Hai Phong, Vietnam (938 AD, 981 AD & 1281 AD)
The Battles of Bach Dang, or Bach Dang River, was a trio of engagements that took place along the frontier between China and Southeast Asia during the Middle Ages. In all three battles, Chinese invaders attempted to extend the empire down the coast of what is now Vietnam; and in all three cases the Vietnamese beat them back. Because of this the battlefields, all located in the general vicinity of the modern-day city of Hai Phong, have become a symbol of Vietnam’s independence from other Asian powers and a source of nationalistic pride.
The Bach Dang River, which empties into the spectacular Halong Bay, is one of the most militarily strategic waterways in Southeast Asia. For well over a thousand years it has formed part of the border between China to the north and Vietnam to the south, and throughout the Middle Ages it proved to be a critical line of defense for the Vietnamese against Chinese invaders.
In 938 AD, the Southern Han dynasty attempted to expand southward into Indochina. They invaded with an army of a hundred thousand men, and drove south to the Bach Dang River. There, the legendary Vietnamese leader Ngo Quyen prepared the river defenses. His strategy was simple: he essentially ‘mined’ the river with sharpened, iron-shod poles. These subsequently laid waste to the boats ferrying the Han army across the river, drowning tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers and effectively ending the assault.
The second attempt at invasion was by the Song dynasty in 981 AD. This campaign was not as large or as the Han invasion, and the Vietnamese were able to muster a much stronger force to meet the invaders. Forewarned of the campaign plans, the Vietnamese ambushed the Song at several locations, notably at Lang Song. The Chinese were subsequently annihilated, and Vietnam’s northern frontier was secure for several more centuries.
The greatest threat came in 1288 AD, when the Yuan dynasty, aka the Mongols, came determined to destroy the last bastion of resistance in southeast Asia. The Mongols had already been trying to conquer Vietnam since the 1250s. Their last major attempt came in 1288 under Omar Khan. The Vietnamese commander, Tran Hung Dao, took a cue from his predecessor and decided to meet the Mongols at the river, using similar tactics. Again the Vietnamese plan came off like clockwork, the Mongol fleet was destroyed, and the last campaign to take Vietnam went down as a miserable failure.
Between the three battles, fighting took place along a large stretch of the Bach Dang River just west of Halong Bay. The most interesting site related to the boat battles is probably in the Yen Giang commune, where some of the sharpened stakes used in the battle of 1288 have been recovered. The largest fighting on land took place at Chi Lang, now Lang Son, which is also popular with historians of the battle.
The most relavent battlefield sites are at Yen Giang, approximately ten miles northeast of Haiphong, and Lang Son, approximately sixty miles north of Haiphong. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.vietnamtourism.com (official tourism website of Vietnam).