Tu Son is a town in Bac Ninh Province, around 20km northeast of the centre of Hanoi. An unassuming entry on the map, it’s home to one of the most important shrines in the region, where the Ly Dynasty and its founder are venerated in opulent surroundings.
A New Era
When Ly Cong Uan took over as Emperor from the tyrannical and extravagant Nero-like Le Long Dinh in 1009, a new era of Vietnamese society dawned. Moving the capital to Hanoi, and bringing Confucian and Buddhist values back into the fold, the Ly Dynasty lasted for over 200 years.
As founder of the dynasty, Ly Cong Uan, or Ly Thai To as he later became known, now takes centre position as the subject of adulation in Tu Son, the town in which he was born.
The main shrine at Den Do (also known as Den Ly Bat De) was built in the 11th century, and is the focal point for this worship. There are statues and shrines to each of the nine rulers of the Ly Dynasty; eight emperors plus the only empress regent in Vietnam’s history, Ly Chieu Hoang.
It’s a beautiful complex, complete with mango trees, open courtyards and an ever-present aroma of incense. The rain ensures we are the only visitors there to enjoy the collection of shrines, Half-Moon Lake, water pavilion and Five Dragon Gate.
However, as with so many of Vietnam’s national relics, it was almost completely destroyed by war in 1952, and as such, much of what we see today was rebuilt during a renovation project which started in 1989.
Den Do is not the only national relic or centre of worship worth a visit in Tu Son.
There’s Chua Co Phap, a Buddhist pagoda with a collection of towers similar to those in Hanoi’s ancient Tran Quoc Pagoda. Each tower has Chinese characters created with hundreds of pieces of broken ceramics, creating a stunning visage from every angle.
Just up the road is the Dinh Bang Communal Hall, one of the largest and most iconic village communal houses in the country. Built in the early 18th century, it was originally used for worshipping the spirits of the mountains and water, as well as the God of agriculture.
Also functioning as a meeting hall, visitors can have a wander around inside for VND15,000 each. The two custodians of the hall, a couple of cheerful elderly women, welcomed us with genuine enthusiasm.
We joined them for tea, and they even brought us a plate and a knife, so we could cut up and share the mangos we found on the floor at Den Do.
About 2km away, Den Dam is a modest temple located in the centre of a large horseshoe-shaped lake, while the nearby Chua Phu Luu, Chua Nhan Tho and Cam Giang Church provide more opportunities for those seeking somewhere peaceful to walk around or chill out.
The town has several big restaurants, cute cafés and bustling bia hois, and is reachable in around 35 minutes by motorbike. For a cheeky afternoon away from the city centre, Tu Son is ideal.
From Long Bien Bridge, follow Ngoc Thuy and then Gia Thuong along the river until you get to Duong Bridge. Cross it and follow Ha Huy Tap Street all the way to Tu Son
Photos by Julie Vola