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Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex

Date of Submission: 30/09/2011
Criteria: (v)(vii)(viii)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Viet Nam National Commission for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Ninh Binh
Ref.: 5637
Word File

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


East: N20 13 41.56 E10556 59.51

West: N20 14 33.79 E105 51 41.92

South: N20 11 53.12 E105 55 09.83

North: N20 17 24.20 E105 52 26.45

The Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex is located in the districts Hoa Lu, Gia Vien, and Nho Quan of Ninh Binh Province in northern Viet Nam. The heritage property is spread over a large area of 10,000 hectares, and is made up of three individual components within a single buffer zone.  The three components are: (i) the Trang An Ecological Area, (ii) the Tam Coc-Bich Dong River Landscape, and the Hoa Lu Ancient Citadel.  The three areas share a common geological and ecological environment characterized by dramatic limestone karsts, permeated with a network of caves, and bound together by flooded inland waterways of high biological diversity. Together these three contiguous areas comprise the core zone of the heritage property.

To the east of the property is the Chanh River, to the north is the Hoang Long River and to the southwest is the Ben Dang River. The north, east and southeast sides comprise vast flat floodplains formed by Day and Van Rivers.

The crust in the Trang An region has a geologic history of 245 million years and includes six strata from of the Triassic and Quaternary Ages. It includes strata of different thickness, which has facilitated karstification and the formation of the area's unique landscape.

The Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex is situated inland on the coastal plain of within the highly eroded limestone block of Hoa Lu, part of the Truong Yen - Bich Dong mountain range.  This range comprised of by limestone karst peaks of high fragmentation forming low mountains separated by valley floors composed of sedimentary rock, where shales predominate. These valley floors are characterized by a long process of denudation, erosion, and surface runoff which has accumulated as a mixture of aluvi - deluvi - proluvi.

The height of the limestone block of Hoa Lu is 105 -70 meters above sea level, decreasing in height from the northwest to the southeast, as it slopes to the sea.  The Hoa Lu limestone block consists of hundreds of connected karsitic limestone mountains in close proximity.  Dramatic karst peak topography dominates the top of the limestone block, while the inside of the block is permeated with thousands of caves, many of which are interlinked, along waterways.  The most characteristic - and spectacular - part of this geological area is included in the core zone of the Trang An Scenic Landscape heritage site.  Also included in the core zone are the most important caves showing the evolution of cave formation over a long geological period of time, and continuing into the present.  The buffer zone includes all the water bodies and water courses which contribute to the on-going geological evolution of the area.

The high fragmentation of the limestone mountains in the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex has resulted in numerous karst blocks, karst towers, bell-shaped karst formations, all with precipitous slopes.  Lying in-between the karst towers are karst valleys and expanded eroded karstic lowlands, floored with limestone mud sediments, which are flooded annually during the rainy season.

The geology of the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex dates from the glacial and interglacial episodes of the Quaternary when rates of erosion were accelerated due to the great fluctuations in climatic conditions.  During this time of repeated sea-level rise and subsequent inland flooding, the region was subjected to periodic inundation. The wave cuts found at the base of most of the limestone karsts within the property are the result of environmental and climate fluctuations during, and especially, at the end of the Quaternary.  Within the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex there are numerous caves from this period which are situated on marine terraces of different heights corresponding to sea levels changes correlated to the chronology of the interglacial periods, giving evidence that this was a time of generalized global warming.

The cave system in the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex results from geologic activities including tectonic activity, the formation of sink holes, and the precipitation of calcium carbonates (CaCO3) over a span of ​​hundreds of millions of years from 32 million to 6000 years ago. These caves are under continued evolving transformation due to the impact of changes in global sea levels and the movements of the Earth's crust.

There are two types of caves in the area.  Inactive (fossil) caves and active (living) caves.  Tam Coc and Trang An caves are typical of "living" caves that are flooded throughout the year. These caves are subject to continued erosion.  During the six months of the rainy season, the water level in these living caves can be up to the ceiling of the caves.  In addition, during the rainy season, rain water drops down from the cracks in the limestone block, dissolving the calcium carbonate and creating small stalactites and stalagmites.

Apart from magnificent beauty and geological interest, each cave has its own historical and cultural values. Many caves, such as show evidence of occupation by humans during the prehistory. Archaeological excavations Trong and Boi caves show evidence of human occupation as early as 20,000-10,000 BCE.  Excavations at Bich Dong, Nguoi Xua, Bai Dinh, and other cave sites show that the sequence of human occupation is uninterrupted from that time throughout the rest of the prehistoric era. These archaeological studies confirmed the stratigraphy and dating of the human occupations of the caves to and throughout the period of transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene at the end of the last glaciation, during the time of the area's most dramatic geological transformation into its present condition. 

Humans continued to occupy the area of the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex in the proto- and early- historic periods.  Evidence of human use/occupation during this time comes from both artifacts and structural features, such as wooden boat-coffins, Han-era tombs, construction materials, including a diversity of bricks and double diamond shaped decorative tiles.

