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Archive for July, 2014

I never forget my deep impression of my first visit to Phat Diem Cathedral when I was at grade 5. Truthfully, it was the first journey to a tourist attraction for a little countryside girl, so everything was prepared so carefully in terms of vehicle – simply a bicycle, money and tips from older people’s advice. My group included of 6 children riding on 3 bikes doing the tour right after our Lunar New Year holiday since we had got lucky money – the finance source for the tour. After asking for our parents’ permission, we started our journey from my village to the Cathedral. Phat Diem is in Ninh Binh province, while my home town is in Nam Dinh. First, we had to pass a large river on a ferry. In the past, ferry boat’s quality was so poor that we were afraid during transfer since some of my villagers were drown in the river. Then, we continued next 8km cycling on the unsurfaced road in cold and windy weather. Unbelievably, our eagerness and passion for our first journey made us tireless and happy to overcome all obstacles. After 45 minutes, we, finally, came to the Cathedral. The most majestic complex of buildings ever appeared before our eyes. We contacted a free guide being a postulant of Phat Diem seminary. We had chances to open our mind through his thorough knowledge of the Cathedral’s history.

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The building of Phat Diem Cathedral was the work of Father Tran Luc – popularly called Father Six (Cụ Sáu) and was accomplished within 24 years (1875-1899). Located in Phat Diem town, Kim Son District, Ninh Binh province, Phat Diem Cathedral is considered as one of the most beautiful churches in Vietnam. Of my first strong impression is its unique style of architecture resembling a Buddhist temple or pagoda, which is Father Six’s aim at showing harmony and integration of Catholic religion with national architecture as well as other religions in Vietnam through the architecture. Ninh Binh province and Japanese researchers recently are preparing dossier to submit UNESCO to recognize Phat Diem Cathedral as a World Heritage Site. The complex cover over two hectares, consisting of a lake, a grand Cathedral, three artificial grottoes and a great bell tower named Phuong Dinh.

The Bell Tower – Phuong Dinh

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The Bell Tower which resembles the communal house of most Vietnamese villages. It was the last monument to be built in the complex, and according to many critics it is also the finest one. It was finished in 1899, which was also the year of Father Six’ death. Over 40,000 people attended Father Six’s funeral. His tomb is located in the courtyard between the Bell Tower and the Cathedral.

The Cathedral

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Upon reaching the courtyard, the visitor can be inspired by the Cathedral. As the Bell Tower was colossal, the stone façade of the Cathedral is elegant. A memorial stellar on the right bears a hymn in Latin in honor of Mary, and the dedication of the Cathedral to Our Lady of Holy Rosary, signed by Father Six A.D.1891.

The chapels and Grottoes

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 The miracle of its construction

I came up with a big question that how local people could build the huge stone edifices at the time without cement or mechanical engineering. It was the guide’s story answering my enquiry. Materials to build the magnificent complex  consist of stone, timber and marble from Ninh Binh’s mountains and neighbor provinces such as Nghe An and Thanh Hoa. And here is its detailed constructing. As the placing of the stonework rose higher, earth was tightly packed on the inside for support and gently sloped against the outside, enabling the huge stone blocks to be dragged up and mortared in place, using sand and lime, allowing time for each block to set firmly. For the woodwork, each one of the nine partitions in the Cathedral was assigned to a group of carpenters, so that after only three months, the longitudinal head beams could be put in place. In order to erect nine sets of “assembled” pillars and beams, weighing 25 tons each, the five entrance stone porches had been first, to serve as a firm and high position for hoisting.

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I have come to visit Phat Diem several times after that when I grew up, but my feeling remains unchanged. My writing is small part of stories about Phat Diem Cathedral. More intensive insights into the catholic masterpiece are waiting you to explore.

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If you are have chance to visit a traditional Vietnamese family, especially in rural area, you might see an ancestor altar that is well located and arranged at the center of the house. The origin of altar comes from the ancestor worship which is typical for the culture of Vietnam.

