight into the changes of the local life.
Visiting this place you have an opportunity to learn about the live of a family of the ruling class and part of Bac Ha’s history in the past.
In adition to the palace, you can also visit Bac Ha traditional market.