The countryside in northern Vietnam is spectacular. There are lovely mountains, terraced rice fields, unspoiled rivers and spectacular gorges within a short drive of Hanoi. The area around Hanoi is dominated by the Red River and the mountains that define its valley.

The Red River (Song Hong in Vietnamese) dominates the Hanoi area and is sort of the cradle of Vietnamese civilization. Rising in China's Yunnan Province, it is about 1,200 kilometers long. Its two main tributaries, the Song Lo (also called the Lo River, the Riviere Claire, or the Clear River) and the Song Da (also called the Black River or Riviere Noire), contribute to its high water volume, which averages 500 million cubic meters per second, but may increase by more than 60 times at the peak of the rainy season. [Source: Library of Congress]

Traveling and Transportation in Vietnam: The easiest way to get most anywhere in Vietnam is through a tour organized in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City or another major tourist town. Usually you can work out something with the staff of your hotel. If you want to shop around there are plenty of tour agencies on the streets of the tourist areas or on the Internet. For long distances you are best taking a flight. Air Asia serves many places but the flights often originate in Kuala Lumpur. Vietnam Airlines, budget carrier VietJet Air and Jetstar Pacific Airlines, a unit of Vietnam Airlines, all operate domestic routes. The trains are okay but the destinations they service are limited. It is possible to take local buses and minibuses but traveling that way is hassle and time-consuming: you have to deal with language issues, scheduling, locating where the buses leave and often crowded, hot conditions on the buses.

Red River Delta is a flat, triangular region of 3,000 square kilometers, is smaller but more intensely developed and more densely populated than the Mekong River Delta. Once an inlet of the Gulf of Tonkin, it has been filled in by the enormous alluvial deposits of the rivers, over a period of millennia, and it advances one hundred meters into the gulf annually. The ancestral home of the ethnic Vietnamese, the delta accounted for almost 70 percent of the agriculture and 80 percent of the industry of North Vietnam before 1975.

The entire delta region, backed by the steep rises of the forested highlands, is no more than three meters above sea level, and much of it is one meter or less. The area is subject to frequent flooding; at some places the high-water mark of floods is fourteen meters above the surrounding countryside. For centuries flood control has been an integral part of the delta's culture and economy. An extensive system of dikes and canals has been built to contain the Red River and to irrigate the rich rice-growing delta. Modeled on that of China, this ancient system has sustained a highly concentrated population and has made double-cropping wet-rice cultivation possible throughout about half the region.

Mount Tu Tram

Mount Tu Tram (About 20 kilometers southwest of Hanoi, along Highway 6, Phung Chau Commune, Chuong My District) is a limestone mountain with picturesque caves and caverns. When visiting the spot, the traveller is usually told the story of Mt. Tu Tram. In ancient times, the brightest and finest star of the heavens, Tu Vi, suddenly fell from the sky and has transformed into a mountain. The local people named it Mt. Tu Tram. In the Le Dynasty, in the seventh year of Canh Tri, 1669, a text was carved in the stone half way up its walls. The mountain was then called Mt. Long Chau or Mt. Phat Tich (the mountain embracing relics and traces of the Buddha).

Enamored with the beautiful landscape of Mt. Tu Tram, in 1516 King Le Chieu Tong had a royal stopover pavilion built and ordered the digging of canals and clearing of streams around the mountain for dragon-boat rides whenever he was free from national affairs. Quite a few religious structures such as altars and shrines, temples and pagodas were built during following dynasties. As a result, today, many architectural vestiges of different times are found, such as the Pagodas of Long Tien, Quan Yin, Vo Vi and Ba Lang, the Cao Son Temple, Mother's Temple, stone-slab pavilions and towers. Due to the wear of ages and the devastation of wars and nature, some of the architectural relics lie in ruins.

Bat Tang (a couple hours from Hanoi) has been a major center of Vietnamese ceramics for 500 years. Famous for its blue and white bowls, teacups and jars, it is small village with narrow mud lanes, artisan workshops, and small cross-draft kilns. The fuel for the kilns is made patties made of charcoal, straw and manure mixed together. The clay for the pottery is mixed and stirred in vats by women with their feet. Nearly all the village's 3,000 inhabitants make ceramics.

Caves and Pagodas in the Mount Tu Tram Area

Long Tien Pagoda, also called Tram Pagoda, was erected in 1669. It has been repaired and restored several times. In the middle of its high stone floor perron stands a stone slab with a relief carving of two lizards. According to some Southeast Asian agricultural people, the lizard symbolizes the fire genie. A group of Buddha statues in the pagoda bears the style of 18-19th century art with very delicate and sophisticated curving lines.

