Temples are one of the most popular attractions for tourists in Southeast Asia and especially when visiting Vietnam. Buddhism was the earliest foreign religion introduced in Vietnam, arriving from India in the second century A.D. The country is predominantly Buddhist and there are thousands of pagodas, shrines, and beautiful temples dedicated to the extraordinary being of Buddha. The temples of Vietnam include 529 Theravadin Buddhist; of which 19 are located in and nearby Hồ Chí Minh City. There are also four Hindu temples in Vietnam.
Sacred & Beautiful Vietnam Temples
There are more than 17,000 religious buildings in Vietnam. This includes Buddhist temples, Zen temples, pagodas and more. In Vietnamese, Temple is called ” Den” and a Buddhist Temple where they worship Buddha is called “Chua” or pagoda. Below are 11 of the most famous temples in Vietnam.
Thang Long Four Sacred Temples in Hanoi
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is known for its centuries-old temples and architecture. The temples in Hanoi are special in that four temples are known as the Thang Long Four Temples were built to protect the city from each direction. These four sacred temples worship four gods who control four significant positions and are thought to protect the Thang Long citadel and Hanoi today.
In addition to the four main temples, there are many smaller temples.
Beyond the Hanoi temples, no trip to Hanoi is complete without a visit to the famous Đồng Xuân Market to explore their vast selection of household goods and a wide variety of street food.
1. East: Bach Ma Temple
The oldest of the four sacred sites is Bach ma (White Horse) Temple, located at 76 Hang Buom Street, Hanoi. Bach Ma Temple was built in the ninth century to worship Long Do (Dragon’s Belly) – a patron saint of Hanoi. Legend has it that Cao Bien, a Tang Dynasty official, tried to use his magic power to overcome a deity, but lost. He is said to have built an altar to exorcise the spirit on this site.
In 1010 King Ly Thai To decided to move his capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long. But each time he tried to build a citadel on the new site, it collapsed. The King sent his staff to Long Di temple to pray to the supernatural powers for help in building his citadel. Suddenly, they saw a white horse racing from the temple.
The king ordered the citadel to be built on the path taken by the galloping horse. This time, the construction was successful. King Ly Thai to elevated Long Do to the position of tutelary deity of Hanoi. From that time onwards, the temple was known as White Horse.
The first among the four Vietnam temples; Thang Long Tu Tran, Bach Ma Temple still contains many important relics, such as stone steles recording the temple origins and the resident deity, and royal ordinances on deification rites and the process of restoration dating from the Le to the Nguyen Dynasties.
2. West: Voi Phuc Temple
This Hanoi temple that defends the west is Voi Phuc (Kneeling Elephants) Temple, built during the reign of King Ly Thanh Tong (1054-1072) to worship Saint Ling Lang. According to a legend, Saint Ling Lang was the fourth price of King Ly Thanh Tong and Lady Hao Nuong, his ninth imperial concubine.
When the Chinese Sung dynasty sent a strong army to invade Vietnam, the king was very worried. He dispatched his messengers to recruit talented people to fight the invaders to save the country. Hearing the news, the price asked the king to give him command of the troops. The king agreed and provided him with a red flag, along with a spear, and two elephants.
After arranging his troops, the prince stood before the elephants and shouted: ‘’ I am the general from heaven “ the elephants immediately knelt down, then carried him to the battlefield where he and his troops defeated the invaders. Since then, the temple was known as Voi Phuc.
When peace was restored, King Ly Thanh Tong held a feast to reward his troops and expressed his intention of abdicating the throne to the prince. However, Ling Lang refused the King‘s offer. A short time later, the prince was stricken with a disease. Resting his head on a square rook, Prince Ling Lang turned into a dragon and disappeared into West Lake. King Ly Thanh Tong conferred the title of Grand Prince upon him.
Later under the Tran and Le Dynasties, Ling Lang reappeared as a genie to help the King to defend the country against enemies. To commemorate the prince’s contributions, these dynasties conferred him the title “Superior Genie. Settlements within sight of his red flag all built temples to worship and honor him.
3. South: Kim Lien Temple
The temple that guards Hanoi to the South is Kim Lien temple. this temple was built as an altar to saint Cao son, who, as legend has it, was the son of the son of Vietnam’ s first couple, Lac Long Quan and Au Co, Cao Son was reportedly one of the 50 siblings who followed their mother to the mountains. It is said that Cao Son had helped Son Tinh (Mountain Genie) to defeat Thuy Tinh (Water Genie) and bring peace to the people.
