Story: Nguyen Sa
Photo: Nguyen Hai

On the interprovincial highway leading to Ai Tu town in Trieu Phong district, Quang Tri province lies the 500-year-old village of Bich La. Set beside the Thach Han River, this ancient village boasts a unique heritage, which was influenced by many ancient cultures, most notably those of Dai Viet from the north and Champa from the central region, along with its original local customs. Through ups and downs, Bich La has retained its distinctive architecture and intangible cultural heritage.

Many shrines were built and decorated in the style of the Nguyen Dynasty

According to historical records, the village was founded by Deputy General Le Mau Doan, who came from what is now Hoa Due village in Hoan Chau – Nghe An. When King Le dispatched Deputy General Le Mau Doan to guard the regions of Tan Binh and Thuan Hoa in 1527, he decided to explore the area of Ha Duong, south of the Thach Han River. Later, Deputy General Le Mau Doan was named the village’s “Tutelary deity.” The villagers revere him for exploring new regions and establishing Bich La.

The village’s original name of Hoa An was changed to Hoa La by the Tay Son regime. Under the reign of King Thieu Tri it became known as Bich La. It was part of Trieu Dong commune until 2020 when it merged with Trieu Thanh commune in Trieu Phong district, Quang Tri province. The name Bich La (Bich means Blue and La means Silk) comes from the village’s silky blue river. Following a prediction by the prophet Trang Trinh Nguyen Binh Khiem that states “Settle along the Hoanh Son Range and our country will be eternally prosperous,” Lord Nguyen Hoang and his soldiers crossed the Hoanh Son Range in 1558 to establish a settlement. Lord Nguyen’s choice of Ai Tu as the site for the first town in the South influenced the structure and cultural institutions of Bich La village.

A visitor to the village's communal house

Bich La is set among picturesque rivers and mountains. To the north lies Cua Rao Mountain with its beautiful vegetation. The village is surrounded by small streams that flow year-round, as well as the Thach Han River, which splits into nine winding branches that resemble dragons. For generations, the locals have referred to this river as Cuu Tuyen Long Mach (the Black Dragon’s Nine Veins). Perhaps the land’s favorable feng shui position explains its success and many talented residents. Home to many great families with rich cultural traditions, the village produced many talented people who aided the nation. Built and decorated in the style of the Nguyen Dynasty, many shrines of the village’s founding families, including the Le Mau, Le Ba, and Le Canh, can be found along a small road surrounded by green gardens and fragrant rice fields.

A dragon relief on the wall of the village's communal house

The village’s communal house serves as the focal point of Bich La’s traditional culture and relics, surrounded by other spiritual and cultural architectural works. The ancient communal house features typical Dang Trong (Inner circuit, also called Cochinchina) architecture. It was built not only for worship but also to host religious, cultural, and other important events.

In front of the communal house lies a clear blue lake where Kim Quy (Golden Turtle), the god of peace and good harvests, resides. The Cho Dinh Festival, held on the third day of the Lunar New Year, is said to have originated from the legend of the Golden Turtle. The festival always begins with a ceremony beseeching Kim Quy to bless the villagers with good weather and academic success for their children. The villagers boil banh chung and banh tet using the lake’s water and offer these cakes to the gods, Buddha, and the village’s founders.

Mr Nguyen Luong, a village elder who is 88 years old, recounts the history of Bich La Village

A complex of eleven shrines to the right of the communal house is dedicated to those who have done good deeds for the village. Every spring, the Cho Dinh Festival attracts tourists from across the country, who enjoy cultural and folk-art activities like bai choi games, traditional calligraphy, poetry recitals, blowing chicken-shaped toys made from clay, folk singing, and so on.

To reach Bich La village, visitors arriving in Quang Tri from Ai Tu town must travel east, past fields that are green in the spring and turn golden in the summer. Stepping through the ancient village gate leads to a place steeped in culture. Ancient buildings reflected in clear blue water, the rustic hearts of Central people, and distinctive indigenous customs all make Bich La an appealing destination in Quang Tri.