Old war base now tourist destination

The early morning sun shines all around. Clouds hang on mountains near and far mountains. Villages dot the immense green rice fields stretching into the distance.

The Bac Son region in northern Lạng Sơn Province was once the home of a culture that existed 10,000 years ago. Various archaeological traces unearthed in the area show that humans existed here from a period known as the New Stone Era. Caves have retainded traces of these primative people.

Bac Son also has a rich, modern, revolutionary tradition starting with the Bac Son Revolution in 1940, the first armed revolution led by the Vietnam Communist Party against French and Japanese invaders. Names such as Khuoi Noi Forest, Nong Luc Communal House and Mo Nhai Military Post are all associated with heroic fighting days.

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Stunning: A view of Bac Son Town with green fields and pyramid hills.

I first visited Bac Son with photographer Van Chuc nearly 30 years ago, when the doi moi (renewal) process started. Like other areas throughout Vietnam, Bac Son was having a hard time, with poor vilalges, needy people, under-developed infrastructure.

I remember old Bac Son Town. When night fell, it was so dark with almost no light in the streets. But the public loudspeaker echoed throughout the town, making it less boring.

That year produced a bumper crop of  mandarin oranges. Prices dropped so low, farmers had to give the fruit away because the roads were so bad and there were few vehicles.

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War time: A remnant of the old revolutionary base in Bac Son Town.

After that trip to Bac Son — following a trip to Tan Trao, U Minh and the central highlands — I wrote an article titled: “Please don’t forget the old revolutionary bases!” to remind authorities that the areas that produced revolution should be given special care.

Bac Son has changed much now. This time, I am stunned at a town with many multi-storey houses along the main roads while many villas and hotels mushroom along surrounding roads. Restaurants, shops and central markets draw big crowds. Groups of tourists pass every day along the main road running though the town. Bac Son Museum and the high television tower on top of Na Lay Mountain were the main features of the old Bac Son.

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Still weaving: Traditional weaving skills are still popular in the area.

During time in Bac Son, we have visited various places in the district and seen changes in local life. The roads have been improved, enabling cars to reach villages easily. Electricity has led to huge developmen in Bac Son’s economic, cultural and social development. Cattle farming and forestry has developed well. Tourism, small industry and services have also improved. Culture, education and health have achieved varying success.

According to To Bac Thai, chairman of Bac Son District’s People’s Committee, the average growth rate of the district is more than 9.1%, the average income last year reached VND27 million (US$1,200) — and the number of poor fell by 22.56%.

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Tai style: A house on stilts inside Bac Son Revolutionary Museum.

We visited Quynh Son Village, a tourism destination. Hundreds of houses on stilts all facing south owned by Tay people have been built in the old style with yin-yang tiled roofs. This has created a united space luring both domestic and foreign tourists.

Melodious sounds of dan tinh (traditional lute of the Tay), sweet folk songs and wine attract tourists.

In Quynh Son Village, we visited a workshop producing yin-yang tiles for hundreds of years.

We also visited Tham Khuyen Cave, once a home to stone-age people, relics of the Bac Son revolution, Nong Luc Commune, whish hosted the meeting that decided on revolution 77 years ago.

We watched the scenery from Tam Quan Pass, where the shadow of the mountain mingles with green colours of fields and trees. On top of Na Lay Mountain, photographers from our group had a chance to take aerial views of Bac Son Town with villages and fields like an embroidery painting.

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Peaceful: Quynh Son Village offers a glimpse of a tranquil life.

Bac Son Museum now has more spacious exhibition halls. Visiting the museum again, I understand clearly the long history, traditions and cultural features of Bac Son.

Beside the main building, a new house on stilts has been built with full sets of working tools and household utensils for visitors to imagine a typical living space of the locals.

“In 2016, about 17,000 visitors came to the museum,” said Duong Thi Tot, director of Bac Son Revolutionary Museum, “Since the beginning of 2017, we have received 72,000 visitors.”

Among objects, we paid attention to a photo of noted composer Van Cao and his song titled Bac Son with music notes, the musician’s signature at the end and also the signature of the legendary General Vo Nguyen Giap.

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Old kiln: The only yin-yang brick tile workshop in the town. 

Composer Van Cao wrote the song for a drama under the same name by writer Nguyen Huy Tuong in 1945, even though he had never set foot in Bac Son. Yet the song has won the hearts of many generations of Vietnamese people.

Bac Son, in the song, will be rememembered by Vietnamese patriots with the “familiar green of the old military base”. And its referral to the blood of martyrs colouring the forest leaves.


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