The Anh Dinh Palace, Hue’s Hidden Pearl*

The afternoon walk around Hue’s Imperial Citadel drained my energy. It was hot and humid and my brain was trying to process a lot of beautiful architectural design and trying to process the exact words I will be writing down in my travel journal when I get to our home stay. We needed a break. So, we hailed a cab and directed the driver to take us to the Anh Dinh Palace.

* “Anh Dinh Palace — Hue’s Hidden Pearl” is a book published by the Geothe Institute in Hanoi, which book documented the restoration of the Anh Dinh Palace.

The Palace was built by Emperor Khai Dinh between 1916 and 1918. Many would comment that the Anh Dinh Palace is a copy of the Versailles (Vietnam was still a French colony when the Anh Dinh Palace was built), but when you look closely ìnto the details, you would notice the injection of Oriental designs. Emperor Khai Dinh was all embracing of the French colonizers and sent his son, the soon-to-be-emperor Bao Dai, to study in the Western-style of education.

But times have changed during Khai Dinh’s reign and soon he found himself dead at 40 and his son was proclaimed emperor by a now fading empire. By this time, the French were losing their authority in Asia and in Vietnam, the Japanese and the Americans arrived, and the communism party has already taken root. Communist Vietnam was against the feudalistic dynasty. Bao Dai was forced to leave the Imperial Citadel as his home and moved to the Anh Dinh Palace. Eventually, the Nguyen empire ended and Bao Dai, the last emperor, went into exile (living an extravagant life, according to many printed sources).

During the war, Hue, which was the last bastion of the last dynasty of Vietnam suffered the most. Because the city represented all that the communist party was against, many parts of history were erased. But then, they, the Vietnamese decide the fate of their nation. They make the history themselves. They can write and rewrite it however they want.

Anyway, the Anh Dihn Palace was not spared. Most buildings in the palace grounds were destroyed but the residential building remained. We told the taxi driver we were going to the Anh Dihn Palace and showed him the address using our map. He dropped us off at the Nguyen Hue side of the palace, which was the wrong side because entrance was at the Phan Dihn Phung side, facing the An Cuu River, which coincidentally was also the river facing our homestay.

The palace could be difficult to find because you cannot glimpse of any grandeur from outside. There was a colorful gate but I still was not sure, until we got inside. I have not been to the Versailles but surely one could see it was a palace. We paid the entrance fee of 20,000VND (Php44.91) and were let in by an aging guard and an equally aging dog. There were three young Vietnamese having a photoshoot outside.

It was a grand palace, and restorations have been done well and true to original colors. You will be amazed at how opulent they lived, and how small they were. A statue of Emperor Khai Dihn, made true to his size, is displayed at the bottom of the grand staircase, and we were surprised, no, make that shocked, to discover how tiny he was. No cameras were allowed inside though.

We circled the whole house in less than 30 minutes. Most rooms were cordoned off, probably so as not to destroy the restoration work. It was nearing 5:30 in the afternoon and the guard has already begun closing the shutters. The palace turned darker and I got chilly. The guard told us to just continue looking around. But I was already afraid of being locked in. So we hurriedly walked out.


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