Ho Quyen, Tiger Fighting Arena and Long Chau Temple
One of the most interesting sites in Hue
What we say:
Ho Quyen, Tiger Fighting Arena - One of the most interesting sights in Hue 8/10
3km out of Hue
Description: This is probably the most interesting site in Hue, and it is all too often overlooked by visitors. It was built in 1830 during the reign of Emporer Minh Mang to stage yearly battles between an elephant and a tiger. The last one took place in 1904, and tigers fighting elephants has since gone the way of bear baiting in Europe.
The arena is not of Roman proportions, but impressively solid, still intact, and a rarity in the history of Asian architecture. It consists of two thick, circular walls around an earthen rampart, with stairs leading to the top of the wall, one set reserved for the Emporer and his family, and another for the rest of the court and commoners. Opposite the royal rostrum (as far as possible from the royal family) are five tiger cages where there are still claw marks visible in the plaster walls. We know, poor tigers, but it gets worse. The fights were fixed -- just like professional wrestling. Before the fight, the tiger was drugged and had its claws and fangs removed. If the elephant sent into fight it couldn't do the job, another elephant was sent in to help. The elephants always won. Why? The tiger symbolised rebellion.The elephant symbolised the monarchy.
Gruesome, yes, but one of the most vivid object lessons in Vietnamese history in Hue.
Sadly, when we revisited in 2014 the arena had been sealed off as it has crumbled to the point of it being written off as unsafe; it was impossible to get a good look and a walk around the circumference revealed clumsily applied cement covering the tiger and elephant gates and cages. There is talk of a big restoration project sometime in the future. The spot is still very much worth incuding in your itinerary not only for the setting, but also for Long Chau Temple, found 200 metres further down the same road, known locally as Dien Voi Re (the Palace of the Crying Elephants).
This atmospheric temple isn't featured on any maps but features the remains of the royal temple where the king's duelling elephants were buried and worshipped. It’s been all but written off by guides as it's considered to be too badly maintained to be of any interest, but we found it to be one of the most interesting temples around. It looks out over a big lotus-filled pond where it's said the triumphant elephants went to cool off after a successful fight. Just behind this is a big, slightly delapidated gate which is decorated with unusual cloven-hooved war animals (of which we were unable to find much information) and intricate ceramic mosaic long-life and happiness motifs. Beyond this are several crumbling but still intact pavillions and a large main hall surrounded by stone tombs, each housing a statue of an elephant with big gaping holes where tusks once were.
More details3km out of Hue
How to get there: Head west on Le Loi towards the train station, and take a right after crossing the small bridge onto Bui Thi Xuan. Continue for 2.5 kilometres and keep an eye out for Nguyen Tran Cong Chua on the left. Once you find it, pass it, and continue 300 metres down to an alley called Kiet 373 on the left. Long Chau Temple is 200 metres down from the tiger fighting arena.
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