Our boat left a wharf on the Sao Khe River and led to Trang An Eco-Tourist Site, a wild but very attractive area in Gia Vien District, Ninh Binh Province.
Our small boat went smoothly on the river whose water is so clear that the riverbed can be seen. The space was so tranquil that the only sound heard was that of the oars slapping the water. Afar, green mountains with white flowers of reed trees growing on the mountain foot made a beautiful scene. While enjoying fresh air and the landscape in the soft light of the mountainous area we had a feeling of being lost in a fairylike world.
It was strange to us that our boat could not go along a straight water route as in another tour to Tam Coc – Bich Dong grottoes (also in Ninh Binh Province), but followed a circular route of over 10km. About 200m away from the wharf our boat reached Trinh Temple which is locally known as Dot Temple. The Temple is dedicated to Dinh Thang and Dinh Thuoc, the great generals in the Dinh Dynasty (10th century) who were credited with helping King Dinh Tien Hoang defeat the invaders, bringing peace to the country. Going further, our boat arrived at the first grotto named Dia Linh which is over 400m long.
Inside the grotto, rows of stalactites in various strange shapes hang from the roof of the cave. In addition, water dripping from the roof made the space more illusory.
Just as our boat came out of the grotto, a vast watery space surrounded by imposing limestone mountains appeared in front of us, creating a feeling of being in a gigantic natural well. Its water was calm and so limpid that bushes of green seaweed at the bottom looked like a grass cover.
The boat ran through another grotto and then entered another watery space. Each grotto and watery space has its own wild beauty and is given a name, such as the Wine Brewing Grotto, Si Watery Space, Tran Temple, etc. There are about 50 grottoes in Trang An. The positions of mountains and river are harmonious with each other. When the boat was running through the Wine Brewing Grotto we were told that there had been a very deep gulf with pure water in this grotto, so the locals used to fetch the water to brew wine to offer to the king. Along the route some boats called at a wharf for tourists to visit Tran Temple. Trang An Eco-Tourist Site is known not only as a beautiful spot but also a sacred place for Buddhist followers.
Coming to Trang An, tourists also visit Bai Dinh Pagoda complex on Bai Dinh Mountain in Gia Sinh Commune, Gia Vien District, Ninh Binh Province. The complex consists of the ancient Bai Dinh Pagoda situated at a height of nearly 200m, which, as legend goes was built in the Ly Dynasty (the 11th century), and the new Bai Dinh Pagoda which is being built on an area of 107ha with many architectural works of national record.
At the foot of the mountain there is Ngoc (Jade) Well with blue water. It was embellished and expanded in 2006, being 97.3m in circumference, 30m in diameter and 19m deep. Legend has it that in the old days Bonze Nguyen Minh Khong used to fetch water from this well to prepare herbal medicines to treat diseases for people.
Everyday, groups of Buddhist followers and tourists from far and near come to visit the pagodas and contemplate the architectural and sculptural works as well as the beautiful landscape of Vietnamese Buddhism during the early 21st century.
The inauguration ceremony of Bai Dinh Pagoda will be organised in 2010 on the occasion of the 1,000th anniversary of the year King Ly Thai To (1010 – 1225) issued the Royal Proclamation to move the capital from Hoa Lu (Ninh Binh Province) to Thang Long, present-day Hanoi.