Phất Kim Temple celebrates King Dinh Bo Linh’s daughter and an extraordinary tale of love – and life – lost. Originally built in the 10th century and sometimes known as Ba Chua palace, it had fallen into disrepair until rebuilt during the Nguyen Dynasty (18th century). The location of the temple is on part of the foundations of Vong Nguyet Palace, the residence of the princess at the time of her death.
Phat Kim Temple has a special place in many Vietnamese hearts as it tells of a daughter’s fidelity to her father and putting country before love. As the legend goes (the early nation of Dai Co Viet has no written history), after subduing the 12 warlords and forming the first united Vietnamese nation, King Dinh Bo Linh married his daughter to one of the more powerful lords he had just subdued.
However the son-in-law, Ngo Nhat Khanh still harbored resentment against the new Dynasty and the defeat of his clan, and secretly plotted the overthrow of Dinh Bo Linh. His plan was to enlist the support of the southern Champa Empire, which at the time was struggling with increasing incursions into its traditional territory by Dai Co Viet troops.
Telling his father-in-law that he was taking a trip to Ai Chau (in what is now Thanh Hoa province), he bundled his wife aboard a river boat and headed off. However, Princess Phat Kim noticed that the boat did not slow approaching Ai Chau and queried her husband on this strange occurrence.
Safely away from the capitol at Hoa Lu and from Dinh Bo Linh’s guards, the young prince confided to his bride that the real purpose of the trip was to travel to Champa where with the help of the King there he would return to capture the Hoa Lu citadel, take the throne from her father and build her a magnificent palace with the captured wealth.
Phat Kim was both angry and dismayed and refused to go along with the plan, calling him a traitor and berating him for being so ungrateful at the benevolence of her father. Ngo Nhat Khanh, realizing that he would never gain the support of such a willful wife, drew his sword and struck the girl across her cheek.
Although legend does not say if he intended to kill the Princess, the wound was not mortal. However, humiliated by the actions of her husband she attempted suicide. Saved by her loyal staff, she was carried back to Hoa Lu where she was tried as a co-conspirator to the plot and imprisoned in Vong Nguyet palace. Melancholic and sad, there she remained, blaming herself for the love she had felt for the young prince and her bad luck at receiving such an ungrateful and unworthy spouse.
A Sad End
Before she could clear her name, King Dinh Bo Linh was assassinated. Both in remorse at his death and with some trepidation as to her future without his protection, the unfortunate girl dressed herself in a beautiful gown with an extravagant jade brooch. According to legend, angry and ashamed, she climbed the citadel one last time, to view her beloved Hoa Lu before throwing herself down a deep well in front of the palace and thus ending her life.
Deeply saddened at the death of a favorite daughter, the local populace built the temple in her memory on the grounds of the Vong Nguyet palace. The well is still there to this day and the story is a familiar one to many Vietnamese, echoing down the ages as a story of love and power gone wrong.
Comparatively small at only 300m², the structure follows the Dinh (“丁”) style of the period, with traditional curling “boat” roofs decorated in the theme of “two dragons in love with the moon”. The temple also has a small statue of the Princess in a sitting position, while on either side there are statues of two attendant maids standing on wooden pedestals and dressed in red robes.
Due to the restoration during the Nguyen Dynasty, the decorative motifs on the statue are in the style of that Dynasty. Every year, during the traditional Lunar New Year festival of Hoa Lu, the Princess Phất Kim temple is also included as people come to worship and remember the story of the young princess, her deceitful husband and her loyal father.
As the premier tourist attraction of Ninh Binh, it is not hard to get to and from Hoa Lu Ancient City. Once there, the Phat Kim Temple is only short distance away and an easy walk near the Le and Nhat Tru Pagodas.
As with most sites at Hoa Lu, entry to the Phất Kim Temple is free, as is parking. If you have a motorbike just go into the yard of the temple but during festival times you might be expected pay between 10000-20000VND per vehicle.