Ninh Binh Province (90 kilometers south of Hanoi) covers 1,389.1 square kilometers and is home to 900,600 people (2010). The capital is Ninh Binh City Administrative divisions: Town: Tam Diep; districts: Nho Quan, Gia Vien, Hoa Lu, Yen Mo, Yen Khanh, Kim Son. The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Muong, Thai, Tay. Hoa Lu and Tom Loc (east of Cuc Phuong National Park) are regarded as Halong Bay without the water. The are areas with impressive limestone formations..

Situated on the Red River Delta, Ninh Binh separates the North and the Central Vietnam by Tam Diep Mountain Range. It is surrounded by Hoa Binh, Ha Nam provinces on the north, Nam Dinh Province on the east and Thanh Hoa on the west and the south. Ninh Binh's topography is divided clearly into three parts: the mountainous area in the west and northwest; the delta and coastal area in the east and south. Ninh Binh has Day, Van Sang rivers, and Non Nuoc, Canh Dieu mountains. Annual average temperature is 23.4 degrees.

In Ninh Binh, Hoa Lu Ancient Capital (in Truong Yen Commune, Hoa Lu District now) was chosen as the first capital of Vietnam feudal centralism regime and the Dai Co Viet's political, economic and cultural center with the name of Kings Dinh Tien Hoang, Le Dai Hanh and Ly Thai To in 10th century. In 1010, King Ly Thai To moved the capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long (Hanoi now), opening a new era for Vietnamese people.

Sights in Ninh Binh Province include beautiful Tam Coc, Bich Dong, Dich Long, Hoa Son, Tien caves and Van Trinh Grotto. Cuc Phuong National Park is home of varies of strange flora and fauna. Ninh Binh's people have created such famous and traditional products such as Kim Son's fine arts, Hoa Lu's high-class embroidery, rocky sculpture, Gia Vien's rattan and bamboo knitting products. Getting There: Located 90 kilometers far from Hanoi, Ninh Binh has convenient waterway and road networks of transportation. The Reunification Express Train from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City stops at Ninh Binh City. National Highway No.10 connects to Nam Dinh, Thanh Hoa provinces and National Highway No.12B links to Hoa Binh Province.

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.

Hoa Lu Ancient Capital

Hoa Lu Ancient Capital (13 kilometers from Ninh Binh Town, Ninh Binh Province) was capital of Dai Co Viet for 41 years (968-1009). In 968, Dinh Bo Linh ascended to the throne and took the name of King Dinh Tien Hoang and reunified the country under the name of Dai Co Viet. The mountains and sea combined to make Hoa Lu's picturesque landscape. Hoa Lu lays in a flat valley surrounded by the Trang An lime stone mountains, which form a natural wall protecting the old citadel. The city's northwest is bordered by the Hoang Long River, the tributaries of which run through the capital, cooling the weather within the city and serving as convenient waterways.

The Royal Court was built in an area of 150 hectares in the eastern part of the capital while the western part served as a site to educate and protect children. As the capital of the country for 41 years, Hoa Lu has many palaces, pagodas, tombs and pavilions that were built by different dynasties. One of the most popular pieces of architecture is the Bao Thien Tue Palace, which was plated with gold and silver. However many vestiges have been destroyed due to time and weather.

When King Ly Thai To moved the capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long (now Hanoi) in 1010, two temples were built to dedicate to King Dinh Tien Hoang and his successor Le Dai Hanh. These two temples were first built in the 11th century and reconstructed in 1696. Coming to Hoa Lu visitors can attend traditional cultural festivals here, and the most important and largest of them is the Truong Yen Festival, which is held on the 10th day of the Third lunar month (late March or April). The festival is in memory of the Kings of the Dinh and Le dynasties. The festival lasts for three days with many traditional games and martial arts, reflecting local residents' legends. Hoa Lu and Tom Loc (east of Cuc Phuong National Park) are regarded as Halong Bay without the water. The are areas with impressive limestone formations.

Trang An Landscape Complex

Trang An Landscape (just south of Hoa Lu ancient capital, seven kilometers from Ninh Binh city) is famous for its boat cave tours and was designated a a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to UNESCO: Located within Ninh Binh Province of North Vietnam near the southern margin of the Red River Delta, the Trang An Landscape Complex (Trang An) is a mixed cultural and natural property contained mostly within three protected areas; the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, the Trang An-Tam Coc-Bich Dong Scenic Landscape, and the Hoa Lu Special-Use Forest. The property covers 6,226 hectares within the Trang An limestone massif, and is surrounded by a buffer zone of 6,026 hectares, mostly rural land with rice paddy fields. There are about 14,000 residents, the majority of whom are families involved in subsistence agriculture, but much of the property is uninhabited and in a natural state. [Source: UNESCO]

“Trang An Landscape Complex is a spectacular landscape of limestone karst peaks permeated with valleys, many of them partly submerged and surrounded by steep, almost vertical cliffs. Exploration of caves at different altitudes has revealed archaeological traces of human activity over a continuous period of more than 30,000 years. They illustrate the occupation of these mountains by seasonal hunter-gatherers and how they adapted to major climatic and environmental changes, especially the repeated inundation of the landscape by the sea after the last ice age. The story of human occupation continues through the Neolithic and Bronze Ages to the historical era. Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Viet Nam, was strategically established here in the 10th and 11th centuries AD. The property also contains temples, pagodas, paddy-fields and small villages.

