· Cruise the emerald waters of Halong By and explore some of the 3000-plus islets and grottoes of this magnificent Unesco World Heritage site
· Relax on the beaches of Cat Ba island, or trek through its scenic and untames national park. · Discover the lakes, revers, waterfalls ans caves in Ba Be National Park from the comfort of a boat.
· Explore the beautiful, remote and little-visited waterfalls, caves and historical sites around Cao Bang on the Chinese border.
Dominated by the Red River basin and the sea, the fertile northeast is the cradle of Vietnamese civilization. Much if Vietnamese history, not all of it happy, was made here. In particular, Vietnam had less than cordial relations with the Chinese, who invaded in the 2nd century BC and stayed for about 1000 years. Indeed, the last invasion took place as recently as 1979 (see the boxed text ‘Playing for High Stakes’ in this chapter).
On a more positive not this part of Vietnam is showing real economic potential. Much investor interest centers on Haiphong, Vietnam’s largest seaport. However, it’s the scenery, not the history, politics or economics, that is the major tourist draw-card here. In particular, the spectacular coastline of Ha Long Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay and Cat Ba Island offer some of nature’s more bizarre and beautiful geologic displays. Add to that the Ba Be Lakes, the mountains around Cao Bang, the region’s Montagnard inhabitants and its accessibility to China, and it’s not hard to see why Vietnam’s northeast is a major magnet for visitors.
CON SON & DEN KIEP BAC
These places are perhaps of moreinterest to domestic travellers than foreigners, but make good stops for a couple of hours en route to Haiphong or Halong City.
Con Son was home to Nguyen Trai (1380-1442), the fames Vietnamese assisted Emperor Le Loi in his successful battle against. Con Son pagoda complex (admission 3000d per person & 5000d per vehicle) has a temple honoring Nguyen Trai atop a nearby mountain. Its 600-step climb to reach it, so you’ll get some exercise if you visit. Alternatively, heading up through pine woods, and return down the steps. It’s a lovely walk if you keep your eyes above the litter on the ground.
Several kilometers away, Den Kiep Bac (Kiep Bac Temple; admission 2000d per person & 5000d per vehicle) is delicated to Tran Hung Dao (1228-1300). He was an outstanding general of renowned bravery, whose armies defeated 300,000 Mongol invades in the mid-1280s. perhaps second only to Ho Chi Minh, he is a revered Vietnamese folk hero.
This beautiful temple was founded in 1300 and built the site where Tran Hung Dao is said to have died. The temple was built not only for the general, but also to honor other notable members of his daughter, Quyen Thanh, who married Tran Nhat Ton, the person credited with founding the Vietnamese sect of Buddhism called Truc Lam.
Within the temple complex there’s a small exhibition on Tran Hung Dao’s exploits, but you’ll need someone who speaks Vietnamese to translate the information. The Tran Hung Dao Festival is held at Den Kiep Bac very year from the 18th to the 20th day of the eight lunar month.
Den Kiep Bac and Con Son are in Hai Duong province, about 80km from Hanoi. Id you have your own transport, you can easily visit on the way to Haiphong of Halong Bay. There are several hotels and huesthouses in the immediate area.