Monday, July 14, 2008

Vietnam's Vung Tau lures visitors with beaches and pagodas

by Nhat Ha

Houses of the holy: Stupas at Thien Thai Pagoda. — VNS Photos Cat Mai
For those seeking peace: Tourists visit Thuong Chieu Monastery.

BA RIA – VUNG TAU — In the two hour car ride from HCM City to Vung Tau, you can visit not just the natural beauty of Vung Tau’s beaches but also hundreds of pagodas and temples along the way.

Starting at milestone 76 on National Highway 51 in Dong Nai Province, Thien Vien Thuong Chieu (Thuong Chieu Monastery) will catch your eye thanks to a strikingly red-flowered trellis above its gate. A majestic three-door gate takes you to the breezy and peaceful grounds of the area.

Upon reaching Tan Thanh District, Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, visitors to the Van Phat Quang Dai Tong Lam Pagoda can see the biggest central worship area in the country, 91m long and 46m wide, as recognised by the Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha. The pagoda is also the record holder for having the most Buddha statues. Nine statues made of granite and 10,000 smaller ones watch over the area.

As you pass by the Tam Phuoc rice field in Long Dien District, a shady path can take those with a taste for wanderlust to Ba Co Temple and Thien Thai Pagoda on Dinh Co Mountain.

Ba Co Temple was built on top of Dinh Co Mountain over 250 years ago. Worhippers and tourists alike have to climb 220 steps up 80m to get there. The temple is said by locals to be so sacred that it receives nearly one hundred of visitors each day.

Looking down from Ba Co Temple, take in a panoramic view of the Long Dien rice fields and Ba Ria Town.

Near Ba Co Temple is Thien Thai Pagoda, which lies at the root of Dinh Co Mountain. Spread out across 6ha, Thien Thai showcases a three-door gate, a central place of worship, an auditorium, a bat quai stage and a stupas garden. All of the pagoda’s facilities were built harmoniously with each other. Combined with the surrounding landscape, it is a stunning scene.

However, the most prominent detour in the trip from HCM City to Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province is Van Hanh Road.

The road is well-known by many domestic and international tourists alike since it is the home to more than 200 pagodas, monasteries and temples right after another, interspersed with orchards, eucalyptus forests and wastelands with wild grass and flowers.

The road runs from Tan Thanh District’s Phu My Town to the Thi Vai Mountain. It is a narrow asphalt road lined with pagodas, temples and a few private homes.

According to abbots of the pagodas there, most of the pagodas were built after 1975. Some were moved from Da Lat City in Lam Dong Province.

At the time, Van Hanh village was sparsely populated so the local pagodas erected over large sites. Some of them were built on large hills with spacious gardens and orchards.

The pagodas in Van Hanh village are difference from those in northern provinces. While northern pagodas usually look more ancient, cloistered and solemn than the Van Hanh pagodas, the architecture of southern pagodas tend to highlight spaciousness, openness, modernity and convenience. The main halls of southern pagodas boast their height and width with windows to let in as much wind and light as possible, and are paved with floral-patterned enamelled tiles.

Netlike panels used to decorate the Van Hanh pagodas lack the meditative features of their northern cousins, but look radiant nevertheless. For example, Bat Nha Pagoda’s bell tower and central courtyard are brightly decorated with yellow-tubed tiles.

Many pagodas are ready to serve vegetarian meals for visitors, especially on the first and fifteenth days of the lunar month.

Along with orchards and vegetable gardens, the pagodas along Van Hanh Road also boast dazzling flowers.

Liana plants with yellow flowers surround Linh Buu Pagoda, while a verdant vegetable garden and delightful cucumber trellis punch up Pho Thien Pagoda.

Some of the pagodas on Thi Vai Mountain feature a lotus pond and an orchard with dragon fruit, custard-apple, longan, jackfruit and banana trees.

The last section of Van Hanh Road is the most beautiful. Running along the mountain and open fields, it cannot get more picturesque and tranquil when the sun sets. Several different kinds of birds chirp their way back to the mountain at that time.

Van Hanh Road is 65km from HCM City. Visitors can take National Highway 51 about 200m past Phu My Industrial Park, and turn left to get onto the road. — VNS