“The very rugged topography has generally isolated the property from intensive occupation and utilization, and much of its interior remains in a natural state. Within the extensive natural areas of the property there are no structures that obstruct the scenery or detract from the aesthetic appeal. Occupied areas are mainly small traditional villages and associated gardens and rice paddy fields tended by subsistence farmers. The greater part of the property is enclosed within three officially designated protected areas, and contains a number of other sites protected by Government Decree. A large buffer zone surrounds the property and is designed to protect it from external impacts. It contains many small villages together with gardens, farms and rice paddies, and also the recently reconstructed Bai Dinh Pagoda complex. Trang An is a relatively small property that supports a resident population and is host to a large and growing number of tourist visitors. Trang An is State-owned and is controlled by the Ninh Binh Provincial People’s Committee. Most of the property is secured within three statutory protected areas: the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, the Trang An-Tam Coc-Bich Dong Scenic Landscape and the Hoa Lu Special-Use Forest.”

Archaeology and History at Trang An

According to UNESCO: “Archaeological deposits in caves reveal a regionally significant, continuous sequence of human occupation and utilization spanning more than 30,000 years. There is convincing evidence showing how early human groups adapted to changing landscapes in the massif, including some of the most extreme climatic and environmental changes in the planet’s recent history. Trang An is an outstanding locale within Southeast Asia, for demonstrating the way early humans interacted with the natural landscape and adapted to major changes in climatic, geographical and environmental conditions over a period of more than 30,000 years. The long cultural history is closely associated with geological evolution of the Trang An limestone massif in late Pleistocene and early Holocene times, when the inhabitants endured some of the most turbulent climatic and environmental changes in Earth history, including repeated submergence of the landscape due to oscillating sea levels. Within the one compact landscape there are many sites covering multiple periods and functions, comprising early human settlement systems. [Source: UNESCO]

“Knowledge of the ancient inhabitants of Trang An, their culture and relationship to the landscape comes primarily from archaeological investigation and excavation in caves within the massif, which are still largely in their original condition – a rarity in Southeast Asia. The rich archaeological resources are predominantly midden accumulations containing shells, animal bones, stone tools, hearths, corded-ware pottery and occasionally human remains. The sites are yielding vivid palaeo-environmental records from analysis of pollen, seeds and plant tissue, from fauna, and from geomorphic evidence of ancient shorelines.

“These studies are supported by sophisticated modern techniques such as geo-chemical analysis of plant carbon isotopes and lipids, and shell oxygen isotopes, and the pioneering use in Southeast Asia of LiDAR (Light Distancing and Ranging) to create millimetre-accurate images of cave sites. All materials are professionally plotted, collected, catalogued, stored and analysed. The results of studies have been communicated through an impressive portfolio of published scientific papers, and are also reported in a definitive monograph on human adaptation in the Asian Palaeolithic, the author of which has conducted research in Trang An for almost a decade.”

Karst Scenery in Trang An

According to UNESCO: “Trang An is of global significance as an outstanding humid tropical tower-karst landscape in the final stages of geomorphic evolution. It is composed of a variety of classical karst cones and towers and a network of enclosed depressions connected by an intricate system of subterranean waterways, some of which are navigable by small boats. The area is unique in having been invaded by the sea several times in the recent geological past but is now emergent on land. The blend of towering mountains draped in natural rain forest, with large internal basins and narrow cave passages containing quietly flowing waters, creates an extraordinarily beautiful and tranquil landscape. [Source: UNESCO]

“The exceptionally beautiful tower-karst landscape of Trang An is dominated by a spectacular array of forest-mantled limestone rock towers up to 200m high, which are linked in places by sharp ridges enclosing deep depressions filled by waterways that are inter-connected by a myriad of subterranean cave passages. These features all contribute to a multi-sensory visitor experience that is heightened by contrasting and ever-changing colours - the deep green tropical rainforests, grey limestone rocks and cliffs, blue-green waters and the brilliant blue of the sky, and areas of human use including the green and yellow rice paddies. Visitors, conveyed in traditional sampans rowed by local guides, experience an intimate connection with the natural environment and a relaxing sense of serenity and security. The dramatic mountains, secretive caves and sacred places in Trang An have inspired people through countless generations.

“Trang An is a superb geological property that displays, in a globally exceptional way, the final stages of tower-karst landscape evolution in a humid tropical environment. Deep dissection of an uplifted limestone massif over a period of five million years has produced a series of classical karst landforms, including cones, towers, enclosed depressions (cockpits), interior-draining valleys (poljes), foot- caves and subterranean cave passages decorated with speleothems. The presence of transitional forms between ‘fengcong’ karst with ridges connecting towers, and ‘fenglin’ karst where towers stand isolated on alluvial plains, is an extremely significant feature of the property. Trang An is an unusual autogenic karst system, being rain-fed only and hydrologically isolated from rivers in the surrounding terrain. Former inundation by the sea transformed the massif into an archipelago for some periods, though it is fully emergent on land today. Fluctuations of sea level are evidenced by an altitudinal series of erosion notches in cliffs, with associated caves, wave-cut platforms, beach deposits and marine shell layers.”

Phat Diem Cathedral

Phat Diem Cathedral (130 kilometers south of Hanoi, and 28 kilometers southeast of Ninh Binh Town) is the center of Catholicism in north Vietnam and also a tourist site. Built between 1875 and 1899 and located in Luu Phuong Commune, Phat Diem Town, Kim Son District, Phat Diem Cathedral has four roofs and six sets of iron wooden pillars and consists of a network of ponds, lakes, churches, and artificial caves.

