By Ngô Minh
BALANCE SOUGHT: Most Venerable Thích Minh Quang hosts a meditation session at Tam Thế Temple, home to three bronze statues representing the past, the present and the future. VNS Photo Ngô Minh
Ninh Bình province in Việt Nam’s north is the perfect spot for a one-day getaway out of Hà Nội, with various tourist landmarks all within striking distance of the capital city and just waiting to be discovered.
Those spots of scenic and historical interest have long attracted visitors for their tranquil atmosphere and stunning beauty.
Local authorities and travel enterprises have recently come together in a joint effort to offer night-time tours of popular sites, to broaden the travel experience and provide more interesting and unusual options for visitors.
It takes just two hours from central Hà Nội to Tuyệt Tịnh Cốc, the Đinh-Lê Kings Temples, and the Tam Cốc-Bích Động cave system, while spectacular views of the sun setting behind the mountains of Ninh Bình can be found almost everywhere. Visitors can then head to Bái Đính Pagoda in Gia Viễn District.
Tuyệt Tịnh Cốc is a valley with a jade-coloured lake surrounded by mountains. The water of Am Tiên Lake is so crystal clear and calm that moss can be seen on the bottom. Its pristine beauty has seen it become a popular spot for wedding photos in recent years.
A climb of 200 steps is needed to reach the cave where Am Tiên, which literally means “Fairy Shrine”, is located. From here, tourists can enjoy panoramic views of the valley below and lose themselves in local legends.
It’s said there were many souls full of outrage haunting the cave. Zen Master Minh Không built a shrine here 10 centuries ago, during the Lý dynasty, and read Buddhist sutras over the course of 99 days, to help liberate the souls and lead them to Nirvana. It’s been tranquil and peaceful here ever since.
BY LIGHT: A jade statue of Buddha glistens at night. VNS Photo Ngô Minh
The Temples for Two Kings, or the Đinh-Lê Kings Temples, were built during the 17th-19th centuries and are surrounded by ancient trees, orchards, and ornamental trees that intermingle in a solemn scene. In front of each temple sits a large stone bed, which is believed to have been conquered by a King’s soul. Its face has the carved image of a dragon, with a claw holding its beard. Their historical value and sophisticated design have seen the temples listed as national treasures.
Tuyệt Tịnh Cốc and the Two Kings Temples are wonderful spots to take in the dusk before heading to Bái Đính Pagoda for a night tour.
Its imposing architecture, spectacular views, and sacred space make Bái Đính a popular spiritual destination. The 80-ha site was built in 2003 and includes the main buildings of the three-entrance gate, a bell tower, a 13-storey tower, called Bảo Tháp.
At night, the whole site is lit up by lights at the three-entrance gate, shining over a 526-metre-long corridor with 500 monolithic stone Arhat statues and other buildings.
Tourists can dine at the nearby Bái Đính Hotel and discover the entire complex by electric car. The quiet space, with the sound of insects and the rustling of leaves filling the air, helps calm the mind. Visitors will feel relaxed and reflective after leaving their busy lives back in the city, heartily enjoying the sights and hearing from the chief monk, Most Venerable Thích Minh Quang.
He offers some words about Bái Đính Pagoda’s history and development, as well as Vietnamese Buddhism and the Buddhist philosophy, and ends with a short sutra to pray for good fortune for all.
Tourists then head to Bảo Tháp, a 13-storey tower where Shakyamuni Buddha’s sarira is preserved. A sarira is a sacred, crystal-like, bead-shaped object found among the ashes of cremated Buddhist spiritual masters. The tower is especially holy for this reason, and a place for Zen masters and practitioners.
A one-hour Zen meditation is available for those seeking mindfulness and an easing of the soul. The very top of Bảo Tháp looks out over the splendid Bái Đính Pagoda and the surrounding area, cast in a mysterious light.
The last stop is Chuông Gió (Windchime) Pavilion, where tourists can hear Zen singing and sip on some tea.
DAZZLE: Spectacular Bái Đính Pagoda under the stars. VNS Photo Ngô Minh
Trần Thanh Diệp, a tourist from Hà Nội, said she had visited Bái Đính Pagoda many times but this was the first time she’d been here at night.
“It’s a special tour I’ve never taken before, with a focus on mindfulness and peacefulness,” she said.
“We hear about Buddhism and Bái Đính Pagoda, and above all understand ourselves and our troubles in life, and find solutions.”
Diệp added: “The tranquillity of the area and the philosophy of the monk help us find a balance in life. I remember his beautiful words, ‘you may be busy at work, but don’t let your mind be busy’.”
Hà Văn Siêu, vice chairman of the Việt Nam National Administration of Tourism, spoke highly of the introduction of night tours around Ninh Bình.
“The tourism industry has faced difficulties this year it could never have imagined, with tourist numbers tumbling, so it’s necessary to introduce new tours and new products to attract local visitors.
“This tour puts music, sound, and light to best use to create a special effect. In such a tranquil setting, visitors are open to learning more about Buddhism.” VNS