Long Tien is the most beautiful cave. Its mouth is not so large but its vault is immense. Hundreds of stalactites in every exotic and eerie forms flow from the roof and the walls of the cave. In 1696 King Le Hy Tong had dozens of statutes of Buddha, giant guardians and sacred deities carved in the cave. This treasure trove is of immense historic and artistic value, particularly the statute of Amitabha. It portrays him in a zen position on a lotus, with a round, chubby upright face and half-closed eyes, in deep meditation and wearing a sympathetic and savory smile. The piece was masterfully carved with delicate lines in detailed animation. The roof and the walls of the cave still bear the autographs of more than ten famous scholars from the Posterior Le to the Nguyen dynasties. Present are 20 pre-eminent essays in prose and poetry in classical Vietnamese script (Han Nom) heaping praise upon the beautiful landscape of Mt. Tu Tram.

In the area of Mt.Trao, very close to Mt. Tu Tram, a little shrine is found on top of a mountain: Vo Vi Pagoda built in 968 AD. Today, on the stone walls around the pagoda are found slabs with scriptures of great historical and artistic value. Each year, when spring comes round, the local people around Mt. Tu Tram hold the Tram Pagoda Festival on the second day of the Second lunar month (late February or March). In the festive atmosphere, village elders recount for the young generation the myths and legends of Mt. Tu Tram.

Famous Pagodas near Hanoi

Thay Pagoda (30 kilometers southwest of Hanoi, at the foot of Sai Son Mountain in Phuong Cach Commune, Quoc Oai District, Ha Tay Province) is a 12th century complex dedicated to Buddha, and the founder of water puppetry. There are good views from the top or nearby Sai Son hill. At first Thay Pagoda, also known as Thien Phuc Tu Pagoda, was a small pagoda formed by three tiers three hyphens parallel to each other: Ha Pagoda, Trung Pagoda, and Thuong Pagoda. The outer part, Ha Pagoda, is a place for offerings and ceremonies; the middle part, Trung Pagoda, is a place for worship of Buddha; and finally, the inner part is a place for worship of Priest Tu Dao Hanh. An automated sandalwood statue of Tu Dao Hanh that stands and sits is located in a red lacquered shrine trimmed with gold and covered with a curtain. In front of the pagoda is Long Tri pond, in the middle of which is a stage called Thuy Dinh, where water puppet performances are held. Nhat Tien and Nguyet Tien Bridges, built by Doctor Phung Khac Khoan in 1602, are located on each side of the stage. Interesting sites can be visited in the surroundings of the pagoda. For example, Phat Tich and Cac Co Caves are located not too far behind the pagoda. A hole in the dome of Cac Co Cave lets one see outside the cave.

Son Tay Citadel (in Son Tay Town, about 40 kilometers from Hanoi) features a wall built of hard sandstone with one gate on each side. The wall is surrounded by a 3 meters deep, 20 meters wide moat. Each corner of the citadel was armed with cannon. Erected in 1822, Son Tay Citadel contains the Kinh Thien Palace - the rest house of the king, residences and offices of provincial leaders, warehouses, and troop camps. Due to time and the effects of war, parts of the ancient wall were destroyed. Measures to prevent and restore this historical relic have recently been implemented.

Mia Pagoda (in Mia Village, Duong Lam Commune, Son Tay Town) was built during the Tran Dynasty (1225-1406) and preserves many ancient artifacts such as the great red bell made in 1743, the bronze gong (1846), and the Lady Mia stone tables, set up in 1632. Mia Pagoda is also initially called Sung Nghiem Tu. Several years later, Lady Nguyen Thi Dong, also called Lady Mia, had the pagoda rebuilt and renamed. The pagoda has 287 statues of all sizes, among which are famous sculptures such as the statue of Buddha in the Himalayas and the statues of the Eight Vajra Deities. The largest one is the sculpture of Bat Bo Kim Cang located in the upper sanctuary.

Perfume Pagoda (40 kilometers southwest of Hanoi) is a stunning complex of Buddhist temples and shrines built into the side of a limestone cliff. Many pilgrims venture here in March and April to seek miracle cures and offspring for barren women. The boat ride from the town of My Loc to the area of the pagoda passes through stunning karst scenery, similar to that at Halong Bay. There is good hiking in countryside around the pagoda.