According to the document kept in the temple, King Ly Thai To ordered the temple’s construction shortly after the establishment of Thang Long.
In 1509, Le Tuong Duc marched his troop from Thanh Hoa to Thang Long to squash Le Uy Muc’s rebellion. When passing the temple , he went in to pray to Cao Son for support. Shortly thereafter Le Tuong Duc successfully restored the Le Dynasty. In return for the saint’s support, King Le Tuong Duc had the temple replaced with a bigger and more beautiful one in King Hoa ward, which was then close to Thang long.
He also ordered his historians to compile epitaphs on the saint’s merits so that his deeds would be remembered through the generations. the temple contains a huge stone Stele of 2.43 meters tall, 1,57 meters wide, and 0,22 meters thick dedicated to Cao Son.
It is carved with records of saints’ miraculous deeds and verses to pray for him that was composed by historian Le Tung in 1510. The throne stele was erected in 1772. Every year, a traditional festival is held here on March 16th of the lunar year when offerings of thanks are made to the saint.
4. North: Quan Thanh Temple
Quan Thanh Temple also called Tran Vu temple, is dedicated to Huyen Thien Tran Vu a deity mentioned in both Vietnamese and Chinese legends. He is credited with helping Vietnamese people drive away ghosts, evil spirits, and foreign invaders.
King Ly Thai To had the temple built in 1010 to protect the northern border of Thang Long Citadel. The temple contains a giant black bronze statue of Huyen Thien Tran Vu sitting on a stone pedestal 1.5 meters high. The statue has a solemn, majestic look and depicts a man with a square face, a long beard, and long hair.
He is wearing a hermit costume and has bare feet. The left hand of the statue oases magic and the right hand holds a sword shrouded by a snake propped against the back of a tortoise ( a snake symbolizes strength and a tortoise represents immortality. The statue is a symbol of Vietnamese people’s undying resistance to invasion
Cast in black bronze, it stands 3.966 m high and weighs four tons. this beautifully-made sculpture was made in Ngu Xa Village ( Truc Bach Lake) during the reign of King Le Huy Tong in 1677
Quan Thanh Temple in Hanoi boasts a three-door entrance. In front of the entrance stand four large pillars. In addition to the statue of Huyen Thien Tran Vu, the temple also boasts other precious artifacts most notably a big bell dating back to 1677, a bronze musical bell cast in 1794 a bronze plate made in 1841 and stone stele recording the restoration of the temple ( 1857)
Together, Bach Ma, Kneeling Elephants, Kim Lien and Quan Thanh temples form the four sacred guardians of Thang Long- Hanoi. These temples and historic and cultural treasures symbolize the artistry strength, self-reliance, and independence of Vietnamese people
Additional Hanoi, Vietnam Temples
5. Văn Miếu also known as The Temple of Literature Hanoi
Contributed by Stephanie of History Fangirl
In the Hanoi suburb of Van Phuc, about a mile north of the main city gate is an unusual temple. This is The Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu), one of central Vietnam’s oldest and most important cultural sites.
It was a site of pilgrimage for Hanoi’s intellectuals, and it holds a revered statue of the scholar Thái Phi. There is an inscription on the front gate that says “restore the temple to revive scholarship.”
The temple was established in 1070 AD by Emperor Lý Thánh Tông to honor Confucius and other classical scholars, harkening back to a time when religion, philosophy, and education were intertwined and were not thought to be separate disciplines.
It was originally built on marshy land near the Red River Delta and suffered repeated inundations during floods. In 1076 AD, following two back-to-back floods, the emperor chose to rebuild it on a small hill that was higher than floodwaters could reach.
The name ‘Van Miêu’ means “Temple of Declaring Respect.” The building is considered to be one of the most important examples of traditional Vietnamese-style architecture, and the setting is heralded as one of the most beautiful in Hanoi. Taking a photograph of the temple entrance for printing and framing at home is a popular Vietnamese souvenir as the site is iconic and lovely.
Scholars show studied here went on to do great things in the country. Stone turtles line the courtyards with the names of successful graduates. The Temple of Literature Hanoi is one of the most popular places for visitors.
