My Favorite Temples in Vietnam

Young_Monk_HueSometimes when you’re traveling you get a little “templed out.” This is a sure sign that your attention is starting to wane and perhaps you should consider bringing your trip to a close.

Luckily, my interest in visiting temples is still fresh and bubbly! A great indication that I’m only just starting to explore these beautiful houses of worship studded throughout former Indochina. Here’re a few of my favorites found in Vietnam:

Nha Trang’s Ponagar Temple (Thap Ba Ponagar).

 In the old town of Nha Trang, away from the touristy strip of beach, is a Hindu-esque temple situated high on a hill overlooking the Song Cai (“song” meaning “river” in Vietnamese). The Champa population erected the temple to worship the Mother Goddess in the 8th century.

The courtyard has 10 pillars more than 5 meters high, and 12 smaller pillars about 2.5 meters tall. This courtyard or Mandapa area is where the faithful gathered as they prepare their celebrations to the Goddess.

The main area of the temple has 4 towers – All dedicated to reproduction. The NE tower is dedicated to Lady Ponagar, followed by smaller temples honoring her husband, children and parents. Each tower features a resplendent reproductive organ as the central design feature. Nice!

Hoi An’s Mỹ Sơn (pronunced “mee son.”)

My Son is a famous cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples constructed between the 4th and the 14th century AD by the kings of Champa. The Champa kings are best known for their Angkor Wat temples in neighboring Cambodia.

My_Son_2The My Son temples are dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva and are a burial place for the Cham royalty and national heroes. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because if offers evidence of an ancient Asian culture that is now extinct.

The ruins are nestled between two mountain ranges in a valley about two kilometers wide. Originally the site was graced with more than 70 temples, but only 3-4 temples remain intact after bombing during the Vietnam War. (The American Army believed Viet Cong were hiding in the temple complex and carpet bombed the site during one long week.)

Hue’s Khai Dinh Tomb

While Vietnamese Emperor Khai Dinh ruled Vietnam for only 9 years, his tomb took 11 years to build and was completed in 1931. His tomb is notable because it reflects a blending of Asian and Western architecture.

The tomb was built of concrete with a slate roof and gates of wrought iron. The interior of the tomb is decorated with colored glass and ceramic chips that were used to form mosaics of oriental design. The ceilings features hand painted designs of dragons and clouds and are said to be an example of Vietnamese “neo-classicism.”

That’s a lot of hub bub. All I know is the Emperor Khai Dinh’s Tomb was really something to behold. Situated high up a mountain, not only was the building beautiful, with intricately placed mosaic tiles, but the physical beauty of the place was spectacular too. This was by far my favorite of all the temples comprising the ancient Vietnamese capital of Hue.

Marble Mountain’s Hidden Buddha

Hue_Kahi_Dinh_TempleVietnam’s Marble Mountain is actually 5 hills that are said to represent the five elements: Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth).

Thuy Son (water) is the highest peak and all of the mountains have cave entrances and dozens of tunnels. It’s possible to climb to the summit of one of the peaks (and to repel down, like I did!). The Tam Thai Pagoda is also situated on the mountain, with both Hindu and Buddhist gods paid tribute here in the past. Today it is devoted to Cham deities.

There are also numerous Buddhist sanctuaries to be found within the mountains. Historically, war lords used the mountains to store their wealth and it was the responsibility of the monks to safeguard the wealth hidden in the caves. The mountain remains an elaborate labyrinth, with supposedly only the monks knowing the various routes inside the mountains.

My favorite hidden Buddha was far back in a cave and the pictures didn’t come out so well, what with the streaking sunlight and the smoke from the cinnamon incense. It was too surreal a moment to capture, winding my way through the cool cave, past several other alters, to round a corner and discovering a Buddha carved high into the mountain marble. I think maybe this Buddha’s better left to my memory and your imagination.

Temples Galore!

As I said, I’m just getting started on the regions temples – which is a good thing since I have plenty more to explore as I trek through Laos and Cambodia in the next few weeks!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011 and is filed under Asia Pacific.

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