Coming to Bac Ha, a town in Lao Cai province, the thing that could surprises you is a majestic villa in bright yellow, bearing the ancient beauty of European architecture. It is Hoang A Tuong Palace, also known as the palace of Meo King (or Hmong King) – the most powerful house in the white plateau.
Hoang A Tuong Palace was built in 1945 and finished in 1921 and owned by Hoang Yen Chao who is father of Hoang A Tuong. Almost 100 years have gone, but the palace with its multi layer moss coat keeps standing proudly among a crowded mountainous area.
According to history, before 1945 Bac Ha was the semi-feudal colony society with ruling class and ruled one, in which the ruling class included the land owners. Hoang Yen Chao and his son Hoang A Tuong were typical in this class. They are the Tay but were called as King due to the rule over a population which the Hmong accounted for 70%.
During the term of office, with the supports from French colony, the father and son tried to exploit the people, did illegal business, abetted the French. In order to honour his wealth, Hoang Yen Chao got people to build him an imposing palace. Later, his son Hoang A Tuong grew up and lived there with his wives, so people called it palace of Meo King or Hoang A Tuong Palace.
The palace is located on a large hill of Bac Ha or the centre of Bac Ha town at present. It faces a winding stream while the two sides and back are mountains. This is said to be the advantageous location which represent the wish of prosperity for the whole extended family and offspring later. This location was chosen by two architects from France and China who directly designed and managed the construction.
That the two architects came from two different cultures, lead to the Asia – Europe combined architecture of the palace. The western features present in some details including the laurels embossed on entrance doors symbolizing happiness and prosperity, entrance in dome, elegant pillars, handrails, domed staircase and brick corridors.
The structure of this palace is quite different from other palace constructions in Vietnam at that time. It served as the living place of Hoang Yen Chao and his son and also the working location and the protecting fortress. The layout is in closed continuous rectangular shape with 36 rooms. Total acreage reaches 4000 m2. The palace contains fens and crenellated walls around with guards to protect the owners.
The yard leads to the main house while the two side of the yard are two secondary ranges of house. On the yard places a hanging painting. To get to the campus inside the palace, you need to climb on the staircase from two sides before arriving at the waiting room. We then meet with a large yard where some rituals or entertainment activities took place. The entrance doors at different height but are balance with sophisticated details and patterns. On the two pillars at the main entrance, two distiches were embossed with the content of wishing for happiness and wealth.
On the two hand sides of the palace are the two horizontal ranges of houses with similar architecture. They are all of 2 floors and shorter than the main house. Each floor contains 3 compartments serving as living room, dining room and bed room of 3 wives of Hoang Yen Chao, 2 wives of Hoang A Tuong and 2 architects from France and China.
Next to these two ranges of house are two additional houses with simple architecture which serve as accommodation for servants and guards and warehouse. The special thing is that: construction materials like bricks and tiles were produced in place. Steels, cement were bought from the lowlands and transported by airplane. That shows the tremendous investment on this construction. The palace appeared among the mountainous area with sophisticated design, representing the majestic beauty of Bac Ha at that time.
At present, this construction was exploited as a tourist attraction under the management of Lao Cai travel information centre. One range of mountain was used as the exhibit of handicrafts including scarf, shirts, brocaded dress or silver products, smoking pipes and so on.
The tourism information and promotion centre of Lao Cai was located right inside the palace. There the managers of the centre established a traditional corn winemaking model of the locals in Bac Ha. This is the place for introduction of the corn winemaking process. Tourists also have chance to enjoy this special kind of wine there.
Experiencing countless of ups and downs, the palace’s walls are engraved with traces of time. The new yellow painting seems to steal the initial ancient beauty of it and makes it a bit strange. However, it remains there proudly as a witness of secrets and sins of some people in a past period of history.