Ancestor worship – one of Vietnamese beliefs shows respect, gratitude to the ancestor who had born and built posterity’s living. It includes of rituals, worship and other activities to indicate the reverence of generation at the present time to the first generations, grandparents and parents of their family who had passed away.

A popular sample of Ancestor altar

A sample of Ancestor altar in the countryside

Vietnamese ancestor worship has appeared since long time ago, based on the trust of immortal souls after deaths. According to the belief, the body and the soul are both associate and separate. They’re associate when they alive and separate when they die. When a person dies, his body dissolves into the land, but the soul still survives and moves to another world. This world is contrary to the living world and called with different names such as: coi ma (ghost world – of Ede ethnic group), hell, or heaven,… The purpose of building the other world is to satisfy the expectation of a better world. Vietnamese also believe that the dead people with magic power still visit and bless their posterity. So that the living people worship ancestors, show their respect, gratitude and ask for ancestor’s blessing of a happier and wealthier living. Ancestor worship has become not only a belief, the ethics of man, but also an important part of Vietnamese spirit living, especially in rural area. In fact, this belief is one of national traditions and although it is not compelling, it still appears in almost everywhere in the territory and deeply in every generation’s mind.

Vietnam is a country which has a rich, wide variety of ethnics and religions, so the ancestral cult has differences between areas, ethnics and religions. Worshiping ancestor has relationship with other religions such as Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism… Before the August Revolution, Confucianism was the backbone of Vietnamese society, affected and developed ancestor worship system. When the influence of Confucianism decreased, Buddhism bounded to ancestor worship more. So, especially in the North of Vietnam, people consider this belief as one part of Buddhism. The altar often worships both Buddha and ancestor. Catholicism didn’t allow Christians to worship ancestor not until 1964.

Vietnam has 64 ethnic groups, living in different areas, under different living conditions, that make the variety in the practices. The observing ancestral cult of Viet (Kinh) group seems to be the most popular, typical, outstanding, and represents for the belief of the whole nation.

Ancestor worship can be divided into 4 types according to its sphere:

+ Nation: Worshiping Hung King – the first King who created and built the nation.

+ Village: Worshiping Thanh Hoang Lang – the Deity who has huge contribution to the village.

+ Lineage: Worshiping the forefathers of the ancestry.

+ Family: Worshiping the passed away people of the family.

Different from the Western culture, in the past, Vietnamese consider that the death-day is more important than the birthday. So, annually, Vietnamese choose the death-day to celebrate a commemorative anniversary for the deceased, known as death-day or death anniversary.

Ancestor worshiping is an important ritual in wedding ceremony

Ancestor worshiping is an important ritual in wedding ceremony

On every first day and 15th day of the month, the family prepare offering to their ancestor. The offering of fresh flowers, fresh seasonal fruits are presented on the altar then the head person of the family burn incense and pray. In death anniversary or big occasions of the family, bigger offerings will be prepared with flowers, fruits and dishes as a normal meal of the family. Vietnamese people consider this ritual as a way to communicate with ancestor.

The Vietnamese life is changing day by day, the culture is also more colorful with the coming of Western wave. However, the belief of Ancestor Worship is inside every Vietnamese person and always reminds us of our origin.

 

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Apart from Western people who make breakfast at home, most of Vietnamese people have breakfast by going to a small restaurant on the street or buying food at a vendor on the way then eat it at work/ at home.

The breakfast menu of local people in Vietnam is quite various with dried food, including rice, bread or pastries and many different types of noodles and noodle soup.

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In the early morning, you will see all streets in Vietnam are crowded with small eateries lining up and plastic stools occupied by hurried eaters.

