A small heritage tragedy in Hue - Rusty Compass travel blog

A small heritage tragedy in Hue

| 21 Dec 2015
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21 Dec 2015

Another little piece of Hue heritage bites the dust. It’s a small part of a larger nationwide heritage tragedy in Vietnam.

I’ve been watching the deterioration of this small temple in Hue over the past seven years with sadness. Last week I went back to find it all but completely destroyed.

The temple’s nameless and sits on Phan Dinh Phung St - an historic Hue street that few tourists visit. It would have been a prestigious address during the Nguyen Dynasty period, which ended in 1945.

Emperor Khai Dinh, the second last king, built a residence on Phan Dinh Phung St, and there are many other buildings along it that were connected to the dynasty. Information is non-existent.

Fallen heritage, Hue
Photo: Mark Bowyer Fallen heritage, Hue


Fallen heritage, Hue
Photo: Mark Bowyer Fallen heritage, Hue

Vietnam’s last king, Bao Dai, stayed in the residence built by his father, after his abdication. His mother, Tu Cung, lived in another nearby residence, also on Phan Dinh Phung St, up until her death in 1980.

I’ve regularly visited both buildings over many years.

Around six or seven years ago, I noticed a temple crumbling between these royal residences and wandered in to take some photos.

Since that visit, I’ve returned to witness the depressing collapse of this little piece of Hue heritage. There's plenty of evidence of beautiful workmanship in the decorative wood carving that now rots on the ground. It seems reasonable to assume that only four or five decades ago, this temple would have meant a great deal to the people of the area. But not anymore.

These days, it looks like something from the catastrophic 1968 Battle of Hue - one of the most destructive of the Vietnam War.

This first video was shot back in 2014.


The second video was shot last week - December 2015.



On my most recent visit, a group, mainly men, sat at the front of the block playing cards. I asked if anyone knew anything about the temple. I was told that it was connected to the fallen Nguyen dynasty and was now the property of “nha nuoc” - the State. That was all the neighbours knew. Some also expressed some regret that it was in such a dismal state.

It's now well and truly beyond repair - like the rotting carcass of a once beautiful creature.

You could argue whether or not this particular temple was worthy of the cost and effort of some proper preservation. I don't know the answer. But this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Vietnam’s haemorrhaging of heritage. It’s happening everywhere. And this stuff can’t be brought back. It's a disaster for Vietnam as a heritage travel destination. But more importantly, it's a disaster for Vietnam's wonderfully unique culture - and heritage and future generations of Vietnamese wishing to explore their past.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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