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Holding the fort

In Vietnam Landscapes on March 22, 2010 at 2:47 am

Holding the fort

QĐND – Sunday, March 21, 2010, 21:33 (GMT+7)

The Ho Dynasty might have lasted only seven years, but parts of the family’s citadel built in Thanh Hoa province’s Vinh Loc district still stand, writes Sy Chuc.

When the Tran Dynasty fell from power in 1400, a high ranking court mandarin by the name of Le Quy Ly seized his chance and proclaimed himself as king Ho Quy Ly.

But why did he change his family name?

Ho was Le Quy Ly’s ancestral name, which can be traced back to ninth century Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province of China. From there the family migrated south towards Vietnam. Ho Quy Ly’s great-great-grandfather Ho Liem eventually settled in the province of Thanh Hoa, 100km south of Hanoi today.

But Ho Quy Ly was adopted by Le Huan, who belonged to an influential family in the royal court. He grew up to be a master politician known for his cunning, courage, and boldness. He had distinguished himself in a successful campaign against Champa and through his scheming and shrewd marriage (to a sister of Emperor Tran Due Tung and Tran Thuan Tung), Ho Quy Ly made himself a court fixture as an advisor to the emperor.

As the Tran dynasty fell asunder, he rose to prominence and by 1399 he had become the prestigious post of Protector or Regent of the country. Planning to seize power for himself, Ly decided to build a citadel, which he called Tay Do (Western Capital). He invited Emperor Tran Thuan Tong to visit this new capital.

There he convinced the emperor to relinquish his throne to Prince An (a three-year-old child) before imprisoning him in a pagoda and later executing him. Prince An “reigned” for one year until Ho Quy Ly deposed of him in 1400 before declaring himself as the new emperor.

Ho Quy Ly changed the country’s name from Dai Viet (Great Viet) to Dai Ngu (Great Peace). Taking a page from the ruling book of his Tran predecessors, Ho Quy Ly reigned for less than a year before handing over the throne to his second son, Ho Han Thuong. Ho Quy Ly became known as the Emperor’s Highest Father.

The Ho Dynasty was short lived, however. The country was in chaos and the Ming Dynasty of China were keen to take advantage and recapture Vietnam. In 1406, the Ming invaded and by 1407 the Ho had capitulated. Ho Quy Ly and his sons were captured and sent to Guangxi. There Ho Quy Ly was put to work as a Chinese soldier and security guard until the end of his life.

Although the leader of the most unpopular and probably the most hated dynasty in the history of Vietnam, Ho Quy Ly nevertheless initiated many economic, financial and educational reforms. The most notable reform for which Ho is credited was the introduction of a national paper currency in 1400.

His legacy

Located in four communes in Thanh Hoa province’s Vinh Loc district, approximately 150km from Hanoi, parts of the Ho Citadel still stand as a testament to Ho Quy Ly’s brief rise to power.

The citadel, which was declared the official capital of Dai Ngu in 1400, was square-shaped and included three encirclements – the outer encirclement was called La thanh and boasted a perimeter four kilometers long. The middle encirclement was called Hao thanh and included a moat and a citadel wall. The inner circle was known as Hoang thanh (imperial forbidden citadel).

Much of the citadel has been lost over time. According to historical records once there was a building known as Hoang Nguyen Palace, where the royal court adjourned for meetings. Ho Quy Ly slept at the Ngan Tho Palace, while his son slept in the Phu Cuc Palace.

Restoration and UNESCO support

What remains is being restored and archaeological work continues. The citadel site was recognized as a national-level historical and cultural site by the Ministry of Culture (now the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism) in 1962.

In 2004, archaeologists unearthed numerous valuable artefacts inside the walls of the citadel, including stone pillars and bars in the design style of the Ly and Tran dynasties and two overlapping foundations, which are believed to have formed part of the main royal palace building.

Another excavation of 2004, conducted some 2.5 kilometres from the citadel in Vinh Thanh Commune, unearthed a sacred worshipping site similar in concept to Nam Giao Esplanade in Hue. Here it is believed the king sought the mandate of heaven each year for his rule.

Between June 2006 and September 2009, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism compiled a scientific file on the Ho Citadel site and submitted it to UNESCO, asking for recognition as a world heritage site.

The construction of the citadel also linked with a moving story. Legend has it that Ho Quy Ly ordered a master builder named Coc Sinh to accelerate the construction speed of the citadel’s western wall, which was built alongside a river.

Despite hefty reinforcements being put in place, the wall sank. Ho Quy Ly was infuriated and Sinh was buried alive at the foot of the half-built wall. It is said that Sinh had recently wed. On the day he was brutally executed, his wife Binh Khuong came to see him and as fate would have it she witnessed her husband’s last moments.

