A palace for the Don

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 The palace was built with ancient Chinese-style architecture.

Standing in the shade of tall, straight trees in the cloudy Dong Van Plateau is a century-old mansion, the former residence of a powerful family headed by a veritable Don in the early 20th century.

The palace of the Vuong family, led by Vuong Chinh Duc, dubbed Vua Meo (King of the H'mong ethnic people), has become a popular tourist attraction in the mountainous province of Ha Giang over the last few years.

Vietnam's Vua Meo, or the spiritual leader of the H'mong people, may not be as famous as General Vang Pao of Laos, but his palace was recognized by the government in 1993 as a national cultural heritage.

Built in 1914, the mansion has survived two major wars against the French and the Americans and is described as a symbol of the past glory of H'mong people.

Vuong Chinh Duc (1865-1947) ruled over an "empire" stretching from the province's Dong Van Plateau to Meo Vac Town, in the early 20th century.

Thanks to the production and cross-border trade of opium made him the richest and most powerful man in the area.

To strengthen his reign, he built the Chinese-style palace covering an area of 1,120 square meters, surrounded by 700 century-old trees in Sa Phin Commune, Dong Van District.

It was the home of Vua Meo, his three wives and their four sons.

GETTING THERE

The Vuong Palace is located in the Dong Van Stone Plateau, which has been recognized as a world geographical park by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

You can book the Hanoi-Ha Giang tour offered by several travel companies in Hanoi, or take a bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang Province some 350 kilometers away. From Ha Giang Town, take a bus, or a motorbike taxi (xe om) or hire a motorbike to drive along the 4C Road to reach the plateau.

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The palace took eight years to complete and was built by 200 skilled construction workers from China's Yunnan province bordering Vietnam.

It cost Vua Meo 150,000 silver coins, the equivalent of VND150 billion (US$7.5 million) these days.

Built of stone, several kinds of valuable wood and terracotta tiles, the two-story palace resembles the structures found in China during the Qing Dynasty three or four centuries ago.

In the "living room," there is a horizontal lacquered board engraved with Chinese characters that the king of the ruling Nguyen Dynasty gifted to Vua Meo.

The Vuong Palace has 64 rooms, all decorated with carvings of dragons, phoenixes and bats, symbols of strength, royalty and prosperity.

The Vuong Palace is full of wood or stone engraved with patterns of poppy flowers and fruit. This is why it is also called the "opium palace."

The underground cellar on the left side of the mansion was designed to store opium, and there are other cellars for storing food and weapons.

In the backyard is a half-moon shaped stone bathtub where the first wife of Vua Meo bathed in goat milk. Legend has it that Vua Meo forced local officials to give him the goats every month to get milk.

Surrounding the palace is a large garden in which the family planted pears, peaches and other fruit trees.

After Vuong Chinh Duc died in 1947, his second son Vuong Chi Sinh took over the business. Sinh devoted all the remaining years of his life to the country's resistance war against the French.

Surviving Vuong family members still live near their former home and work as caretakers and tour guides at the palace.

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