Tra Co Vietnam offers a tranquil retreat
Tra Co Vietnam, if you wilt at the thought of a seething tourist spot in the burning sunshine then a cool little spot on Vietnam's northern coast could be just the place for you.
About 180 kilometres past Ha Long Bay, or seven hours drive from Hanoi, lies the peninsula of Tra Co Vietnam.
Tra Co marks the road linking Mong Cai township, north of Quang Ninh, with the Chinese border. But most importantly for tourists, the area boasts white sands, cultural sights and a golf course.
If you're in the mood for a walk head out along the 17km coastline from Tra Vi to Mui Ngoc. In addition to the beaches and crashing waves there is a natural mangrove forest nearby.
About 6km from Tra Co beach Vietnam is Tra Vi, "Km 0" from the Chinese border. This is the starting point of the S-shape that's Vietnam. On a clear day you can look out across the water to China on the opposite shore.
This is where the tourist trail ends but don't feel tempted to stop here because just around the corner an oasis awaits - Con Mang.
Con Mang is deserted stretch of white sand, a stripe of black rocks and a shady fence of filao (Casuarina) trees acting as a shield for wind and sun. Contemplative and romantic, it's the perfect place to watch the sun go down.
On the way back from Con Mang to Tra Co Vietnam, you can't miss Tra Co Cathedral. Built in 1880 and restored a decade ago, the church is an interesting and attractive place to take a rest.
Tra Co Communal Hall is also the pride of local people. It was built in 1462 to worship six people lauded as the first founders of Tra Co Vietnam. The story goes that 12 families from Do Son, Hai Phong Vietnam, went fishing.
There was a big storm and they got lost, eventually being washed onto the shores of the peninsula. Six of the 12 were downhearted, saying the land was useless and uninhabitable. The remaining six however, were less pessimistic and decided to stay and explore.
The communal house has been restored a few times but typical features of the original architecture still remain.
Inspired by the building, song writer Nguyen Cuong composed the famous song Mai Dinh Lang Bien.
Nhung thang tram thoi gian da ghi tac hinh dang
Net cham tro phuong long uon luon tua may song
Gui vao day vao day vui buon nguoi Viet
Gui vao day vao day tam hon nguoi Viet...
(Ups and downs of time have shaped it
Carvings of dragons and phoenixes twirl like clouds and waves
Here conveying the sadness and joys of the Viet people,
Here conveying the souls of the Viet people.)
The communal hall is special for another reason; tomorrow (the first day of the sixth month on the lunar calendar) it hosts a festival.
The festival spans three days and includes a variety of activities including a cooking, competition and traditional games.
Other attractions in the area include a 18-hole 110-ha golf course, built one and a half years ago by a Vietnamese company and a Chinese company.
But if you feel in need of retail therapy with a difference, you can also visit Mong Cai township which is home to a number of different markets selling mostly Chinese wares but with each as varied and colourful as the next.
The busiest one, Mong Cai central market on Tran Phu Street, is a treasure chest of all sorts of goods from household appliances and clothes to fruit.
Here about 70% of shopkeepers are Chinese but they speak enough Vietnamese for bargaining, which is all you need. It's best if you're an early bird though, as stalls close up at midday.
However, even though there's a wild array of goods on offer, the best souvenirs you take home will be the lungful of fresh air and happy memories of peace and quiet found a bit off the beaten track.
(Source: Viet Nam News)