Near my next stop Tam Coc – a small place outside the city of Ninh Binh – is a Catholic cathedral worth to be visited. So as Buddhist temples, there are also many christian churches here in Vietnam – it is the legacy of French colonization. Till this, I have only visited one church – the cathedral of Saigon. The cathedral of Phat Diem is an extraordinary building, because both – the European and the Vietnamese architectural styles merge. I found it in particular very interesting, that in the bell tower under the bell hung a huge drum – it means, the people can also be called to the worship service via the drum.
Tam Coc is rather a tourist retreat for the people from the capital Hanoi, approximately 100 km north. The typical Vietnamese karst landscape is found here – overgrown hills, rice fields, rivers and grottas. Admittedly, it is very nice to get on one of these hills and look at the area from above. The climb for the viewpoint is via a stone staircase – exactly 501 steps – and was quite challenging because of the heat. But you get a clear overview of the landscape – which in my opinion – makes Vietnam unique.
There are some other things to visit in this area. In the caves I did not get in by boat – there were always too many people traveling at the same time – but I’ve been visiting one of the historical capitals of the country – Hoa Lu. Unfortunately there is not much more to be seen there, except a few temples and a covered excavation site.
Another temple impressed me particulary – not because of the facility but because of the monk, the temple guard. A very sympathetic guy who was also willing to be photographed.
Bai Dinh is the largest temple complex in Vietnam and is extremely popular with Vietnamese tourists. Already on the way to Bai Dinh you can see what you might expect there. Hundreds of motorcycles are waitingin the car park and the access to the temples is only possible via a 2 km long drive in an electric car. It reminds me a bit on Disneyland.
This area is huge – the walkways on either side are more than a kilometer long and lined with 10,000 thousands of golden Buddha figures placed in shrines. The hundreds of stone statues along the way are touched by the faithful ascending to the main temple, to bring as much happiness as possible for all occasions of this spiritual excursion back home.
The last floor of the giant Stupa can be visited by an elevator. You have to drive up to the 12th floor and from there you can catch a wonderful panoramic view over the entire complex. Even the foyer on the way to the elevator is completely in gold and a really worthy welcome. Likewise the last floor – also in gold – and in the center a Buddha statue made from rose quartz.
The rise leads over terraces past smaller temples to the main temple and a bronze statue of Buddha, which overtowers it. This statue is about 10 meters high and weighs more than 100 tons. The temples themselves are rather inconspicuous from the outside, but inside there are huge golden figures behind altars, filled with donations and sacrifices.
Visiting this temple complex in-depth takes at least 4 hours and is a real challenge at high temperatures. Well, if you have a parasol like these 3 girls which at least provides some protection, it might be bearable.
I am now on my way to the west.