Phuong Dinh Church, part of the Phat Diem complex, is a giant building entirely made of stone. Numerous stone sculptures are on the inside and outside walls. A large bell cast in the 1890s weighing nearly 2 tons is found in the bell tower. On both sides of the church are four smaller churches of different styles. On the extreme north corner are three stone caves. The most beautiful of these caves is Lo Duc Grotto. In the area surrounding this massive stone and wood cathedral, the rice paddies are peppered with stone churches. But, unlike these structures, built by Europeans and resembling typical churches of the era, Phat Diem Cathedral was designed by a Vietnamese priest, known as Father Sau. Father Sau rallied the local population to build the cathedral, five side chapels, three artificial grottoes, an artificial lake and a bell tower.

Phat Diem Cathedral seems to have changed very little since Graham Greene described its gigantic pillars formed out of single trees and the scarlet lacquer work of the altar. Indeed, with its multi tiered, curling roofs and its 48 lime-wood columns - (the largest of which weigh seven tones), Phat Diem is a far cry from a European cathedral. Stone relief angels overlook carved dragons and the cathedral's two-tone bell is accompanied by a giant brass gong.

Local Catholics view the cathedral's survival as almost miraculous; a bombing in 1972 flattened two of the side chapels and caused the cathedral to lean by some 20 degrees. Despite the ongoing war, restoration started immediately and today, the only obvious trace of the bombing is the destruction of some intricate stone carvings. And on Christmas Eve, an unforgettable midnight mass, attended by thousands and accompanied by a brass band, is held in the cathedral grounds.

Temples and Pagodas in Ninh Binh Province

Dinh Temple is located in Truong Yen Ha Commune and Le Temple is located in Truong Yen Thuong Communce, Hoa Lu District, Ninh Binh Province. Dinh Temple worships King Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Temple worships King Le Dai Hanh. These temples were built in 17th century.

Dinh Temple was built in the shape of a Chinese character. Through the first entrance called Ngo Mon, there is a stone royal bed with Nghe (imaginary animals of the old times) standing on both sides. Inside the temple is Khai Thanh in worship of Emperor Dinh's parents. The temple consists of three parts: Bai Duong for the community, Thien Huong in honor of mandarins, and Chinh Cung where Dinh Tien Hoang's statue is located. On his left is the statue of his eldest son Dinh Lien, and on his right are those of Dinh Hang Lang and Dinh Toan. On each side of the altar, there is one stone dragon similar to the ones placed near the royal bed.

Le Temple is almost the same as Dinh Temple in term of architectural design, except for some details. Le Temple also consists of three parts: Bai Duong used for the community, Thien Huong, in memory of the royal mandarins of King Le, and finally, the altar in memory of the King. The Le Hoan Statue is at the centre, on the left is the statue of Queen Duong Van Nga and on his right is that of Le Ngoa Trieu, his fifth son and the third King of the Pre Le Dynasty.

Bai Dinh Pagoda

Bai Dinh Pagoda (95 kilometers south of Hanoi, 12 kilometers from Ninh Binh City) is the largest pagoda complex in Vietnam, covering 700 hectares. From the main entrance, the pagoda's magnificent three-door gate is the biggest of its kind in Vietnam, built with 550 tons of iron wood. The gate is flanked by two 5.5-meter -high solid bronze guard statues (Ho Phap), weighing 12 tons each and four pillars tower over the entrance is 13.85 meters in height and 0.5 meters in diameter each. Around the gate are eight smaller bronze statues of Kim Cuong angels, each weighing 8 tons.

After walking along the corridor of about 1 kilometer where 500 white-stone Arhat statues are placed two sides, there will be the bell tower with the largest bronze 36-ton bell that is hanging here. Each Arhat statue, 2-2.5 meters in high, 2-2.5 tons in weight, is carved from monolithic stone, need one month for completion and different from each other. Going up is the 800 square meter Kwan Yin Sanctum - a wooden one-layer-roof building with five main chambers and two side chambers. In the center of the sanctum is the stunning 10-meter-high bronze statue of Kwan Yin with a thousand eyes and hands. This 40-tonne statue is considered as the biggest Kwan Yin statue in Vietnam.

The Phap Chu Sanctum - an imposing imitation wooden two-layer-curve-roof building - where a 10 meters-high bronze statue of Lord Buddha sits on his lotus throne situated. This 100-tonne statue has been recognized as the tallest and heaviest bronze depiction of Lord Buddha in the country in 2006 by the Vietnam Guinness Book of Records (Vietbook). The Tam The Sanctum is located on a high hill at 76 meters above sea level. This is a majestic, grandiose building with three-layer-curve-roof style and an area of 3000 square meter where three bronze statues represent the past, present and future weighing 50 tons each placed.

Far from the large site about two kilometers is the place where the old Bai Dinh Pagoda located. Almost of all pilgrims and travelers want to reach there. Even this is not short way for walking, it is really a good time for people refresh while strolling. After a long way walk and contemplate around beautiful view, travelers will see a modest three-door gate locates next the roadside. Through the three-door gate, turn to the small path rather slope, go up about more than 200 steps to the top of mountain, an old pagoda appears in ancient and tranquil. Location: Bai Dinh Pagoda is located in Gia Sinh Commune, Gia Vien District, Ninh Binh Province, five kilometers from Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, close to Trang An Tourism Area

Thai Vy Temple

Thai Vy Temple (west of Van Lam Hamlet, Ninh Hai Commune, Hoa Lu District, Ninh Binh Province) worships four generations of Tran kings: Tran Thai Tong, Tran Thanh Tong, Tran Nhan Tong and Tran Anh Tong. According to history, Thai Vy Temple was built during Tran Dynasty (the 13th 14thcentury) follow the internal attack with outside support (noi cong, ngoai quoc) architecture. The "noi cong ngoai quoc" architectural style means Cong Chinese character in the inner part and the Quoc Chinese character in the outer.

