Hoa Lu Ancient Capital (Vietnamese spelling: Cố đô Hoa Lư) is inside the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex in Ninh Binh Province. The old capital is less than 5 km away from the entrance of the complex.
It’s an area which contains remnants of archeological value dating back 30 000 years. However, structures in the capital belong to the Dinh and Le Dynasties dating to 968 AD. Some other ruins can be found nearby.
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital and Vietnamese Monarchs
In 968 AD, Đinh Bộ Lĩnh settled the first major civil war known as ‘The Anarchy of the Twelve Warlords’ (Loạn 12 sứ quân). He then became King Đinh Tiên Hoàng of Ancient Đại Cồ Việt. He was the first Vietnamese monarch after the end of Chinese rule.
Hoa Lu was chosen as the capital by Dinh Tien Hoang and was in use from the Dinh Dynasty through the Le to the Ly Dynasties. Successive kings of the Ly, Tran, and Nguyen Dynasties still continued with the construction of Hoa Lu.
In 1010, King Lý Thái Tổ moved the capital to Thang Long in Hanoi and renamed Hoa Lu into Trang An Palace (phủ Tràng An). Recently, the Ly Thai To Stelae House (nhà bia Lý Thái Tổ) was built by the Hanoi Government to commemorate the moving of the capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long.
A part of the former Hoa Lu became a military stronghold in the war of the Tran Dynasty against the invading Mongols. This is similar to Vu Lam Palace which is now in the Tam Coc – Bich Dong Tourist Area of the same complex.
Things to See in Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
The remaining key structures include the temples of King Đinh Tiên Hoàng and King Lê Đại Hành which are close to the entrance. Pagodas include the popular Bai Dinh Pagoda, and temples worshiping Vietnamese mythological figures.
Visitors can also go on an easy hike to Am Tien Cave (động Am Tiên) and visit the temple inside. The cave is located in a watery valley filled with lotus blooms during the summer.
The structures inside the capital are all within walking distance from the entrance. One of the two exceptions is the Bai Dinh Pagoda which has a separate entrance. The other is Am Tien Cave across the street from Hoa Lu’s gate.
View all the locations mentioned in this article
The Temples of Hoa Lu
King Le Dai Hanh Temple (đền vua Lê Đại Hành) is also a place of worship for the king’s family members. King Ly Thai To Temple (đền vua Lý Thái Tổ) serves as a reminder of how important Hoa Lu was to the king even though he moved the capital to Thang Long.
King Dinh Tien Hoang Temple (đền vua Đinh Tiên Hoàng) is the only religious site in Vietnam to also worship the parents, offspring, and generals of the Dinh Dynasty. The king’s tomb is nearby just 150 steps up Saddle Mountain (núi Mã Yên).
Phat Kim Temple (đền Phất Kim) is dedicated to the daughter of Dinh Tien Hoang of the same name. The story goes that she committed suicide in the well in the yard.
The Four Guardians of Hoa Lu
The Four Guardians of Hoa Lu (Hoa Lư Tứ Trấn) are worshipped in the four religious sites positioned in the four directions of the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital.
- The East Guardian is Thần Thiên Tôn who is believed to be a son of the Jade Emperor in Vietnamese mythology.
- The West Guardian is Thần Cao Sơn who is the 17th son of Lạc Long Quân— the founding patriarch in Vietnamese mythology. He also has a shrine in Bai Dinh Pagoda.
- The North Guardian is Thần Khổng Lồ. He’s a mythical figure inspired by a real scholar of the Ly Dynasty— Lý Quốc Sư.
- The South Guardian is Thần Quý Minh who is believed to be a god of the waters by locals. Suoi Tien Temple (đền Suối Tiên) in Trang An Grottoes is also dedicated to him.
The Pagodas of Hoa Lu
Shortly after Hoa Lu became a capital, it also became a focal point of Buddhism. One of the interesting architectural aspects of the pagodas here is that some of them are partly built into the mountains.
Ba Ngo Pagoda (chùa Bà Ngô) and Ban Long Pagoda (chùa Bàn Long) belonged to the Dinh Dynasty. One Pillar Pagoda (chùa Nhất Trụ)— not to be mistaken with the one in Hanoi— and Dich Long Pagoda (chùa Địch Lộng) were built under the Le Dynasty.
Nine National Attainments at Bai Dinh Pagoda
Bai Dinh Pagoda (Chùa Bái Đính) covers 539 hectares and is the largest Buddhist site in the country. Its architectural style is mostly Vietnamese. It’s around 10 km away from Hoa Lu’s gate and has no entrance fee.
It’s 3.5 km from the entrance to the center of the pagoda where the structures are. Visitors can choose to pay for an electric car ride to save time.
This National Heritage Site has the biggest Budai (Di Lặc) bronze statue in South East Asia. It also boasts the biggest well, the largest number of Bodhi trees, and the largest bronze bell in Vietnam.
Other record-breakers are the gold plated bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara (Thiên Thủ Quan Âm), Asia’s tallest stupa, and the greatest number of Arhat (A La Hán) statues forming the longest Arhat corridor of 3 km with 500 Arhats.
Construction for the New Area began in 2003. It’s 800 meters away from the Ancient Area which has structures dating back to the Dinh Dynasty. The complex includes a Buddhist Academy along with other structures spanning 1 700 hectares.
Traveling Tips for Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
Best time to visit: From the 8th to the 18th of March in the Lunar Calendar, Hoa Lu comes to life during its traditional festival. It’s called Trường Yên Festival or Cờ Lau Festival.
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital:
- Entrance ticket: 20 000 VND per person.
Am Tien Cave:
- Entrance ticket: 20 000 VND per person.
Bai Dinh Pagoda:
- Electric car ride: 30 000 VND per person per ride.
- Stupa entrance ticket: 50 000 VND per person.
Check out our article about the ‘Trang An Landscape Complex’ to know how to get to Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, where to stay, and what to eat.