Vietnamese pagodas will be found all over the country, just as they are found all over Asia, from Nepal and India to Korea and Japan. At least three of the pagodas in Vietnam will be found on lists of the finest such structures in the world. One of these is the Bridge Pagoda in Hoi An, built in the Japanese style in the early sixteenth century and boasting a beautiful arched Japanese bridge.
One Pillar Pagoda
The One Pillar Pagoda is also on this list. Of all the pagodas in Hanoi this is the most beautiful. Called Chua Mot Cot, it joins the elegant Perfume Pagoda (Chua Huong), making them two of the most revered icons in the country. The One Pillar Pagoda was built of wood on a single stone pillar in the middle of a small pond in the eleventh century. It is intended to “blossom” up out of the water as though it were a lotus blossom. Tragically, this exquisite structure was destroyed by French forces in 1954 when they left the city after defeat in the French Vietnam War, called by the Vietnamese the First Indochina War. The One Pillar Pagoda was painstakingly reconstructed in 1955 and is a major draw for visitors to the city.
Perfume Pagoda is located in the beautiful limestone Perfume Mountains, approximately 50 miles southwest of Hanoi. It is actually a vast complex of Buddhist shrines and temples. One of the shrines lies deep inside a grotto that is called one of the most magnificent temples in Asia. There are several Vietnamese pagodas within this vast complex that is best reached by boat over one of the country’s lakes. One of the country’s major religious events is a festival and pilgrimage to this sacred site that occurs from mid-January to mid-March. Hundreds of thousands of Buddhists make this pilgrimage each season, and this is a particularly colorful time to visit. Reaching this lovely site is possible on tours from Hanoi. The excursion takes pretty much the full day, and you should be prepared for walking up and down steps. In fact, few pagodas in Vietnam will have been outfitted for those with disabilities or walking impairment.
There are more elegant Vietnamese pagodas in the imperial city of Hue, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. One that is a symbol of the city because it can be seen from almost every point in the city is the Thien Mu (Heavenly Lady) Pagoda (pictured). Many visit this elegant tower on river cruises, as it is set on the shore of the Perfume River. Built in 1605, it is in two sections. One is the riverside tower. Behind that is the temple where monks and local people come to practice Buddhism. There are royal tombs in the temple complex, and they are adorned with many life-size statues of soldiers, elephants, and horses. Some of the most iconic and horrifying images of the American Vietnam War are photos of Buddhist monks self-immolating in the streets of Saigon to protest the corrupt South Vietnamese government. One of the first of these monks came from this pagoda in 1963, and the car in which he rode to the city is enshrined within the temple.
As you would when visiting any house of worship, from the mosques of the Middle East to Catholic cathedrals in Europe, you are advised to dress with respect and modesty. Virtually all pagodas in Vietnam require that arms and legs be covered, and you could be refused entry if wearing shorts or other similar clothing.