In front of the temple is Ngoc Well with green stones and clear and full water all year round. Behind the temple are forested Cam Son Mountains. Entering into the temple, at triumphal arch (nghi mon), there are two green stone monolithic horses. Passing the nghi mon, you come to a two-storey ironwood bell-tower with eight roofs of mui hai tile is on the right. The corners of the bell-tower roof bend like the tail of a phoenix. The bell inside was cast in 1689.

The interior of the temple is spacious and the worship rooms are meticulously decorated. Many stone pillars—round or square—are carved with parallel sentences and dragons, phoenixes, unicorns, turtle and images of cam, ky, thi, hoa (music, chess, poetry, painting — regarded as the four amusements or accomplishments of a feudal intellectual).

In the sanctum, statue of King Tran Thanh Tong (the first-born child of King Tran Thai Tong) is between statues of his parents (King Tran Thai Tong and Queen Thuan Thien). Besides, the votive tablet of King Tran Nhan Tong (the first-born child of King Tran Thanh Tong) and the votive tablet of King Tran Anh Tong (the first-born child of King Tran Nhan Tong) is worship here.

Every year, Thai Vy Temple Festival takes place on the 14th day of the Third lunar month (late March or April). This is occasion for people commemorating the merit of Kings Tran. There are activities such as palanquin procession, sacrifice ceremony, human chess playing, wrestling contest, dragon dancing and boat rowing.

Bich Dong Cave and Pagoda

Bich Dong Cave (in the Ngu Nhac Son Mountains, in Dam Khe Village, Ninh Hai Commune, Hoa Lu District, Ninh Binh Province) was described by King Le Canh Hung as the second nicest grotto in Vietnam, after the Huong Tich Grotto in Ha Tay Province. In 1773, Nguyen Nghiem (the father of the great writer Nguyen Du) visited this cave. After viewing the whole scenery of the mountains, waterways, fields, and sky covered in green mist, he gave the cave a very beautiful and romantic name, Bich Dong (which literally means "Green Pearl Grotto").

Bich Dong Pagoda was built on Ngu Nhac Mountain near the cave in the Le Dynasty. It is divided into three levels: Ha Pagoda (lower pagoda), Trung Pagoda (middle pagoda), and Thuong Pagoda (upper pagoda). On the mountain peak stands the statue of a scholar Mandarin looking at the horizon in hope of viewing the spectacular landscapes of Hoa Lu.

From the upper pagoda, one has the most magnificent view of Bich Dong. The location for this pagoda was chosen in 1428 after two monks were charmed by the view of the river and the mountains. Later, King Le Canh Hung wrote a poem in honor of the beautiful pagoda and landscape. He was the one who said that Bich Dong Pagoda was the second nicest pagoda in Vietnam, after the Huong Pagoda (also called Perfume Pagoda) in Ha Tay Province.

One cannot visit Bich Dong Pagoda without visiting Tam Coc Grotto, located approximately two kilometers from the pagoda. Tam Coc is three kilometers from Van Lam Wharf. Take a boat from Van Lam Wharf to reach the Tam Coc Grotto, consisting of the Hang Ca, Hang Hai and Hang Ba grottoes. These caves are adorned with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites of different shapes and colours that sparkle like gemstones.

Cuc Phuong National Park

Cuc Phuong National Park (100 kilometers south of Hanoi and reached by minibus in two hours on a narrow rutted road) is Vietnam's first and oldest national park. Created in 1962 and covering 60,000 acres, it features tropical rain forests and forest-covered limestone karst formations, with towering Buddhist trees, huge ferns, tent trees with hanging vines and huge buttresses. One very old tree requires 17 people to completely encircle it.Hoa Lu and Tom Loc (east of Cuc Phuong National Park) are regarded as Halong Bay without the water. The are areas with impressive limestone formations.

There are plenty of plants and mammals living in the park. There are an estimated 2,000 different species of flora and the 450 species fauna account for 38 percent of the national fauna. The vegetation cover is classified into three types. The flora is quite a treasure with a wide variety of 1,944 species, 908 genuses and 229 families. Especially it is enjoyable to touch the thousand-year-old cho xanh (parashrea stellata) and sau (Dracontomelum Duperranum or Dancorra Edulis) trees, 50-70 meters high. This natural reserve is covered with 2,000 species of plants. Especially orchid flowers are abundant with 50 species, some of which blossom and have aroma all year around.

Wildlife includes 319 species of birds, 36 kinds of reptiles, including king cobras, baned kraits and cobras, 17 types of amphibians and 64 species of mammal and 280 species of butterfly. Rare species include the palm civets, endangered Delacour's langurs (black and white monkeys with a three-foot-long bushy tail), clouded leopard, Chinese pangolins, Asiatic black bear bear, wild boar, tiger, leopard, fox, squirrel, monkey, etc. A large area, for half-natural breeding, is reserved for raising wild animals such as the spotted deer, deer, golden monkey, langur (vooc quan dui), flying squirrel, draco (than lan bay) and for research.

