It’s almost impossible to believe the geographic elements that carved the waterfalls, streams and pools into the mountains in Ba Vi District, Hanoi, were just an accident of nature. In fact, local legend has quite a different explanation as to why the Ao Vua tourist site is so breath-takingly beautiful.
Stretching across an area of 128ha, Ao Vua attracts 10,000 visitors each day, says director Chu Van Tuan. "It only takes an hour and a half to get here from the centre of Hanoi," he says. "So it’s a popular weekend getaway for many people in the city."
The area is famous for its five waterfalls that tumble down the mountainside, 300m above sea level. As well as having a paddle in the fresh, cool water, visitors also head to Mountain God Temple on Pine Hill, to find out more about Ao Vua’s enchanting beginnings.
Legend has it that centuries ago, the 18th Hung King had a beautiful daughter. The Mountain God and the Water God both fell in love with her and vowed to fight each other until the weakest rival fell. It was an impressive competition. The Mountain God lifted a giant rock, leaving an enormous pit at the foot of the mountainside. Not to be outdone, the Water God filled the hole with water, creating a giant pool. But it wasn’t quite impressive enough and the Mountain God got the girl – and the kingdom. After many years of peaceful rule, the God and his wife took a final dip in the pool and flew into the heavens.
"That’s where the pond’s name comes from, Ao Vua, which means the ‘pond of the King," Tuan says.
So for a regal day out, tourists can take a dip in the true blue waters. But to make sure the story of the Mountain God’s final bath isn’t taken too literally, there are plenty of staff on duty in case of accidents, the director says.
Honoring another folk tale is a garden dedicated to Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups. Among displays of traditional costumes are statues of the fairy Au Co and Dragon God Lac Long Quan. According to the legend, the country’s ethnic groups are the children of a marriage between the fairy and the dragon.
There’s also the chance to get up-close and personal with wild life at the site’s animal park, where visitors can feed the resident foxes, civet-cats, bears, monkeys and lots of different kinds of birds.
To develop the site, Ao Vua JSC has invested VND60 billion (nearly US$3,75 million) since 1988. Today the annual turnover is VND10 billion (nearly US$58,900). "Tourists often stay two days at one of our hotels and one night camping," Tuan says.
"Our latest project is to build new hotels with 30 luxury rooms for visitors. At the moment we have 30 rooms from between VND200,000 ($12) and VND250,000 ($15) per night ($15). Our aim is to develop services to get tourists staying here for longer."
The site has certainly been a big hit with Hanoian Ha Van Trinh, who is on his second visit to the site. "I came here once four years ago with my friends and had a great time. The service was good and the sights were well-worth it. Now I’ve come back with my new wife so she can have fun here too. There’s been a lot of development, which is good for visitors, but I hope it won’t impact the natural surroundings too much."