Fodor's Expert Review Hoa Lu

Ninh Binh Historic District/Site

This is an interesting excursion on a number of different levels. Significantly, it was the first capital of independent Vietnam, and equally arresting is its stirring location amid the karst scenery that distinguishes Ninh Binh Province. Both the stunning natural surroundings of limestone outcrops and meandering streams and Hoa Lu's status as a former seat of power make for a worthy addition to any travel itinerary.

The Dinh Tien Hoang Temple at Hoa Lu honors the emperor who established the capital here. The musty, dimly lit back chamber here houses statues of the king and his three sons. The main hall has been heavily restored, and much of the wood construction visible today is from renovations done in the 17th century. In the temple courtyard stands a 3-foot-high sculpture made of stone. The dragon lying atop it is meant to symbolize the king sleeping, while unicorns stand guard on each side to protect him. To the left of the temple is a small structure containing three stone... READ MORE

This is an interesting excursion on a number of different levels. Significantly, it was the first capital of independent Vietnam, and equally arresting is its stirring location amid the karst scenery that distinguishes Ninh Binh Province. Both the stunning natural surroundings of limestone outcrops and meandering streams and Hoa Lu's status as a former seat of power make for a worthy addition to any travel itinerary.

The Dinh Tien Hoang Temple at Hoa Lu honors the emperor who established the capital here. The musty, dimly lit back chamber here houses statues of the king and his three sons. The main hall has been heavily restored, and much of the wood construction visible today is from renovations done in the 17th century. In the temple courtyard stands a 3-foot-high sculpture made of stone. The dragon lying atop it is meant to symbolize the king sleeping, while unicorns stand guard on each side to protect him. To the left of the temple is a small structure containing three stone stelae inscribed with the king's blessings and details about various restorations. In 1696, the entire temple compound was shifted from its original northward orientation, the direction of evil according to Taoist belief, to face the more auspicious east. In 1898, Emperor Nguyen Thanh Thai had the temple raised 2 feet)as a gesture of respect to Dinh Tien Hoang. The entire walled in compound was designed in the shape of the Chinese character meaning "country."

The Le Dai Hanh Temple is named after the general who became the first emperor of the dynasty in 980. The back chamber here houses ornate wooden statues of Le Dai Hanh, his son Tri Trung, and one of his five wives, Duong Van Nga, arguably the most interesting of the three figures. Upon the emperor's death, Duong Van Nga beseeched the head military mandarin of the time to prevent Chinese invaders from entering the country. She promised that she'd take away the rule of her six-year-old son and put it in the mandarin's hands, marrying him if he succeeded. When the mandarin repelled the Chinese, she made good on both promises. Her lifetime saw her become the wife of two kings, as well as the mother of two kings—the only woman with such a distinction in Vietnamese history. Depending on the angle from which you view her statue, her face will appear to reflect one of three feelings: seriousness over her daily affairs, sadness for the death of her husbands, and a half smile of satisfaction after the military mandarin defeated the invading Chinese forces and reinstalled her as queen.

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Historic District/Site

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Hoa Lu, Ninh Binh  Vietnam

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