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Journey to the pagoda in the clouds



Ngoa Van is a sacred pagoda located on Bao Dai Mountain, in the territory of two communes, An Sinh and Binh Khe, in Quang Ninh Province.

 Built during the Tran Dynasty (1225-1400), the pagoda was the final destination in King-Monk Tran Nhan Tong’s journey of Buddhist practice and enlightenment.

Tran Nhan Tong was the third king of the Tran Dynasty. He was born on November 11 (lunar calendar) in 1258, became the Crown Prince at 16 and ascended the throne at the age of 21.

After reigning for 14 years, in 1293 he ceded the throne to his son Tran Anh Tong, and retired to Thien Truong Palace as Thái Thượng Hoàng (King’s father) to guide and help the new king reign over the country.

Because of his admiration for the Zen monks of Yen Tu, in September 1299, when the young king was mature enough, Tran Nhan Tong officially got ordained as an ascetic at Tu Tieu peak, Yen Tu Mountain.

Journey to the pagoda in the clouds
Ngoa Van is associated with King-Monk Tran Nhan Tong’s journey of Buddhist practice and enlightenment. VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Dat

He founded Thiền phái Trúc Lâm Yên Tử (Truc Lam Zen Buddhism) — a line of Buddhist meditation imbued with Vietnamese culture.

The King-Monk spent the rest of his life practising Buddhism, providing health services to the poor, and encouraging people to do good deeds. Finally, he chose Ngoa Van Pagoda as the place to attain nirvana. Ngoa Van has been considered the holy land of the Tran Dynasty and Truc Lam Zen Buddhism ever since. 

Today Ngoa Van is a pilgrimage site containing traces of ancient people in the Tran dynasty complex, and special national relic sites in Dong Trieu.

From the foot of the mountain to the Ngoa Van summit, researchers have found countless traces of ancient architecture and culture throughout different times, such as from the Tran, Le and Nguyen dynasties.

Journey to the pagoda in the clouds
Ngoa Van contains traces of ancient culture in the complex of the Tran Dynasty special national relic sites in Dong Trieu Town. VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Dat

The most impressive examples are probably the architecture found in the Da Chong area, where archaeologists recently unearthed and discovered multiple layers of relics of the Le Trung Hung (Restored Le) era from the foot to half-way up the hill.

The tower of Buddhist King-Monk Tran Nhan Tong on the top of Bao Dai Mountain is a place containing many mysteries and is visited by pilgrims every year.

Journey to the pagoda in the clouds
The tower of Buddhist King-Monk Tran Nhan Tong on the top of Bao Dai Mountain contains many mysteries. VNS Photo Mai Huong

Ngoa Van Pagoda means “Pagoda in the Clouds”. At an altitude of 600 metres above sea level, the pagoda has beautiful landscape, leaning against the cloud-covered Ngoa Van peak.

Surrounded by two mountain ranges on both sides and a beautiful valley in front, this sacred place is a perfect destination for those who want to find inner peace.

As a most sacred place, Ngoa Van Pagoda has been developed as one of 14 tourism destinations in Quang Ninh to meet the demand for spiritual tourism of monks and pilgrims across the country.

Journey to the pagoda in the clouds
The statue of King-Monk Tran Nhan Tong in Ngoa Van Pagoda on Bao Dai Mountain. VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Dat

To create a chance for pilgrims and visitors to show respect and gratitude to Tran Nhan Tong, and to pray for a happy and peaceful year and to attract more tourists, the provincial authorities have worked hard to turn the location into an ideal destination for tourists.

A traditional path to the pagoda was paved and a cable car system was built to let visitors contemplate the peaceful atmosphere and the breathtaking beauty.

The pagoda relic complex includes four areas: Thong Dan, Ngoa Van, Da Chong and Ba Bac, with 15 groups of different temples and towers.

Ngoa Van Pagoda is the central part of the complex. In the past, people had to walk along a slippery, rocky path to get to the pagoda by starting from An Sinh Temple, going along Phu Am Tra stream to Do Kieu slope and crossing Thong Da.

A pilgrimage to Ngoa Van Pagoda in winter has special meaning for Buddhists. Under the mist on the top of the mountain and the golden rays of the sun, visitors can feel the cold of winter, peace of mind, and an absolute purity when standing on the top of the mountain looking down.

The landscape here is also extremely airy. Those who have stayed at the temple in autumn during the moonlit nights find the scenery here like that of a fairyland.

