Bao Dai Summer Palace and Other Legacies of Vietnam’s Final Emperor

Bao Dai Summer Palace (Vietnamese spelling: Biệt điện mùa hè Bảo Đại) is the most popular place to visit in the legacy of Vietnam’s last emperor. Due to his monarchical status, King Bao Dai had a number of mansions as his palaces across the country. Many sources cite the number being seven, but there are additional discoveries waiting to be confirmed.

Most of these palaces are currently open sites under the management of the Vietnamese government. Interestingly, three of them are in Dalat with one being the Bao Dai Summer Palace.

These palaces partially paint a picture of Bao Dai as a person, his background, as well as his tastes. However, there’s much more to understand about the last emperor and king of Vietnam as revealed below. Incidentally, there isn’t a clear distinction between ‘king’ and ‘emperor’ in Vietnamese history and language.

Bao Dai Summer Palace in Dalat

Bao Dai Summer Palace in Dalat
[ by Đặng Nam from Facebook ]

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The Bao Dai Summer Palace is a French-style mansion on a serene pine hill of the chilly plateau city Dalat. It was where the last emperor of Vietnam spent most of his working days while in this city. Locals tend to call it the Bao Dai Palace Three (Dinh III) and it’s the most popular one in Dalat.

Construction for the Bao Dai Summer Palace and its surrounding garden started in 1933 and finished in 1938. The French architects behind the structure are Paul Veysseyre and Arthur Kruze who gave it a European design.

After Bao Dai’s exile to France, the palace became a vacation building for officials of the Republic of Vietnam. After National Reunification, Bao Dai Summer Palace has been under the management of the government.

All three palaces are close to one another around central Dalat so you can easily visit them in one day. In addition, they’re all on pine hills which makes for some nice walking during the day.

Discover the Best Things to do in Dalat

Things to See in Bao Dai Summer Palace

Dressing up in Bao Dai Summer Palace
Dressing up in Bao Dai Summer Palace
[ by Nguyễn Vân Anh from Facebook ]

The Bao Dai Summer Palace has two floors and 25 rooms. For a more historically immersive experience, visitors can dress up as Vietnamese royalties while walking through the rooms.

The ground floor is for welcoming international ambassadors as well as government officials. It also has working offices, meeting rooms, and an entertainment room further in. You can see Bao Dai’s hunting trophies here including tiger skins and elephant husks.

Standing out in Bao Dai’s office is a replica of the royal seal. Also on display are a bust of Bao Dai and that of his father — Emperor Khải Định. Inside the parlor is a painting of the Angkor Wat, present from the former King of Cambodia — Norodom Sihanouk.

The upper floor is the still-intact living quarters of Bao Dai and his family members. Objects on display include furniture, their possessions, as well as photographs. The room for Prince Bảo Long has a gold scheme because he was chosen as the royal successor in 1939.

Bao Dai Palace One

Bao Dai Palace One
[ by Dinh 1 Đà Lạt from Facebook ]

The Bao Dai Palace One (Dinh I Bảo Đại) was built in 1940 by Robert Clément Bourgery, a French officer. In 1949, Bao Dai bought the building and then discovered a 4 km underground tunnel. The tunnel led to Palace Two and extended buildings. Interestingly, it was dug later by the Japanese in an attempt to capture French officials.

Bao Dai Palace Two

Bao Dai Palace Two
[ by Diane Selwyn from CC ]

The Bao Dai Palace Two (Dinh II Bảo Đại) used to be the office and living quarters for Jean Decoux. He was the Governor of French Cochinchina in Vietnam, hence another name which is Governor’s Palace (Dinh Toàn Quyền).

Construction for the mansion started in 1933 under a prominent French architecture. The secret tunnels under the building were to ensure the safety of this former governor. The bunker wine cellar, however, may not have served the same purpose.

The Last Servant of Bao Dai

As of 2010, visitors were still able to meet Mr. Nguyễn Đức Hòa — the last servant of Bao Dai. Even at 83 years old, he was still spending his days taking care of the memorabilia of his former king.

Nguyen Duc Hoa entered the Hue Citadel as a royal servant when he was thirteen. When the French moved Bao Dai to Dalat in 1949, he and 19 other servants were responsible for accompanying the emperor. Duc Hoa was then always part of the emperor’s entourage on his hunting trips, including to Dak Lak Province.

