Bai Dinh Pagoda (Vietnamese spelling: Chùa Bái Đính) is the largest Buddhist site in the country and a National Heritage Site. It belongs to the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital in Trang An Landscape Complex in Ninh Binh Province.
Located 10 km away from the entrance of Hoa Lu, the pagoda covers 539 hectares built to traditional Vietnamese architecture. The area includes a Buddhist Academy along with other structures spanning 1 700 hectares.
The History of Bai Dinh Pagoda
The Bai Dinh Pagoda Complex is situated on Dinh Mountain (núi Đính). The history of this location goes back to the beginning of Hoa Lu, Vietnam’s ancient capital. There are structures dating back to the founding Dinh Dynasty of 968 AD located in what is now called the Ancient Area (chùa Bái Đính Cổ).
The origin of Bai Dinh Pagoda was a cave. The scholar Lý Quốc Sư of the Ly Dynasty used it as shelter to practice his Zen in 1136. Construction for the New Area (chùa Bái Đính Mới) began in 2003 and is 800 meters away from the Ancient Area.
Things to See at Bai Dinh Pagoda
There’s no entrance fee except for the Stupa which has an elevator. Visitors can opt to pay for a 3.5 km buggy bus ride from the entrance to the center of the complex.
After the ride, visitors will have to walk to the structures including the nine national attainments or record-breakers. Be prepared to walk for around three hours with a lot of stairs, which is why the buggy bus and elevator help.
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The New Area
The buggy bus will drop you near the Grand Hall (Chính Điện) where the biggest bronze Sakyamuni (Thích Ca Mầu Ni) in Vietnam is worshipped. Taking into account the lotus pedestal, the entire statue is 10 meters tall and weighs 100 tons.
As you walk by the lotus pond to the Guan Yin Hall (điện Quan Âm), you’ll see the biggest gold plated bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara (Thiên Thủ Quan Âm) in Asia. It weighs 80 tons and is about 10 meters tall.
Avalokiteshvara is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas and is depicted in different cultures as both male and female. In Chinese beliefs, Guan Yin is the female figure that Avalokiteshvara takes.
Inside the Bell Tower is the biggest Grand Bell (Đại Hồng Chung) in Vietnam. It’s over 6 meters in diameter, about 7 meters tall, and weighs 36 tons.
The 3 km Arhat (A La Hán) corridor is made entirely of wood. It has the highest number of 500 Arhat statues in Asia. Each one is 2.5 meters tall and weighs around 2.5 tons. Arhats in Mahayana Buddhism are people far advanced along the path of enlightenment, but who may not have reached full Buddhahood.
The Way Back to the Ancient Area
To get to the Ancient Area, you’ll first need to circle back to the center. On the way, you can visit the tallest stupa in Asia at 100 m.
The Bao Thien Stupa (tháp Báo Thiên) has 13 stories displaying Sarira from India and you can take an elevator up. Sarira are bead-shaped Buddhist relics purportedly found in the cremated ashes of Buddhist masters.
You’ll continue to pass a Bodhi garden (vườn cây Bồ Đề) with the largest number of these trees in Vietnam. One hundred of the Bodhi trees were sent as a gift from the Indian Government on the Vesak Day of 2008.
Next is the biggest Budai (Di Lặc) bronze statue in South-east Asia. It’s on a hilltop, is over 10 meters high, and weighs 80 tons. Budai is a semi-historical Chinese monk who is venerated as Maitreya Buddha in Chan or Zen Buddhism.
The biggest bronze Buddhas of the Three Times (Tam Thế Phật) in Vietnam are in their own hall. In Chinese Buddhism, they are Dipankara of the past, Gautama of the present, and Maitreya of the future. Each of them weighs 50 tons and is over 7 meters tall.
The Ancient Area
To get to Light Cave (Hang Sáng), you’ll have to walk up 300 steps along the stone staircase. It’s dedicated to the Buddha and gods of the land. Exit the Light Cave and the way to the Dark Cave (Động Tối) is surrounded by trees.
On the way, you’ll see a temple of Thần Cao Sơn who’s the West Guardian of Hoa Lu. The Dark Cave is for goddesses of the Mother Religion and spirits of the land.
Nguyen Saint Temple (đền thờ thánh Nguyễn) worships Nguyễn Minh Không— the real name of scholar Lý Quốc Sư— is the one who inspired the construction of Bai Dinh Pagoda. He was also the inspiration for the North Guardian of Hoa Lu.
The story goes that he used the water in the Gia Sinh Well (giếng ngọc Gia Sinh) at the bottom of the mountain to cure local people of diseases. It’s also the biggest well in Vietnam.
Visiting the Bai Dinh Pagoda
- Electric car ride: 30 000 VND per person per ride.
- Stupa entrance ticket: 50 000 VND per person.
- Guide: 500 000 VND per guide per tour.
Best time to visit: The Bai Dinh Pagoda Festival lasts from the beginning of the Lunar New Year to the end of March in the Lunar Calendar. If you would prefer going to the pagoda at a less crowded time, avoid the festival.Check out our article about the ‘Trang An Landscape Complex’ to know how to get to Bai Dinh Pagoda, where to stay, and what to eat.