Top Unique, Scared Pagodas in Vietnam

With the religious and spiritual life infinitely abundant, Vietnamese generations built unique, impressive religious constructions throughout the length of the country.
Here are some top sacred, unique pagodas for Vietnam culture tours recommended by HIT Vietnam.
1. But Thap
Located in Bac Ninh province – the prominently cultural area of North Vietnam, near Hanoi capital, But Thap pagoda (But: pen; Thap: tower) is best renowned for the Vietnam’s biggest wooden thousand-arm-thousand-eye Avalokiteśvara statue, a masterpiece of Vietnam sculpture.

According to a legend, the pagoda was built in the 13th century under King Tran Thanh Tong's dynasty. In the 17th century, Zen master Chuyet Chuyet, a Chinese person immigrating into Vietnam, became the abbot of But Thap and made it popular in the whole country. When he died, his excellent disciple, Zen master Minh Hanh became the next abbot. Because But Thap had experienced two generations of Chinese abbots, its architecture had some impacts of Chinese style.

Among Buddhism temples in Vietnam, But Thap has the most complete structure, though it had underwent many times of renovation. The pagoda faces south, the direction of intelligence and elegance according to Vietnamese belief. A part from thousand-arm-thousand-eye Avalokiteśvara statue, But Thap also has many other remarkable constructions. Eight-sided stone towers with 5 stories carved sophisticatedly amaze. All these towers were formed by putting stone on stone, not using any adhesive (lime, mortar or cement). Tich Thien building now has reserved “Cuu Pham Lien Hoa” tower, a superbly wooden lotus-shaped rotating tower with 9 stories symbolizing for 9 practice levels of Buddhism and 8 faces - 8 directions of Buddhism. Besides, the pagoda has retained many valuable archaic statues.

2. Tran Quoc
This is an ancient pagoda located in a small island eastern West Lake, Hanoi. With the history of 1500 years, Tran Quoc is the oldest pagoda in Thang Long - Hanoi.

The pagoda was erected in the 6th century under Former Ly Dynasty (King Ly Nam De), so-called as Khai Quoc (National Founding). “Tran Quoc” means protecting and keeping peace for the country. Throughout the historical periods of Vietnam, Tran Quoc had been renovated and broaden in many times under reigns of Ly, Tran, Le, Trinh and Nguyen.

Architecture of Tran Quoc has a harmony of solemnity and ancientness with elegant scenery among tranquil background of an immense lake. Tran Quoc has now maintained 14 ancient stelae. The behind part has several old tower-tombs of the 19th century. Another outstanding feature of Tran Quoc is “Luc Do Dai Sen” tower, built in 1998 with 11 stories, every story has 6 arch doorways and every doorway has an Amitabha statue made of gemstone. The top of the tower has a lotus estrade with 9 story also made of gemstone. The tower was placed symmetrically to a Bodhi tree, which was given by Indian President Rajendra Prasad in 1959.

3. Yen Tu

Complex of Yen Tu pagodas is situated on Mount Yen Tu of Quang Ninh province, 40 km from Halong city. Yen Tu became the Buddhism center of Vietnam when King Tran Nhan Tong renounced his throne, led a religious life and founded the Zen Truc Lam Yen Tu on this mountain. He built hundreds of Buddhism constructions here as places to practice and preach.

Yen Tu is considered as an extremely sacred place with unexplainable mysteries, where pilgrims feel serene in an extraordinary way. This site is a combination between picturesque nature and holy religious constructions. These ancient pagodas and tranquil tower-tombs of monks hide under a green forest spreading at various altitudes on this misty year-round mountain and beside bubbling springs. Today, Yen Tu site has remained 274 over-7-century cedrus trees. Many other cedrus and plumeria trees are also aged hundreds of years. Just this luxurious jungle has created pure, fresh air and poetic scenery for the site.

To explore entirely this Buddhism complex, travelers usually overcome thousands of stone steps 6 km long weaving under canopies of endless bamboos and pines. Some striking pagodas of Yen Tu comprise Hoa Yen, Van Tieu, Bao Sai, Mot Mai (an unique pagoda leaning on a cliff) and Dong (an 100% bronze pagoda).