Tram Gian Pagoda

Tram Gian Pagoda (20 kilometers from Hanoi in Tien Lu Village, Hoai Duc District, Ha Tay Province) is an impressive complex with multi-pillared temples, ornate altars, leisure areas, where mandarins would play chess with live human pieces. Tram Gian Pagoda, also called Tien Lu Pagoda, is built in the "noi cong ngoai quoc" architectural style which means Cong Chinese character in the inner part and the Quoc Chinese character in the outer. The pagoda was probably originally built in 1185 during the reign of King Ly Cao Tong on its present site at the top of the low Tien Lu, or Ma Hill. It nestles snugly on that hill in a natural cushion of mature trac, or kingwood and tram, or canari trees, and watched over by giant pines

At festivals the separate pavilions were given over to all-consuming and lavish praise, no more so than the Gia Ngu where the statue of Buddha was paraded during water puppet performances on the semi-circular lotus lake. A visit demands a degree of effort: a climb of several hundred steps, a walk down an alley paved with bricks and stone, reveals a two-storey bell tower of eight elegantly corner-curved roofs. Known as the Bell Tower of Tram Gian, it still preserves its detailed art work, its supporting columns carved with intricate lotus shape, the wood panels in the shape of dragons, flowers and leaves, clouds and the sky. Under the roof hangs a 1.4 meters tall bell, made in 1794 on which is also carved a literary work by Tran Ba Hien from nearby Van Canh Village.

Then, and another healthy flight of stairs on, there's the main pagoda - the legacy of the Tran Dynasty in the 14th century but largely destroyed by the Ming invaders in the 15th and rebuilt probably during the Le Dynasty, as much as a tribute to those times. There the statues of two Guardian Spirits, the Good-encouraging Spirit and the Bad-punishing Spirit, preside and the Thien Huong, or Celestial Perfume, and in the inner part of the second house two Thuong Dien , or Upper Altars, for the praise of Buddha. A four curved-cornered and columned roof shelters a drum, an equally large gong, both dating from the 10th Year of Canh Hung (1750).

The pagoda is seen as one entity or 100 smaller ones. It houses 153 statues mostly made of wood, some of clay red lacquered and trimmed with gold, all to the greater glory of Tam The, the Past, Present and Future Lives. A large terracotta platform supports an ornately carved altar bearing lotus flower, legends, and dragon, tiger, horse, and elephant reliefs. Nearby stands the black-lacquer jackfruit-tree wood statue of Tuyet Son styled on one found in the Himalayas. The imagery goes on at every turn: arranged and ornate altars to worship 18 Arhats and the Ruler of Hell in the Ten Great Halls, a separate pagoda and altar to worship Saint Boi or Monk Nguyen Lu also known as Binh Yen. Legend has it the statue is actually his rattan preserved body covered by an oil cloth.

Two mighty central columns bear parallel scrolls inlaid with mother-of-pearl praising the victories of the Vietnamese people's struggle against foreign invasion: “Up till now that northern country is still afraid of the fierce rains/ And since the by gone days the southern land is still waiting for the auspicious clouds.” In the pagoda itself, a statue lauds General Dang Tien Dong, who served King Quang Trung in the historic battle of Dong Da and then in 1794 helped repair the pagoda, casting its bell and erecting stele. He too was commemorated as one of the architects, if not of the pagoda itself, then certainly of its place in history. Not for nothing have Xu Doai locals praised the pagoda through time:

Dau Pagoda

Dau Pagoda (25 kilometers south of Hanoi, the end of Gia Phuc Village, Nguyen Trai Commune, Thuong Tin District, Hanoi) is famous for the mummified Xa Loi bodies of two monks: Vu Khac Minh and Vu Khac Truong. “Dau Pagoda is the oldest of its kind in the country. Built in the third century, it is a renowned Buddhist center, made even more famous after the mummified remains of two monks were discovered. They are the corpses of Vu Jhac Minh and his nephew Vu Khac Truong.

The pagoda's gate faces west; the walls are not too high, mossy green and decorated in Buddhist designs and patterns. High on the center is a big panel with characters Thanh Dao Tu. Beyond the gate, visitors seem to be in a care-free world and live in an atmosphere of meditation. Three - door gate is an ancient architectural project overlooking Long Tri Lake. The gate was built in a lotus design with two roofs. The upper roof is symbol of positive world; the lower roof is square-shaped as a foundation. The pillar base―-stones to support the whole roof and the lowest roof is seen as negative world. Between the positive and the negative is a bronze-bell, a symbol of center part of the lotus flowers.

A visit to Dau Pagoda helps visitors to see rare and precious exhibits: bases and stone-bases from Ly Dynasty decorated with lotus flowers. On staircases of the main hall, there are two stone dragons, a masterpiece of Tran Dynasty. The dragons were built in round bodies, winding as waves on blocks of stone; it's really an artistic masterpiece. Visitors will be deeply interested in the ancient traditional architectures, the sculpture pictures on beams, columns or panels... all depict legendary traditions: fairies on dragons, boys fighting tigers, or four sacred animals: dragon, lion, turtle and phoenix (long, ly, quy, phuong) or 4 seasons: pine-tree, butter―cup, ivory-bamboo and apricot (tung, cuc, truc, mai). The sculpture designs look very beautiful, realistic.

