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2 “World Image” statuses should be seen in Vietnam.
Stone_StelleUNESCO has granted “world Image” status to two types of ancient documents in Vietnam.

Since 1992 UNESCO has been granting “world image” status to ancient documents that is deems invaluable to human heritage. This program has been trying to find, preserve and catalog valuable documents scattered throughout Vietnam, where time, warfare and other social upheavals have taken their toll on important records
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Beat the summer heat with a rustic retreat to scenic Cao Bang

To escape Ha Noi's summer heat, I imagine that many people are like me and think about the thick green forest and high mountains of Cao Bang Province, 300km north of the capital.

Although a car or bus can get you there in about seven hours, many people choose to take their own motorbikes which leaves them free to experience the winding roads that snake through these stunning mountains at their own pace.

Some of the best vistas can be enjoyed from the three-kilometre long Ma Phuc mountain pass, where views speckled with rice terraces rising between massive green-covered limestone mountains delight travellers. This is the scenery that Cao Bang is famous for.

Three kilometres west of the pass lies Nguom Ngao Cave, the most well-known destination in the province after Ban Gioc Waterfall.

The cave, which runs for more than two kilometres beneath the giant mountain, has three main entry points. It is said to be one of Viet Nam's most amazing caves, full of rare and unique rock formations. We climb up and down a small hill covered with maize before getting to one of the entrances where a plaque indicates that some French colonials and Vietnamese mandarins discovered the cave while visiting Ban Gioc Waterfall in 1921.

Tay ethnic guide Nguyen Van Khoan said the limestone cave was formed nearly 300 million years ago. In his language, Nguom Ngao means Tiger Cave. Legend has it that in the past, many dangerous tigers lived in this cave. Their resounding roars lead to the name.

In reality, the roaring sound comes from a fast-flowing underground stream which creates gusts of wind and loud echoes in the mountains.

Once we get inside the cave, the discomfort of the hot afternoon goes away as the temperature hovers around 20OC.

According to our guide, it is cool in summer and warm in winter thanks to the underground stream system.

I was not very fond of mountains nor caves before the trip but I think my mind changes the moment I see the amazing array of stalactites and stalagmites which resemble all manner of objects such as tree trunks, animals and even an angel combing her hair.

One enormous stalactite stretches ten metres high and looks like a giant lotus bulb in the centre of the cave while another formation nearby looks like a ship.

The light system in the cave is not very bright but is sufficient enough to enable visitors to see and imagine stories about the stalactites and stalagmites.

Khoan shows us another famous feature of Nguom Ngao, the terraced rock formations on the cave floor that look like terraced rice fields, and can be seen throughout the cavernous expanse.

Though I know that they are formed by the water that falls from the ceiling to the floor, I cannot help but be fascinated by their resemblance to one of northern Viet Nam's most common features, the terraced rice fields.

Near the end of the cave, a unique stalactite sparkles gold and silver because of the natural minerals that lie within, which Khoan calls Silver Stream.

Captivated

We leave the cave through another entrance, called Ban Thuon, which lies near a village of Tay people who graze their cattle in the surrounding mountain fields.

Though the sun is falling lower and the sky darkens, we are hesitant to head back to Cao Bang Town because we are captivated by an amazing water wheel that looks like a giant wheel moving in circles to irrigate the fields.

The water wheel operates in a similar fashion to a bicycle. It is about one metre wide and operates non-stop, as the current propels paddles which sit at a 45-degree angle against the direction of the rotation. These water wheels dot the agricultural landscape of Cao Bang and are a unique feature that I have not seen anywhere else in my travels in the North. — VNS

 
Dreaming of a lazy springtime immersed in traditional culture

The weather in northern Viet Nam during late March and early April always reminds me of my favourite book Thuong Nho Muoi Hai (Twelve Months to Remember) written by Vu Bang.

He wrote about the love and nostalgia for his wife and fatherland in the north, experienced while stationed in various parts of the country over the course of decades. The book includes a serial of stories about typical food, fruits, drinks and popular pastimes enjoyed during the year.

April is the time the writer dreams of bathing in Muong village springs in northern Hoa Binh Province.