6. Ngoc Son Temple
Contributed by From Suzanne Jones at The Travelbunny
Ngoc Son Temple aka the Temple of the Jade Mountain sits on a small island on Hoan Kiem Lake just south of Hanoi’s old quarter. It’s one of the most visited sites in Hanoi and one of the top landmarks in Vietnam.
Jade Island is accessed by crossing the eye-catching Huc Bridge (rising sun bridge). Its vibrant red hues reflect on the lake and it’s worth stopping by as dusk falls when the bridge and island are beautifully lit up.
The current structure of Ngoc Son was established in 1841 and then renovated in 1864 although there has been a temple of some form or other at this location since the 14th century. The main altar is dedicated to war hero General Tran Hung Dao who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century. Other shrines and altars are dedicated to revered scholars and teachers.
There are various scenic spaces and features on the isle like the 5-story stone tower, Thap But (Pen Tower), pavilions and memorials. Visit early in the morning before the tourists arrive to see the temple as a place of worship with monks at prayer and the scent of burning incense hanging in the air.
The island is a tranquil spot in hectic Hanoi and has four temples, shrines, and the preserved body of a huge turtle. Ngoc Son is a peaceful place to while away an hour during your time in Hanoi enjoying the shade of the trees and the serenity of the courtyard and temples.
7. Chùa Một Cột
Contributed by Kenny of Knycx journeying
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and has a rich history and culture inherited from its neighboring China and the sovereign French during colonial times. Amongst food, markets, landmarks, and busy traffic, Hanoi is filled with temples based on Vietnamese folk religion, Taoism and Buddhism.
One of the most-visited and well-known Hanoi temples is actually a small pagoda, adjacent to the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Chùa Một Cột, or “One Pillar Pagoda”, is a structure that was originally erected in year between 1049 and 1105. The design of the temple is to resemble a lotus blossom, and it’s also called the Liên Hoa Đài (a lotus station).
During the Lý dynasty in the 11th century, the childless Emperor dreamed one night that a Buddha, sitting on a lotus, handed him a baby son. Soon after he got married to a peasant girl and she gave birth to a son that he had wanted. Hence a temple was erected to honor this moment as a thank you to this gift he received.
The Vietnamese pagoda is the size of a niche with a Buddha statue, but what visitors are looking at today is a rebuilt. The temple was destroyed by the French at war and the temple was rebuilt, keeping the integrity and the original architectural style of the temple that was created hundreds of years ago.
More Temples of Vietnam
8. Bái Đính in Tam Coc
Contributed by Cecilie of Worldwide Walkers
Bái Đính is the largest Buddhist temple complex in all of Vietnam with its 700 hectares. It’s such a beautiful place where you can easily spend hours visiting the many different temples.
Most of the temples in Bai Dinh were built in 2003, yet it’s still considered as a highly spiritual place that many Buddhist pilgrims visit every year.
Some of the highlights within the Bai Dinh Pagoda Complex are the 100-meter-tall pagoda, which you can visit for a small fee and get an amazing 360 view over the area, the 10-meter-tall Buddha statue made out of bronze, and the beautiful main temples.
Bai Dinh is located in the Ninh Binh Province of Vietnam, right next to the Bai Dinh Mountain, which is where the temple complex got its name from. Together with Vietnam’s ancient capital Hoa Lu, Bai Dinh is one of the most sacred places to visit in Tam Coc.
It’s completely free to visit Bai Dinh, and it only takes 10 minutes to walk to the temple complex from the parking lot. However, you can also catch an electric car ride to the entrance for 30.000 VND if you prefer not to walk. It’s also possible to hire a tour guide to take you around if you want to learn more about the area.
The Bai Dinh temple complex is an incredible experience, and it’s a must visit if you’re looking to explore some of Vietnam most sacred Buddhist temples.
9. The To Mieu in Hue, Vietnam
Contributed by Emily from Wander-Lush
Nestled within the UNESCO-Listed Complex of Hue Monuments, The To Mieu (Thế Tổ Miếu) is one of the most important ancestral temples in Hue, Vietnam’s former royal capital. Dedicated to the country’s emperors, it stands as a tribute to the mighty Nguyen Dynasty, which united the country in 1802 after three centuries of division and ruled until 1883.