All architectural works and projects: the main hall, the worship house, the temple, the male and female monks' houses... were built of rectangular― - shaped bricks (Mac Dynasty). The typical identities on the bricks lie in patterns of sacred animals: houses, dragons, carps to turn into dragons or vegetation and flower world.

Mummified Monks of Dau Pagoda

There are two mummified monks at Dau Pagoda: The story has it that after reciting prayers, the two monks—Vu Khac Minh and Vu Khac Truong—burnt themselves by the innermost lire of meditation, they died under the altars of statues and their followers protected their bodies in meditativeness and coated with special paint, then put on closed-―in temples. Present world science has self-affirmed that embalmment shall satisfy three conditions as follows: 1) There should be chemicals; 2) Intestine and brain shall be moved away; 3) The dead body should be kept in closed box.

In 1983, an X-Ray of monk Vu Khac Minh) concluded that: 1) There is no mark of chisel.2) No phenomenon of intestine, brain moved away and joints adhere closely as shown. 3) The weight was seven kilograms.This is the most special culture heritage in Dau Pagoda. It's also a product of spiritism culture, the most sacred and interesting. The pagoda is admitted by Ministry of Culture and Information as "culture historical" monument.

In November 2003, Reuters reported: “Vietnamese scientists said they had completed the restoration of two mummies from the 17th century which depict Buddhist monks in a position of meditation. The figures are embalmed Zen Buddhists Vu Khac Minh and Vu Khac Truong. The pair died aged around 50 and 40, respectively, in the 17th century. Using a sticky plant extract, sawdust, soil from termite hills and muslin netting, a team that includes two sculptors spent more than six months to restore the bodies. They also placed the mummies into glass boxes filled with nitrogen to avoid damage by oxygen. "The statues now can last for hundreds of years," said Nguyen Lan Cuong, associate professor of ethnology and head of the restoration project. He was speaking on the sidelines of a ceremony to return the mummies to Dau pagoda. About 400 villagers turned up to show their respect. "We old people are very happy to watch this," said 82-year-old Tran Thi Quyet, a Buddhist who has been praying at the Dau pagoda for nearly three decades. Cuong said the two bodies had been damaged by Vietnam's tropical climate. Truong's body had been restored previously after flood damage in 1893. [Source: Reuters, November 29, 2003 =]

MCN International reported: Until 2003, archaeologists were “unable to explain why their bodies, including their internal organs and brains, remain intact for 300 years. But worshippers say the monks achieved this by secluding themselves to meditate for 100 days. "The superior had reached the height of his journey. In Buddhist thought, only these monks can remain intact after death. No one on earth can imitate them," said Thich Thanh Tu, deputy chairman, Vietnam Buddhist Sangha Executive Council. The remains of the monks continue to be worshipped in the pagoda, but floods, damp weather and rats have caused considerable damage. [Source: MCN International Pte Ltd, August 28, 2003]

Professor Nguyen Lan Cuong said, "Our preservation work includes two stages, each lasting for more than half a year," Prof Nguyen, head of the preservation team. "First, we'll work on Superior Minh's remains with a new and special kind of lacquer coating. In the second stage, the broken arm and cracks of the more damaged corpse of Superior Truong will be glued and re-sealed." Once the preservation work has been completed, the mummies will be placed into specially sealed glass boxes to ensure proper air quality and humidity levels.


Phu Tho Province (80 kilometers west of Hanoi) is located in the plains and Midland in the northern Vietnam. Covering 3,532.5 square kilometers, it shares borders with Tuyen Quang, Yen Bai provinces on the north, Vinh Phuc, Ha Tay provinces on the east, Son La Province on the west and Hoa Binh Province on the south. There are 1,322, 000 people living (2010). The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Muong, Dao and San Chay. The capital is Viet Tri City. Administrative divisions: Town: Phu Tho; districts: Ha Hoa, Thanh Ba, Doan Hung, Lam Thao, Thanh Son, Yen Lap, Tam Nong, Thanh Thuy, Phu Ninh, Cam Khe, Tan Son.

The terrain is mainly made up by hills. There are also three big rivers namely Red, Da and Lo rivers running through Phu Tho. Phu Tho has a monsoon tropical climate with a cold winter and hot summer, annual average temperature of 23 degrees C, annual average rainfall of 1600-1800 millimeters and annual average humidity of 85-87 percent.