Later on, Bao Dai gifted him a large sum of money and a piece of land near the Summer Palace. They were a wedding gift for Duc Hoa. Duc Hoa continued to take care of the Summer Palace through changing governments, National Reunification, and to this day.

He was also able to preserve two safes of valuable artifacts of Queen Từ Cung — mother of Bao Dai. After the National Reunification, he gave them all to the local government to manage.

Bao Dai in Vietnamese History

Bao Dai in Vietnamese History
[ by manhhai from Flickr ]

Bao Dai was born Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy on October 22, 1913 in Hue Citadel. His mother was a servant named Hoàng Thị Cúc of Emperor Khai Dinh. She then became Queen Tu Cung when Khai Dinh announced Vinh Thuy (Bao Dai) to be his son and later successor.

There were rumors surrounding the legitimacy of the prince because of prior suspicion about Khai Dinh’s fertility. None of this, however, came to matter.

At 9 years old, Vinh Thuy began studying in a political studies school in Paris in preparation for becoming the new king. In late 1925, Khai Dinh passed away and Vinh Thuy ascended the throne as Emperor Bao Dai in January 1926.

Soon afterward, he returned to France to continue his education. The Imperial Court then took charge of national affairs in place of the young king. However, in reality, actual power was firmly in the hands of French Cochinchina.

Emperor Bao Dai and His Reforms

Emperor Bao Dai and His Reforms
[ by Reuter Raymond/Sygma from Getty Images ]

To ease the wave of revolutionary activity in Vietnam, the French recalled Bao Dai back to Vietnam in 1932. The French hoped that the King would be able to win the favor of the younger Vietnamese generations.

After finishing college in France, the young King adopted a Western lifestyle and outlook. However, the French obscured from him the true history and political climate in Vietnam.

Nonetheless, immediately after returning to Hue City, Bao Dai held Imperial Court and initiated reforms. One significant change was that subjects no longer needed to bow before the king. To Vietnamese civilians and royal officials, as well as French officers, this was a sign of a modern king.

Next, Bao Dai invigorated the political system by dispatching senior officials into retirement, appointing new positions, and more. He then spent time paying homage to his ancestors and traveling across the country to engage the views of his subjects.

Bao Dai and the End of Vietnamese Monarchy

Bao Dai and the End of Vietnamese Monarchy

Bao Dai, ou les derniers jours de l’empire d’Annam by Daniel Granclemen

In March 1945, the Japanese coup d’état in French Indochina led to Bao Dai forming new alliances. On the other hand, the August Revolution led by the Viet Minh seized control of main Vietnamese cities. The Việt Minh was the League for the Independence of Vietnam founded by Hồ Chí Minh (aka Nguyễn Ái Quốc).

Afterward, the Viet Minh sent an ultimatum asking the king to hand over authority to the new people’s government. In exchange, the lives and personal property of the imperial court would be guaranteed.

The royal court, including Bao Dai, were worried they would meet the tragic fate that had beset other royalty in times of revolution. However, upon finding out that Ho Chi Minh led the Viet Minh, Bao Dai agreed to give up the throne.

Subsequently, the Resignation Ceremony of Bao Dai was held soon after in front of the Meridian Gate of the Hue Citadel. In front of 50 000 people, Bao Dai stated he would rather be the citizen of a free country than the king of an enslaved nation.

In exchange, Bao Dai was invited by President Ho Chi Minh to be the Chief Advisor in Hanoi. His mother, wife, and children moved to An Dinh Palace in Hue.

Bao Dai as Head of State of Vietnam

Bao Dai as Head of State of Vietnam
[ image by Bettmann/CORBIS ]

In September 1945, the French once again invaded Vietnam. In 1946, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam sent Bao Dai abroad to raise support for the new government.

However, Bao Dai quickly succumbed to royal pleasures while staying in Hong Kong, thus abandoning his responsibilities. Taking advantage of his financial problems, the French lured in Bao Dai to use him as a puppet.

In 1947, French colonialists established the French Union to rival the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Later the same year, France and Bao Dai co-signed an accord establishing the State of Vietnam under the French Union.

Bao Dai had tried his best to negotiate for an independent State of Vietnam before he became its head in 1949. However, he then soon realized he was powerless in the face of French control He then resigned himself to vacating in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, away from politics.

After the 1954 Geneva Conference, France withdrew from Indochina and the chance for Vietnam to reunify opened up. However, in 1955, the then Prime Minister, Ngô Đình Diệm, surreptitiously ousted Bao Dai. Diem then became head of the Republic of Vietnam, hence the separation of North and South Vietnam.