Those who have knowledge of feng shui claim that the area has an extremely good location as there is “a blue dragon on the left and a white tiger on the right”, mountains in front and behind, and water far away.

In order to preserve and promote the complex, in December 2020, on the 713th anniversary of King-Monk Tran Nhan Tong attaining nirvana, the People’s Committee of Quang Ninh approved a project to restore Ngoa Van Am (Ngoa Van Shrine) thanks to a donation from the Thien Tam Fund of Vingroup.

The project was carried out with the principle of preserving the antiquity of this Buddhist work. The construction was carried out under the strict supervision of archaeologists to ensure accuracy.

Ngoa Van Pagoda was officially inaugurated on December 4, after the renovation.

It is now ready to welcome Buddhists and others to visit this holy land of Truc Lam Buddhism. 

Source: Vietnam News



Exotic dining in the middle of nowhere



HIDDEN GEM: This cosy house in the forest in the mountain of Kỳ Thượng is a great destination for holidaymakers or teambuilding activities. Photo courtesy of the farm

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

Usually, when you think of Hạ Long City, you think of the beach, the sea and seafood. But this time, when we went up the highest mountains, which belong to Kỳ Thượng Commune, merged with the city only a few years ago, it was a wide array of mountainous food left us stunned.

TASTY: Crispy fish wrapped in fresh lolot leaves and dipped in soya sauce. VNS Photo Trương Vị

 The trip alone was nearly four hours, covering only 50 kilometres of winding uphill and then going down the mountains took two. This mountainous district balances the bustling, thriving, modern city of Hạ Long.

After our work was done, we were about to return to Trới Town, a mid-size community of 12,000 people spreading over 12 square kilometres, known for its buffalo meat or find a homestay along the way.

“There nothing around here,” our guide said. “The closest town is two hour drive away. You’d better stay for lunch.”

Kỳ Thượng is everything Hạ Long City is not. Home to 800 Dao ethnics living scattered in the district. They plant rice and vegetables for home consumption only.

There’s not even a local market. If a household produces more than they can consume, someone picks up the produce on a motorbike and delivers it around the district to order by group messages on mobile phones.

TASTY GRUB: The bee larva is not only a delicacy, but a staple food for the local people. VNS Photo Mỹ Hà

“Hey, I’ve got new taro harvested; I’ll bring them to your restaurant,” Bàn Kiên, manager of the Sa Mộc Restaurant, tells us how he got the food supply. Himself a carpenter, Kiên and his team built a dining hall of pine wood accordingly to a local architect’s design. The shorter wood was used to make beds, and he created beautiful dining round tables with the smaller log ends. Nothing was wasted. The dining hall has a high ceiling, with lighting coming from creative bamboo chandeliers. 

Surrounding us was the wonderful fragrant smell of the wood. The restaurant can sit up to 50 people at a time, and walking around the hall, I had the image of a small wedding, which people who dined with me laughed off. “No one around here would come here to have their wedding. They’d have it at home,” they said.

RED AND CRISPY: The spring shrimps caught by hand tastes like no other you’ve tried before. VNS Photo Trương Vị

 The food came in a whole tray for six with extraordinary local delicacies: shrimps (VNĐ200,000) and small fish (VNĐ190,000) from the crystal clear surrounding springs. Fresh vegetables locally-grown, taro root soup (VNĐ160,000), a boiled free-range chicken (VNĐ580,000), and, above all, a dish full of stir-fried bee larvae (VNĐ400,000) are available if you are a fan of exotic food from the forest. 

The crispy fish is wrapped in fresh lolot leaves and then dipped into soya sauce. When cooked, the shrimp goes deep red, making it look like a lobster. These shrimps are not easy to catch, and you can only get a handful over an hour or more. The stories of how food is harvested, or how it rains so much in the valley, made the food even more delicious and a source of nutrition and inspiration. 

FEAST: A full food tray for six to eight people is healthy and home-grown. VNS Photo Mỹ Hà

Every meal here is accompanied by home-brewed alcohol. Be it from maize or rice, the alcohol is potent at 40 degrees. Local community officers need to survive a homemade party to break the ice with local people, who call them up and invite them home for dinner. If you can gain the trust of local people, they, in turn, offer help and ring you up to brief you on the latest things happening in the community. 