Overwhelmed with grief and despair, she bashed her head against the wall and witnesses claimed she had left a dent in the hard rock. Locals erected a temple to worship her and the dented stone block. 

Source: VietNamNet/Timeout

Source: QDND

Mysterous caves revealed at Trang An

In Vietnam Landscapes on March 21, 2010 at 7:28 am

Mysterous caves revealed at Trang An

QĐND – Saturday, March 20, 2010, 20:54 (GMT+7)

Covering an area of 1,961 hectares, Trang An Eco-tourism complex boasts 48 grottoes and caves, 31 valleys and the hallowed cultural area of Bai Dinh Pagoda. Cruising around the area, tourists will have a chance, like kings in ancient times, to use the mountains as walls, the rivers as roads and the caves as palaces.

A tour around Trang An often includes visits to nine grottoes and three temples, Trinh, Tran and Phu Khong. About a kilometer from the wharf, tourists will get to the complex’s longest cave called Dark Cave which is 315 meters long, and then to Bright Cave which has four gates opening to mountains walls.

The site is home to many wild creatures and plants and each cave has its own beauty with many stalactites in a profusion of color. Trang An is truly a land of myth and fantasy making it easy to forget the troubles of daily life. Rowing through Trang An Grotto in the quiet, fresh air of the highlands, with only the sound of the birds and the oars stirring the clear water and surrounded by magnificent forested mountains upon which graze white goats, visitors enjoy a heaven on earth.

Tourists not only sit on a boat and cruise through the caves but also climb mountains to visit temples associated with historical relics from the dynasties of Dinh, Le, Ly and Tran from the eleventh to fifteenth centuries.

Tourists can contemplate bronze statues, bells and 500 stone arhat statues at Bai Dinh Pagoda.

As other sites in flooded areas, the entrance and the exit for an excursion to Trang An is a wharf. However, after finishing the tour, tourists will not come back to the entrance wharf but will move on to another wharf to have food in a restaurant.

Drifting on the rivers, discovering the mysteries of the caves and breathing the incense smoke from the temples leave space for peace in the soul.

Source: VietNamNet/SGT


Source: QDND

The beauty of Meo Vac mountain town

In Vietnam Landscapes on March 9, 2010 at 8:51 am

The beauty of Meo Vac mountain town

QĐND – Monday, March 08, 2010, 21:7 (GMT+7)

The quiet town of Meo Vac lies at the heart of the Meo Vac mountain border district in Ha Giang province.

The isolated town is located in a valley surrounded with the rocky mountains inhabited mostly by H’mong ethnic people.

It does not take much time to wander around the peaceful town but exploring it takes quite a while.

The forest and the fields stand in perfect harmony with the H’mong residential area and the administration offices and public works.

Source: VOV

Source: QDND

The tunnel of love

In Vietnam Landscapes on March 8, 2010 at 2:40 am

The tunnel of love

QĐND – Saturday, March 06, 2010, 20:38 (GMT+7)

A mysterious network of caves by Chua Tien in Hoa Binh province have proved to be a popular spot for tourism

According to legend it was Lac Long Quan who fathered Vietnam. He was said to be descended from the dragons and possessed superhuman strength. One day, he made a trip out onto the water and there he met Au Co, a fairy princess. The couple married and Au Co gave birth to a sac with 100 yolks which turned into 100 infants.

The children were born at Chua Tien (Fairy’s Pagoda) in Hoa Binh province’s Lac Thuy district, an area also linked to Bac Son culture which dates some 10,000 years. Archeology digs have unearthed human bones and assorted stone tools.

The pagoda is in a limestone valley, home to beautiful caves and grottos, the most remarkable of which is Tien gottto (Fairy’s Grotto). However, most tourists head for Tam Toa grotto, the largest cave in the tourism complex.

You have to climb steps 300 metres up into the cave and crawl under the climbing liana. From just inside, the cave seems small and narrow. However, the further you venture in the more the cave opens up. As the full splendour of the cave is revealed, our travelling party is bowled over by this mysterious wonder of nature.

The artificial lights add to the magical mystery of the cave. On the walls and ceiling we can see giant bas-reliefs of strange figures that we have never imagined. The stalagmites have been transformed into an intricate, ornate body of work – I can see a kneeing elephant and a galloping horse. Looking to the ceiling, we are amazed by the living figures of the Heavenly court such as the Emperor of Jade and the God of Thunder, surrounded by fairies in gorgeous clothes. Each wall of the grotto is a wonder.

Each compartment of the grotto is a sculptural masterpiece. We wonder whether it is a work of the Creator or a being from another planet!

