Story: TRUONG QUY
Photos: VINH DAV, BA NGOC
Is there anything more romantic than sitting beside a forest stream in the autumn?
Three-quarters of Vietnam’s territory is made up of mountains and hilly regions. This geographical blessing allowed many streams to flow into larger rivers, enriching the deltas with alluvium and forming areas where Vietnamese people could live and farm since the dawn of time. According to Vietnamese traditions, pure and heavenly mountain streams are a symbol of nobility, as shown by the folk saying: “A father’s goodness is higher than the mountain, a mother’s goodness deeper than the sea.” Natural streams are at their most beautiful in the autumn, when there is no flooding or drought. The calm water becomes a sacred sanctuary for pilgrims.
For thousands of years, sages built their meditation huts beside streams. Here, jungle-dwellers established shrines to pray for peace. After trading in their gilded lives for simplicity, great luminaries settled by quiet streams. Nguyen Trai (1380-1442), a great Vietnamese poet, scholar, and military strategist, praised the majesty of Con Son Mountain – now in Chi Linh, Hai Duong province – in his Con Son Ballad. Describing his quiet retirement in his hometown, where the Tran Dynasty Zen master Truc Lam lived and practiced, the poem begins with:
“Con Son’s streams babble
Like music from a stringed instrument.”
Mountain streams are also associated with sources of heavenly elixir. The Vietnamese fable “Tu Thuc Cave”, which was adapted from “Youming Lu” (Records of the Hidden and Visible Worlds) by the Chinese writer Liu Yiqing, tells the story of Tu Thuc, a district prefect, who becomes lost while searching for medicinal plants and finds a heavenly realm lined with flowering peach trees beside a sacred stream on Nga Son Mountain (now in Thanh Hoa province). Here, he meets a beautiful fairy and falls in love.
For centuries, Yen Stream (also known as Yen Vi) at Huong Tich Pagoda (in My Duc district, Hanoi) has been a famous sightseeing destination for visitors on their way to the Perfume Pagoda. This 4km-long stream flows around Huong Son commune, forming a natural swamp that joins the Day River. The stream adds a lovely softness to the landscape of surrounding caves and mountains. In the spring, fiery red bombax ceiba flowers color the banks. In the autumn, the whole area turns lively thanks to the vivid pink and purple water lilies on Yen Stream. The beauty draws visitors even in the autumn.
Many other streams, such as Tay Thien (Tam Dao, Vinh Phuc), Ao Vua (Ba Vi, Hanoi), Mo Stream (Luc Nam, Bac Giang), and Giai Oan (Yen Tu, Quang Ninh), draw pilgrims from all walks of life. They’ve evolved into sacred cultural and religious places where prayers are sent and sorrows are cleansed. Even smaller streams, such as those of the “fish gods” in Cam Thuy commune (Thanh Hoa province), have become mythical thanks to local Muong and Thai ethnic communities’ efforts to preserve the natural ecosystem.
The most famous stream associated with Vietnam’s revolution was named after the Communist leader Lenin. This stream, which feeds the Bang River, flows through Coc Bo Cave, where President Ho Chi Minh found sanctuary after returning to the country in 1941. Lenin Stream and Karl Marx Mountain have become legendary landmarks in Cao Bang province. The stream’s clear blue water reflects the dark forests and rocky cliffs, exuding a mythical atmosphere that is enhanced by its association with the August Revolution of 1945.
The music of autumn streams
Over time, there was more demand for nature retreats set beside streams. During colonial times, the French built various highland resorts across Vietnam, most of them near beautiful streams, such as Sapa, Tam Dao, and Ba Vi in the North, and Bach Ma, and Ba Na in the Center. The best-known streams are those in Dalat city, where many lavish villas and hotels were built decades ago.
These streams were described as fairylands in poetry and music, inspired by the adventures of young people in the 1930s – 1940s. The image of a stream in the autumn is enchanting:
In the desolate autumn forest,
Water sparkles softly in the sunlight
The day hasn’t gone by, why does the wind linger?
The poplar trees’ shadows grace the green bank…”
(Dreamy Stream – “Suoi Mo”, a song by Van Cao)
Pure streams were also meeting places for refined and elegant people. Legendary names in music and literature include Cam Ly Stream, Da Ban Stream, and the Golden Stream in Golden Valley (Dalat), and the pink grass hills. They flow into majestic waterfalls and join mirrored lakes beneath the pine forests, forming some of the most valuable natural landscapes in Dalat.
Many generations have dreamt of living in a poetic home by a stream, inspired by Van Cao’s song Dreamy Stream:
“A past promise of a home by a stream, to hear its murmurs, to mingle with the scent of the wind, to watch the deer play in the golden autumn fields.”
In his song, Van Cao painted the picture of autumn beside a stream with falling yellow leaves, leisurely winds, the scent of flowers, and fresh air – a true heaven on Earth.
Many hot mineral springs or cool streams set high above sea level provide ideal settings for eco-resorts. These places are nature’s blessings, and include Phu Yen Spring (Son La), Quang Hanh (Quang Ninh), and Kim Boi (Hoa Binh). As well as being a sight to behold, these hot springs are also healing for those seeking natural rejuvenation.
As one takes a leisurely stroll along the bank of a stream, time seems to slow to match the peaceful pace of the calm, babbling water. Oh, the wonders of nature! What could be better than the sounds, sights, and scents of a dreamy forest stream in the autumn?