“Come back when the bamboo shoots spring up from the ground!” our guide said. “There are numerous types of bamboo, and the shoots are available for almost half a year. There are bitter shoots, natural sweet shoots, and pickled shoots. The Lunar New Year is just around the corner, and from all corners of the forest, people have been sending dried bamboo shoots to the markets in big cities, which are a must-have dish in every family for the New Year.”

SOUP-ER: Delicious taro with pork bone soup.

 The long and winding road to Kỳ Thượng also goes through a primitive bamboo forest and a national park that embraces five communes and is said to preserve a highly diverse pool of wild and untouched flora and fauna.

For the local community officers, winning both local approval and keeping your health safe from the devastatingly strong local alcohol is a fine balancing act you need to manage.

If you are trusted by your supervisor but fail the drinking test at communal home parties, you cannot work in the community. Winning people’s approval is a prerequisite test any officer needs to pass if you want to continue working with the locals. 

Sa Mộc Restaurant is a wonderful find, and a fine place to try exotic fare from the local forest. VNS

Sa Mộc Restaurant

Khe Phương Village, Kỳ Thượng Commune, Hạ Long City

Tel: 0969 828 086, 0988 290 981

Comment: exotic local food in a spacious pine wood lounge


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Pan-fried sea bass



Pan-fried sea bass

Sea bass with chef Executive Chef Bernado Cabrera at Azerai Cần Thơ restaurant


Green pea puree 

– Frozen green peas: 100g

– Butter: 120g

– Shallots: 30gr

– Garlic: 50gr

– Mint: 10gr

– Pepper: 5gr

– Salt: 5gr

Tartar sauce    

– Mayonaise: 400gr

– Dill pickles: 330gr

– Dill: 15gr

– Lemon: 80gr

– Sugar: 15gr

– Black pepper: 2gr

– Shallots: 80gr

– Garlic: 2gr

 – Sea bass: 220gr

– Potato: 90gr


Pea puree: On a medium heat pan, add butter, garlic and shallots. Cook until soft add the green peas frozen and cook for about 5-7 minutes. Season, add water and bring to a boil, then blend, adding mint at the end. Don’t blend for too long or the colour change.     

Tartar sauce: Finely chop all the ingredients and mix with mayonnaise and a bit of juice from the dill pickles.  

 Executive Chef Bernado Cabrera at Azerai Cần Thơ restaurant

Potatoes: Cut the potatoes into 2x2cm cubes, place in a pot with 2 litres of water and 1 tsp salt, and bring to a boil. After 4 minutes, check with a toothpick; if it goes through easily, take the spuds out of the water and place them on a paper towel to dry and put aside.

Once the potato is cool, deep-fry at 170 degrees Celsius. For thin-cut fries, thin-slice the potatoes and cut them into strips of about 5mm. Place in water with lime and wait until starch goes out, which might take about 15 minutes; fry in oil at 160 degrees Celsius, avoiding high heat to not burn the thin-cut fries.

Sea bass: On a non-stick pan, place 1 tsp vegetable oil and turn on medium heat; season the fish with salt and pepper and start cooking the skin side; when the side of the fish starts changing to a whitish colour, flip and continue cooking. Place it in the oven pre-heated at 190 degrees Celsius for 6-7 minutes.

Caramelized lemon: On a cold non-stick pan, place halved seeded yellow lemons, turn on to medium heat, and let the lemon start caramelizing. This will take about 7-10 minutes, depending on the heat.

Plating: Spread pea puree on a plate, place the fried potatoes on the left side of the dish and the fried sea bass on the right Then place a tablespoon of tartar sauce in the middle and top with thick-cut fries and decorate with microgreens.

Bon appetit!


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Quảng Ninh prioritises HR in tourism



Several popular sightseeing spots in the northern coastal province of Quảng Ninh, including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hạ Long Bay, have seen a surge in tourist numbers since the country lifted most pandemic restrictions a few months ago. However, the strong recovery has created a labour shortage throughout the tourist industry.

Currently, to ensure service quality, enterprises operating in hospitality and tourism are paying attention to attracting and improving their labour force’s quality.

A regular meeting of on-site tour guides is held every week in Bình Liêu — a multi-ethnic district that has become a new hotspot for tourists in recent years thanks to its cool climate and the stunning mountainous landscape, especially in the season of reeds flowers and ripe rice (September-October).

On-site tour guides gather at their weekly meeting in the Bình Liêu Tourism Office. — Photo

The meetings offer the tour guides, who all attended a training course hosted in the summer by the Quảng Ninh tourism authority, chances to discuss any issues and exchange their practical experiences, thus providing the best service for tourists.