An old legend

The Tien grotto also has its own story. Legend has it that in days of yore, a young man named Din lived in such poverty that he could not find a wife, though he worked hard around the clock. Knowing Din’s plight, the Emperor of Jade sent his third daughter named Ba down to the earth to marry Din. For three years the couple lived in happiness but they could not conceive a child. As a deity Ba was not destined to stay forever. After three years she had to return to Heaven, leaving her husband as sad and as sorrowful as ever.

The Emperor of Jade felt sorry for Din and allowed Ba to return. But when she descended from Heaven she found that her husband had already left his home and died of sorrow on the mountain. Ba remained on earth, spending her days in a grotto and weaving cloth. This is now the Fairy’s Grotto.

It was said that any couple wanting to have children should visit the grotto and place a piece of cloth before Ba’s chamber. In the next morning, they would receive a perfect suit or dress. If it was a suit they’d have a son, if it was a dress they’d have a girl.

Growing tourism

In honour of the couple, the Tien pagoda festival is held from the fifth day of the first lunar month to the last day of the fourth lunar month. Each year, the complex is visited by some 200,000 people, mostly from the locality.

Over the past few years, tourism activities have begun to take shape here and the complex is managed by a private-owned company which was granted permission by the former Ministry of Culture and Information (now the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism).

Not that everyone is happy about growing tourism in the area. “I think that the site is being commercialised and losing its sacredness,” says Ho Minh Van, a 55-year old from Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem district.

“It’s good for local socio-economic development but altars dedicated to Budda and saints are improperly erected every where. Many shrines are nothing but boxes temporarily made of steel pillars and plastic sheets.”

“When I ask those working at the grottos, they say that they don’t know what the statues are but keep asking me to put some money into hom cong duc (donation boxes) placed in front of the altars, though I have already put my money into at least 15-20 boxes placed every where at the site!”

With growing numbers of visitors, the site is also under threat from pollution. “Rubbish can be seen all over the place and you can’t find a toilet anywhere,” moans Pham Thi Bich, a 60-year old visitor from Haiphong city. 

Source: VietNamNet/Timeout

Source: QDND

Cruising downstream

In Vietnam Landscapes on October 26, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Cruising downstream

QĐND – Monday, October 26, 2009, 20:44 (GMT+7)

Sailing down the Da River in Hoa Binh province is a wonderful way to relax for a couple of days.

On a Sunday morning my friend and I drove towards Hoa Binh on a surprisingly quite highway. We headed straight for the Hoa Binh Power Plant and Reservoir, a massive project built from 1988 to 1994, where we planned to hire a boat and sail about for the day.

The enormous dam is built on the Da River, one of the chief tributaries that runs out of the mighty Red River, which flows for 910km form Yunnan in southwestern China into Vietnam through Lai Chau, Dien Bien, Son La, Hoa Binh and Phu Tho provinces.

The river’s valleys rich in minerals and possess ecosystems with a wealth of flora, fauna and wildlife. The reservoir led to the transformation of the local countryside as the rising waters turned hilltops into islands.

The reservoir has a “tourist wharf” called Bich Ha though I was advised to head for Bai San Pier instead. There is no obvious jetty here but you can hire a small boat. The owners will also cook for you on board for a reasonable price. 

Once we found a willing guide, we set off down the river to Thanh Nhan village in the Da Bac district of Hoa Binh province, where a small community of Dao people live. The boat left us at a pier from where it’s a steep 4km uphill walk to the village.

We had the option of staying overnight in the village or on the boat. We decide on the latter and set off with our small backpacks. The hill tribe still maintains its traditional customs and clothing and the villagers are very hospitable and friendly.

We found a house to stay in and were immediately invited to eat some salted pork and drink some herbal liquor (ruou). The meat was rather tough but the ruou was excellent.

The locals have clearly learned how to cater for tourists. We are offered fried eggs and French fries. The houses are well kept and a dream for fussy travelers. The mattresses and sheets are clean and we were supplied with mosquito nets.

There is also reliable electricity – I guess we were in the right part of the country. There was even a Western-style toilet.

We slept well and rose early in the morning to check out the market by the river after buying a couple of beautiful Dao-style brocades, which were rather expensive but wonderfully embroidered. 

Down by our boat, people were busy trading. Chickens and pigs were being counted and lined up. Nearby someone was ominously boiling water and the local traders were holler out their prices and haggling. On land, there were food stalls selling pho and ice cream.

Scores of H’Mong people arrived from the villages up the mountain. It is the first time I saw members of the Mong Lenh hill tribe with their wonderful yellow embroidered dresses and long hair which they roll up over their head.

The Mong Lenh were there to sell corn, manioc, chicken and piglets, and buy colour thread, fabrics, dresses, household appliances and tools.

We headed down to the Chieng Hoa district of Son La province, where there are still some Thai villages connected by suspension bridges. The river there is narrow and calm and the Thai women go down to bathe there in the late afternoon.

