But Thap Pagoda, often considered the center of Vietnamese Buddhism, is a short distance from Hanoi and can easily be reached by taxi or motorbike. The pagoda sits beside the Duong River behind a dyke. I prefer traveling there by motorbike because I enjoy the peaceful ride through the countryside. The road I prefer skirts the river while the main road runs through the larger towns. Farms, villages, and small towns rest on one side of the dyke road while colorful boats carry goods and fishermen up and down the river on the other side. Cows graze in the fields and the road is empty of any noisy traffic found on the main roads inland.

The temple complex covers a large area on a flat plain surrounded by farmland. Crops frame the temple in various hues of green and trees line the path with shade to the main gate. Venders sell trinkets, souvenirs, food, and cool drinks along the way. The temple has two smaller entrances for people wishing more privacy. I often enjoy a nice cool Fanta or Green Tea in the shade before entering the Pagoda and imagine the great things I will see inside. Watching the people come and go is a real treat, tourists from Australia, France, and China.

Constructed in the 13th century during the reign of king Tran Thanh, Tong, the temple houses one of the largest Avalokitesvara statues in Viet Nam. Avalokitesvara (he who looks down) was a Buddhist bodhisattva, a person seeking enlightenment. He is often depicted looking down to help those in need. The statue has a thousand eyes and a thousand arms, all offering help through kindness.

Ten buildings sit within the walls including a bell tower and two towers over 13 meters high. The two towers are named Ton Duc and Bao Nghiem and are made of white stone that shine under the sunshine and add majesty to the surroundings. A nine story Lotus tower hovers over all the other buildings. Much work has gone into restoring and preserving the historical site and a large number of 17th century artifacts are on display including Tuyet Son statue, Bao Nghiem tower and Xa Ly tomb.

Legend says that Queen Trinh Thi Ngoc wrote the first Chinese/Vietnamese dictionary while living at the pagoda. Her husband had died and she was forced to marry King Le Than Tong. The marriage was not a happy one and she devoted herself to Buddhism and to preserving the pagoda.

The main temple complex houses over 50 statues of different sizes and made of different materials. Manjusri rides a blue lion and Samantabhadre sits astride a white elephant. The Guanyin statue, built in 1656, is one of the most impressive in Viet Nam. Eleven heads stand above 789 arms wrapped in 14 layers. Each palm holds an eye, searching and looking for truth and compassion. Another 42 arms encircle her waist. Dragons hold a lotus blossom on which she sits.

One must walk over a Chinese inspired bridge to reach the sanctum of accumulated good deeds (Am Tich Duc). Going deeper into the building brings you to the middle hall followed by the Worship Palace. The remains of Queen Trinh Thi Ngoc and her children are honored in this section.

Outside, behind the garden, stand two stone stupas. They contain the remains of priests Chuyet Chuyet and Kinh Bach.

Visiting Bu Thap Pagoda is both informative and meditative. An aura of peace surrounds the area. I always want to spend more time in this peaceful place, to just sit and to think, things we seldom do enough of anymore.


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