The ancient Hien Town is alive with history
VietNamNet Bridge – We left Hanoi, travelling along the right bank of the Hong (Red) River to visit historical relics in a special complex bearing remarks of the once famous area.
Spirituality: Locals at a worship ceremony at Hien Pagoda.
It had the old saying “Thu nhat Kinh ky, thu nhi Pho Hien” (The most important area is the Imperial capital city [Thang Long], the second is Hien Town).
The famed town hosts more than 100 relic sites including Xich Dang Literature Temple, Bell Pagoda and Hien Pagoda. It also hosts Tran Temple, May Temple and Mother Temple.
Visiting the old town, one may share the same regret with me as the leading trading centre in the north of the country in the 17th century, a small bustling Trang An is now found only in traces.
In the middle of the 17th century, with the advantage of an entry way to Thang Long Capital, Hien Town had quickly developed from a residential area into a big economic hub.
Traders from China, Japan, Thailand, the Netherlands and Portugal came here to set up businesses.
At that time, Hien Town was a river port with many markets. The town hosted 20 wards, many streets, shops and two trading centres. According to historical documents, the name Pho Hien was adopted in the 15th century, when the head of the Son Nam area (the northern area of Thang Long) established an administrative office.
Solemn: Mother Temple with lots of big trees.
After its golden years in the mid-17th century, the growth of Hien Town was stunted due to various reasons. The Chinese market had started to open, Japan changed its development policy, and trading relations together with sea routes in the region developed.
In the meantime, a change in the location of the political and economic centre from Thang Long in the north to Hue in the central region, social upheavals and even changes in the Red River’s currents resulted in setbacks for the town.
In 1831, under the reign of King Minh Mang (1820-1841), Hung Yen Province was formed, with the administrative centre built in the old Hien Town. The important port location moved to Hai Phong City.
Reaching Hien Town, we passed by some relics of the once bustling port.
Our first destination was Xich Dang Literature Temple, which was built in Xich Dang Village in the 17th century.
The temple was a cultural hub of the Son Nam Area dedicated to Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479BC) and Vietnamese scholar Chu Van An (1292-1370). It is a fairy large construction with traditional architectural features with one of its gates looking like the one in the Temple of Literature in Hanoi.
Multi-cultural: Hien Town’s church was built by Dutch people in 1650.
The Xich Dang Literature Temple hosts nine stone steles recording names of 138 PhD holders at royal examinations from the Tran Dynasty (1225-1400) up to the last feudal royal examination of 1919.
Chuong (Bell) Pagoda is a special destination in the Pho Hien relic site complex. The pagoda has also been known as Kim Chung Tu (the Pagoda of Golden Bell), which is held by a legend that during a heavy flood, a golden bell floated here. Residents in the nearby Nhan Duc Village fished out the bell and built the pagoda to keep it.
The pagoda was built in the 15th century and was renovated in the 18th century, keeping its traditional design. On the tiled roof of the pagoda was the figure of a golden bell. There is a stone stele dating back to 1711 recording a beautiful scene of Pho Hien and some wards in the town’s golden age.
Hien Pagoda is also a famous tourist stop. The pagoda hosts two stone stelae dating back to 1625 and 1709, mentioning the formation and establishment of the ancient Hien Town.
There is a big longan tree that locals consider to be the original ancestor of all the longan trees in the region. Hung Yen is famed for its sweet and good flavoured longans.
Leaving the pagoda we came to Mau (Mother) Temple, which worships Yang Guifei (AD719-756), known as one of the four beauties of ancient China. The temple was believed to be built by Chinese traders, who once settled down here.
The holy temple has a solemn beauty with various big trees including an ancient banyan, which is over 700 years old. The temple is frequented by large numbers of tourists, even on weekdays.
Hien Town’s Church is one of the oldest in the north. In 1650, the Dutch built the church from wood to serve western traders. Though the church is not very big, it bears a classic beauty, evidence of a multi-cultural community in the once glorious Hien Town.
Today’s Hien Town is a part of Hung Yen City, which while young, possesses a great strength of character.
Taking a ride around the city, one can feel that power. Hung Yen City has turned out to be an alluring investment destination. Many modern high- rises have been built and main roads are being upgraded. Various bridges including Yen Lenh and Trieu Dương crossing the Red River and the Luoc River have helped link Hung Yen to other provinces.
Nguyen Duy Hung, deputy director of the Hung Yen’s People’s Committee, told Viet Nam News that the city has great potential in developing tourism in handicraft villages.
He named the Phuong Chieu longan processing village, the Hue Lai silver carving village, and the Long Thuong bronze casting village, as well as the Thu Sy bamboo fish trap village and the Xuan Quan ceramic village as examples.
“The villages have not only preserved cultural values but have also made considerable contributions to developing the rural economy in the area,” he said.
Tran Dang Tuan, director of the Hung Yen Culture and Sports Department, said there are a total of 49 handicraft villages in the province, 36 of which have been recognised by local authorities, with a total income of VND6,700 billion (US$293.6 million). The handicrafts that tend to develop quickly include fine-art souvenirs, wood furniture, and ceramics, and also bamboo and rattan wares, and agricultural processing products.
There are tours to eight local craft villages such as making soya sauce in Ban, making incense in Cao Thon, and rice wine in Truong Xa.
National symbol: The lake at Bell Pagoda.
Alive with history: Statues at Bell Pagoda. VNS Photos Tran Mai Huong
There are around 400 traditional festivals in the province throughout the year, three of which have been preserved as intangible culture projects including the Dau An Temple Festival in An Vien Commune, the water procession festivals at Da Hoa Temple in Binh Minh Commune and Hoa Temple in Da Trach Commune, and the Rain Worship Festival in Lac Hong Commune.
Many festivals gather thousands of tourists. These include the Hai Thuong Lan Ong Festival dedicated to the famed "medical saint" of the country Le Huu Trac (1720-1791) and the Chu Dong Tu-Tien Dung Festival, which follows a legend of love between a poor man and the daughter of the 18th Hung King.
Tourists visiting Hung Yen may lose themselves in the folk melodies of ca trù (ceremonial singing) and cheo (traditional opera) sung by local farmers.
Hung Yen Province has various delicacies such as longans, lotus seeds, and Dong Tao chicken - a species of chicken with big feet, red skin and tender, delicious meat which is a rare species in Vietnam that used to be served only to kings.
The government has approved a master plan to preserve and develop the historic and cultural values of the ancient town and promote tourism by 2020.
"The authorities will rebuild ancient buildings such as trading centres, houses, Chinese and Japanese boats and relic sites," Hung said.
"A river port is being built for tourists going on cruises along the Red River to visit Hien Town. Various folk games and traditional music performances will be re-organised to serve tourists."
By Tran Mai Huong