Lô Thị Chung, an on-site tour guide, said: “The weekly meetings are beneficial because we can exchange necessary information related to our work. We also can learn from each other, thus improving our professional skills to serve our guests better.”

Earlier, to welcome tourists during the high season in autumn and winter, the district cooperated with reputable tourist agencies such as Hanoi Tourism to organise training courses for the district’s workforce, including tour guides and staff working in hotels and restaurants. 

The courses have equipped attendees with up-to-date tourism information and knowledge on responsible tourism. The participants also have honed their skills in guiding and hospitality, communication skills, and how to promote a destination.

In Móng Cái City, with an increasing number of visitors, especially on weekends, business establishments offering tourist services have to speed up their recruitment and provide short-term training for newly recruited staff to raise their quality.

According to the head of Móng Cái City’s Culture and Information Unit, Phạm Thị Oanh, the city plans to organise vocational programmes for rural workers, including in cooking, room and table services, and bartending.

“We already hosted training courses on food and beverage service, accommodation, transportation, and entertainment services,” she said.

Alongside offering advanced courses for on-site tour guides, the city will soon introduce “electronic guides” using QR codes.

A tour guide seen together with her tourist group at the Kỳ Thượng sightseeing spot in Kỳ Thượng Commune in Hạ Long City. — Photo

To ensure workforce quality, the Quảng Ninh tourism authority has actively attracted workers through local job fairs. It also helps connect tourist enterprises with vocational schools to recruit graduates.

Under the Master Plan for Quảng Ninh’s Human Resource Development for 2010-2020, the province prioritises developing human resources in critical economic sectors, including tourism.

Head of the Hạ Long City’s Culture and Information Unit, Nguyễn Mạnh Tuấn, said that the city had actively supported tourist enterprises to recruit workers by linking the enterprises and vocational schools.

Alongside encouraging tourism students to have internships in business establishments offering tourist services, the city has also designed advanced training programmes for people working in the sector.

Training locals to be tour guides

Aiming to develop the potential of community tourism in the new tourist spot of Bình Liêu, the district has the ambition to train local people to be tour guides.

To reach the goal, the district has cooperated with the provincial tourism authority to organise several training programmes targeting local people. Alongside equipping them with the necessary knowledge of tourism and hospitality, the programmes also introduce them to how to preserve their ethnic and cultural identity while developing tourism.

To satisfy his guests’ demand, Lý Văn Vinh has attended a training class on hospitality service. — Photo

When ethnic Dao young man Lý Văn Vinh became the manager of his homestay A Dào in Đồng Văn Commune, he could only prepare a few traditional dishes and make the table. However, his basic skills were not enough to satisfy the guests when his homestay welcomed more tourists.

To meet their demands, he attended a training class on hospitality service co-organised by the Quảng Ninh Department of Tourism and the Bình Liêu District’s Culture and Information Unit. In addition, he has also accumulated his hospitality knowledge through the internet and from exchanging experiences with other homestay owners in Hạ Long and Sa Pa.

“I have also paid attention to every comment of my guests to improve our service quality. It’s great that now we have several loyal guests who return regularly to stay,” he said.

There are 400 people, excluding seasonal labourers, working in hotels, homestays, and restaurants in Bình Liêu. However, like Vinh, most haven’t been trained professionally.

In recent years, the district authority has coordinated with the provincial Department of Tourism and the Hạ Long University to open numerous training courses for people in their villages.

“Our purpose is for everyone to have the opportunity to access knowledge and skills in tourism,” said the head of the Bình Liêu District’s Culture and Information Unit, Mạc Ngọc Điệp.

Members of a training course on tour guide skills practise mixology. — Photo courtesy of Bình Liêu District’s Culture and Information Unit

The most recent course on tour guide skills was held in October, gathering 35 local people. The participants were knowledgeable about agricultural and rural tourism and its role in green growth and sustainable development. Knowledge of local sightseeing spots, skills in designing tour programmes, tour presentations, and handling occurrences were all part of the course.

The course attendees also were shown how to create drinks with local agricultural products.

Thanks to the course, Phùn Thị Hậu, who runs Xuân Quý Restaurant in Bình Liêu Town, said that she could now create the drink from trám đen (black pili nut) that has received applause from many guests. The drink has promise as a unique beverage to refresh tourists to the region. — VNS


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