Thanks to the limestone terrain,Cuc Phuong National Park has a multitude of grottoes, including Thang Khuyet, Con Moong, Pho Ma, and Nguoi Xua, etc. Quen Voi, also part of the park, is where Nguyen Hue's army was stationed before it made its surprise attack on Thang Long and defeated Qin enemies in the spring of 1789.

At the visitor’s center there are caged animals, several basic multi-room guest houses built on stilts. The rooms go for between $20 and $40 a night for a double, including breakfast and dinner. Hiking destinations include waterfalls, stands of tall trees, teak forests, Muong tribal villages, and several limestone caves. Con Moong Cave (where neolithic tools and 12,000-year-old skeletons were found) can be reached by climbing 235 carved steps and six iron staircases built into a cliff face. The highest mountain May Bac Peak is 656 meters high. Its has high limestone cliffs and cloud forests often shrouded in mists. May Bac means "Silver cloud."

About 20,000 people a year visit the park. The best time of the year to visit is in the dry season from December to April when the temperatures are reasonably comfortable and there aren't any leeches. The best time to spot wildlife is early in the morning. Usually people hear rustling in the branches and catch glimpses of birds by rarely see large mammals.

Cuc Phuong National Park park is conveniently located on the route to several tourist attractions, including Bich Dong Pagoda, Hoa Lu, and Sam Son Beach. It is located 100 kilometers south of Hanoi in Ninh Binh and it is on the borders of three provinces of Ninh Binh, Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa.

Con Moong Cave Archaeological Site

Con Moong Cave (south of Mo village, Tlianh Yen commune, Thaih Thanh district, Thanh Hoa province) is situated in of Cuc Phiiong National Park and is an important archaeological site excavated by Vietnamese archaeologists since 1976. It was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Con Moong cave lies in the limestone mountain along Da river and in the right bank of Red river, from western north to eastern south; away from Hanoi around 100 kilometers (bee-line) in the west and westem south direction. Con Moong is an airy and nice cave, about 40m high above the valley level where there had been a spring now out of water now; about 40 kilometers far away there is a big spring. The cave has two ways connecting each other as drum-barrel form. The archaeologists have excavated the western south entrance where exists in situ the evidence of ancient culture. [Source: Ministry of Culture and Information of Vietnam]

The excavation site is 40m2, the mean thickness of stratum is 3.5m. Con Moong cave can be one of archaeological sites that contain the cultural layer thickest and in situ in Vietnam at present. The archaeological site composes of 10 different soil layers. Based on the structure of soil layers and typical items, it can be classified the soil layers into 3 different cultural layers: 1) Down from the surface, the layers 2, 3, 4 belong to cultural layer III, latest. In this layer they found out some cobble tools as Hoa Binh style, axe wirh blade or Bac Son style and pottery. This is typical for Hoa Binh or Bac Son culture. 2) The layers 6 and 7 belong to the cultural layer 11. Most of the tools founded here present the typical features of Hoa Binh culture. The stone tools such as cutting tool with almond form, oval form, rectangular form; scraper of plate form, short axe, bone sharpen head tool, scraper of mother of pearl. Huddled tomb stewed with yellow soil founded here is also popular in Hoa Binh excavation sites.

3) Layer 9 is cultural layer I, earliest. The typical stone tool is cobbles with usable edge laying long the cobble covering one quarter of the cobble; some fragments of broken wine bottle shows the sign of amendment. These tools are typical for Son Vi culture, proving that Hoa Binh culture cones from Son Vi culture. The layers 5 and 8 are thin with thickness from 10 to 25cn, having burnt spot and inorganic. They are the boundary line dividing the 3 a.m cultural layers. In all cultural layers, it can be seen the traces of kitchen, the later the more and nearer the cave entrance. Together with kitchen is the shells of moilose such as Cyclophorus, Camraena; Hybocystis, Antirnelania, Lanceolaria Sf nohyriopsls, Ozynaia, Meretrix. Some of these molluses are in situ, others smashed, closely mixed with each other or scattering with soil.

Inhabitants of Con Moong Cave Archaeological Site

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Con Moong archaeological site with a.m stratum is really a key for the understanding of Vietnam and South East Asia prehistory. It has confirmed the continuation of artful technique to make cobble tools with representatives from Son Vi culture to Woa Binh culture, and then Bae Son culture. Con Moong cave may show the evolution of human beings from the end of old stone age, transiting through the middle stone age, to the beginning of new stone zge; from hunting and gathering to plantation and breeding, get rid of primitive age to evolve to civilization age. [Source: Ministry of Culture and Information of Vietnam]

The development from Old Stone Age to new Stone Agc in Vietnam also mems the change from Pleistocene to Holocene. The cultural layers I and II with various floristic compositions means that there is only sporoplasm (Polypodiaceae, Cyatheaceae) but not pollen; and vice versa there is only pollen (Chenopodiaceae, Leguminosae, Rubiaceae, Myricaceae, Mzliaceae, Fagaceac) but not sporoplasm in cultural layer II. At present there are 17.generation C14 for cultural layers in different depths of Con Moong excavation site. The following table shows the duration between Pleistocene and Holocene of the Quaternary period in Vietnam that is mo- le or less 10.000 years ago.