Phu Tho is considered the ancestral land of the Vietnamese. Den Hung (Hung Temple) is tied to the legend about 18 Kings Hung who built Van Lang State, the first one of Vietnam, with Phong Chau as the capital. Archaeological sites include like Son Vi, Dong Dau and Lang Ca. There are many pagodas, temples, tombs around Nghia Linh Mountain prove that Phong Chau used to be cultural center of ancient Vietnamese. Xuan Son National Park and Ao Chau Pond are famous beauty spots. Phu Tho is home of many festivals including Bach Hac and Chu Hoa. The most honorable one is Den Hung Festival, held on the 10th day of the Third lunar month (late March or April) annually corresponding to the anniversary of the Kings Hung. Now, it becomes a great ceremonial festival of the Vietnamese nation.

Viet Tri

Viet Tri (80 kilometers northwest of Hanoi) is the capital of Phu Tho Province and the gateway to the heart of Vietnamese civilization. The modern town has some oddly inspired ‘60s art deco buildings. Hung Temple is an oasis of serenity and sanctity, nestled in the midst of over 1,000 hectares of emerald green rice fields dotted with a host of decorated temples and stone paths leading through an untouched forest. On the 10th day of the Third lunar month (late March or April) is the Hung festival and over three million Vietnamese people comes to this sacred site in Phu Tho Province to celebrate the birth of the nation, because it is here that the Vietnamese civilization is believed to have begun over 4,000 years ago. Viet Nam has a long-standing tradition of ancestral worship and the Hung Temple site is among the most sacred lands in the country, paying respect to the ancestors who are the cradle of Vietnamese civilization. [Source: Viet Nam News, April 30, 2008]

The designation of the Hung Temple festival as a national holiday marks the celebration of the origins of the Vietnamese as a civilization. Legend has it that Viet Nam was born when a dragon genie named Lac Long Quan hooked up with a fairy genie named Au Co. Au Co then laid 100 eggs that bore 100 sons. Compatibility issues crop up with Lac Long Quan and Au Co belonging to different species and all, and they part ways. Fifty sons follow Lac Long Quan out to the sea where they go on to lead various tribes while the remaining 50 siblings follow Au Co to the mountains. Her oldest son becomes the first Hung King who establishes the Van Lang state, the precursor to Viet Nam.

Inside the modern-looking museum are relics dug up from the area and from neighbouring provinces. The items serve not only as testament to the ancient aspect of Vietnamese civilization, but the detailed art work that depict daily life during the Hung era also shows that the people were cultivating rice even as other nations were into hunting.

The oldest temple in the area is the Trung temple, built in the 13th century, on the site where it is said the 18th Hung King abdicated in favour of Tiet Lieu. Coming second is the Ha Temple, the lower temple, which dates back to the 15th century. The temple dedicated to Au Co was just finished in 2005 after four years of construction. While there has been a temple for Au Co in neighbouring Yen Bai province that is five or six centuries old, the central part that she plays in the legend of the birth of the Vietnamese civilization has prompted authorities to give visitors and worshippers a chance to pay tribute to their ancestors at the site of the Hung Temple itself. Transportation to Viet Tri: Viet Tri City is 80 kilometers from Hanoi. It is on National Highway No.2 linking Hanoi with Ha Giang Province and the China Border. The train from Hanoi to Lao Cai stops in Viet Tri.

Mai Chau (40 miles from Hoa Bihn) is regarded as the closest place to Hanoi, where you can see authentic hill tribes living in villages. In this pleasant valley white Thais live in decorated stilt houses.

Kings Hung Temple

Kings Hung Temple (Viet Tri City, Phu Tho Province) is located on Nghia Linh Mountain, 175 meters by sea level. It is a complex of majestic architectures that consist of Ha Temple and Thien Quang Pagoda, Gieng Temple, Trung and Thuong temples, and King Hung Tomb. A total of 225 brick steps lie between Dai Mon Gate and Ha Temple, which was built in the 15th century. According to the legend, in this place, Au Co gave birth to a pouch containing 100 eggs, which later hatched to become 100 children. Her husband, Lac Long Quan, led 50 children down to the coastal region to populate the land and propagate the race. Au Co brought 49 children up to the mountainous area. The eldest child, Hung Vuong, was left to become King; he founded the capital in Phong Chau and named the country Van Lang.

In front of Ha Temple, there is a 700-year-old tree. It is in this temple where late President Ho Chi Minh had a talk with the soldiers on their way to Hanoi in 1954. He told them "The Hung Kings had the merit of founding the country. You and I must stick together to safeguard it.Trung Temple: Over 168 brick steps must then be climbed to get to Trung Temple. According to legends, the Kings Hung built the house as a place to rest and hold political meetings. It is also where Prince Lang Lieu presented sticky rice cakes (Banh chung and banh day) to his father the King on the occasion of Tet Holiday.

Over 102 brick steps lead from Trung Temple to get to Thuong Temple, where exclusively used for the kings to have offerings to the Sun God, the Earth God, the Rice God, and Saint Dong, a legendary hero, defeated the An invaders of the ancient Chinese Dynasty. This is also the place where King Hung, the 18th, abdicated in favor of Thuc Phan, who erected a stone pillar and swore to take care of the temple and of the Hung family's inheritance.