We anchored at Chieng Hoa pier and set foot on land again. We could hear birds and monkeys in the distance. With our stomachs rumbling we were handed a bamboo fishing-rod. We had to fish for our supper.

Over an hour, we reeled many fish, which we wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over an open fire. With a bottle of ruou from the Dao village, we enjoyed a delicious dinner under the moonlight.

With its grottoes, caves and forests to explore, and clean springs to swim, there is a lot to do along the Da River. But, we were happy merely sitting in the moonlight.

Source: VOV/Vietnam Pictorial

Source: QDND Bookmark & Share

Ba The – Land of the Oc Eo culture

In Vietnam Landscapes on October 22, 2009 at 6:06 am

Ba The – Land of the Oc Eo culture

QĐND – Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 20:7 (GMT+7)

The culture of Oc Eo is the general name of a civilization attached to the kingdom of legendary Phu Nam. It appeared at the same time as Phu Nam inhabitants of the ancient land of the South from the 2nd century to the end of the 6th century. Ba The is where Oc Eo culture had the most development with thousands of antiques excavated such as jewelries made from pottery, stone, gold and bronze and many stone statues influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism such as statues of the Buddha, sacred objects of Yoni and Linga and an impressive group of Ganesa statues with an elephant head on a human body.

These antiques have unveiled a secret curtain that hung over a strong and prosperous kingdom that originated in South Asia. After about 1,500 years of the displacement of nature and history, this culture, day by day, has fallen into oblivion.

From Long Xuyen City to Provincial Road 943 and then west about 35 kilometers, tourists will arrive at Ba The Mountain, also known as Vong The. This mountain is located in Oc Eo hamlet in An Giang province’s Thoai Son district. There’s a winding concrete road to the top of the mountain. In 2002, this road was built by the government to serve tourism.

At the top of Ba The Mountain is an ancient pagoda named Son Tien Tu which was built in 1933. Standing impressively in front of the pagoda is an 8-meter high statue of Quan The Am Buddha. Here, clouds bring cool dew that flies slowly through the sky. Trees stretch green as far as the eye can see and birds sing everywhere. People are dazed by the pagoda’s bell that periodically rings vibrantly over the forest.

Beside Son Tien Tu is a 3-meter high granite stone with a diameter large enough for four or five people to surround. On this huge stone’s surface is a footprint which is bigger than a normal human footprint. People call it a ban chan tien, or a fairy’s foot. This originated from a legend that at the beginning of the mountain, stones were soft like clay and a fairy pressed his foot to make this mark.

About ten kilometers from Son Tien Tu is a strange-looking house with a front door facing the direction of the rising sun following the Hindu pattern and containing many antiques related to the history and culture of Ba The-Oc Eo.

Architecturally, this house looks like a lot of the temples found in South Asian countries with its dome and its rectangular door. The walls of the house are lined with statues of Ganesa deities with elephant heads on human bodies sitting majestically. The banisters are decorated with many small statues of a kind of Arabian horse.

Standing at the top of Ba The Mountain in the evening to look at the kitchen smoke that looms over the plains, tourists find peace in this world of dusk.

Source: VietNamNet/SGT


Source: QDND Bookmark & Share

Oyster lime sours beautiful Lang Co Bay

In Vietnam Landscapes on October 18, 2009 at 3:03 am

Oyster lime sours beautiful Lang Co Bay

QĐND – Saturday, October 17, 2009, 19:24 (GMT+7)

The scenic Lang Co Bay is fast losing its beauty from pollution caused by waste from oyster lime ovens.

To make matters worse, local government officials are at a loss because they have no alternative livelihood to offer to enable the closure of surrounding factories and processors.

Lang Co Town, Phu Loc District, Thua Thien-Hue Province, is home to nearly two million tons of oysters. Despite district officials enacting a ban on oyster fishing in 2004, local manufacturers have turned the district into an oyster lime industrial zone.

Dozens of boats are anchored around the bay for daily fishing, while oyster lime processing ovens burn constantly in the background.

Hung, a local resident, said the limekilns operate overnight. “I can drag out a clot of lime from my nostrils when I wake up. The children just cough throughout the night.”

According to the residents, district authorities have failed to offer them new jobs after a 2004 ban on oyster fishing took effect, so they continue with their old activity.

Those with personal fishing boats can make VND400,000-500,000 (US$22-28) a day, while oyster transporters can earn around VND100,000.

A village head from the district, who asked to remain anonymous, said he had seized many machines used to make the lime, but asked: “How can residents survive if we ban them [from producing oyster lime] and not offer other opportunities to make a proper living,” Phap Luat newspaper quoted him as saying.

Source: Agencies

Source: QDND Bookmark & Share