Con Son Mountain and Pagoda
Co Son is a historicrelic and a famous landscape acknowleged seven centuries ago. This was a buddhist place for Vietnam Truc Lam sect, where Tran Nguyen Dan established Thanh Hu cavern in Long Khanh dynasty (1373 - 1377), where Nguyen Trai spent his childhood and the last years of his lifeion.
Con Son mountain look like a resting lion with a shrine on the top, its 238m northern ridge adjoins Ngu Nhac Mountain. Con Son borders U Bo Mountain and a valley with bamboo hedges to the west. Next to it is the 72-peak Phuong Hoang (phoenix) mountain range with its vast pine forests, sparkling streams, rugged cliffs and ancient towers and pagodas.
Con Son is also known as Tu Phuc or Hun. In the 10th century, Dinh Bo Linh, who would later become future King Dinh Tien Hoang, from Hoa Lu in present-day Ninh Binh Province rose up against 12 warlords competing for power. Pursued by Dinh Bo Linh’s forces, Pham Phong At, one of the warlords who ruled the northeast region, fled to Con Son Mountain to hide together with his entourage. Following the advice from his subordinate, Dinh Bo Linh set the forests on fire to smoke out the warlord, who had to surrender and was captured.
Located at the foot of Con Son Mountain is Con Son Pagoda built at the end of the 13th century. The pagoda was one of the three centers of the Buddhist Truc Lam Trinity under the Tran Dynasty (1225-1400). The pagoda was extended in 1329 and underwent several restorations during the 17th and 18th centuries and in the last few decades. But the pagoda’s slipper-shaped tiles and stone pedestals from the Tran Dynasty are still preserved.
Gieng Ngoc ( Pearl Well)
Gieng Ngoc, or Pearl Well, is located on the side of Ky Lan Mountain at the foot of a tower. Legend has it that in the full moon night of the seventh lunar month, Huyen Quang, one of the founders of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism, sleeping in his room at Con Son Pagoda dreamt of seeing a shiny pearl on the side of the mountain. He wanted to get closer to scrutinize the pearl, but the sound of the pagoda’s bell woke him up. However, he could not stop thinking about his dream. So together with his assistants, Huyen Quang went to the mountain. There he found a well containing fresh and cool water. When the monk returned to the pagoda, he held a ceremony to thank the deities for the precious source of water. He also made the well deeper. Since then, the Pearl Well’s water has been offered in rituals at the pagoda.
Am Bach Van and Ban Co Tien
Am Bach Van (white cloud temple) stands on the flat top of Con Son Mountain next to Ban Co Tien (fairy chessboard) and several other large flagstones called “immortal chessboards” by local residents. Six hundred rocky steps lead up to the chessboards.
According to legend, visitors from Kinh Bac (northern citadel) arrived in Con Son on autumn afternoon. After offering incense and enjoying the scenery, the visitors stayed at the pagoda. Early the next morning, they went to the mountain to play chess and drink wine. On the way up the mountain they heard chatter and laughter. But when they reached the temple on the mountain’s top no one was there, just a board with chess pieces showing an interrupted game. The visitors thought that some heavenly deities must have ridden clouds to Con Son Mountain to play chess and hurried back to heaven when somebody approached the top of the mountain.
Con Son Stream and Thach Ban
Aside from these magic places, Con Son boasts many pine tree forests, some having grown for several centuries, and several smaller forests of bamboo, myrtle and peony. When the spring comes, it looks as if Con Son wears a flower dress.
Gently flowing all year round, Con Son Stream is also a well-known tourist destination. Locals call the two large flat rocks on the stream’s banks Thach Ban (stone table). A legend says Nguyen Trai (1380-1442), a politician and poet under the post-Le Dynasty (1427-1789), used to sit on these rocks, composing poems and pondering national issues.
Nguyen Trai Temple
The temple was dedicated to Nguyen Trai, built at Con Son in December 2000 and inaugurated in 2002 in celebration of the 600th birthday anniversary of Nguyen Trai.
The constructions of the temple cover an area of 10,000m². The main temple stands at the foot of To Son Moutain, flanked by two mountains An Lac and Ngu Nhac. To its right is Con Son Stream. Inside the temple there are also the right and left ceremonial halls, inside and outside gates, stele house, the urn for burning votive offerings and Nghia Lake. The temple is a token of gratitude of the Vietnamese people to Nguyen Trai, the World Cultural Celebrity.