In Con Moong archaeological site, the existence of Son Vi culture at the end of the Old Stone Age has been reconfirmed by stratum docunent. Moreover, formerly Son Vi culture has been only known as existing bcfare Hoa Bish culture but now it is known more clearly that it had been integmted with Hoa Binh culture at the utmost. Through the tombs founded in cultural layers II and I we have founded out the Son Vi ancient people. The molluse, yellow soil and stone wares buried together with the dead persons give a suggestion that there is a connection between Son Vi and Hoa Binh people based on the ways of bury. The stone wares in layer II is of Hoa Binh culture, but is big not small, and quite different from the European mesolithique. It means that in the mesolithique or epipaleolithique people here did not use the bow and arrow as others, but the abundance of bamboo allowed them use bow and cross-bow without armature as in many other places.

The layer III is of Bac Son culture, similar to Hoa Binh II that had been pot forward before by M.Colani. Hoa Binh II or Bac Son culture really belongs to the New Stone age with the appearance of axe with ground blade and pottery. With blade axe, the human beings had gained great achievement in production technique of stone wares, the beginning for the New Stone age revoltition in Vietnam and the region. Beside Con Moong cave, other significant archaeological sites have been investigated and excavated as Primitive People cave, Moc Long cave, Moc Long stone roof and Hang Lai cave. Con Moong cave and these reiics form a system of prehistory relics in the valleys in Cuc Phuong National Park with the stable development of culture continuously over 5 thousand years.

The first inhabitant group (Son Vi culture inhabitants) resided in cultural layer I in Con Moong cave had been hunting and gathering in the area of 250 square kilometers in Cuc Phuong valley. Coming to typical Hoa Binh stage, the population increased 3 times, they inhabited in layers I1 Con Moon, Hang Lai, and Moc Long cave. The main economic activity is hunting and gathering. Coming to Bac Son culture (or Developed Hoa Binh stage), the population increased 4 times compared with the beginning stage with cultural vestiges found in Coil Moong cave (the first layer), Moc Long cave, Mai da Moc Long, and Primitive people cave. Besides hunting, gathering the inhabitants had known how to plant to have its root and fruit; they also had the exchanges with the coastal inhabitants.

The enlargement of resident area together with population growth, change of ways of living so that by the ending stage around 7000 years BC, the inhabitants here had made a mass evacuation to occupy Thanh Hoa plain and Nho Quan-Tam Diep (Ninh Binh), to create a new cultural appearance-Da But culture-the Middle of New Stone age in Vietnam. Con Moong cave and prehistory relics in Cuc Phuong National Park are system of relics which has been located in the, eco-environment of prehistory culture of human beings relatively in situ.


Thanh Hoa Province (153 kilometers south of Hanoi) covers 11,133.4 square kilometers and is home 3.4 million people (2010). The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Muong, Thai, Hmong, Tho. The capital is Thanh Hoa City. Administrative divisions: Towns: Sam Son, Bim Son; Districts: Muong Lat, Quan Hoa, Quan Son, Ba Thuoc, Cam Thuy, Lang Chanh, Thach Thanh, Ngoc Lac, Thuong Xuan, Nhu Xuan, Nhu Thanh, Vinh Loc, Ha Trung, Nga Son, Yen Dinh, Tho Xuan, Hau Loc, Thieu Hoa, Hoang Hoa, Dong Son, Trieu Son, Quang Xuong, Nong Cong, Tinh Gia.

Among of five provinces in North-Central Vietnam, Thanh Hoa Province is surrounded by Son La, Hoa Binh, Ninh Binh provinces on the north, Nghe An Province on the south, The South China Sea on the east with 102 kilometers coastline, and Laos on the west. Topography is divided into plain, coastal and mountainous regions. Hilly and mountains account three quarters of the total area. The Western region own abundant resources of forest products, and huge hydroelectric potentials. The plain is the third largest one of Vietnam. Owing to the cool climate and high rainfall, the province has annual average temperature of 24.5 degrees C. The rainy season often begins in June and ends in October.

Sights and Places of Interest: Located 16 kilometers from Thanh Hoa City, Sam Son Beach attracts lot of visitors. Beside the beach, Sam Son offers scenic spots such as Trong Mai Rocks, Doc Cuoc Temple and Mount Co Tien. Tourists also visit Ben En National Park, Cam Luong Fish Spring is another interesting place in Thanh Hoa, The stream contains thousands of fish that no one dares catch it. Fish in the stream have red mouth and fins, and brown scales, resembling carp. Please come to this place to play with fish, visit beautiful caves and grottos, watch dancing performances of Muong people and enjoy traditional lam rice and can wine. In addition of these, Thanh Hoa is famous of historical sites like Ham Rong Bridge, Ho Citadel and Lam Kinh Remains. Lam Son is the birthplace of national hero Le Loi and the starting point of the Lam Son revolutionary insurrection. Getting to Thanh Hoa: Thanh Hoa is 153 kilometers from Hanoi, 62 kilometers from Ninh Binh, and 139 kilometers from Vinh (Nghe An). National Highway No.1A and North-South Express Train run through province. There are National Highway No.15 linking to Nghe An and National Highway No.217 connecting to Laos via Na Meo Bordergate.

Ben En National Park (in Nhu Xuan District, Thanh Hoa Provice) features breathtaking, karst scenery, with hills, mountains, rivers, cliffs, rock formations and a lake looks similar to Halong Bay. The park covers an area of 16,634hectares. The water surface accounts for 3,000 hectares of the park. With 21 big and small islands on its water, the lake looks similar to Halong Bay. Tourists and naturalists are interested in Ben En also because of its large bio-diversity. One can find a great range of plants and animals. Different ethnic groups including the Kinh, Muong, Thai and Tho live within the park.