His stories first inspired me to explore the green-forested mountains, clear spring water and fresh air of the area, which lies about 80km from the capital.

I was completely blown away when I reached Binh Thanh Commune at the foot of Muong Mountain in Cao Phong District after a three-hour motorbike drive.

Peaceful Giang Mo Village consist of stilt houses and is drenched in the traditions of local culture.

Over 100 households call the village home and earn their living by farming. The village first opened its doors to visitors 20 years ago, benefiting from the various perks of the trade such as upgraded roads.

Village chief Nguyen Van Hau said that most of his domain has remained unchanged, despite becoming such an attraction.

Here, almost every inhabitant can act as a tour guide, leading you to explore the area's mysterious beauty.

Legend has it that the Muong once lived in caves. One day, a couple caught a tortoise by chance. As they were about to kill it for food, the tortoise said: "If you spare my life, I'll tell you how to build a house to live in." From then on, the Muong had their houses built in the shape of a tortoise, the four pillars resembling its four legs and the roof its shell. A stilt house not only served as shelter but also as a place of worship. The Muong believe in three worlds: the sky for their genie, the earth for death, and human beings living in between.

The houses are made from wood and bamboo, the roofs of palm leaves and grass, which helps them stay cool in summer and warm in winter.

Traditionally, a stilt house has a loft used for storing food and utensils, a floor space for worship, cooking, eating and sleeping, and a space for keeping chickens and other animals alongside tools such as weaving looms, bows and arrows.

In the corner of a house, Muong women thread yarn on a weaving loom as colours and patterns take shape, making curious onlookers salivate for a try.

As special guests, the Muong will treat you with dishes including black sticky rice (nep cam), boiled pork on banana leaf and streamed fish with traditional ruou can (wine stored in jar and drink through bamboo straws).

In recent years, home stay tourism has become very popular in the village, offering visitors the chance to experience local culture and lifestyle first hand.

"We always cook with our visitors, have meals together and accompany them to the terraced fields or in weaving," Bui Thi Luu said, adding that this type of tourism did much to improve local incomes.

With so many tourists visiting the village many locals have picked up English, which has made communication a treat, she noted.

Tran Thai Tuan, a tour guide from Phuong Bac Travel, said foreigners enjoyed touring Viet Nam's mountainous regions where many ethnic minorities still reside.

He added that Giang Mo Village was one of the most popular destinations he knew.

The Muong make up 6 per cent of the provincial population and contribute heavily to its traditional culture with their gongs, costumes, dances, rhymes and specific methods of drinking alcohol.

Moreover, in the evening, Muong youth gather to dance and sing folksongs while the voices of elders relate local history.

Make sure not to miss the Muong Culture Museum, owned by artist Vu Duc Hieu and representing traditional stilt houses, Muong routines and culture.

Girls in traditional costume will tell you the story of each object in it.

Similar to my favourite writer, I could do little but fall in love with the mystery of Muong daily life. — VNS

 
Hue Centre completes restoration of Long An Palace

THUA THIEN HUE — The Hue Relics Preservation Centre has completed restoration of the Long An Palace, one of the most famous sites in the historic royal capital of Hue. The palace was built in 1845 under the reign of King Thieu Tri and housed the King's body after his death in 1847 during eight months until his funeral. The palace, now a museum, preserves over 10,000 objects from the Nguyen dynasty.-VNS

 
Ha long gets free Wifi

HA NOI – More than 40 wireless internet transmitters will be installed along National Highway 18A in Ha Long City this month to supply free wifi, according to the provincial Department of Information and Communications.

The service is expected to become operational on April 20, about ten days before Ha Long Tourism Week 2012.

Tourists and residents will be able to access free wifi throughout the city, but will be charged for using entertainment services or when exceeding download limits.

Department Director Nguyen Minh Hong said construction of an information technology infrastructure is essential to the city becoming a modern tourist destination.

The supply of free wifi hotspots in Ha Long is part of a wireless internet installation project in Quang Ninh, hoped to cover all townships and cities in the province by 2015.

Ha Long will be second to supply free wifi following Hoi An City which launched 350 hotspots across Quang Nam Province last month. -- VNS

 
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