Hanoi can keep a visitor busy for a few days with its many well preserved historical sites and French and Chinese influenced architecture. For Buddhists or those interested in religious sites, Hanoi is also packed with Buddhist temples and pagodas that are centuries old.
Below is a selection of temples that I visited and within walking distance from Hanoi’s Old Quarter :
Ngoc Son Temple (Jade Mountain Temple)
Ngoc Son Temple sits in the Jade Island on the northern side of Hoan Kiem Lake (还剑湖). To get to this small yet popular temple, one has to pass through 4 gates and cross the iconic Huc Bridge or Rising Sun Bridge.
The temple is dedicated to a military national hero, General Tran Hung Dao, who managed to defeat the Mongols in the 13th century. There are also altars dedicated to Van Xuong, a Taoist scholar and La To, the patron saint of physicians.
A preserved giant turtle found in the lake can be seen inside a room adjacent to the main temple building. The turtle that is preserved is said to be the same species of giant turtles found in the lake.
Visitors to the temple can also take a rest at the pavilion in the temple grounds and enjoy a nice view of the lake.
Bach Ma Temple
Located at the corner of Hang Buom and Hang Giay street, this small temple in the midst of the Old Quarter is said to be the oldest place of worship in Hanoi.
The temple was built by King Ly Thai To in the 11th century in honour of a white horse that helped him to build the city walls. Legend has it that this white horse was actually the spirit of Thang Long (Ancient Hanoi).
Bach Ma Temple is one of the four ancient temples known as “Thang Long Four Guardians”. These temples are located on the opposite directions (compass point) of ancient Thang Long – Bach Ma Temple in the east, Voi Phuc Temple in the west, Kim Lien Temple in the South and Quan Thanh Temple in the north.
The temple is lavishly decorated and covered with decorative carvings. It remains in active use with worshippers coming to pray and burn incense.
Quan Thanh Temple
Located beside Truc Bac Lake, Quan Thanh Temple is one of the four sacred temples built in four directions to protect the capital from malevolent spirits. Built during the reign of King Ly Thai To, the temple is dedicated to Tran Vu (Xuan Wu in Chinese), Deity of the North.
Passing through the 3-door entrance, one steps away from the hustle andbusy Hanoi streets into a serene and peaceful courtyard. The temple sits in the courtyard shaded by a large banyan tree.
The centerpiece in the temple has to be the large black bronze statue of Tran Vu. Cast in 1677, the 4m tall deity sits on a shrine inside this ornately decorated temple.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
Tran Quoc Pagoda traced its history during the reign of King Ly Nam De Dynasty in the 6th century. It was first built on the bank of the Red River but relocated to Kim Ngu Islet (Golden Fish Islet) on the eastern bank of West Lake (Ho Tay in Vietnamese) in the early 17th century. At about 1400 years old, Tran Quoc Pagoda is one of the oldest pagodas in Vietnam.
The most prominent feature of the temple has to be the 15m high red pagoda. The 11-level pagoda is built in the shape resembling petals of lotus flower with a stupa at the top. Each level has 6 arch windows that house a Buddha statue made from precious stone.
Surrounding the red pagoda are 10 pagodas built in the 17th century. These pagodas are also shrines holding ashes of monks that have lived in the temple.
A Bodhi tree, said to be grafted from the original tree under which Buddha sat and achieved enlightenment sits on the grounds of Tran Quoc. It was a gift from the Indian President marking his visit in 1959.
There are many other temples in and around Hanoi worth visiting – e.g. One Pillar Pagoda, Temple of Literature and The Perfume Pagoda. Just make sure that you will not be ‘templed out’!