The story of Lạc Long Quân coincides with the creation myth of Vietnam – the bond formed between the immortal mountain fairies and the sea dragons. As the story goes, Lạc Long Quân’s mother was the daughter of the Dragon Lord of the Sea – she herself a dragon as well – while his father was the ruler of Xích Quỷ, otherwise known as the Land of the Red Demons (the people who lived south of the Yangtze river).
Because Lạc Long Quân’s father was a mountain god and his mother was a sea dragon, he is considered by many to be the first truly Vietnamese ruler. He was a Hùng King, the title given to rulers during the Hồng Bàng dynasty (2879–258 BC). When Lạc Long Quân began his rule, there was unrest between the people in the northern mountains and those in the southern lowlands. He sought to remedy this divide by traveling throughout his land. The stories of his successes have become those of myth – the quintessential Vietnamese story of the mountains meeting the sea.
Taking after his mother, Lạc Long Quân had magical powers and the body of a dragon. His name actually translates to “Dragon Lord of Lac.” By using his powers and his intelligence, Lạc Long Quân was able to defeat three of the most horrible monsters of his age.
The first was Ngư Tinh – a huge fish monster that killed and terrorized sailors. It had a body like a centipede and a tail that rose above the waves like a sail. After hearing stories from widows and fishermen along the coast, Lạc Long Quân vowed to kill the monster. With the help of the gods, Lạc Long Quân built a large ship, as well as a person made of iron – a decoy with razor sharp edges. With the iron red hot, Lạc Long Quân set out to trick the monster, using the voices of fishermen to lure the creature. It worked, but even after Ngư Tinh ate the searing iron, the beast still fought. To finish it off, Lạc Long Quân jumped into the water and battled the monster. People on the shore watched as a terrible storm raged around their battle. In the end, Lạc Long Quân cut Ngư Tinh into three pieces. The head became the top of a mountain, the skinned tail became the beach around Bạch Long Vĩ island, and the body drifted off to a faraway land.
The second monster, Hồ Tinh, lived under a mountain just west of Hanoi. For over a thousand years, this nine-tailed fox had lured people – especially young women – back to its cave, where it tortured and ate them. It could take on many forms, often playing tricks on people to make them hate and suspect each other. Upon hearing this tale, and of the misery this beast had brought to the lives of his people, Lạc Long Quân took action. When he found Hồ Tinh, he trapped it with spells, forcing it to take its form as the giant fox. Sensing defeat, Hồ Tinh tried to flee but Lạc Long Quân chased, eventually killing him after a battle that took three whole days. As the legend goes, after Lạc Long Quân released the people from Hồ Tinh’s cave, he flooded the area. Those waters became what is now called West Lake in Hanoi.
Lạc Long Quân found his final test in Phong Châu – present-day Việt Trì, northwest of Hanoi. There, Lạc Long Quân heard of an evil genie that had consumed an ancient tree. This evil spirit played wicked games, taking many different forms to surprise and torture people. It took Lạc Long Quân a long time to find the spirit, but when he did, the battle raged for a hundred days. When he was unable to defeat the spirit, Lạc Long Quân used gongs and loud instruments to scare it away. Joyous, the people built a palace for Lạc Long Quân, but he went back to live with his mother at her underwater home instead, telling the people he would return if and when they needed him.
After Lạc Long Quân left, forces from the northern mountains invaded. Their chieftain fell in love with the beauty of the lowlands and decided to build a fortress to take it over. The locals resented this new ruler, so they called upon Lạc Long Quân to return and help them. Hearing their call, Lạc Long Quân came back as a handsome man and met the chieftain’s daughter, Âu Cơ – a fairy princess. She fell in love with Lạc Long Quân and left with him to live in his mountaintop palace that the locals had built. The chieftain tried to fight for his daughter’s return, but Lạc Long Quân used magic to defend his new wife. Finally, the defeated chieftain retreated back to the north.
According to legend, when a fairy and a dragon mate, the mother, rather than giving birth to children, actually lays a sac with a hundred eggs – which is how Âu Cơ gave birth to a hundred sons. These children grew abnormally fast and all reached adulthood in a short time.
Once their children were all men, Lạc Long Quân told Âu Cơ that they couldn’t live together anymore. He told her their habits and customs were too different – that fire and water couldn’t mix – so she should return to the mountains with 50 of their sons. The other half would go with him to his underwater palace. They would live separately, only meeting if the other side needed help for any reason. She would watch over the mountains, while he would rule over the lowlands. It’s believed that these 100 sons are the ancestors of all Vietnamese people.
Today, there are many tributes to both Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ throughout Vietnam. Most cities and towns have streets named after the couple. In Ho Chi Minh City, there is actually an intersection where the two lovers still meet. In Phú Thọ province in northern Vietnam, there’s the Hùng temple, where people celebrate the lineage of the Hùng kings – all descendants of Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ. And in the third lunar month, Vietnamese people celebrate the Hùng Kings Festival. Lạc Long Quân is one of Vietnam’s greatest heroes – the person to unite the immortal mountain fairies and the sea dragons. He still makes Vietnamese people proud, even after all these years.