King Bao Dai and Queen Nam Phuong

King Bao Dai and Queen Nam Phuong
King Bao Dai and Queen Nam Phuong in the Vatican
[ by Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho from Getty Images ]

Through arrangements from his foster parents in France, Bao Dai met with the intelligent and beautiful Nguyễn Hữu Thị Lan. She also studied abroad in France which was one of the reasons why they shared so much in common.

Their love actually blossomed in the romantic city of Dalat which led to their marriage in 1934. Immediately afterward, Bao Dai granted her the title Empress Nam Phương.

Queen Nam Phuong came from a wealthy Catholic family while Bao Dai followed Buddhism. However, their marriage was allowed by the Holy See. In addition, Nguyen Huu Thi Lan convinced Bao Dai to follow monogamy in contrast to all previous monarchs.

Queen Nam Phuong had a good understanding of the Vietnamese political situation at the time. She was also one of the people to persuade Bao Dai to relinquish the throne.

By 1945, she and Bao Dai produced five children together. However, as mentioned, Bao Dai succumbed to a life of luxury including relationships with other women.

Queen Nam Phuong’s grave in France
Queen Nam Phuong’s grave in Chabrignac Cemetery, France
[ by Quoc Huy from Facebook ]

In 1947, Queen Nam Phuong and her children moved to France after visiting Bao Dai once in Hong Kong. During the following years, Nam Phuong and Bao Dai would occasionally meet in France.

After her children had grown up, she moved away to live alone in Chabrignac, France, where she passed away in 1963. Her humble but tidy grave is still currently in Chabrignac Cemetery.

Memories of Queen Nam Phuong at Her Palace

Memories of Queen Nam Phuong at Her Palace
[ image from Artvalorem.fr ]

The Queen Nam Phuong Palace (Cung Nam Phương Hoàng Hậu) is on a pine hill along the French Quarter of Dalat. It had a Southeast Asia architectural twist, especially in the clay-tile roof. Construction for the mansion started in 1932 as a gift from her father for her marriage to Bao Dai.

The King, Queen, and their children used to stay here before the construction of the Bao Dai Summer Palace. However, it was only occasionally used for vacation and not as a long-term residence.

After she moved to France in 1947, the French used the mansion for different purposes. It wasn’t until after 1975 that the Vietnamese government took charge of the Queen Nam Phuong Palace. It’s currently under the management of Lam Dong Province Museum.

Things to See in Queen Nam Phuong Palace

Fancy Household of Queen Nam Phuong
[ by Quỳnh Trần from Vnexpress ]

The Queen Nam Phuong Palace has three floors and a total of ten rooms. The ceilings, windows, stairs, along with most of the furniture are made of wood. The ground floor is basically one large living area for welcoming guests. Meanwhile, the first floor displays Nguyen Dynasty Porcelain and gold tableware.

Queen Nam Phuong’s room is on the second floor. Here her wardrobe, makeup table, piano, and bed are on display. Interesting highlights include letters from Queen Nam Phuong to King Bao Dai when she was in France in 1949.

Other rooms have photographs on the walls, granite fireplaces imported from Italy, and other everyday objects. In addition, there’s an emergency underground passage speculated to be connected to the Bao Dai Palace One and Two.

Bao Dai Palace in Buon Ma Thuot

Bao Dai Palace in Buon Ma Thuot
[ by Le Dac Liem from Facebook ]

Besides Dalat, Buon Ma Thuot was another city in the Central Highlands of Vietnam where Bao Dai usually spent his vacations. A chief of Buon Don Village even gifted him an elephant to serve as a ride for his hunting hobby.

The Bao Dai Palace in central Buon Ma Thuot has exhibits on his life in the city. The building was originally the French Legation Office from 1926.

In 1940, it was rebuilt into a mansion having a mix of the traditional longhouse of the Ede people. After the King came here to stay during the French colonial period, people gave it the name Bao Dai Palace.

The Bao Dai Palace in Buon Ma Thuot is currently under the management of the Dak Lak Museum. The museum has pretty fascinating exhibits on Ethnic Cultures, Bio-diversity, and History of Dak Lak Province.

Coincidentally, many people don’t know that there’s also a Bao Dai Villa by Lak Lake. The lake has beautiful surroundings of green forest and the Yang Chu Sin Mountains. It’s also the biggest freshwater lake in Dak Lak and the second in Vietnam after Ba Be Lake.

