The Magners International Comedy Festival

The Abandoned Church

Nam Dinh in Northern Vietnam is famed for its churches. But one of them stands out from the rest.


Hai Ly


There’s a list online, a replicated list, of Nam Dinh’s top 10 churches. The most interesting entry is the one at number 10 in Hai Ly, the ruined church on the beach.


I drove a long journey out of Hanoi to get there. I went via Ninh Binh and then took two ferries across the Day and Ninh Co rivers into Nam Dinh. It was a real countryside trip, marked out by the churches peaking above the flat, below sea level landscape at almost every turn, each more grand and magnificent than the previous one.


Once the heartland of Catholicism in Vietnam, war and division saw large numbers of Nam Dinh’s community move down south. In recent years there has been a renaissance. Former residents and their families have returned. So have the churches. Many were only built in the last decade.


When I finally arrived in Hai Ly I was directed to the church on the beach. Standing in ruins, on either side were fishing boats, and inside the church itself, a skull and cross bones flanked by the words nguy hiem, danger. The structure is falling apart.

“I’ve lived here for 22 years,” says the man who’s made the church his home. He doesn’t live in the structure itself — that would be suicide — but in a concrete, one-level house at its rear. From there together with his family he serves freshly caught seafood to visitors who come to stare at perhaps the most unlikely tourist site in Vietnam.


“This is not the first church in Hai Ly,” he says, looking out towards the sea. “The original one was built about 100 metres away, but the land’s eroded and the sea is now further in. This one was built in the 1940s.”


He then points out a third church in the nearby village. It’s 500 metres away, but these edifices to the Lord above are so magnificent in this province that they’re difficult to miss.


“That one was built more recently,” he adds, “but I prefer this place.”


There are plans to develop tourism in Nam Dinh. Close to Hanoi and yet home to some magnificent beaches, this coastal area is rarely visited. Whether this would include preserving the church is not known. But as tourist sites go, this is one that should be hitting the guidebooks. — Nick Ross



To see more articles in this story, please click on the links below:


The Undiscovered Coast


Undiscovered Binh Thuan


The Paradise of Ninh Thuan


The Wildness of Con Dao


The Rocks of Phu Yen


The Beaches Around Quy Nhon


The Abandoned Church


The Other Side of Halong Bay


North of Cua Lo


The Islands off Phu Quoc


Where The Mekong Hits the Sea


1 comment

  • Mai Twynham Hoang
    Mai Twynham Hoang Friday, 18 September 2015 21:54 Comment Link

    Hi Nick, This is a beautiful piece of writing describing North Vietnam. I learn more about my homeland and place of birth from amazing travel writers like yourself. I hope to travel as you do in the near future and write. Thank you for sharing your words and travel insights and observations.

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