Citadel of the Ho Dynasty

Citadel of the Ho Dynasty (170 kilometers south of Hanoi) is considered as the only stone citadel remaining in Southeast Asia and is one of the few remains in the world. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, it was built in 1397 by Ho Quy Ly who was the highest-ranking mandarin of the Tran Dynasty at the time. After the citadel was completed, Ho Quy Ly forced King Tran Thuan Tong to move the capital from the citadel of Thang Long (Ha Noi) to Thanh Hoa. In 1400, officially became the capital citadel. The citadel of the Ho Dynasty is also known as names of An Ton, Tay Do, Tay Kinh, Tay Giai, Thach Thanh. The site covers 155.4 hectares.

According to UNESCO: The citadel of the Ho Dynasty, built according to the feng shui principles, testifies to the flowering of neo-Confucianism in late 14th century in Viet Nam and its spread to other parts of East Asia. According to these principles, it was sited in a landscape of great scenic beauty on an axis joining the Tuong Son and Don Son mountains in a plain between the Ma and Buoi rivers. In terms of architectural history, the citadel of the Ho Dynasty plays an important place in the planning and building of urban areas in Viet Nam. It shows the uniqueness in the construction of a citadel in general and a stone citadel in particular, and a breakthrough in Viet Nam’s tradition of building citadel. Thanks to the unique construction techniques all the major stone sections are intact and have not been affected by time and weather or by recent urban encroachment. The citadel of the Ho Dynasty is an architectural masterpiece of the 14th century with impressive architecture of the walls and other parts. The citadel buildings represent an outstanding example of a new style of Southeast Asian imperial city with a combination between the Vietnamese architecture and the unique building techniques of Viet Nam, Southeast Asia and Eastern Asia. [Source: UNESCO]

The Ho Citadel is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble in a landscape setting.The use of large blocks of stone testifies to the organizational power of the Neo-Confucian state, and the shift in the main axis distinguishes the Citadel layout from the Chinese norm. It represents new developments in architectural style with respect to technology and, in adapting pre-existing geomantic city planning principles in an East Asian and South-east Asian context, makes full use of the natural surroundings and incorporated distinctly Vietnamese and East and Southeast Asian elements in its monuments and landscape.

Travel Information for the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty: The citadel of the Ho Dynasty is situated in hamlets of Tay Giai, Xuan Giai (Vinh Tien Commune) and Dong Mon (Vinh Long Commune), Vinh Loc District, Thanh Hoa Province, 150 kilometers south of Hanoi and 45 kilometers northwest of Thanh Hoa City. From Hanoi, go along National Highway 1A about 130 kilometers, turn right to Road 217, then go about 30 kilometers. From Thanh Hoa City, go along National 45 approximately 45 kilometers. Admission: Adults: VND 10,000/person; Children from 8 to 15 years old: VND 5,000/person. Opening time: Every weekday, including Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Summer: from 6:30am to 5:00pm. Winter: from 7:00am to 5:30pm

Components of the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty

The Ho Citadel has three major components which represent the characteristics of the Ho Dynasty: the Inner Citadel, the Nam Giao altar and part of La Thanh Outer Wall. These elements reflect the presence of a citadel that has remained almost intact, with massive stone walls within a landscape setting that is easily recognizable. Excavations have also demonstrated a rich source of archaeological evidence preserved underground below the present rice and other crops within the boundaries of the three components. The buffer zone includes all cultural elements that were part of a large imperial city during the late 14th – early 15th century, including religious monuments, traditional villages, common houses, ancient roads, markets, landing places and scenic beauty spots, which are a direct tangible expression of the cultural values of the property.

According to historical documents, ancient bibliographies and archaeological research, the complex of the citadel of the Ho Dynasty includes Thanh Noi (Inner Citadel and also known as Imperial Citadel) with the remains of the royal palaces and temples inside; La Thanh and Nam Giao Altar (for worshiping the Heaven). The Thanh Noi is a unique architectural work, with its wall and four main gates made of green square stone plates beautifully carved and overlapped tightly one after another. On the average, each stone plate is 1.5 meters long, one meter thick and weighs about 15-20 tonnes. The citadel is fairly square with about 877 meters long north and south sides, 879.3 meters long east side and 880 meters long west side. Its four domed gates are called the Southern, Northern, Western and Eastern gates (or also known as the Front, Back, Left and Right gates). The stone plates on the dome are carved as sections of a grapefruit, tightly overlapping. The Front gate in the south is the main gate and has three doors. The middle door is 5.82 meters wide and 5.75 meters high. The side doors are 5.45 meters wide and 5.35 meters high. Each of three remaining gates has only one door. The wall of the citadel is 5-6 meters high on average. The highest wall section is the front gate with the height of 10 meters. Scientists estimated that the entire wall was made of 25,000 cubic meters of stones. Inside the stone wall was another wall made of approximately 80,000 cubic meters of soil.

According to the documents, there were palaces in the Thanh Noi such as Hoang Nguyen, Nhan Tho, Phu Cuc, Dong Cung, Dong Thai Mieu, Tay Thai Mieu, Diem Canh… However, now the Thanh Noi remains some relics such as a part of the citadel’s wall and four gates, vestiges of lakes, a couple of stone dragons with sophisticated carving features, foundation of Thanh Noi architecture, Hoa Nhai marble-paved road, stone balls, stone bullets, pottery, the Southern gate precinct and valuable objects with specific characteristics of Tran - Ho dynasties culture.