The scenery was inspiring enough for Bao Dai to build a house on its shore. Nowadays, visitors can see various memorabilia and also spend the night in the residence of the last Vietnamese monarch.

Discover the Best Things to do in Buon Ma Thuot

White Palace or Villa Blanche in Vung Tau

White Palace in Vung Tau
[ by Nguyen Le Xuan Truong from Facebook ]

The White Palace (Bạch Dinh), or Villa Blanche, is the most prominent piece of French colonial architecture in Vung Tau City. The paths to the mansion, one for vehicles and one with 146 stone steps, are surrounded by trees.

Construction lasted from 1898 to 1902 on Big Mountain as a vacation villa for French officials. The name of the building came from Blanche Richel Doumer. She was the daughter of Paul Doumer — Governor-General of French Indochina from 1897 to 1902.

In 1934, it became the beach lodging for King Bao Dai and Queen Nam Phuong in Vung Tau. The current White Palace serves as a museum for Chinese Qing Dynasty pottery and cannons used in the Vietnamese wars.

Discover the Best Things to do in Vung Tau

Bao Dai Palace in Nha Trang

Bao Dai Palace in Nha Trang
[ by Hà Thành from Vnexpress.net ]

The Bao Dai Palace in Nha Trang is on a hill with amazing views of a secluded beach. The mansion’s original name was Les Agaves (Cactus) and part of a group of 5 in the same area. The others are Les Frangipaniers (Frangipani), Les Bouguinvilles (Bougainvillea), Les Flamboyants (Flamboyant), and Les Badamiers (tropical almond).

Construction for them started in 1923 near the Oceanography Institute as the living quarters for its researchers. Each of the respective gardens also has the plants of their names.

The initial owner of Les Agaves was the first Head Director of the Oceanography Institute. From 1940 to 1945, King Bao Dai and Queen Nam Phuong stayed here while on vacation in Nha Trang. From then on, people called it the Bao Dai Palace.

Nowadays, it’s a state-run hotel with a collection of exhibits on the life of the last monarch of Vietnam. There have been plans to renovate the area into a 5-star resort, but these haven’t materialized.

Discover the Best Things to do in Nha Trang

Bao Dai Palace in Hai Phong

Bao Dai Palace in Hai Phong
[ by Hà Thành from Vov.vn ]

Bao Dai Palace in Hai Phong City is on a hill with a view over Do Son Beach. Besides exhibits on Bao Dai and his family, there are actual hotel rooms for visitors to stay in.

Bao Dai Palace in Hai Phong has a typical French design with one basement, two floors, and a large garden. The basement has a kitchen with an emergency exit, storage, technical room, and servant quarters.

The first floor has a living room, dining room, an office, and bedrooms for the former King and Queen. Meanwhile, the second floor has more bedrooms which were for their five children and one of the king’s confidants.

Visitors can dress up as Nguyen Dynasty royalties and take awesome photos in these rooms. You can even book an event in the dining room as well.

The original building was built in 1928 by the Governor of French Cochichina at the time. Bao Dai came to the mansion to visit the Governor in 1939 and received it as a gift in 1949.

Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the war of Vietnam against French colonialists (1946 – 1954). The current mansion was an exact replica built by the government on the same location for tourism purposes.

A Forgotten Bao Dai Palace In Hanoi

A Forgotten Bao Dai Palace In Hanoi
[ by Khánh Trần from Vnexpress.net ]

In Hanoi, there’s a Bao Dai Palace almost forgotten in the ebb of time. This is partly due to it being privately-owned and, over time, becoming surrounded by new houses. According to official documents, the mansion belonged to Pierre Didelot and Nguyễn Hữu Hào — Queen Nam Phuong’s older sister.

Construction started in 1939 by Arthur Kruze who also built the Bao Dai Summer Palace. King Bao Dai procured the place to be his office in Hanoi in 1949. After National Reunification, the Vietnamese government sold the mansion for private acquisition.

Bao Dai Palace in Hanoi also has a nice mix of European and Vietnamese architecture. The roof has clay tiles with dragon and phoenix carvings on the edges — a typical empirical design.

 Visitors can still see the original garden walls, wooden spiral staircases, built-in closets, fireplaces, even the water and electricity system.

Throughout generations of owners, the mansion was separated into smaller apartments. Fortunately, the overall architecture has been well-preserved and still in a good condition. The building is currently rented as an interior design showroom. However, efforts are still being made to further preserve it.