Kiep Bac Temple Festival
Time: The 20th day of the eighth lunar month - the death anniversary of Tran Hung Dao.
Place: Kiep Bac Temple Hai Duong Province, the estate and garrisoning camp of Tran Hung Dao after the first victory over the Yuan invaders in 1258.
Objects of worship: Tran Hung Dao.
Characteristics: Fighting in the Luc Dau River, boat racing. Every year, from the 15th to 20th days of the eighth lunar month, tens of thousands of people throughout the country flock to attend the Kiep Bac Temple Festival.
The magnificent festival is solemnly organized. In the early morning of the 20th day, the on-land processions start off from Van Yen, Duoc Son and Con Son to approach the temple. The procession on the river will be destined for Tran Xa Lagoon, then following the Thuong River to the quay in front of the temple. At the appointed time, all processions will gather correctly in lines at the entrance gate of the temple to carry out the incense-offering rite. The chief officiant delivers a speech to praise the great contributions of Tran Hung Dao and the historical significance of the anti-Yuan-Mongolian resistance wars under the Tran Dynasty. He also gives a funeral oration to Saint Tran Hung Dao. Then, all people will offer incense sticks.
The incense-offering rite is followed by a solemn major ceremony and a palanquin procession. The votive tablet of Saint Tran is placed in a splendid red-lacquered gold-gilded palanquin surrounded by some dragon and lion dancers. The procession moves to the riverbank. In such an imposing environment, the audience can recall a big operation of the Dai Viet heroic army under the leadership of the genius marshal prior to the famous water battle on the Bach Dang River seven centuries ago (1288).
The procession embarks on the boat ornamented with votive flags and flowers. The Saint?s palanquin is transported on a dragon boat. The fleet leaves the quay in the resounding accompaniment of drumbeats, gong and horn sounds, and the admiring acclamation of the audience. When the fleet moors, the procession returns the temple.
One of the most attractive performances in the festival is the race of dozens of boats on the Luc Dau River.
Clay Fire-cracker Festival
Time: The 1st day of the fifth lunar month.
Place: Minh Duc Commune, Tu Ky District, Hai Duong Province.
Characteristics: Clay fire-cracker contest, each team can make three clay fire-crackers.
The festival memorizes the legend of villagers pray for battled elephant escaping from the sink when fighting aggressors. It is also the custom of praying for thunder and rain of farmers long time ago.
Location: In Chi Lang Nam Commune, Thanh Mien District.
Characteristics: It?s home mainly to a mere nine varieties of storks, Chinese pond herons, jabirus, buff-backed and grey herons, and the grey, blue and black bitterns.
To the growing list of places in Vietnam that claims to have discovered eco-tourism, add the name of Dao Co. It will have to take its chances for the claim along with all the others but certainly they won?t be lessened by its celebrated Island of Storks.
It nestles in Thanh Mien District?s Chi Lang Nam Commune and has been quietly pulling bird-watchers - around 15,000 annually, to an out-of-the way part of Hai Duong Province - since the early 90s.
That?s a modest figure but local tourist officials are hoping to spread its attractions wider without trampling on the very nature that attracts visitors in the first place. Welcome to eco-tourism - welcome to the problem.
Dao Co, one writer enthused "rises like a jewel blessed by nature" in the middle of the 2,832sq.km in Chi Lang Nam. Few ornithologists - those birdwatchers - would disagree. It?s home mainly to a mere nine varieties of storks, Chinese pond herons, jabirus, buff-backed and grey herons, and the grey, blue and black bitterns, stopping off on their way to China, Myanmar, India and Nepal. But don?t forget the common teal, wild ducks, moor hens, the pelicans or the snipes - all faithfully recorded in the Vietnam?s nature bible, the Red Book. But it?s this time of year that most excites visitors and locals as spring heralds the arrival of tens of thousands of storks. Local experts somehow seem to have deduced that each flock of storks numbers 70, arriving in clusters as night falls to take up residence on their island.
In 1996, the Vietnam office of the UN Development Programme proposed turning Dao Co into an environmental education centre in a two-year, VND 549 million project which would see planting of bamboo trees and introducing teaching programmes to raise awareness of environmental protection. There are plans to make Dao Co part of an eco-trail starting from Hanoi, winding through Hien Street to Stork Island and on to Con Son, Kiep Bac and Haiphong, and back to the capital.