Called Hao Thanh, the system of water trench surrounded the Thanh Noi and connected with Buoi River through a canal at the southeast corner of the citadel. The Hao Thanh had four stone bridges over to the Thanh Noi at the four gates. Nowadays, many parts of the Hao Thanh have been filled and dried. However, the traces of the Hao Thanh still can be seen very clearly in the north, east and south of the citadel.

The La Thanh, the outer wall of the citadel built to protect the Thanh Noi was home to residents in the citadel. The La Thanh was approximately 10 kilometers in perimeter and its construction based on the natural terrain. The Ho Dynasty built the La Thanh by banking up and making bamboo hedge to connect the mountains of Don Son (Vinh Thanh Commune), Hac Khuyen (Vinh Long Commune), Xuan Dai, Trac Phong, Tien Sy (Vinh Ninh Commune), Kim Ngo (Vinh Tien Commune), Kim Nguu, Tuong Son (Vinh Quang Commune) with two rivers of Buoi and Ma. Now, the trace of La Thanh in Beo Village (Vinh Long Commune) with a length of 2000 meters has been localized for protection.

The Nam Giao Altar, an importance royal architectural work, was built in 1402 in the southwest of Don Son Mountain, on the spiritual pathway directly connected with the Southern gate, about 2.5 kilometers away from the citadel of the Ho Dynasty to the southeast. The Nam Giao Altar has an area of 43,000 square meters . Currently, the altar appears 5 grounds with 5 terraces. There is a difference of 7.80 meters between the highest and the lowest. The Nam Giao Altar is the place to sacrifice to the heaven; pray for harmonious rain and wind, peaceful country and happy people, prosperous and everlasting dynasty. In addition, the altar is also the place to sacrifice to the soul of dead kings, stars and many other genies. Nam Giao ceremony is considered as a royal ritual. The first Nam Giao ceremony of the Ho Dynasty was held in the same year of constructing the altar.

At the citadel of the Ho Dynasty, apart from construction of the Nam Giao Altar and performance of Nam Giao ceremony in 1402, the Ho Dynasty had left historical marks such as establishing Xa Tac Altar (altar of the Earth Genie and the Shennong - the Divine Farmer) in 1397, organizing two state exams in 1400 and 1405. In addition, the Ho Dynasty had been associated with remarkable innovations, such as reforming examination, building more schools, heightening the Nom scripts and issuing paper-money.

The recognized heritage places: Thanh Noi, La Thanh, Nam Giao Altar. Adjacent relics: Binh Khuong Temple, Dong Mon Communal House, ancient house, Tam Tong Temple, My Dam Lake, Nang Cave and An Ton Mountain, Giang Pagoda, Tran Khat Chan Temple, Du Anh Pagoda and Ho Cong Grotto.


Hoa Binh Province (82 kilometers southwest of Hanoi) embraces a rugged region of jungle covered mountains, limestone outcropping and villages inhabited by Muong and Black T'ai hill tribes. The villages visited by travelers are often tourist traps with tribe members who parade around in traditional costumes for photographs. More authentic villages are further to the west. Hoa Binh is on the way to Dien Bien Phu. To the north, towards the Chinese border, is Laichau Canyon where the Black River cuts through a gorge with vertical walls that rise up to 2,600 feet. This gorge is so deep and narrow that at the bottom it as often as dark as night during the daytime.

Hoa Binh Province covers 4,595.2 square kilometers and is home to 793,500 people. The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Muong, Thai, Tay, Dao. The capital is Hoa Binh City. The districts are: Da Bac, Mai Chau, Ky Son, Cao Phong, Luong Son, Kim Boi, Tan Lac, Lac Son, Lac Thuy, Yen Thuy.

Hoa Binh is a mountainous province in the North. It is bordered by Phu Tho and Ha Tay in the north, Ninh Binh and Thanh Hoa in the south, Ha Nam in the east, and Son La in the west. The topography is combined by mountains and narrow valleys. The annual average temperature varies between 23 and 25 degrees C. The main attractions of Hoa Binh are several ethnic groups with their own languages, traditional literature, and festivals. Tourists especially enjoy the ethnic specialty dishes including rice cooked in bamboo and grilled meat. At night, visitors can stay in stilt houses at Lac Village in Mai Chau Valley, enjoy watching traditional dancing, music performances (bronze drums, gongs), and Thai minority singing and dancing. The remote Muong, Dao, Tay minority villages draw visitors who like study the life of ethnic groups. Beautiful brocade and forest products are interesting souvenirs.

In the mountainous terrain you can find Thac Bo, Hoa Tien grottoes, Ret Cave, Pu Nooc Primitive forest and many clean springs are suitable for swimming, climbing, walking, and hunting. Visitors are also fascinated by superb beauty of Hoa Binh Hydroelectric Power Plant, the largest one in Vietnam. Boating on Da River is an enjoyable feeling. Apart of these, scientific tests have shown that the mineral water at Kim Boi Hot Spring is good for drinking, bathing and treatment. Getting There: Hoa Binh Town is 82 kilometers from Hanoi. Da River is five kilometers from Hoa Binh City. Road and water transportation are convenient. There is National Highway No. 6 from Hanoi vie Ha Tay to Hoa Binh, Son La, National Highway No. 15 from Mai Chau to Thanh Hoa, National Highway No. 12B from Hoa Binh to Nho Quan (Ninh Binh).

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

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