Discover the Best Things to do in Hanoi

Peculiarities of Bao Dai’s Life

Peculiarities of Bao Dai’s Life
[ image from Lyndatrouve.com ]

During his time studying in France, photos of Bao Dai usually showed him in tennis, golf, or skiing outfits. This image was completely different from any prior feudal Vietnamese monarch. Bao Dai also enjoyed driving luxurious cars through the streets of France.

People often point out peculiar coincidences, especially regarding famous figures. For Bao Dai, people connect him to the number 13. Bao Dai was born in 1913 and had a total of 13 children. He also inherited the throne at the age of 13 as the 13th king in the Nguyen Dynasty.

The Love Life of Bao Dai

The Love Life of Bao Dai
Bao Dai and Monique Baudot
[ by TommyJapan1 from Flickr ]

From the time of his residence in Hanoi, Bao Dai no longer kept the promise of monogamy with Nam Phuong. Over the years, the harem of Bao Dai added seven more women.

Bùi Mộng Điệp, a dancer in Hanoi, was his first concubine and together they had one daughter and two sons. Unfortunately, the two boys both passed away at an early age. During the same period, Bao Dai also was in a relationship with another dancer, Lý Lệ Hà. Mong Diep passed away in 2011 in France.

While in China in 1946, he fell in love with a woman named Jenny Woong (Hoàng Tiểu Lan). They later had a daughter, and Bao Dai gifted her a mansion in Dalat.

During his years as the Head of the State of Vietnam, he married Lê Thị Phi Ánh. Together, they had one daughter and one son.

During his later years of exile in France, he was in a short relationship with Christiane Bloch-Carcenac. After having one daughter, they broke up and Bao Dai left the house to her and their child.

In 1972, Bao Dai converted to Christianity and married Monique Baudot to be his second official consort and last wife. She then became Queen Thái Phương but they, unfortunately, had no children together. She only recently passed away in September 2021.

The Final Days of Bao Dai

Final Days of Bao Dai
[ by Sung Lee Nguyen from Facebook ]

Following his ousting by Ngo Dinh Diem in 1954, Bao Dai lived a life of exile in Paris. After he had wasted his fortune, it was Monique who took care of him.

He still received a small salary from the French government, but that wasn’t enough for his way of life. His children supported him when they could, but their financial situations weren’t too optimistic either. However, it saddened him that they weren’t fond of Monique.

In 1982, the children he had with Phi Anh and Jenny Woong invited him to America where they were living. He was happy to be able to meet up with his children and old friends there. His children in America were also able to officially add him as their father to their birth certificates.

Monique was by his side when Bao Dai passed away in 1997 and arranged for his funeral. Bao Dai’s funeral received ceremonial recognition from the French Government. The Vietnamese Government also sent a bouquet of flowers. Bao Dai rests in peace in a humble grave in Passy Cemetery, not too far from the Eiffel Tower.

The Children of Bao Dai

Children of Bao Dai
Queen Nam Phuong and four of her children
[ image from Aavh.org ]

Bao Dai had a total of 13 children, including one existing in the family records without an identified mother. Most of his children also shared an unfortunate life similar to his. For better or worse, Vietnamese media mostly only covered the lives of the children of Bao Dai and Nam Phuong.

Prince Bảo Long and Bảo Thắng both had unsuccessful lives and no children. Meanwhile, the eldest daughter, princess Phương Mai, had unhappy marriages and spent her final days with her sister, Princess Phương Liên.

Phuong Lien’s life was the most promising out of Nam Phuong’s children. And, for Princess Phương Dung, there hasn’t been much information about her besides an unsuccessful career.

Bao Dai and the Once Highest Auctioned Rolex

Highest Auctioned Rolex Bao Dai
[ image from Phillips.com ]

When he came to Switzerland for the 1954 Geneva Conference, Bao Dai purchased the Rolex Reference 6062 Oyster Perpetual. At the time, this was the most luxurious Rolex one could find.

The Rolex Reference 6062 Oyster Perpetual is in yellow gold with a triple calendar, black dial, and 5 diamond indexes. In addition, the case was signed by Bao Dai himself. After his passing in 1997, one of his children inherited it and put it in a bank in Paris.

In 2017, this Rolex Reference 6062 appeared in a Phillips auction, also in Switzerland, as the Bao Dai Rolex. The final price for it was 5.061 million USD, making it the highest auctioned Rolex in history as of 2017.

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