Visitors can retrace Vietnam’s ancient feudal history with a tour of its former royal capitals

The Ho citadel

If you want to travel back in time to Vietnam’s royal past, your first destination should be Hue, the capital of the last feudal regime in Vietnam. Here, one of the most epic and tragic eras in Vietnam’s history took place, with the rise of one of the most powerful dynasties in the region followed by its fall before the cannons of Western invaders. After many natural and historical upheavals, Hue still retains a virtually intact layout of a feudal city – fortresses, palaces, pavilions, temples, sacrificial sites, pagodas, assembly houses and mausoleums. In 1993, Hue became the first World Heritage in Vietnam to be acknowledge by unEsCO. Until now, the former citadel of Hue still boasts the largest number of globally significant heritages: Hue monument Complex (1993), Elegant court music (2003), nguyen Dynasty woodblock prints (2013) and nguyen dynasty ordinances (2014).

Hue became a political and cultural hub of Cochinchine in the 16th century when Lord nguyen Hoang moved southward. In 1636 it became the official capital of Cochinchine, hosting the Tay Son dynasty and the Nguyen dynasty until the mid-20th century. During these centuries the city was a meeting place and melting pot of diverse cultural influences from throughout the country and region. It has retained its unique culture.

Bai Dinh Pagoda

Life here is slow, but never boring, and full of cultural colours and rich spiritual values. Quintessential Vietnamese cultural essences have been cherished and preserved through many generations. They are present in the grave appearance of gold lưu ly roof tiles, moss-blanketed palace walls, royal mausoleums, countless little pagodas throughout the city and neighbouring rural areas, ancient garden mansions and pavilions to newly built edifices and farms, and also in the rustic but elegant daily behaviour of Hue locals.

Visitors to Hue and its environs are spoiled for choice. They can explore rich royal and folk cultural heritages, vast lagoons and marshes, fine sandy beaches, mysterious forests, diverse local specialties and well known cuisine. not surprisingly, the number of visitors to Hue keeps rising.

Mom Soi Mountain - Trang An

Leaving Hue and traveling northward for 400km, we will discover another former capital of Vietnam: the Ho Citadel, the capital of the ill-fated but glorious Ho Dynasty (1400 – 1407). The Ho Citadel (alternatively known as Tay Do, Tay Giai or an Ton Fortress) is one of the nation’s architectural wonders. it is situated in Vinh Loc District, Thanh Hoa. This colossal fortress had outer walls made of earth spanning tens of kilometres. Its inner walls stretched about 3.5km and were made of monolithic rocks, each weighing 10 to 15 tons, or even up to 26 tons. The entire fortress was built within the last months of 1397. It was the capital during the last three years of the Tran Dynasty (1225 – 1400) and for seven years of the Ho Dynasty. After warfare and chaos, wooden constructions such as palaces and pavilions were reduced to ashes, yet the fortress still challenges the ravages of time. The Ho Citadel is the only stone-built fortress in southeast asia and is also among few of its kind worldwide. In June 2011, the citadel was registered by Unesco as a World Cultural Heritage. It was declared a National Historic site in 1962.

Visitors to the Ho Citadel usually visit the Heaven and Earth sacrificial site (for Ho Dynasty sacrifices) and nearby vestiges affiliated with the Tran and Ho Dynasties such as Lady Binh Khuong Temple (dedicated to the wife of General Tran Cong Sy who oversaw the construction of the eastern side of Ho Citadel); Tam Tong Temple (dedicated to General Tran Khat Chan); My Dam Lake (said to have been a moat connecting the citadel with the Ma River); Hang Nang (where King Tran Thieu De and his two court maids were imprisoned); An Ton mount (the quarry where the rock was sourced), etc. Guests with more time should visit neighbouring villages where life remains rustic and traditional. Ancient houses and pagodas are associated with myths and unusual legends. Thanh Hoa province offers many interesting sites, including Trinh Lord Temple, the ancestral temples of the nguyen dynasty and Lam Kinh Capital of the Le Dynasty.

Festival in Spring - Trang An

Traveling another 100km northward visitors will reach Trang An, the capital of the Dinh Dynasty (1009-1010), the first independent feudal dynasty of Vietnam following a millennium of Chinese colonisation; the Pre-Le Dynasty (980 – 1009); and the Ly Dynasty (1009 – 1010). With well-preserved vestiges and both historic and natural significance, Trang An is the first mixed World Heritage of Vietnam registered by unEsCO (2014).

After overcoming insurgents in 968, Dinh Bo Linh was proclaimed emperor and renamed his kingdom Dai Co Viet. He ordered the construction of Hoa Lu as the capital of a unified country. While it endured for just 40 years, Hoa Lu was a political, economic and cultural hub of an independent and unified state further glorified by having “defeated song invaders and conquered Champa” to confirm and raise the status of Vietnam. In 1010, King Ly Thai To moved his capital to Thang Long (Hanoi). Hoa Lu was made a former capital, but throughout successive dynasties of the Ly, Tran, Le and nguyen, old temples and shrines were constantly restored as a tribute to the ancestors. Nowadays, the Hoa Lu Former Citadel is an integral part of the Trang An Complex.