Citadel of the Ho Dynasty, Vinh Loc, Vietnam
There are three World Heritage Sites in Vietnam that relate to different dynasties that once ruled the country.
The oldest is the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, which was established in the 11th century by the Ly Dynasty. It is in Hanoi and, although I was a bit disappointed by how few original buildings are still there, it’s easy enough to visit and there are quite a few museums and other points of interest within the site.
The most recent is the Imperial City of Hue, which was built at the start of the 19th century and was the centre of power for the last dynasty of Vietnam, the Nguyen Dynasty. It take up an enormous area and, despite major damage from bombing during the Vietnam War, there is a lot to see and it’s one of the highlights of the historical sights in the country.
And then there’s the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty. Hmmm… what can I say? Perhaps it’s best to answer with a question. Why is this a World Heritage Site?
In terms of the timeline of Vietnam, this period sits right in between the other two, in the 14th century. While the Ly Dynasty lasted for 216 years and the Nguyen Dynasty lasted for 143 years, the Ho Dynasty only survived for 6 years. Perhaps we should read something into this.
Because the biggest issue here is that there really isn’t much to see at the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty. And, as an aside, it’s a real pain to get to!
The citadel is in a small town called Vinh Loc. I couldn’t find mention of any tours that go there and there is no direct public transport options for other cities where you might be travelling through. In the end, I found a local bus that took 90 minutes from a city called Thanh Hoa, which I was not intending to visit. It seemed like the easiest way, though, short of hiring a car and driver for a day. I guess I was hoping there might be a good payoff for all this effort.
There wasn’t. Not with the citadel itself, that is. I appreciate that this is a historically-significant site but the only thing that really remains is the large stone wall, about 900 metres long on each side. It’s an impressive wall and so I decide to walk along it. In the centre is where the citadel’s buildings would once have been. However, now there is nothing left.
Instead, the whole area is now being used by local residents as farmland. Buffalo pull carts; motorbikes careen along the muddy paths with buckets on the back; women with conical hats bend over in the fields.
It’s planting season at the moment for the rice paddies and there’s plenty of activity going on within the walls of the citadel. After I feel like I’ve seen the wall enough and I’ve wandered through one of the communities on the edge, I head into the middle of the space where the imperial buildings would once have stood. Squishing through mud, I try to stick to the main tracks but find myself wanting to explore down the slippery side paths instead.
It’s fascinating, looking at the rice fields and seeing the different stages of the planting process. There’s something beautiful about all the thin green shoots coming up from the earth. The farmers seem amused by my presence and most of them smile and wave, a few even try to start a conversation. The buffalo look at me sullenly, though.
I came here for the World Heritage Site, for the remains of an imperial capital. It doesn’t take too long for me to realise that modern life here is much more interesting than the history, though. Let me leave you with a few more photos to show you why.