The 10th century CE was a time of nation-formation and struggle for independence from Chinese dominance.  The labyrinth of mountains, caves, and waterways of the Trang An Complex provided effective protection for local defenders against invading Chinese imperial troops.  Eventually, mountains peaks were connected together to form the walls and the rivers were channeled to become the moats of the Viet military citadel of Hoa Lu. 

Hoa Lu first served as a political capital for 42 years during the Dinh Dynasty (CE 968-979), again during the Le Dynasty (CE 980-1010), and again during the early years of succeeding Ly dynasty. Subsequently Hoa Lu was the capital of an independent nation-state - Dai Co Viet - which later joined the confederation of nation-states to form the unified nation of Viet Nam ruled in succession by the Ly, Tran, Le, and Nguyen Dynasties.

When, in  the 13th  and 14th  centuries CE, the Jin Dynasty Imperial Army from China once again invaded Viet Nam, the Vu Lam Palace was constructed at Trang An to defend the nation's frontier. 

Within the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex there are hundreds of historic pagodas, temples, and shrines dating from different historical periods.  The most outstanding are the two temples of King Dinh and King Le with their traditional wooden architecture. The Nhat Tru Pagoda is famous for the Buddhist scriptures carved on the temple's stone pillars in the 10th century.  Also renown is the Thai Vi Temple of the Tran Dynasty with its unique stone architecture. There are also many important historical objects located within the property, the most important of which date from the 17th century CE, including: imperial dragon stone beds, and scared dog statues.  These historical features are to be found within the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex mainly along the serene Sao Khe River, as it winds its way through the picturesque limestone karst mountain valleys.

For Vietnamese people throughout the ages, the landscape of Trang An, with its dramatic mountains, mysterious caves, and sacred spaces, has provided a vision of beauty and a metaphor for the Vietnamese culture.  It is a place of inspiration where natural history and cultural history are inseparable. A place where culture encounters the wonder, mystery, and magnificence of the natural world and is transformed by it.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (v): Trang An is an internationally significant site for displaying and understanding the way that ancient peoples have interacted with the natural landscape, and adapted to major changes in environment, over the many millennia of the Holocene era between 23,000 BCE until recent times, and in particular through the period of the post-Pleistocene rise of sea levels world wide as a global warming and the consequent melting of ice, flooding many coastal and low-lying areas known as the Flandrian Transgression.

Trang An is an exceptionally important repository of information about human-environment interaction through some of the most turbulent climatic and geographical changes in the planet’s recent history – those occurring at the end of the last glacial episode. It is a time-capsule of human-environment interaction, with an undisturbed stratigraphy and firmly-dated chronological sequence of more than 20,000 years,  making it unique among  Southeast Asia archaeological sites recording this important period in human history, intact and not  subjected to large-scale disturbance by human, animal, or other agency.

Trang An is an invaluable point of reference for understanding the process of human adaptation to, and re-colonisation of, landscapes under changing conditions of global warming, with marked increases in climate events, in particular the establishment of the season tropical monsoon regime – a characteristic of the post-Pleistocene climate of the Asia continent and its associated oceans and seas . Such knowledge will have increasing importance in the modern world as human and environmental responses to climatic change and extremes increasingly set international political, social and economic agendas.

 Abundant archaeological evidence in Trang An, consisting of deposits of the shells of both fresh water and marine molluscs and containing associated limestone artifacts, has created an almost unbroken sequence for the evidence of early human activity spanning some 20,000 years, from c.24,400 to c.5,000 years ago. The sequence covers the period of all five principal pre-historic cultures known from this part of Vietnam, and is providing a much improved understanding of their place and inter-relationship within Vietnamese pre-history. Trang An also contains one of Vietnam’s oldest archaeological sites.

Collectively, the data obtained to-date from several caves constitute one of the longest, securely dated, and most intensively studied archaeological records not only from Vietnam but also regionally in Southeast Asia. Moreover, the near-intact nature of the archaeological deposits within the caves of Trang An, with their unique circumstances of preservation due to protection from the leeching effects of recurrent exposure to rainwater which destroys many archaeological shell-midden deposits of comparable age, is extremely valuable in a region where many caves have been damaged by human use and exploitation.

Archaeological data are also providing insights into the nature of the palaeoenvironment in Trang An, including changes in vegetation type and composition, and in faunal communities and habitats. Such linkages between archaeological and palaeoenvironmental records are rare in Southeast Asia and, in this respect, Trang An has the potential of being recognized as a regional type-sequence.

The long-term record of changing landscape and environment in Trang An provides an outstanding in-situ archive of natural diversity extending back into the deep past. In effect, Trang An is many landscapes encapsulated in a single landscape.

There is abundant geological evidence that Trang An has experienced inundation several times by the sea during high stands of sea-level, and that at times the limestone massif was an island. During the period from the Late Pleistocene and subsequently throughout the Holocene, the ancient inhabitants of Trang An had to adapt to a gradually warming and water-dominated environment, though changes in their life-style, diet and technology.  This is seen in the archaeological shell midden deposits by a gradual and definitive change from exploitation of fresh-water to marine molluscs.   