4. Thien Mu pagoda

This is a historic pagoda located in Ha Khe hill, northern bank of Perfume River, 5km from Hue city and 3km from Hue Imperial Palace.

Thien Mu (Thien: heaven, Mu: a female God responsible for Birth) was built in 1601 by the Lord Nguyen Hoang. With natural beauty and the wide scale, Thien Mu became the most beautiful pagoda in Dang Trong (central and southern parts of Vietnam).

In 1710, Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu ordered to cast a big bell 2 tons in weight and place it inside the pagoda. In 1884, King Thieu Tri, on the 80th celebration of his grandmother’s birthday - Thuan Thien Cao Queen, commended to build additionally an 8-sided tower (Tu Nhan or Phuoc Duyen tower), Huong Nguyen communal house and 2 stelae carved the process of the pagoda construction along with poems of the king. Phuoc Duyen tower is 21m high with 7 stories, its interior has a spiral staircase leading to the top and a golden Buddha statue. The pagoda now has reserved the penjing of Dao Tan – the founder of “hat tuong” occupation (classical Vietnamese opera) - and a car – the relic of superior Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc left before he burned himself to protest the policy of persecution to Buddhism of Ngo Dinh Diem regime in 1963.


5. Jade Emperor

This sacred, magnificent pagoda is located in central Ho Chi Minh city on 73 Mai Thị Lựu street, District 1. Its Vietnamese name is "Phuoc Hai" or "Ngoc Hoang". Originally, the pagoda was erected as a shrine to worship King of the Heaven (Ngoc Hoang) in the early 20th century by Luu Minh – a Chinese person.

Jade Emperor pagoda is Chinese in style with radiantly decorative motifs. This centennial construction was built from bricks and roofed from ying-yang tiles. Its interior features numerous artworks. Among the wide pagoda’s yard, there is a fish pool with various kinds, beside a turtle pool on the right. All the pools are full of diverse-sized fish and turtles, which have been released by devotees to beg and pray.

Many infertile couples came to the pagoda to beg for children. A lot of strange ceremonies has existed in Jade Emperor for a long time. For examples, releasing yellow or red carps is to beg for good business and prosperity, catfish to beg for good health and eliminate bad lucks, birds to say a mass for the peace of deceased people. Particularly, releasing turtles is to beg for offspring. Couples usually release a pair of turtles and write their names on them.

6. Cao Dai

Cao Dai temple is the holy mecca region of Caodaism (a monotheistic religion combined between Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism founded in Vietnam), located in Tay Ninh province. This is an excellent religious construction in southern Vietnam.

Constructed between 1933 and 1955, the Great Temple of Cao Dai pretty looks like a Christian cathedral in its architecture - two square towers, a long central nave with upper corridor and side aisles. Entire the building was meticulously decorated with united symbols, complicated designs and images of saints of various religions.

Noticeably, the conductors of this construction had not ever been learned about basic constructing knowledge. All building stages were made by hand. Most of people building this construction had not ever study art but they still created thousands of subtle carved designs and statues.

The temples has three main parts, namely Hiep Thien Dai (head of Horse-Dragon, faces to the west), Cuu Trung Dai (body of Horse-Dragon) and Bai Quai Dai (tail of Horse-Dragon, faces to the east). There are 3 dominant colors of Cao Dai, comprising yellow (Buddhism), blue (Taoism), and red (Confucianism); these appear in worshipers' robes as well as the temple. The most significant symbol is the Divine Eye, representing God, which is also present in followers' houses. It is a left eye, because God is Yang, and Yang is the left side.

Four ceremonies with chanting take place daily in the temple at 6:00 am, noon, 6:00 pm and midnight. Visitors are required to keep as silent as possible during ceremonies.

With the religious and spiritual life infinitely abundant, Vietnamese generations built unique, impressive religious constructions throughout the length of the country.
Here are some top sacred, unique pagodas for Vietnam culture tours recommended by HIT Vietnam.


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