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Most popular and crowded are ‘pho’ and other noodles restaurants, including snail noodle soup, crab noodle soup, noodle soup with assorted toppings, eel noodle soup, fish noodle soup, etc, which are the distinct traditional dishes of Vietnamese street food however you will actually feel a little bit hungry at noon if you have noodle soup for breakfast. Normally, people who do manual work often choose a heavier meal such as sticky rice or fried rice or fried noodles.

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Among many choices of breakfast dishes, Vietnamese sandwich is also one of the most favorite dishes of local people especially the student or labor for its good taste and reasonable price. There is a varied choice of toppings or side dishes to go with them – different kinds of Vietnamese sausages, Vietnamese pate, fried eggs, shredded pork, butter, sauces, fried spring onions with the price only from 1 – 2 USD…

In general, Vietnamese people prefer to eat their breakfast and sometimes other meals at street restaurants and the street vendors’ than classy, air-con restaurants. It seems like traditional food tastes best in the street – the expensive restaurants only copy it in a clumsy way.

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Actually, a decent breakfast of Vietnamese people has to be followed up by a cup of Vietnamese coffee or green tea which most of local people can only try in the weekend when they don’t have to go to work. At weekend, after breakfast, people always gather at a street coffee shop and get updated on daily news or get their shoes shined.

Only after then does a new day really begin.

Read more: Vietnam tours

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Located approximate 100km from south of Hanoi, Tam Coc – Bich Dong, a great destination was called “Nam Thien De Nhi Dong” (means the second beautiful cave in Vietnam). Experienced rice and fall of history, this place has still retained nature with many caves, famous historical and cultural sites.

During late May till June, it’s the best time to visit Tam Coc – Bich Dong, when the rice fields turned bright yellow like a beautiful natural picture.

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Tam Coc means “Three caves”. These caves were made due to the transformation of geology, seawater and rainwater that have worn cliffs in a long period of millions of years

 

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Hardly to describe all the beauty of this land

 

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Cycling through this road, you will feel like you are surfing through a yellow silk carpet

 

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Flower of the summer in Tam Coc

In early summer, Tam Coc sky is immeasurably high and cloudless. Down to Ngo Dong river in pure water like autumn lake, take a boat in few hours to lost in summer paradise with timeless majestic limestone mountains deep blue water surface. Wind pass through mountain rocks bring new flavor of rice, birds twitter, sunshine sparkling through the cave … make this place much more beautiful.

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Down to Ngo Dong river in pure water like autumn lake, take a boat in few hours to lost in summer paradise with timeless majestic limestone mountains deep blue water surface

 

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Charming scenery on the wharf of Tam Coc

 

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Harvest

 

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Local farmers come home by carrying rice on small boat

And how wonderful moments you are sitting leisurely stroll on a small boat and watching yellow paddy fields by two riversides. It opens up a beautiful picture extend endlessly that we come across beautiful colors, peaceful life.

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Local farmers come home by carrying rice on small boat

 

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People is boating on Ngo Dong river

Sometimes visitors will catch activities from the locals who are in a hurry harvest but has not forgotten smiles whenever their lens toward. These days in Tam Coc, not only boats carries tourists outside, but also there are many local boat with yellow rice filled. The best time to watch the fields are lush with ripening rice is between late May and early June. These rice fields start turning into yellow color to catch a prosperous season in few weeks.

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Visit Tam Coc this season, You can easily see many images of farmer carrying rice

 

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Ngo Dong River is surrounded by fields and limestone mountains stretching endlessly.

 

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This is the ideal place for travelers who love taking pictures and exploring

 

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Sunset at Tam Coc

Visiting Tam Coc – Bich Dong, you are also sailing three caves: Hang Ca, Hang Hai and Hang Ba to feel the cool air and seeing cave stalactites hang down from the ceiling like iridescent pearls. The romantic beauty of green mountain, blue water and yellow rice fields would surely give you much indescribable emotion.

Spending 1-2 days to visit  Tam Coc – Bich Dong is a must!

Read more: Vietnam tours

Photos by Doan Tuan

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