Ho Quyen is a 100-year-old arena tucked away on a residential street in the central Vietnamese city of Huế.
Built in 1830, this elephant vs tiger battleground is one of the most unusual sites in Huế, if not the whole of Vietnam.
It has not seen a fight since 1904 and has since fallen into a state of disrepair.
With restoration works currently taking place, the Ho Quyen Arena will soon be back firmly on the ‘must-see’ list of all visitors to the city but is still well worth a visit despite the construction works.
I mean, where else in the world do you get to visit a giant arena designed solely to accomodate battles between tigers and elephants!?
Time to find out a bit more about the magnificent and unusual Ho Quyen Tiger and Elephant Fighting Arena.
Where is Ho Quyen Tiger Fighting Arena?
Ho Guyen Tiger Fighting Arena is at 373 Bùi Thị Xuân, GPS coordinates 16.4500, 107.5538.
How to Visit Ho Quyen
Located at the end of a dusty residential street a few kilometres from the centre of Huế, Ho Quyen Arena is not somewhere you’re going to arrive at by chance…
…even though I’d looked it up and given our driver exact coordinates, it still took some persistent exploring down a narrow side street before we found it!
Ho Quyen is not on many tour itineraries – we managed to organise ourselves a private driver to get here as part of a wider tour of the ancient monuments around Hue – so don’t expect to visit unless you ask.
There are lots of tour options below.
When we made contact with the driver in advance he was more than happy to accommodate this small extra into the trip and was actually interested to go to a less well-known monument. You won’t need more than about 15 minutes to explore the Tiger Arena, so it can easily be added to a day-trip.
The only tour I could find which includes the Ho Quyen Arena on its itinerary was on Tripadvisor, click below to book:
You could also consider doing a one-off trip as it is less than 10km from the city centre. We used Grab Taxis a lot whilst travelling in Southeast Asia, a short journey like this wouldn’t cost too much.
About Ho Quyen
It was hard to research this incredible venue, with many loose facts copied from one website to another without reference. I have done my best to pull together and sort out information from many different sources as well as local knowledge from our driver, hopefully it is all accurate!
The Ho Quyen Tiger and Elephant Fighting Arena was built in 1830 by Emperor Minh Mang the second Emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty of Vietnam.
Elephant and tiger fights were held long before Ho Quyen was constructed, usually on Da Vien Island on the Perfume River. There were some huge battles fought, including one in 1750 where 40 elephants massacred 18 tigers.
These events not only provided beastly entertainment for the royals, but they also helped the king to train his mobile fortress army of war elephants.
Without an arena though, the fights were not very safe.
At Minh Mang’s 38th birthday celebration in 1829, the king took a dragon boat to watch a match between elephants and tigers on the northern bank of the Huong River. During the fight, a tiger rushed out and swam towards the dragon boat. Minh Mang used the pole to repel the tiger before the army rowed in to kill it.
Due to this incident, the king chose to build the Ho Quyen Arena and it became the host of the yearly bloody battles between elephants and tigers.
The elephants represented the monarchy and the tigers the rebellion, so it should come as no surprise that the fights were fixed. The tigers had their claws and teeth removed, and were often drugged. If they overcame these odds, a second elephant would be sent into the arena to ensure a victory for the Royal Family.
The walls of the amphitheatre are around 5 metres, a height deemed sufficient to keep the royal party out of reach of unhappy tigers. The arena itself is 44 metres in diameter, almost the same width as the Colosseum in Rome, though the more famous Italian landmark is an oval shape, making it nearly double the length of Ho Quyen.
The video below, whilst in Vietnamese, shows some incredible images of the arena and its history and is well worth a watch.
Long Chau Temple ‘The Palace of the Crying Elephants’
Less than 200 metres up the path from Ho Quyen Arena is Long Chau Temple.
Long Chau is a royal temple where the kings’ war elephants were buried and worshipped. Locally it is known as Dien Voi Ré, the Palace of the Crying Elephants, due to the legend below.
The Legend of Long Chau Temple
There is a story that, during a battle between the Nguyễn and the Trinh, a famous general died.
He had a war elephant named O Long which, after its master’s death, ran some 100km back to his home in Phu Xuan. It is said to have stood on Tho Cuong Hill and roared in anger before dropping dead of exhaustion. The villagers buried it there and called that spot Voi Ré – translated as crying elephant.
Later, Emperor Gia Long ordered Long Chau Temple be built in front of O Long’s grave, not only to celebrate the loyalty of the elephant toward its master but also to reward the humanity of the local people. For this reason, it became known to local people as Voi Ré Temple.
Long Chau Temple and Ho Quyen
“After elephants had finished their battles at Ho Quyen Arena they were led the short distance to the Long Chau Temple, where their wounds were bathed in the cool waters of a big lotus-filled pond, and received blessings to celebrate their victories.”
The Long Chau Temple is as striking as the Arena and well worth the five-minute walk.
It looks out over a big lotus-filled pond where the triumphant elephants went to cool off after a successful fight.
Beside this are the walls and gates to the temple, which despite being slightly weather-beaten still make for a glorious sight against the backdrop of a blue sky.
The walls are decorated with bull-like war animals which are decorated with ceramic mosaic pieces.
Beyond the walls are several crumbling but still intact pavilions and a large main hall surrounded by stone tombs, each containing the statue of an elephant with big gaping holes where tusks once were.
Ho Quyen Refurbishment
The Arena itself is currently being renovated, with the central arena currently shut off.
When access is restored, the six tiger cages will once again be viewable. If you look carefully at the plasterwork inside, you can still see the scratches left behind by the tigers.