There are 213 rivers in Việt Nam but Gianh river is the only one that lies completely inside one province – Quảng Bình. It’s Quảng Bình’s biggest river, so the locals call it the Mother river, the province’s natural symbol.
Rugged upper reaches
Mother river takes its waters from 2017m-high Cô Pi mountain of the mighty Trường Sơn range and flows northward, then changes its direction toward the South-East, zigzaging through districts of Minh Hóa, Tuyên Hoá and Quảng Trạch to reach East Sea.
Almost all tributaries of this 160km-long river come from the great Trường Sơn range or the 99 legendary limestone mountains. These big and small streams have flowed for millions of years through easy to- erode limestone terrain, thus creating scenic caves such as Minh Cầm, Lạc Sơn. In Nov. 2009, a wonderful multilevel cave was discovered 50m beneath the Tuyên Hóa section of the river. The upper 70-80 km long parts of river Gianh, winding among mountains, have many perilous cascades. Further down, the flow grows bigger and bigger, and the scenery on the banks also changes dramatically.
The riverbed is very steep near its sources. Gianh river’s average steepness is 19.2%. Therefore, during the flood season from Sept. to Nov., the flow is very violent. Quảng Bình people say only those who have witnessed the crest of its floods know its power and ferocity.
After the rainy season, Gianh river waters quickly become clear and peaceful. One of the most beautiful and scenic section of the Mother river is the part that crosses Quảng Trạch district, having an average width of 100m and 5 little isles. At about 10 km from its estuary, the river’s water begins to taste salty, as it mixes with sea water.
A divine river
In 1069 under Marshal Lý Thường Kiệt’s command, Lý dynasty’s army defeated Champa army on Gianh river and took back Quảng Bình land for the Great Việt. Since then Gianh river became a vital military frontier for Great Việt’s southward expansion.
In 1406, 800 thousand Chinese Minh troops invaded Great Việt. River Gianh again witnessed many bloody battles between the two countries’ armies, as recorded in history.
In Jan 1471, leading his army fom the Thăng Long (today’s Hà Nội) capital down South, King Lê Thánh Tông stopped his flotillas on Gianh river. Seeing the perilous rugged terrain on both sides, the King thought it was a divine river.
From 1570 to 1786, Gianh river witnessed many wars in the power struggle between the Trịnh and Nguyễn feudal lords of Great Việt. Those civil wars have left many vivid traces, such as Thầy Rampart, Quảng Bình border gate, and some citadels.
After each war, more Việt people from the North come to settle on both sides of Gianh river, especially around the royal military outpost which today is Ba Đồn town. The new settlements continually expanded, covering both banks of Gianh river. Rice cultivation and many other trades followed suit. Today’s villages on both sides of the river still practice the trade of those pioneering settlers.
The oldest trade villages concentrate in Quảng Trạch district and Ba Đồn township. In Quảng Trạch people grow rice, plant cotton and weave fabrics, make cone hats and do meshwork. Whereas Ba Đồn, the old royal military outpost, has carpentry, blacksmithing, carving and foundries (Hòa Ninh village of Quảng Hòa commune.)
One of the most famous villages along Gianh river is Lệ Sơn village of Văn Hóa commune, Tuyên Hóa district. It leans on the 99 pensive rocky mountains, facing the river, looking like a heavenly paradise on earth.
Moreover, history recorded that a century ago, Lệ Sơn was the top among 8 villages that had the highest learning spirit and success of Quảng Bình.
The most popular dish of the people of Quảng Bình in general and along Gianh river in particular is small mussels fried with piper lolot leaves or young jackfruit, sandwiched in dry rice pancake. Second is simmered brined goby. These are the two simple food items that Quảng Bình natives carry the taste of their tongue all their life, no matter where they go and what other tastes of life they experience.
Link to Vietnamheritage