Two festival seasons have been held annually in Con Son Pagoda in the Chi Linh District of the northern province of Hai Duong. The spring festival season originated on the 22nd day of the first lunar month in 1334 and marks the anniversary of the death of monk Huyen Quang, one of the founders of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism.
The autumn festival season begins on the 16th day of the eight lunar month, to mark the anniversary of the death of Nguyen Trai, a famous poet and politician during the Le Loi King in the 15th century. He wrote Binh Ngo Dai Cao, a declaration of freedom for the country.
The autumn festival was first held in 1962 and became an official national event in 1980 when Nguyen Trai was honoured as the Great Man of Culture by UNESCO.
Located 80km away from Ha Noi, Con Son Pagoda is known for its historic relics associated with the lives of many Vietnamese heroes and famous persons.
Tourists will be attracted to the charming mountains, rivers and forests that form the poetic and beautiful landscape.
Con Son Pagoda is one of three centres, Con Son, Yen Tu and Quynh Lam of Truc Lam Zen of the Tran dynasty in the 13th century. The pagoda was built between two mountain ranges, Phuong Hoang and Ky Lan, before the Tran dynasty and was restored and expanded under the Le dynasty in the 15th century.
Over the years Con Son Pagoda has become small and hidden under green trees. If tourists visit out of the festival seasons, they will find a very peaceful atmosphere.
Visitors will see many pine trees as they pass through the three-door gate and be fascinated by the old stone steles in the pagoda's ground. The one on the right was autographed by King Tran Due Tong (1337-77) when he visited in 1373.
There are about 385 statues in the pagoda. Buddhist nun Tue Tam said that "some statues were created according to the portrait of famous monks and mandarins".
During the French resistance war, the small statues and many objects for worship were hidden in the mountain.
According to the story, one night during a thunderstorm, the pagoda's master monk could not sleep and decided to visit the statues in the next morning. When he arrived, he saw that the two unknown statues had been broken open to reveal two life-preserving amulets. They were identified as the great national hero Nguyen Trai and his concubine Nguyen Thi Lo.
The pagoda was recognised as a national heritage in 1962 and was then recorded as an important relic worth preserving 32 years later in 1994.
Dang Minh Tower, built with blue stones at the grave site of Huyen Quang monk, stands behind the pagoda. At the foot of the tower rests Pearl Well.
A wide path with ancient pine trees growing on both sides and footsteps leading to the peak of Ky Lan Mountain lies behind the grave tower.
Legends say that on the full moon night of the seventh lunar month, monk Huyen Quang received an omen about a water source. He went to the mountain and found a well containing fresh, cool water. Since then, the water in Pearl Well has been offered during rituals at the pagoda.
From Con Son Pagoda, it's a 600-step climb up to the peak of Ky Lan Mountain. Bach Van (White Cloud) Shrine, where Nguyen Trai lived at the end of his life, is at the peak.
Next to the shrine is Ban Co Tien (fairy chessboard) and several other large flat stones called "immortal chessboards" by local residents. Local people were believed to have been travelling along the misty path to the peak when suddenly they heard human voices and laughter.
But all they found was a never-ending chessboard. They decided heavenly deities must have ridden clouds to Ky Lan Mountain to play chess.
The stone path down to the base of the mountain leads to Thach Ban (stone table), two large, smooth and flat rocks that sit beside the Con Son Spring. It is said that Nguyen Trai used to sit on these rocks to think and write poetry.
Next to Con Son Spring is a temple dedicated to Nguyen Trai that was built in 2000 and inaugurated in 2002 in celebration of his 600th birthday.
About 7km west of Con Son Pagoda in the valley of Rong Mountain is Kiep Bac Temple, the estate and garrisoning camp of Tran Hung Dao (1228-1300) after the first victory over the Yuan invaders in 1258. He was a brave general whose army defeated 500,000 Mongol invaders in the mid-1280s and he is now a revered Vietnamese folk hero.
Every year from the 15th to 20th day of the eighth lunar month, tens of thousands of people throughout the country attend the Kiep Bac Temple Festival.
The beautiful temple was built in 1300 where Tran Hung Dao is said to have died. It was built not only for the general, but also to honour other notabe members of his family.
Within the temple complex there's a small exhibition on Tran Hung Dao's exploits. The Tran Hung Dao Festival is held every year from the 18th to the 20th day of the eighth lunar month, which usually falls in October.
Con Son Pagoda and Kiep Bac Temple are two of three areas to be protected as special preserved areas in Hai Duong Province because of their cultural and historical significance, according to the chairwoman of the province, Nguyen Thi Minh.
The preservation plan needs an investment capital of VND1,600 billion, which will be mobilised from the local budget, tourism and economic sectors, Minh said.