The ability of the ancient people here to successfully adapt to the pressures of serve and permanent environmental changes and to utilise the resources of both mountainous and coastal-swampy karst environments distinguishes them markedly from other well-known Vietnamese cultures such as Hoabinhian, Dabutian, Quynhvanian or Caibeoian. Nor is it surprising that the first capital of the Vietnamese feudal and independent state, Hoa Lu, was established here more than 1,000 years ago, relying on the very rugged karst landscape as a favourable, safe and easily defended citadel.

The results of archaeological investigations in Trang An are contributing significantly to a much wider regional and global reassessment of early human behavioural and cultural diversity. 

The Trang An evidence is illuminating the understanding of early human adaptation and settlement within tropical environments, which until now has been a poorly understood area of knowledge.

In particular, Trang An provides an extremely valuable demonstration of the way hunter-gatherer groups adapted to marine inundation of coastal areas, and to profound changes in the local and regional environment at the end of the last glacial period. This contributes significantly to strengthening prevailing models of early human dispersal from Africa along ocean coastlines.

Criterion (vii):  The dramatic landscape of the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex is the result of geomorphologic processes, climate change, and the evolution successive environments over hundreds of millions years.

The characteristic topography represented in the Complex is sedimental karst topography consisting of many layers of different thickness. The thick sedimental layers formed the karst of scimitar shapes which is often named a "karst forest". Of this type, there are extreme high mountains such as the But Thap, present within the Trang An Complex. The thin sedimental layers created the shape of thousand book pages, such as the exemplary Hom Sach (Book Shelf) mountain, in the Trang An Complex.

The cave system with the Complex is diverse, with the dry caves (located above the water level) and the flooded caves. The caves are often connected. Stalactites, stalagmites, and stone pillars are found in most the caves. These natural formations create numerous magnificent shapes. The caves of the Complex have also provided shelter for humans since prehistoric times through all periods of Vietnamese history, adding a layer of cultural intrigue to the property's natural beauty and endless mystery.

The unique beauty of its landscape, topography and the diversity of the cave system create the exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance of the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex.

Criterion (viii): The geologic - geomorphologic diversity present in the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex resulted from continuous geologic activities over the hundreds of millions years of the Triassic and Quaternary Ages.  During this time geomorphologic collapse and high fragmentation of huge sedimentary limestone karst blocks took place. These complex geologic movements created the majestic mountains, sedimental basins and sinkholes which together have resulted in the diversity of the topographic, geomorphologic, cave and water systems of the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex.

The Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex is most characterized by its superlative large-scale karst towers and bell-shaped karst outcrops eroded by sea water.   In particular, the area contains important examples of the so-called "fengling" and "fengcong" karst formations, with the typical "fengcong" topography shown in the area's large and super- large enclosed valleys and sinkholes.   The Trang An area serves as the global type site reference for these unique geological formations.

Caves are also a superlative geomorphologic value of the Trang An Complex with the four major types of caves all well-represented: primary underground caves, primary karst ground caves, fracture caves, and talus caves. 

This property is also an important illustration of the entire karst formation process over a large geographical area and throughout a long geological time, showing the continuous geomorphologic evolutionary processes.

The uniqueness of the geomorphology in the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex is shown in the consecutive karst blocks and mountains, isolated by rivers. The wave cuts resulting from changes in the sea level during the Holocene can be found on the rocks and cliffs the area of the Complex.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The area of Truong Yen Mountain and temples of King Dinh, King Le (Hoa Lu, Ninh Binh) was inscribed as National Heritage in 1962. Currently, the heritage site is being nominated to be National Important Heritage. Besides, Tam Coc Bich Dong Complex was recognized as National Heritage in 1994. These sites will be protected in accordance with Law on Cultural Heritage.

Currently, a Joint Site Management Board for all these three properties is being established in order to protect the integrity and authenticity of the property as mandated by relevant laws and regulations, including: Law on Cultural Heritage, Law on Biological Diversity, Law on Tourism, and Law on Environmental protection. Under this legal framework, any activities in the core area which may have an impact on the values of the property must be evaluated by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and other related Ministries.

The natural authenticity and integrity of Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex has been well preserved since the area is a limestone block bound by Hoang Long river in the North, Day River and Chanh River in the Southeast and Ben Dang River in the West. There are not many inhabitants in the core area.

The Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex is open for visitors, however, they are not allowed to enter the core areas. A zoning plan which clearly identifies areas open for visitors and core areas has been developed. 

Of most importance is the determination of local government and community to protect the environment and the authenticity of Trang An Scenic Landscape. Preservation of the values of the heritage site is the basis for the lives of future generations. Such believe enables us to protect the authenticity of the heritage.

Comparison with other similar properties

Comparison of the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex will be made with the following other properties:

In Viet Nam

  • Ha Long Bay World Heritage Property
  • Phong Nha - Ke Bang World Heritage Property

In the East and Southeast Asian Region

  • Puerto Princesa Subterrancean River World Heritage Property (Philippines)
  • South China Karst World Heritage Property (China)


  • Caves of Aggtelek Karst and Slovak Karst World Heritage Property (Hungary/Slovakia)