King Hung Tomb was the tomb of the 6th King Hung. Legend has it that, after defeating the An invaders, the 6th King Hung took off his clothes and left it on the branch of the kim giao tree and died on the spot. Gieng Temple (Well Temple): At the foot of the mountain is the Gieng Temple, where worshipped Ngoc Hoa and Tien Dung, the 18th Hung King's daughters. It is said that the two princesses used to comb their hair and look at themselves in the water of this well. Nowadays, the nearby public reception house, Cong Quan, houses the Kings Hung Museum, built to present numerous artifacts from the dawn of the nation when the Kings Hung founded and ruled the country. People in this region here preserve some traditional songs: xec bua, vi, dum, xoan, gheo songs.

Tam Dao Hill Station

Tam Dao Hill Station (80 kilometers northwest of Hanoi) is located at an elevation of 3,000 feet. Sometimes referred to as "Dalat of the north," it is a nice enough place with drab Soviet-style buildings interspersed with colonial houses in need of some restoration. Some assimilated hill tribes live in the area. It is possible to hike to the summit of nearby 5,000-foot-high Tam Dao Mountain.

The Old French Road circles two heavily-forested mountains, Along it are ruins of villages owned by French colonials that were moved and attacked by the Viet Minh in the 1950s. There little evidence though of damage from the Vietnam War period.

Tam Dao Tourist Area (Tam Duong District, 86 kilometers from Hanoi, between Ban Thach, Thien Nhi, and Phu Nghia Mountains) covers an area of 235 hectares and lies at the altitude of 900 meters above sea level. It has been known since the Ly and Tran dynasties for its wonderful scenic spots. However, it was not transformed into a tourist area— by the French— until the 20th century (1904 - 1906). In Tam Dao, there are villas, hotels, restaurants, sports fields, swimming pools, and dancing halls. The weather is cool all year round with an average temperature of 20 to 22 degrees C. In summer, tens of thousands of tourists visit Tam Dao to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Tam Dao National Park

Tam Dao National Park (Ho Son Commune, Tam Duong District, 70 kilometers northwest of Hanoi) is home to 108 different snake species, more than any other single site in the world and about four percent of the world’s total of 2,700. The ones found in Tam Dao include bright green vine snakes, venomous black-and-white banded kraits, 14-foot king cobras and harmless rat snakes that look just like venomous green tree vipers. One of the rarest species is the venomous white-headed Fea’s Viper. Some scientists hike through the forest in panty hose or cotton leech leggings as protection against leeches. [Source: Michael McRae, National Geographic, June 1999]

Tam Dao National Park is located in the Tam Dao mountain range and covers an area of 36,883 hectares. The vegetation cover is representative of five types of tropical forest. The flora consists of 904 species classified into 478 geniuses and 213 families of high plants, 64 of which are listed in Vietnam’s Red Book. The rich fauna includes 307 species, 56 of which are registered in Vietnam’s Red Book (22 mammal species, 17 reptile species, 9 bird species, 7 amphibian species and the remainder of insects). Tam Dao is in a vast high mountainous region affected by tropical humid monsoons. The average temperature during the year is 22.9 degrees C. The mean humidity is about 84 percent.

Since 1982, when Russian researchers began conducting surveys of Vietnam’s rain forests and jungles, 30 new species of reptile and amphibian were found, 17 of them in Tam Dao. The rich biodiversity is due at least in part to the diversity of habitats found in the park — river valleys and flood plains, and mountain ridges streaked with gullies and because the park’s location at the intersection of the tropical forest of Southeast Asia, the alpine forest of Himalayas and the temperate forests of China.

Among the interesting species are the world’s largest gliding frog; a brush-tailed porcupine; small frogs that resembles pieces of lichen; brightly-colored slugs, spine-covered caterpillars, tiger beetles, legless lizards and blind snakes that look like earthworms. The endangered Tam Dao newt has patchworks of bright red spots on its underbelly. There are also gliding snakes, squirrels, geckos and other lizards.

Tam Dao is under threat in part because Hanoi is so close, only 50 kilometers away. Weekend tourists from Hanoi invade the hill town’s karaokes and hotels. The illegal animal trade is also a problem as poachers collect wild animals for Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants and insects for Japanese and German collectors. Getting There: The Tam Dao National Park can be reached if you follow National Road No.2 to Vinh Yen Town (Vinh Phuc Province) where you should turn right into National Road No. 2B and go head about 13 kilometers.

