Story: Truc Lam
Photos: Le Bich, Ba Ngoc, Le Huy Hoang Hai Le Thi Minh Nguyet

Tet rituals and visits are followed by excursions to welcome the spring. There’s no better time to visit Vietnam’s former capitals than during the Tet holidays.

In Vietnam, spring brings warm breezes and honeyed sunshine, family reunions, trays of sumptuous ritual offerings and swirling incense that perfumes the air. Following celebratory Tet rituals at home and traditional New Year’s visits, it’s time for families to go on holiday. There’s no better season to visit the nation’s former capitals. Over a history spanning millennium, the country has preserved some magnificent citadels including Hoa Lu enclosed by mountains, stately old Thang Long and the exquisite Hue Citadel.

No visit to Hanoi is complete without a tour of Thang Long Imperial Citadel. At the beginning of a year, the citadel is crowded with visitors eager to enjoy spring breezes in the Princess Pavilion, stroll through the old brick courtyard before Kinh Thien Palace and marvel at the flowers blooming despite the wintry chill. While the citadel’s former glory is but a distant memory, it remains an enchanting venue, with curling royal gables, huge arched entries, a pair of stone dragons dating back to Ly Dynasty and many other priceless artefacts. While enjoying a stroll, visitors can offer incense in memory of those who built this colossal wonder.

Another historic site in Hanoi is Co Loa Citadel, associated with the Sacred Golden Tortoise that helped King An Duong Thuc Phan build his helix fortress, the capital of the Au Lac Kingdom, the second state in Vietnam after Van Lang, the kingdom of the Hung Kings. Remnants of Co Loa include earthen walls sheltering eight old villages and a temple devoted to King An Duong and Princess Mi Chau. A tragic legend about the king and his daughter make this a much-visited site, especially during the Tet holidays. The citadel’s annual festival starts on Lunar January 6. This colorful festival includes a procession with flags and parasols, solemn religious rites, and exciting folk games hosted outside the temple complex.

  Nearly 100km southward lies the former capital of Hoa Lu, the capital of the Dai Co Viet Kingdom founded by Dinh Bo Linh in the 10th century. People hailing from this region exerted a significant impact on the fate of this nation through the Dinh, Le and Ly dynasties. Encircled by undulating mountains and the Hoang Long River, this site is breathtakingly beautiful. In the springtime, the paddy fields of Nho Quan are emerald green, and historic sites are crowded beneath colorful festival flags. Visitors should stop at Dinh and Le Temples, built in honor of national heroes, before traveling to the Trang An Compound, Bai Dinh Pagoda and taking a short boat ride to Tam Coc – Bich Dong. In the spring, colorful processions of sacred palanquins wind through the picturesque landscape and the locals prepare traditional foods. Along with chung cakes and fried spring rolls, Ninh Binh locals treat visitors to specialties like half-cooked goat, goat spring rolls, ant egg sticky rice and the best braised fish in Vietnam.

  Further southward lies the former citadel of Hue, home to the largely intact architectural masterpieces of the Nguyen Dynasty. During the Tet holidays, the Hue Monuments Conservation Center opens the entire citadel to the public free of charge. Visitors are awed by the mausoleums, imperial palaces and temples, their yin-yang roof tiles glinting under the spring sunshine. Hue is endlessly charming thanks to its solemn former palaces, the romantic Perfume River adorned with Trang Tien Bridge, and its sleepy garden mansions. Hue is also known for its refined cuisine and is a fine place to sample New Year’s delicacies.

Adorned with boughs of pink peach blossoms and golden ochnas, the landscapes of Vietnam’s former capitals delight visitors during the Tet New Year holidays. As we welcome a New Year, these historic sites remind us of the cultural values of a nation that has stood tall through the ups and downs of history.