Vietnam temples are everywhere in the country. Even though the history of Vietnam includes a heavy Hindu and Confucian influence, the predominant religion of the country is Buddhism, which is less a religion than a practice of right living. Buddhism is part of every facet of life to the people, and even the most humble home will have a separate room or at least a small space set aside as a family temple.
Likewise, the large community temples in Vietnam are also part of everyday life both in large cities and small villages. This is where the women come to socialize and do laundry with their children, and where men play cards and talk about current events. This is the kind of place that even the magnificent Confucian Temple of Literature in Hanoi was when it was first built in the eleventh century.
Additionally, you will find Vietnam temples in palaces and pagodas. Sometimes there are little birdhouse sized temples for no apparent reason on street corners. There is even a combination rock temple and lighthouse at the mouth of the Duong Dong River on Phu Quoc Island off the Mekong Delta coast. Some of the most beautiful temples in Vietnam will be found in the ancient imperial capital of Hue, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the loveliest here is the elegant The Meu Temple.
Temples in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are the most numerous. Almost all vacation packages and sightseeing tours of Hanoi will include at least a photo stop at the city’s Temple of Literature (Van Mieu, pictured). In 1076, the first university in the country was established in this temple. It was a grand Imperial university dedicated to the education of the aristocrats, nobles, and family of the king. Here you will find 82 steles (stone slabs) carved with the names of graduates dating back as far as 1484. Today, the Temple of Literature is one of the most historic and well preserved monuments in the country, and is featured on the back of the 100,000 dong banknote.
Other Vietnam temples in Hanoi include the Ngoc Son, set on an island in the center of one of the country’s beautiful lakes. Known as the Jade Mountain Temple or Temple in the Lake, it was originally built during the fourteenth century, although several of its buildings are from the eighteenth century. It is dedicated to some of the ancient scholars and military heroes of the country, and is accessed by a delicate bridge from the mainland. Several shopping stalls and kiosks are located along the road at the entrance.
Probably the most elaborate temples in Vietnam will be found in Ho Chi Minh City, where some of the heaviest influences came from China and India. Many of these temples are Hindu and Chinese. The Hindu Mariamman Temple was built by traders from Tamil Nadu on the eastern coast of India. With its intricately carved tower, it is dedicated to numerous deities, including Shiva, Vishnu, Kali, and Brahma.