Huong Son Tourist Area

Huong Son Tourist Area (My Duc District, 70 kilometers from Hanoi) covers an area of a thousand hectares and includes a complex of mountains, rivers and streams, villages, pagodas, and grottoes surrounded by the Huong Tich Mountain Range, north of the Truong Son Range. Huong Son Tourist Area is divided into three lines. The two main ones are the: 1) Huong Tich Line; 2) Long Van Line; and the Tuyet Pagoda Line. To get to Huong Son from Hanoi, go by car to Ha Dong Town, and then continue on to Van Dinh Townlet. At the Te Tieu marking point, turn right and continue to Duc Wharf. Stop here and take a boat along the Yen Stream for about three kilometers to Tro Wharf, from where the Huong Son

Huong Son Complex of Natural Beauty and Historical Monuments (60 kilometers southwest of Hanoi was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Huong Son Complex of natural and cultural properties is situated on a limestone mountain range. This mountain range was formed more than 200 million years ago. During its orogenetic movements, many scenic valleys' stream and caves were formed, adding attraction to the limestone mountains and natural forests. The Huong Son Complex area is a natural habitat of many rare and values species of tropical fauna and flora as well as of primitive man in north Vietnam. A number of caves, such as Luon, Sap Bon, Sung Sam and Giac, archaeological sites belonging to the HOA BINE Culture dated back to over 10,000 years. In the far past, taking advantage of the local natural beauty, ancient Viets built a system of hundreds of Buddhist pagodas and temples in caves on mountain sides and abank streams, the most spectacular of which is the Huong Tich Cave which is also the most beautiful natural cave in the country. [Source: The Ministry of Culture, Information and Sport of Vietnam]

Sights in the Huong Son Tourist Area

1) The Huong Tich Line consists of Yen Stream, Trinh Temple, Hoi Bridge, Thanh Son and Huong Dai Pagoda, Thien Tru, Hinh Bong, Tien Pagoda, Giai Oan Pagoda, Cua Vong Temple, Huong Tich Grotto. Yen Stream flows between two mountains for three kilometers. However, sitting on the boat and enjoying the surrounding landscape, tourists may feel that this stream is endless. During the festive season, the stream is full of boats carrying pilgrims who have come to enjoy the landscape of Huong Son. Traveling along Yen Stream, tourists pass by landscapes, many of which are named according to their forms. On the left is Phoenix Mountain there is also Doi Cheo Mountain, which looks like an Indian python (Tran). Also on the left are Bung and Voi, two mountains having interesting legends. On the right is Ngu Nhac Mountain with the Trinh Temple where visitors stop and burn incense for the God of the Mountain. Before reaching Tro Wharf where the tour begins, the boat also passes by the Deo and Phong Su Mountains, Son Thuy Huu Tinh Cave, Trau Cave, Hoi Bridge, and Dau Valley.

Thien Tru Pagoda is also called Tro Pagoda. Founded by Venerable Van Thuy Thien Thien Tran Dao Vien Quang, the pagoda was initially a small thatch. During the French Domination Period, the pagoda was destroyed. However, the Thien Tru Pagoda was reconstructed after 1954, and in 1991, the Three Entrance gate of the pagoda was built in its present day form. To the right of the pagoda is the tower garden where the monk bones are buried. At the back, there is Thien Thuy Thap; on the left is a semicircle lake.

To reach the Tien Son Pagoda from Thien Tru Pagoda, follow a small path, turn right, and then continue for about one kilometer. This small pagoda to worship Bodhisattva Quan Am is located on a high mountain in Nui Tien Grotto. Inside the pagoda and grotto there are multi-forms of stalactites. Music can be made by knocking on several of these stalactites.

The tour continues to Huong Tich Pagoda and Grotto (also called Trong Pagoda), and then to Giai Oan Pagoda, which was founded by Patriarch Monk Thong Dung Huy Tam II. Originally, Giai Oan Pagoda was a small thatch located on Long Tuyen Mountain. The pagoda was restored in 1928, and again in 1937. In 1995, the Tu Van Temple and the yard of the pagoda were built. Bodhisattva Quan The Am is worshipped at this pagoda. At present, the valuable statue of Tu Ty Quan Am cast in the 18th century is kept in Tu Van Temple. Inside the pagoda, there is the Thanh Tri well, which according to legend was the place where Bo Tat Quan The Am Dieu Thien took a bath before going to the Buddha. Since that time, pilgrims have come to drink the water from this well to rid themselves of their desires and sufferings of daily life.

