Places - May 24, 2019 | 10:45 pm PT

The tale of two pagodas that reflect each other 

The Tam Chuc and Bai Dinh pagodas have several in common, including topography, architecture, Buddha statues and Buddhist services. 


Photos by Kien 1980v (L) and VnExpress/Kieu Duong.

Located in the northern province of Ha Nam, Tam Chuc Pagoda is Vietnam's largest pagoda complex. It recently hosted the United Nations Vesak Day 2019 with a grand, extravagant celebration of the Buddha’s birthday and his enlightenment.

Bai Dinh Pagoda is located in Ninh Binh Province, northern Vietnam, and has many records to its credit.

Both pagodas overlook a large lake. On the left, Bai Dinh Pagoda stands on the banks of the 100-hectare Dam Thi Lake; on the right, Tam Chuc Pagoda stands on the banks of the eponymous 600 hectare lake that has been described as a mini-version of Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh Province, home to numerous small islets.

The Bai Dinh complex is situated on a 500 hectare area with 80 hectares allocated for the pagoda, while the rest accommodates other constructions like restaurants, hotels and gardens. The Tam Chuc complex is a 5,100 hectare site, in which the area for the pagoda is 144 hectares.


Both pagodas have long corridors that lead to the main hall.

Bai Dinh Pagoda claims the record for the longest corridor in Asia, three kilometers long, crossing 234 chambers. It is also home to 500 Arhat statues made of stone.

On the right, in Tam Chuc Pagoda, the corridor has an architectural structure similar to that of Bai Dinh Pagoda, but with stone railings. Statues will be placed along the hallway later. 


The main areas of Bai Dinh and Tam Chuc pagodas have the Tam Quan (three-entrance gate), Bodhisattva temple, Dhamma temple and Tam The temple.

The difference lies in the area connecting the Tam Quan and Bodhisattva temple. Bai Dinh Pagoda has a bell tower in this area, while Tam Chuc Pagoda has stone pillars.


Both pagodas have objects that replicate the four most precious national treasures that have been lost, including the Bao Thien tower, the Buddha statue in Quynh Lam Pagoda, Quy Dien Bell and the Pho Minh cauldron.

Bai Dinh Pagoda has a 36-ton bell (left) that is 5.5 meters tall, and a 70-ton copper drum that is 4.7 meters tall. On the surface of the bell are old writings in Vietnamese and Chinese.

A copper cauldron (right) about 4 meters high is placed in the yard of Tam Chuc Pagoda. Its surface has introductions to Zen master Nguyen Minh Khong in Vietnamese, Chinese and English.


Both pagodas have multi-storied towers that offer panoramic views of the surrounding areas. The Bao Thap tower in Bai Dinh Pagoda (left) has 13 stories containing Buddhist relics from India. With a height of 100 meters, this is the highest tower in Southeast Asia. Visitors can pay VND50,000 ($2.2) and take an elevator to the top.

The Ngoc tower (right) at Tam Chuc Pagoda stands on a mountain 468 meters high. Ngoc Pagoda, with a height of 13 meters, is considered a masterpiece in stone architecture in Vietnam. The whole structure is made of red granite weighing over 2,000 tons, with no cement used in its joints.


The front parts of the Bodhisattva temples in both pagodas are quite similar in design.


The statue of Bodhisattva at Bai Dinh Pagoda is one of the largest gold-plated copper statues in Vietnam with a weight of 80 tons and height of 9.6 meters including the pedestal (left). The Bodhisattva statue at Tam Chuc Pagoda (right) is also cast in copper, weighing 100 tons.


In the left image, the statue of Sakhyamuni Buddha in Phap Chu temple in Bai Dinh Pagoda is the largest copper Buddha statue in Vietnam with a height of 10 meters and weight of 100 tons.

Tam Chuc Pagoda also has a statue of Sakhyamuni Buddha made of solid copper, weighing 150 tons. The picture of the statue in the crafting process was taken in December 2018.


The three Tam The statues in Bai Dinh Pagoda (left) are made of gold-plated copper. Each statue is 9 meters tall, including the pedestal, and weighs 50 tons.

At Tam Chuc Pagoda, the three Buddha statues are made of black copper with golden bodhi leaves, each weighing up to 200 tons.


Nearly all of the walls in Bai Dinh Pagoda (left) are covered with small glass closets with Buddha statues inside. Outside each box is a piece of paper with the name, age and address of the person who contributed to the construction of the pagoda.

At Tam Chuc Pagoda, the walls of the temple have 12,000 carvings on volcanic rocks, depicting traditions and legends of the Buddha.

Both temples have arranged large dining areas under the Tam The temples.


The respective parking lots are located about 2-3 kilometers away from the entrance of both pagodas. Visitors can walk or use the electric buggy service for a roundtrip fare of VND60,000 ($2.6) for an adult and VND40,000 ($1.7) for a child.

On the left is the entrance to Bai Dinh Pagoda, and on the right is the road leading to Tam Chuc Pagoda, which was under construction.

Story and photos by Kieu Duong