At the center of Bac Ha Town (Lao Cai), there is an extremely superficial palace, painted in bright yellow with ancient architecture of European and Asian styles. It is Hoang A Tuong Palace, also known as the “The mansion of the cat king of Bac Ha”. After nearly 100 years, the palace is covered with ancient moss and still stands majestically in the middle of a populated street.
Hoang A Tuong Palace was built in 1914 and after 7 years, the palace was completed. The former owner of this palace is Emperor Hoang Yen Tchao of Tay ethnic monitory. After that, he left for his son: Emperor Hoang A Tuong.
According to history, before 1945, Bac Ha was a semi-feudal colonial society. At that time, Hoang Yen Tchao governed a large area with 70% H’mong ethnic community so they called him “The King”. With his influence, he exploited and lived a rich life in this area.
To build the palace, he invited a geography professor spending years going around Bac Ha town to research the location and find a place where yin and yang harmonize and had the perfect environment.
After many years, they finally found a perfect location. It was a tall and square area, with mounds behind, rivers, streams in front and a mountain that looked like a mother holding a child in front. Two French and Chinese architects designed construction with the meaning that can bring happiness, peace and glorious descendants for generations.
Mr. Hoang Yen Chao’s family lived here until 1950, then left. After that, the house was abandoned, most of the furniture in the house was gone. However, the unique architecture of the house is kept. In 1999, the mansion was recognized as a national architectural and artistic relic. Nowadays, the house has now become a favorite destination for tourists in Bac Ha Town.
2. The construction features
The two architects come from two different cultures, so the palace has a combined style. The western architectural features are reflected in details such as laurel branch motifs embossed on the entrance doors, a symbol of happiness and prosperity, arched balustrade doors, house columns and round stairs…
The mansion of the cat king of Bac Ha was a rather special architectural structure at that time. The palace is not only a place to live for father and son Hoang Yen Chao, Hoang A Tuong, but also a place of work with a protective fortress function with 36 rooms of a total area of up to 4,000m2. All four sides of the wall have holes like a fortress and have guards.
The mansion main two-story are surrounded by auxiliary houses on the left and the right. Each room is decorated beautifully on its façade and inside. Walking on one of the two staircases in front of the building, you will be at the waiting room, after that, you step forward to a large yard. The door-domed house having four rooms on the two sides was used to be the place for family activities while the central rooms were used as meeting venues.
On the left and right sides of the door-domed house are two rows of horizontal houses. Each horizontal house included two floors and was built lower than the main house, each floor had 3 function rooms used as a living room, dining room, bedroom of 3 wives of Hoang Yen Chao, 2 wives of Hoang A Tuong and for 2 French and Chinese advisors.
Behind the main house, there are also two outbuildings. Those are built with 2 floors but the architecture is simple and used as a warehouse for soldiers and servants. All building materials are iron and steel, cement was purchased from the bottom and transported by plane.. Hoang A Tuong Palace has reached the max level of the architecture of Vietnam in the past.
According to the recorded history, materials for building the mansion are local limestone, sand, molasses, beeswax, cement and steel brought from Ha Noi and Lao Cai.
Nowadays, the palace has been used as a tourist destination under the management of Lao Cai tourist information center. A part of the mansion is used as a place to sell handmade products such as towels, shirts, brocade skirts or pipes, silver rings… Another part is built as a traditional corn wine kitchen of the Bac Ha people. The kitchen introduces wine making methods as well as for visitors to enjoy Bac Ha corn wine on the spot. There, you can see the model of a corn vodka-making machine of the people of Bac Ha in the old days. You also are introduced to the way how to make wine and enjoy Bac Ha corn wine.
3. The ideal time to explore Hoang A Tuong Palace
You can travel to Lao Cai to explore Hoang A Tuong Bac Ha’s mansion at any time. However, the ideal is still in spring, because then you will admire the beautiful white plum blossoms on mountains and hills.
You can also come here in the middle of the year when the plum season is ripe. There is also a very unique Horse Racing festival, Bac Ha festival is held on a very large scale taking place on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month every year.
See more: Lao Chai – Ta Van Village: What makes the villages so attractive in Sapa?
4. Some dishes you must try
Bac Ha province owns a lot of attractive specialties such as corn cakes, sour Pho, nuggets and Thang Co – a traditional dish of the H’Mong, which appeared about 200 years ago and looks like a hotpot of mountainous people or 7-color sticky rice – traditional dishes of Nung Diu people. This is also considered a quintessence of Northwest highland cuisine.
With nearly 100 years of existence, the palace still stands out majestically in the town. Everyone will not ignore its beauty when the sunshine goes through the windows and corridors to create gloomy and murky colors. Even now, Hoang A Tuong Palace has been painted so somehow the mansion has lost the beauty of the old moss layer. However, when coming inside, you still can embrace a feeling of an ancient place such as the ancient scenes of servants under the yard, the scene of the wives going around rooms and the sound of hissing opium in dark smoke in the small room. Three trees in the backyard create a desolate feeling making the house have just a few people coming at night.
Staying at the Imperial Palace can be the thing you should do to have the best memories in Vietnam. Time after time, its color is not the same. The government has painted again and the palace lost its antiquity, but it still stands in the middle of time and is a witness to the history of crimes: “The life of The Cat King”.