From Giai Oan Pagoda, the tour continues to Huong Tich Pagoda and Grotto, located 2.5 kilometers from Thien Tru Pagoda, reached by climbing some stone-steps. At the top of the stairs is the gate of the grotto, which looks like the mouth of a dragon. Visitors then descend 120 stone steps into the Huong Tich Grotto. In the middle of the entrance, there is a stalactite called Dun Gao (meaning box of rice); deeper in the cave, there is said to be one way to Heaven and one way to Earth. A statue of Bodhisattva Quan Am made of green stone during the Tay Son Dynasty is also found in the cave. Stalagmites resembling golden trees, silver trees, cocoons, hillocks, and a group of nine dragons surround the statue. Written on the entrance of the famous Huong Tich pagoda are the five Chinese characters "Nam Thien De Nhat Dong", meaning the most beautiful grotto under the southern skies. These were the words spoken by Lord Trinh Sam in the 17th century when he visited the grotto.

2) Long Van Line consists of Long Van Pagoda and Grotto, Fairy Grotto, Nguoi Xua Grotto, Cay Khe Pagoda, Hinh Bong Pagoda. After travelling down the Yen River, the tour then continues by boat to Trinh Temple. Next, the tour stops at the Long Van Pagoda. Long Van Pagoda, surrounded by white clouds all year round, is situated on the slope of a mountain half in An Son Mountain and half in the forest. The Long Van Grotto was founded in 1920. The grotto, though small, creates mixed feelings for its visitors.

3) The Tuyet Pagoda Line consists of Phu Yen Temple, Tuyet Son Pagoda, Ca Pagoda, Bao Dai Co Sat, Mau Pagoda, Thuong Pagoda, Ngoc Long Pagoda. To reach this area from Thien Tru, follow a small road, turn left toward the south, and then continue for approximately four kilometers. The Tuyet Pagoda Tour is a visit to the second most beautiful landscape complex. Tuyet Stream is small, but the water is green and clear and flows around the mountain like a running dragon. The first stop on this tour is the Phu Yen Temple to burn incense to the God of the Mountain. Next, pilgrims go to Bao Dai Co Sat to worship Buddha. Bao Dai Pagoda is pleasant and quiet. Inside the pagoda, there is a valuable Nine Dragon Shrine. The tour continues to Ngoc Long Grotto, which is not very large but has a unique style. The stalactites and stalagmites look like the nests of dragons. The best attraction is a statue of Bodhisattva Quan Am with her tender and kind-hearted face sculpted in the cliff.

Quan Son Lake

Quan Son Lake (My Duc District, 50 kilometers from Hanoi), with its many small islands surrounded by forests and hundreds of limestone peaks, is considered a small Ha Long Bay on land. Passing the East Bridge, visitors reach a wharf where, for only VND60,000 (US$3), they can be taken around the 850 hectares lake area by an enthusiastic boatwomen. The interesting tour gives tourists a chance to behold the captivating scenery and enjoy the fresh air. The site is also the home of many varieties of birds, including the white egret. [Source: Minh Thu, Vietnam News, September, 24 2010]

In Quan Son, there are many wonderful destinations, including Trau Trang (White Buffalo) Mountain, Su Tu (Lion) Island, Doc Lap Island, Voi Phuc (Kneeling Elephant) Hill and Hoa Qua Son (Flowers and Fruits Hill), each with its own natural attractions. The area is also famous for Linh Son and Ngoc Long caves, which are not large but are dramatic, with stalactites and stalagmites in various shapes of eagles, dragons, phoenix, unicorns and tortoises. Tourists who arrive in the rainy season in June and July may not have a chance to visit the caves, because the water level rises.But in this season, waterfalls run down into the lake from the high mountains, creating white spumes that add to the splendid scenery.

After the boat tour, a rest on the islands is suggested, where stilt-houses serve as places to stop for a picnic. Visitors can bring meals from home or ask the ferrywomen to buy food for a delectable midday feast. Local specialities include chicken and goat raised on the island, as well as fish, crab and snails from the lake. Standing on the shore of Quan Son Lake, visitors marvel at the magnificent and peaceful environment, with imposing cliffs overlooking the green water and flocks of white egrets leisurely stretching their wings. From October to March, Voi (Elephant) Valley – the bird watching point in Quan Son – is especially appealing, with a great number of species flocking to build nests and shelters.

Next to the valley, Huyen, our boatwoman, led us to an area filled with lotus. She said that we are so lucky to visit this place while the lotus were in bloom. The boat runs slowly through the kingdom of lotus, hindered by roots and sprigs of flowers and leaves. We were charmed by the perfume of the blossoms. Huyen suggested that we pick a leaf and use it as an umbrella to shade us from the sun. Because there were plenty of flowers, we were allowed to pluck a small bunch to bring home. There are also some pagodas in Quan Son, such as Cao and Ham Yen. However, Linh Son Pagoda, built during the Mac dynasty in the 16th century, is located at the foot of the mountain near Linh Son Cave and reflects on the surface of the lake. About 20 rowboats and several motor boats are available at the lake to serve tourists.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

Last updated August 2020

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.