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Street Cred: Princess Huyen Tran's Historic Hanky Panky

Arguably Vietnam’s most famous princess, Huyen Tran was born in 1287 to King Tran Nhan Tong and Queen Thien Cam, rulers of the Dai Viet kingdom. Throughout her childhood, Huyen Tran was your standard, run-of-the-mill royalty, but at 18, her father decided to strengthen Dai Viet-Champa relations by promising her hand in marriage to Champa king Che Man.

The ceremony took place in 1306, officially binding the two kingdoms together. In return, her brother Tran Anh Tong, who succeeded their father on the throne, inherited two provinces spanning what is now the southern half of Quang Tri province as well as the entirety of Thua Thien-Hue province.

A year later, however, Princess Huyen Tran found herself in real trouble when her husband passed away. According to the Champa customs of the time, queens were meant to “follow” their kings into the afterlife. This is a fancy way of saying the Champa wanted to burn her alive.

Aware of this custom, King Tran Anh Tong heard the news of Che Man’s death and immediately sent his right-hand man, grand councilor Tran Khac Chung, to rescue the princess. When Chung arrived in Champa territory, he tried to buy Huyen Tran some time while hatching an escape plan and convinced the Champa not to light on her fire just yet. Chung then went back to the water and prepared his boat; when Huyen Tran arrived on the beach, he whisked her away and sailed off, leaving the Champa high and dry.

From there, Huyen Tran and Chung’s return to Thang Long (present-day Hanoi) lasted 10 months. This is where things get interesting: despite the nonexistence of motorboats in the 14th century, it was generally agreed upon by people of that time that it did not, in fact, take a full 10 months to travel from Champa territory to Thang Long. As a result, it was widely suspected that Huyen Tran and Chung fell for each other on their journey back to the capital and chose to take their time on the way home.

This extramarital side action haunted the duo for the rest of their lives. Following the boat trip, Lord Hung Nhuong, a general under the Tran dynasty, went around claiming Chung was a “bad omen”, however the two had previous beef so it’s also possible the general was just a hater.

Later on in history, others contested the alleged boat romance, arguing that Chung was a pious man who had a close relationship to Huyen Tran’s brother, the king. Given Tran Anh Tong’s strict rules against adultery at the time, some people doubt Chung and the princess ever even got together in the first place.

One such naysayer is writer Nguyen Khoi, who published an article in 2014 claiming the entire story did not add up, according to Doi Song & Phap Luat. King Che Man died in May, Khoi wrote, and in line with Champa customs Huyen Tran would have been cremated by June at the latest. However Huyen Tran also gave birth to a son, Che Da Da, that August and sent a white elephant tribute – the sign of a grandchild – to the Dai Viet in September. By Khoi’s argument, this meant the earliest Chung could have departed to “rescue” the princess was October.

Beyond the timeline, Khoi also pointed out that the Champa were unlikely to burn a pregnant woman alive because that was somehow way worse than burning a non-pregnant woman. There are also questions about whether the following of one’s husband into the afterlife was an optional or mandatory affair.

Finally, the boat mentioned in today’s retelling of the story is probably inaccurate. According to Khoi, Chung wasn’t alone when he went to rescue the princess, and such a small boat would not have accommodated more than two people – nor, mind you, would it have been conducive to the ol' horizontal tango.

Whatever you believe, today Princess Huyen Tran is credited with helping to expand the territory of the Dai Viet and further Vietnam’s growth through her marriage to Che Man. Today, the street bearing her name runs along one side of the city's Reunification Palace and is particularly well-known for its sportswear.

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