The To Mieu was commissioned by Emperor Minh Mang in 1823. From the very beginning, it was designed as a place to worship past leaders, thus the layout, architecture and decorations are very specific. This makes it one of the most unique temples in Vietnam.
The first thing visitors encounter is a large external courtyard paved with tiles produced in Bat Trang ‘pottery village’, a popular day trip from Hanoi. The defining feature here is the set of nine dynastic urns called cửu đỉnh, each propped up on tripod legs outside the main hall.
Towering two meters high and weighing more than 2,000 kilograms each, the massive urns are meant to symbolize authority and permanence. The largest central urn is dedicated to Gia Long, the first Nguyen emperor whose tomb lies across the river on the outskirts of the city.
Inside the temple proper, personal items and portraits of the emperors decorate the walls and altars.
The To Mieu is located at the southern corner of Hue’s Imperial City complex. It’s open daily from 7am and free to visit.
10. Thien Mu Pagoda in Huong Long Village (near Hue City)
Contributed by Yulia of MissTourist
Thien Mu Pagoda is located 5km from Hue City in Huong Long village on the north bank of the Perfume River in Vietnam. It is sometimes confused with Thế Tổ Miếu which is just 2.5km away but both are equally spectacular and certainly worth visiting!
The mythic history of the Thien Mu Pagoda is what makes it particularly interesting to visitors as this temple was essentially built because of a message from the Gods. The legend goes that an old woman stood on the very spot where Thien Mu Pagoda now occupies and announced a prophecy that a lord would come and build a Pagoda for the country’s prosperity.
Inspired by this, Lord Nguyen Hoang ordered the construction of the Vietnamese Pagoda and aptly named it “Heaven Fairy Lady” after the old woman who predicted it. When the temple was first constructed in 1601 it was quite simple in nature but over time it has undergone many restorations which have seen it become the beautiful piece of architecture it is today.
The most photogenic part of this temple is definitely the Phuoc Duyen tower which is actually the highest stupa in Vietnam. Built in 1884, its octagonal shape has seven stories and is dedicated to Buddha’s appearance in human form. This special structure has inspired many folk stories and legends over the years and is home to many incredible pieces of art for all to enjoy!
If you have time, one of the most beautiful views of the Perfume River and Thiem Mu Pagoda can be found from Ha Khe hill in Hue.
11. My Son Sanctuary in Duy Phu
Contributed by Paul from Paula Pins the Planet
My Son Sanctuary is one of the most fascinating temples in Vietnam and it is a must-visit site that holds centuries of history. The UNESCO Heritage site of My Son is located within the village of Duy Phu, only 40 km from Hoi An. This tourist attraction and Buddhist pagoda can be easily visited as a day trip. You can get to My Son by an organized tour, a personal driver or you rent a motorcycle in Hoi An.
The temple of My Son is a Hindu Site that was built in dedication to the god Shiva, during the course of thousand years by the Hindu Kings of the Champ Civilisation. From its rise in the 2nd century AD to the fall of the Empire around 1832, the empire and rich culture of the Champs defined the culture of central and southern Vietnam. My Son was part of the marks of the architecture of this Region in Vietnam, built by the largely Hindu Population in the country.
During the Vietnam War, parts of the My Son complex were destroyed by bombing, as the Sanctuary was used to be a base for the Viet Cong, and during the visit, you can still see remaining from bombs, and only 17 structures out of the total of 71 survived the bombing. Today, you can visit the remainings of what one day was a place of power, religion, and worship, and you can easily spend the day wandering among the ruins and seeing the intricate carvings on the large and small temples. Despite the dismal conditions, My Son is still very worth visiting.
A Few More Pagodas to Explore
There are thousands of Buddhist pagodas, shrines, and ancient temples in Vietnam and many annual festivals celebrating these religious sites. Another area to explore would be the Perfume Pagoda and its Buddhist temples and shrines which are built into the limestone of the Huong Tich mountains.
Another temple in Hanoi well worth a visit is Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest temple in Hanoi. A popular Taoist pagoda with local people is the Jade Emperor Pagoda (also known as the Tortoise Pagoda) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Further afield, the Cao Dai Temple is best visited by booking a tour due to its location in South Vietnam, near the Cambodian border, 100km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City in the Long Than village close to Tay Nihn.
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Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.