Apart from Hue Citadel and Royal Tombs, there are still two more interesting sights relating to Nguyen Dynasty in Hue. They are “Ho Quyen Voi Re” and not many people know about them. However, they can be the most unique sites in the old capital of Vietnam.
What is “Ho Quyen Voi Re”?
“Ho Quyen Voi Re” are two relics belong to Hue Monuments Complex. They are about 5 kilometers from the center of Hue city. Each year, these two special sites attract thousands of visitors, both foreign and Vietnamese tourists.
The use of Tiger Arena
People built the Royal Arena in 1830 to host gladiatorial duels between elephants and tigers. They organized these duels for the entertainment of the emperor and his courtiers.
In traditional Vietnamese culture, whenever talking about tigers, people often think of evil because they often prey upon villagers. On the other hands, elephants stands for a noble animal which symbolize the prestige and power of the royal family. In the past, the royal army often used elephants in warfare. For this reason, fights between this two species were often rigged to make sure the elephants always won. Normally, people would file down the tigers’ teeth as well as remove their claws, which made them unable to triumph over the elephants.
In Hue, the first tiger – elephant fight was organized in 1750 on Da Vien island in the Perfume River. According to some historical documents, 40 elephants are said to have killed 18 tigers.
Gradually, these fights became a popular “sport” in royal family. Before Emperor Minh Mang’s reign, they were organized on the river bank in front of the Citadel. However, there was an accident on one occasion. Realizing the need for a safer and permanent venue in 1829, Emperor Minh Mang ordered the construction of the Royal Arena.
The structure of Tiger Arena
In the past, elephants got access to the arena through an arched gateway. Five tiger pens of different sizes were already provided at ground level, all accesed from inside the arena. On either side of the gate are stairways which led to the spectator enclosures on top of the wall. On the left facing the auditorium for the royal family, and on the right facing the auditorium for the mandarins.
Elephant and tiger fight happened once every year and the last time this was organized was in 1904, under the reign of Emperor Thanh Thai. Exiting the Tiger Arena, turn left and head 200m west along the lane which skirts the north bank of the Voi Re Lake, on the right side of the road you’ll see the Long Chau or Voi Re (Crying Elephant) Temple.
Voi Re (Long Chau) Temple
Located at the foot of Tho Cuong Hill, Long Chau Temple was build by Emperor Gia Long to worship deceased war elephants and to pray for the protection of those currently serving in his army.
The legend about Long Chau Temple
There was a story that in the past, after a battle between the Nguyen and the Trinh, a brave general died. A war elephant named O Long ran back to his master’s home in Phu Xuan. It stood on Tho Cuong Hill and roar in anger before dropping dead. The villagers here felt very touched, so they buried it here and called that spot Voi Re (“Crying Elephant”). Later, Emperor Gia Long ordered to build the Long Chau Temple in front of O Long’s grave, for this reason, it became known to local people as Voi Re Temple.
Throughout the 19th century, people often organized ceremonies to worship the deceased war elephants twice each year. However, after the arrival of the French and the demise of the royal army, the elephants were used only for ceremonial purposes by the imperial guard. As a result, not many people came to Long Chau Temple anymore.
The structure of Long Chau Temple
Surrounding Long Chau Temple is a wall and there is a large three – entrance gate. Enter the complex and cross the front yard, visitor will see the inner compound. Inside the inner compound, there will be on either side of the courtyard the Dong Phoi Dien and Tay Phoi Dien temples. Straight ahead at the rear of the compound is a small elephant shrine house, the main Mieu Long Chau Temple.
Voi Re Temple is a very unique place with construction following the imperial “twin house” style. In the past, it housed the ancestral tablets of 15 famous former war elephants which had contributed to great victories of Nguyen forces. However, it is currently in very poor condition and closed to visitors.
How to get to “Ho Quyen Voi Re”?
To get to “Ho Quyen Voi Re”, visitors can start from Hue train station, follow Bui Thi Xuan street. Continue for about 2.5 kilometres and keep an eye out for Huyen Tran Cong Chua on the left. Once you find it, pass it, and continue 300 metres down to an alley called Kiet 373 Bui Thi Xuan on the left. Long Chau Temple is 200 metres down from the Tiger Fighting Arena.
If you are planning a trip to the old capital of Vietnam, and you want to try something new, why don’t you visit this well – preserved arena and unique temple? I’m sure that it will be totally a new and interesting experience for tourists. For more destination guides , please visit here.