When traveling to Vietnam, especially to Hanoi in Spring, tourists should not miss one of the most popular attractive destinations – Huong Pagoda. Huong Pagoda Festival is a Buddhist festival held annually and lasts three months, from the 6thday of Lunar New Year to the 6th day of the third lunar month in the year with thousands of visitors from all regions throughout the country and foreigners. And now let me show you some useful tips.
Huong Pagoda is an important attraction these days not only because of its cultural importance but also because of its spiritual significance. Every year when spring comes, millions of Buddhists and visitors from everywhere take a pilgrimage to Huong Pagoda. There are white apricot flowers covering the entire area of Huong Son Mountain, where the legend holds that Bodhisattva (Quan Am) went to the South and stayed at Huong Tich Pagoda to help save human souls. Every pilgrim offers Bodhisattva incense out of respect and prays.
1. General Introduction
Huong Pagoda is just the popular name. In fact, Huong Pagoda or Huong Son is a center of Vietnamese culture and religion. There are many pagodas and pavilions within the complex. Huong Pagoda in Huong Tich Cave or Inner Pagoda (Chua Trong) is in the complex’s center. It was built in around the end of the 17th century.
Huong Tich Cave
Buddhists, as well as visitors, pray respectfully when coming to the Pagoda. Every year, the festival starts one day earlier than the previous year. Incense is burnt everywhere here, not only in the pagodas. Buddhist pilgrims are welcomed by a lion dance. Huong Pagoda Festival consists of two parts, ceremonies and entertainment activities.
In the Festival, the villagers carry sacred figures on palanquins from the temple to the pavilion. The drum band goes first and octet band follows. The atmosphere is uplifting for those in attendance. There are rites and ceremonial orations in this ceremony. Villagers will parade to the house where village representatives write ceremonial orations and bring them for the officiating priest to read in public and celebrate the festival in the temple.
A ceremony in Huong pagoda
There is an incense offering procession in the Inner Pagoda (Chua Trong) with incense, flowers, lights, candles, fruit and vegetarian food. There are two Buddhist nuns who bring offerings to the altar while people worship. After that, these nuns will dance to Buddhist music. From the opening festival day to the closing ceremony, there are Buddhist priests from other pagodas who sometimes come to strike the wooden bell while saying prayers for about half of an hour in pagodas, temples, and shrines. The fragrance and smoke of incense spread everywhere. Zen is more popular in the ceremony.
However, people worship the most powerful Mountain Gods in Chua Ngoai (Outer Pagoda). Thuong Ngon Queen, who is worshipped in Cua Vong Temple, watches over the forests and mountains. Thuong Ngon Queen is also called by another name: “Tuy Hong Maid-Servant of the Supreme Mountain God”. Bac Dai Pagoda, Tuyet Son Pagoda, Ca Pagoda and Quan Temple are consecrated to the Five Tigers and the Cult of the Sacred Fish. This ceremony blends the worship of nature, Buddhism and Confucianism.
3. Entertainment Activities
In Huong Pagoda Festival, there are many different cultural activities like boat racing, mountain climbing, Cheo singing, and Van singing. During the festival, there are over 1000 boats coming and going each day. Sitting on a boat to witness the many different spectacles in the Buddhist sanctuary is a fantastic experience. Therefore, Huong Pagoda is associated with ferries, part of Vietnamese boat culture for a long time.
Nowadays, visitors invariable enjoy the boat-race. When to boat rides are done, visitors can take part in many interesting activities like mountain climbing as well as visiting caves and grottos. In this spiritual atmosphere, Cheo Do is sung everywhere in the Pagoda grounds and commune house yards. Those Buddhist nuns with the good voice row boats while singing Van songs about their favorite old legends.
