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Thắng Nghiêm Temple, Hanoi, Vietnam

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AsiaHa NoiTemples & ChurchesViet Nam
Article author: michael
michael
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For part of 2021 and 2022, my wife and I have been living in Vietnam. We’re staying in an apartment in a small suburb of Hanoi called Thanh Ha, in the Thanh Oai district. It’s about 30-45 minutes outside of the city center that most tourists would be familiar with, and in a part of Hanoi that most tourists wouldn’t ever visit, and for good reason … there’s really nothing to do here! It’s so void of foreigners, that most of the Viets here have never actually seen a westerner face to face. I’m stared at a lot by the older Vietnamese, and am constantly being waved at and chased after by the younger kids yelling out “Hello!” to me! 😂

When I’m in a new area, I generally like to explore it a bit on foot to see what I can find, but also to get a sense of what’s around. So I spent about a week walking around the area, going off in different directions for hours exploring the streets. Then one day from our apartment, I noticed a temple off in the distance that I hadn’t noticed while walking around. It looked interesting, and I wanted to go check it out - I just couldn’t immediately figure out how to get there. 🤔

Thang Nghiem Temple

So I headed off one afternoon from our apartment, to see if I could figure out how to access it, and sure enough it really wasn’t that hard to get to at all!

Thang Nghiem Temple

I later realized though that the path I took (pictured above) actually leads to the back of the temple, and that there was a much more grand entrance on the other side via an older road!

Chùa Thắng Nghiêm Info

  • Address: 1 Đường 1, Khu đô thị Thanh Hà, Cự Khê, Thanh Oai, Hà Nội
  • Hours: Open daily, exact hours unknown
  • Entrance fee: Free
  • Official website: thangnghiem.com (note: mostly Vietnamese only)
  • Official Facebook page: facebook.com/thangnghiemquoctu

Chùa Thắng Nghiêm

Thắng Nghiêm (Thang Nghiem) temple, also called Thắng Nghiêm Quốc Tự, is a beautiful and serene site with quite the long history, tucked away in a smaller, quieter part of Hanoi. The 1st iteration of this temple dates back almost two thousand years, to possibly between 187-266 CE, although I’m not sure if that’s a confirmed fact or just hearsay. It was originally built as a temple for the emperor at the time, but was eventually converted to a Buddhist temple for anyone to visit.

Throughout its long history, Thang Nghiem Buddhist Temple had many names such as Chùa Bụt (Buddha’s Temple), Chùa Vua (King’s Temple), Chùa Pháp Vương (Dharma King’s Temple), Chùa Bà Chúa Hến (Princess of Mussel’s Temple) during Dinh dynasty; Thắng Nghiêm (Ly dynasty), Chùa Trì Long, Chùa Trì Bồng (Tran dynasty), Chùa Liên Trì (second Le dynasty), Chùa Phúc Đống (Nguyen dynasty). Today, local people often call the temple by the name of the village where it is located (i.e., Khuc Thuy Buddhist Temple).
thangnghiem.com

So as I mentioned above, I didn’t end up entering from the main gate. That was on the opposite end, and is much more grand and beautiful!

Thang Nghiem Temple

Thang Nghiem Temple

Not pictured, opposite the main gate, is a somewhat nasty looking river filled with garbage and debris, an unfortunately common site in Vietnam.

As I was strolling through the site, taking in the buildings and waterfall installation with koi pond, a monk and his brother approached me, both of whom spoke some English. We introduced ourselves and they told me about some of the history of the original use of the first temple, which was reserved for the emperors from around 2000 years ago as the earliest incantation of the site, to around 1000 years ago with the last emperor of the time. The locals in the Khuc Thuy district would have had to use another temple, which is about a 5 minute walk away.

They also discussed some of the feng shui aspects of the temple, and the significance of the paintings along the main entrance gate, as you can somewhat see in the next two images of the main gate taken from inside the temple.

Thang Nghiem Temple

Thang Nghiem Temple

The temple now includes several pagodas, gardens, monk’s living quarters, and other structures including a new structure being built.

Thang Nghiem Temple

Thang Nghiem Temple

But according to the monk I was speaking with, the pagoda pictured below was the only one that existed during the reign of the emperors:

Thang Nghiem Temple

There were many changes over the years, with 34 different changes/expansions made in different architectural styles over the reign of the different emperors. It was also destroyed several times over the years, due to wars and natural disasters.

In 1997, when the site was mostly ruins, the monk Thích Minh Thanh took over the site and began rebuilding it. So most of what is there now is relatively new.

From the main gate, facing the original pagoda, on the right, there is a small garden with a water well, and a small sitting Buddha:

Thang Nghiem Temple

To the left, there were some men working on what I believe were stone and cement pavers.

Thang Nghiem Temple

Continuing down the left side, which is actually how I had entered the temple complex, there was a whole section of small stupa-like structures. I’m not entirely sure what these actually are, as it was the 1st time I’ve seen something like this, but I’ve read they might be tombs or for storing the ashes of the deceased.

Thang Nghiem Temple

Thang Nghiem Temple

Heading towards the central area, there’s a really nice koi pond with a waterfall installation, and gardens surrounding it.

Thang Nghiem Temple

Thang Nghiem Temple

In the middle of the area, in front of the koi pond, a new structure is being built. It looks like it will be a large pagoda, but it’s still under construction so who knows!

Thang Nghiem Temple

Thang Nghiem Temple

Here you can see the traditional wooden supports used in the nail-free construction of the pagoda:

Thang Nghiem Temple

Thang Nghiem Temple

Looking down towards the main gate from just left of the main area:

Thang Nghiem Temple

And then finally, in front of the new structure being built, there’s a beautiful and ornate big Buddha atop an elevated platform, around which is a moat with stairs leading up to it on either side. I believe, but forgot to ask to confirm, that the platform houses an assembly hall.

Thang Nghiem Temple

After that, I headed back out the way I came in, and headed home.

Thang Nghiem Temple

Conclusion

This part of Hanoi is very much outside the main city-center, so if you’re a foreigner, you’re not likely to venture off here. But if you do happen to be in the area, this is a really beautiful temple with an amazing history, and it offers a nice calm environment for some meditation and reflection, or just some great photos!

Until next time,
michael 😀

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