Finding a Win in Bai Dinh
Today we visited the Bai Dinh Temple Spiritual and Cultural Complex. This vast area is considered the largest complex of Buddhist temples in Vietnam, in 700 hectares and is popular for Buddhist pilgrims. And amongst this vast area, we ended up finding a win in Bai Dinh!
We arrived at the Bai Dinh Temple Spiritual and Cultural Complex by taxi, a 30-minute journey from Tam Coc. We couldn’t work out if there were any buses to the place. At the entrance, many people are tempted to get the electric buggies but we like to walk and I am so glad we did. We were going to walk straight to the new Bai Dinh Stupa, with an impressive 13 tiers, but then we saw signs for the Ancient Pagoda, which said it was 500m away, (that was just to the entrance, it was much further up steep steps) so headed in that direction. Had we gone with the buggy, we may have missed this.
On our way we passed the most massive religious well in Vietnam, a huge round pool and then walked along a straight path with many Arhat statutes along each side, carved by the local Ninh Van stone craft village; each one of the statues is unique. I especially liked the ones with smiling faces.
After many steep steps, we reached an ornamental stone gate, the entrance to the ancient temple, built by a famous monk Nguyen Minh Khong over 1,000 years ago. We carried on up, passed thick bamboo with birds hiding and singing in the undergrowth. A few stalls were pitched on the sides of the path selling incense sticks. I’m not too sure who too, there was hardly anyone around. We only saw two other couples.
We arrived at the opening of a cave with donation boxes outside. Inside was golden statues of Buddhist deities to worship with offerings laid in front, mainly fruit but also cans of beer! As we walked deeper into the cave, we suddenly saw steps leading down to a beautiful lake with stone dragons wrapping around the edge and ancient stalactites hanging from the low ceiling. Well, we weren’t expecting that!
The reviews I had read about this complex showed that many people had not found this cave; they only wrote about modern constructions. They missed a wonderful treat here.
Outside, the views were spectacular, and as we descended, Tim managed to capture a gorgeous photo of a pretty bird, an Orange-headed thrush.mI took the photo of that weird lump of leaves and mud. A bird's nest, do you think?
We came to Dien Tam The, the Three Periods Hall with rows of large stone steles on turtles, similar to what we saw in the Temple of Literature in Hanoi. These were a lot younger, built in the last 20 years I expect.
As we walked around the corner, we came to the central place of worship, the massive Tam The Hall, the largest structure in the complex.
In the courtyard, in front, we were spoilt for choice as to what to see: the colossal statue of a Buddha overlooking us with a smile from above the trees, the tall modern Pagoda reaching for the clear blue sky and a fantastic vista of the surrounding area.
We climbed the steps into the three-storey temple to see the three substantial 12m high gold-plated copper Buddhas, each weighing fifty tons. The vast hall was beautiful and opulent.
Afterwards, we visited the statue of Maitreya Buddha, cast in bronze from Russia and the highest and heaviest Buddha statue in Vietnam, weighing 100 tons. Maitreya is a future bodhisattva who will achieve complete enlightenment. The sun was shining down on his smiling face, with him caring a fan and a bindle (bag on a stick).
Down the steps, we came to the 100m 13-tiered Stupa – Thap Bao Thien, where preserved relics of Buddhas from India and Myanmar are kept. Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one so high, probably not; it is currently the tallest stupa in Southeast Asia.
I felt it was time to return to our taxi driver. He had already waited for over two hours and I felt constricted with time. (It’s the “good girl” ingrained in me). It was a shame as we only saw a half of the area, missing the 526m corridor with 500 monolithic stone Arhat statues, and the huge bronze bell and drum. Oh well, what we did see was amazing.
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