A paradise on the southern edge of the Red River delta
I have been travelling around north east
Vietnam visiting craft villages, battle grounds, lands of legends and
descending dragons to learn more about the beating heart of this beautiful
On my list was the ancient capital of Hao
Lu in Ninh Binh province, about 100 km south east of Hanoi. Hoa Lu was the
capital of ancient Vietnam when Dinh Bo Lien ended the 3rd, 300 year
Chinese domination of that region at the first battle of Bach Dang in 968. It
remained as the capital until 1010.
I hoped to find some ruins, a museum,
perhaps or, maybe, a map or plan showing the location of the ancient buildings,
but there was nothing of particular note.
There is, however, a small, ancient temple in which there is a shrine to
the victorious emperor who named the new land Dai Co Viet – The Great Viet. I
must say that, as temples go, this was a real gem. The ancient, lacquered
ironwood pillars have acquired a soft rusty hue with the passage of time and
there were some pieces of alter furniture I have never seen anywhere before. Ancient
ritual oozed from every crevice.
My mood changed because of this little
temple. Suddenly, the whole area came to life for me.
The ancient capital was located on flat
ground surrounded by a ring of the pointy mountains that distinguish the An
Trang landscape and I could feel Vietnam working its magic on my imagination. A
little way from this temple, passing through an impressive three arch gate, I
entered another world; a village of small holdings, sleeping water buffalo and
a burial ground where many of the older graves are half submerged in the
ancient way. This watery garden reflects
the sky and the mountains giving it an ethereal mood and it made me realise
that, apart from temples and the old capital, this region is made remarkable by
its gardens. The lily and lotus ponds, the wildlife, flowers and, most of all
its silence, broken only by forest birds can transport you into a contemplative
state. IT’s a world away from busy Hanoi.
The next day, I sat on the steps to a lily
pond in the enclave of a small temple in Tam Coc village for an hour. The steps
were overhung by two old Frangipani trees that threw dappled light on the stone
and the limpid waters of the pool. While I sat there, escaping the heat of mid
afternoon, all I could hear was the pup-pup of tiny fish breaking the water
surface to catch invisible insects. Nothing else. Nothing else at all.
I watched a little brown crab scatter
sideways across the submerged step below me and then a large, round, chestnut
snail made its graceful way from left to right and slipped over the edge into
the gloom of the dappled waters. A young woman came down to the water to wash
her spoon and to invite me in to the temple for some tea – sent by the men to
see what I was up to I suppose! I
lingered a little longer and finally the spell was broken by a nosey goat that
came by, bleating and fussing as it went.
I went in search of history, monuments and
relics and found, instead, a paradise of wild flowers, birds, slow boats,
limpid pools in sacred caves and breathtaking beauty and serenity. What a