Tay Phuong Pagoda is the most special, beautiful and impressive pagoda in the Red River Delta, and it is listed as one of the ten best pagodas in Vietnam. It is located on top of a green hill in the middle of the plain, and from the pagoda, you have a great view of the surrounding area. The pagoda and 283 steps leading up the hill to it are impressively built of laterite stone which is found in this area. The Vietnamese call the stone “Da Ong,” which means beeswax stone, because it looks exactly like beeswax. The local people dig in the ground to find the layer of stone. It is still soft before coming into contact with the air. They then cut it to the shape they need and leave it in the open air to become very hard. It can last for hundreds of years just as it has in the pagoda.
Three of the best things you can see in the pagoda are the beautiful construction using laterite stone and iron wood, the unique and beautiful shape of the pagoda’s roof with sophisticated carving, and the outstanding Buddha and Arhat statues made from jack fruit wood. Replicas of most of these statues can be found in the Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi.
The first time I came to Tay Phuong Pagoda was with my class in 5th grade. It was a day excursion organized by the school. I still remember my impressions on this trip of the beautiful steps and the climb to the Pagoda, the amazing and a little bit scary feeling I had while looking at the statues in the pagoda, and my teacher showing us the beautiful roof. I have just returned after many years, this time as a tour guide, and I really enjoyed showing people the beauty of this pagoda. This time I found a different way to descend along a small path which leads through a local village. It is much better to go up and down using different routes, and there are more chances to learn about the real life of the local people.
Soon after that, we found the rural area around the pagoda to be very attractive with all of the typical and traditional images of the countryside in the Red River Delta. And a bicycle ride can show you many features which cannot be seen from the pagoda. Starting from the Pagoda, the ride will take you along a small road which leads through some villages and past the green rice fields. Riding a bicycle is the best way to feel and experience the local people’s lives and their activities.
Nearly half way through the bicycle ride, you can have a beautiful stop at a 700 year old Banyan tree. The tree has more than ten different trunks and has been considered as the holy tree of the village. In the center of the village you can see all of the typical features found in the Red River Delta such as the communal house, the village pond and a tea shop near the Banyan tree. Standing in the shade of the Banyan tree, you can take a rest and mingle with local people around the tree – their favorite meeting place. In Vietnam, people believe that an old banyan tree has its own spirit, and they have often built a small temple next to the main trunk to worship the tree.
From the Banyan tree, we can follow the village road passing by many local houses, the rice field and kindergarten of the village. Like many other places in the North of Vietnam, people here still use the shells of unexploded bombs from war time as bells for classes. You can stop anywhere to take photos or interact with local people along the way.
The bike ride at Tay Phuong Pagoda will take you past villages, rice fields, along a dike and then back to the pagoda along the irrigation canal.
Before coming back to the pagoda, we will ride through the last village. An old collective farm store and a big square once used for the delivery and drying of rice still remain. In the past, these were very popular features in every village, but now they are pretty hard to find since collective farming was stopped in 1989. They are special relics from a difficult time in the country before the Doi Moi (meaning “renovation”) policy that saved the whole country from poverty.
Tay Phuong Pagoda discovery is included in our Full-day Tay Phuong and Duong Lam Tour.