by An Vu
As I sink my bare feet into the pure white sand of Tra Co beach, where the sun never seems to set, my mind and body seem to absorb a wave of energy. I begin to see how Le Huu Lich, a writer from northern province of Quang Ninh's Yen Hung Distric, perceives his homeland:
"The earth of Tra Co is super-abundant with wind and sea, thanks to which its people are more beautiful."
We arrived at Tra Co in the rain on a summers day, with the seagulls screaming out like an angry child whose toys are taken away.
Yet, through the downpour we can still sense the absolute beauty of the 17km-long beach, stretching from Sa Vi Cape in the north-east of Viet Nam to Ngoc Cape, south of Mong Cai City's Tra Co District.
Located 200km from the centre of Ha Long City, Tra Co beach is noted as "one of the most lyrical in Viet Nam", attracting thousands of visitors every year.
Moreover, its position far from the city centre and industrial zone makes it quiet and unpolluted. The casuarina forest runs right to its edge, helping to block wind and regulating the air. I immediately imagine this place must be endowed with a diversity of sea ecology.
My friend, Nguyen Thanh Doan, says Tra Co beach inspires him. "It is rather primitive and unique, with its long white sand beach and cool weather."
Nguyen Tien Hung, a regular visitor, says he is lured by its flawless beauty. "I have been to many beaches, but Tra Co is out on its own."
But Tra Co is not only a beach.
First-time visitors are amazed to find Van Linh Khanh Pagoda, a 18th century construction located in Tra Co District. The pagoda, also called Nam Tho is at present under repair. Surrounding the pagoda is a 5,000sq.m campus, with 50 different size statues, including Mitreya Buddha, 12-hands Buddha and Mother of Goddess.
Trinh Thu Phuong, 42, a visitor from Ha Noi, says she comes each year to give thanks for her family's luck.
"The name of the pagoda is Van Linh Khanhï, meaning good deed and spirit," Phuong says. "I also love its fresh air and tranquil space, which is comfortable for giving thanks."
Local resident Nguyen Thi Tram tells about a traditional village festival, which is held for seven days starting from the 30th day of the fifth lunar month in Tra Co District. At the centre of the village, six shrines are set up to worship six gods who protected the village from the enemy. To prepare for the festival, six swine are slaughtered as a sacrifice to mourn the deaths of the protectors.
Alongside, there is a boat procession from Tra Co to the original land of Do Son District in Hai Phong City.
"The festival is a big cultural day and overseas compatriots arrive in droves for the spiritual feast."
Pham Van Huan, head of the Tra Co Tourism Management Committee, says the district has vast tourism potential.
"The number of visitors peaks in June and July. Previously, we received many Chinese visitors but the number has clearly reduced," Huan says. "Although the beach stretches for 17km, only 2km is frequented by visitors. We have petitioned the local authority to improve sanitation to attract more foreign sightseers."
For shopaholics, the Mong Cai cross border market is a must, where Vietnamese and Chinese take part in economic and trade activities. Regular shopper Tran Thu Ha says the products are cheap for an average income earner.
Close to the beach there's also the international Mong Cai golf course, which was opened in 2008 and has found favour with foreign visitors.
Ha Quang Long, director of Quang Ninh's Department for Culture, Sports and Tourism, says Tra Co tourism zone is one of the city's key planning targets.
"We have a general plan for the next two years, with sustainable development from "brown to green", meaning we turn from technology to afforestation, from the quantity to quality," Long says.
"For Tra Co, we still need to develop the model of sea and shopping tourism, since the city has the advantage being close to the Chinese border gate."
The rain had stopped by the time we left Tra Co, and there appeared a crystal clear sky. The image of the borderland city remains embedded in my mind like an echoing, endless song."