Unlike other pagodas, Huong Pagoda has many mountain temples and caves. It possesses a wealth of natural and man-made architecture. It has become a cultural and religious treasure for everyone. There is a 120 step stone staircase leading down to the grotto. There are five Han words inscribed on the front wall of the grotto: “Nam thiên nhất động” meaning “The Most Beautiful Grotto in Nam Country”. These words were carved in 1770 by Tinh Do Vuong – Trinh Sam (1767-1782). There are many stalactites in the grotto creating a striking atmosphere. There are big and small stalactites with beautiful, ornate shapes. They hang down from above and stalagmites rise from the ground. People have given them popular names associated with human dreams. Visitors will see Dun Gao first in the grotto gate. The first stalactite was named Dun Gao because Gao means rice, the most fundamental source of nourishment. There is a small sunken stone below Dun Gao called Coi Gia. Nui Co (the Girl) and Nui Cau (the Boy) are nearby. Nui Co is smaller than Nui Cau, but they have some similar resembling babies lying on their side. Some of them lie flat with their chest down and others crawl on all fours. Nui Cau is as tall as Sua Me (Mother’s Milk) Mountain which drips water all year round.
There are also Cay Vang (Golden Tree), Cay Bac (Silver Tree. There are a lot of gold and silver coins in here, left by visitors. People can see Chuồng Lợn, Ao Bèo, Nong Tằm, Né Kén at the final corner of the cave. These are also stalactites. The nine-headed dragon juts out from the ceiling and is called Toa Cuu Long. Phat Quan Am statue was carved from green stone during the Tay Son Dynasty. Today it is the most valuable, not only in Huong Pagoda but also in the entire Huong Son Complex. It has a good body form, an oval face and wears a Ti Lu hat (Bo Tat’s hat). In addition, she has a bun and sideburns but she lets her hair down behind and sits in a special posture with her right hand holding Minh Chau pearls, her left leg stretched out above the open lotus and the right leg bent above the other lotus. The information carved on it in 1806 reads that this statue was carved in 1793. Additionally, there is a bronze bell casted in the third year followed Thinh Duc calendar (1655), 1.24 m high and the base 0,63 m in diameter.
How to get to Huong Pagoda?
From Hanoi, you can go by coach or train from Giap Bat Bus Station or My Dinh Bus Station.
- You can also get there by motorbike or car:
- Follow Nguyen Trai – Ha Dong direction à turn the left at the Ba La intersection towards Van Dinh à continue about 40 km. At Te Tieu turn left and ask for directions to Huong Pagoda.
- Follow Highway 1A Phap Van - Cau Re, turn right at the Dong Van intersection à Go onto Highway 38, continue 50 km towards Dau Market to get to Huong Pagoda. This route is only for cars. If you are travelling by motorbike, you should choose the first option or follow Highway 1A towards Thanh Tri.
What to admire in Huong Pagoda?
- Huong Tich Route: Trinh Temple - Thien Tru Pagoda - Tien Son Grotto - Giai Oan Pagoda - Tran Song Temple – Huong Tich Grotto - Hinh Bong Pagoda (main route)
- Tuyet Son Route: Bao Dai Pagoda - Ca Pagoda Grotto - Tuyet Son Grotto (route 2)
- Long Van route: Long Van Pagoda - Long Van Grotto – Sung Sam Cave (route 3)
- Thanh Son Route: Thanh Son Pagoda - Huong Dai Grotto
You can follow the main route in a day from Hanoi. However if you want to travel for two days, you should take another route such as Tuyet Son or Long Van. Many visitors follow Huong Tich and visit both Thien Tru Pagoda and Huong Tich Grotto.
Some notes in Huong Pagoda
- There are many people selling Vietnamese traditional medicine, claiming to cure all illnesses, along the way to Huong Tich Grotto. In fact, this medicine is fake so be careful!
- You will have to walk a lot, so wear sports shoes and leave the high heels at home. Do not forget to bring things like sunglasses, hat and water.
- Attire: Huong Pagoda is a solemn place so you should wear appropriately.
- Trash: many visitors still litter here. Please be responsible and keep the environment clean.
- During the festival season, there are a lot of people so some ferries overload. Boat jam often occurs. Some boatmen try to rip visitors off. For example, they make visitors pay the ferry fee up front and promise to come back but never return. Be aware!
These above are facts and general information about a meaningful trip to Huong pagoda, a spring Buddhist Pilgrimage. It will be such a big pity if you forget one of the most favorable places when coming to Hanoi in Spring. Let’s consider and enjoy this meaningful trip to Huong Pagado, the Spring Buddhist Pilgrimage of Vietnam!