Directly north of Nghe An Province is Thanh Hoa Province. Another area of North Central Vietnam that is off the beaten path. You won’t find many tourists here except for the hardcore motorbikers on their cross country expeditions. Thanh Hoa and Thanh Hoa City is home to some of Vietnam’s richest history.
Thanh Hoa was the home one of Vietnam’s most famous heroes, Le Loi. Long before Ho Chi Minh waged his campaign against the French and later the US supported south, Le Loi launched the Lam Son Uprising. The Lam Son Uprising came about during a turbulent point of Vietnamese history. The short lived Ho Dynasty had been overrun and the Ming Dynasty had imposed their rule over Vietnam for the fourth time in Vietnam’s history. It would also be the last time they would rule over Vietnam. The Ming ruled over Vietnam from 1408 until 1427. In 1418 Le Loi began his campaign culminating in driving the Ming out of Vietnam and ascending to the throne as emperor of Vietnam. Le Loi’s rule established the Le Dynasty, a dynasty which would rule until the 18th century.
Today in virtually every town and city you will find at least one street named after the great Le Loi or his emperor name Le Thai To. In Hanoi, Le Thai Tho street runs along the Ho Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi center. This lake is the scene of a famous myth about Le Loi. After his successful campaign against the Ming, Le Loi was out on the lake in his boat when a golden turtle approached him. The turtle asked Le Loi to return the sword, Heaven’s Will, he had used to defeat the Ming. It became clear to Le Loi that he had completed his duty with the sword and that now it must return to the Dragon King. Thus Le Loi returned the sword and afterwards the lake was renamed to Ho Hoan Kiem, meaning “lake of the returned sword”.
Thanh Hoa City
The capital of Thanh Hoa Province is the city of Thanh Hoa. Just about halfway between Vinh and Hanoi, this city is the perfect overnight stop if you’re making your way up north. With a population of just under 500.000, Thanh Hoa is a fast developing city. It’s Le Mon industrial region was established in 2005 and has been an economic boon for the city. The city serves as a major crossroads for busses and trains heading north – south or to and from Laos.
About 16 km east of the city is Sam Son, a beach resort town with a nice 6km long white sand beach. While not as popular as some of the more resort beaches on the south coast, this beach is popular among locals during the summer months from April – July. The government of Thanh Hoa has actively invested in Sam Son and promoted it as a holiday destination making it into what it is today.
Pu luong Nature Reserve
Northeast of Thanh Hoa is Pu Luong Nature Reserve. Right near the provincial border to Hoa Binh, this nature reserve shares many qualities to Mai Chau but is much less overrun with tourists than its counterpart. Pu Luong is a popular spot for locals looking to unplug and get away from the city life of nearby Hanoi. Here you will find beautiful lush green rice fields and diverse nature. The ethnic Thai and Muong people tend to the rice fields here daily. You’ll find bamboo water wheels throughout the reserve which are used to irrigate the rice fields.
The area provides many treks from short walks around the forest to multi day guided treks. In addition there a number of homestays and bungalows which are sure to help you unplug and relax. Pu Luong Nature Lodge and Pu Luong Retreat are two of the most popular homestays in the area. Smaller and lesser known homestays are common here as well. Most of the homestays you will find clustered together in several popular areas such as Ban Hieu.
Citadel of the Ho Dynasty
North of Thanh Hoa City you’ll find the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty otherwise known as Thanh Nha Ho. This ancient citadel is an important part of Vietnamese history. Indeed Vietnam has many historic citadels however none have the same turbulent history as Thanh Nha Ho.
It was here that the Ho Dynasty was formed. In addition to forming a dynasty, emperor Ho Quy Ly made this citadel the capital of Vietnam. A turbulent bit of history plagued by uncertainty but ultimately led to the 4th Chinese domination which then gave rise to Vietnamese emperor and folk hero Le Loi, a Thanh Hoa native.