Roughly 100 km south from Hanoi, near the city of Ninh Binh, relining on a hill in Gia Vien commune alongside the Hoang Long river and the Trang An tourism area, reposes what will surely become Vietnam’s richest cultural mecca. Bai Dinh Pagoda is proving to be the largest, most elaborate Buddhist facility in Vietnam. The site is yet to be completed, but is taking form beautifully. As one stands on the grounds at the top of the hill looking down, it’s easy to imagine that when finished, the complex could be closing the gap on one of the wonders of the modern world.
In 2008 nearly 3,500 dignitaries from the world’s Buddhist community gathered for a summit to contemplate the layout, design and importance of this vast icon of religious heritage. From the top of the 200 meter high hill, looking down the gentle slope, you can ponder for yourself the width and breadth of the project that spreads over 107 hectares. From this vantage point, you can see all of the four main buildings.
Upon entering the complex, at the foot of the hill, the first large structure you will encounter is a bell tower. This building houses a monolithic bell suspended over a massive cast bronze drum. The drum is a scaled up model of the drums of the Bronze Age Dong Son culture, which have come to symbolize the history and culture of Vietnam. Past the bell tower, as you progress further up the hill, you will find a succession of three large pagodas.
The main part of the new complex is flanked on both sides by covered stairways which take you from the entrance, past the bell tower and on to the three main halls in the complex. The walkway is open to the inside, while the opposite wall is lined with seemingly endless rows of niches, each with its own miniature bronze Buddha, as found inside the main structures.
After the climb, arriving at the top, you will find a huge, lavish structure housing three equally large Buddhas weighing in at 50 tons each. They dominate the expansive main hall, with its massive columns rising to support the roof. Seated at the rear of the main hall, these Buddhas create an impressive sight, inspiring awe to accompany the contemplative ambiance. The interior walls of the main hall are lined with 1000 niches, stretching floor to ceiling, which house an equal number of small bronze cast Buddhas.
This large sanctuary belongs to the long lineage of Vietnam religious architecture tradition in every respect. From the heavy roof, rafters, columns and feet to the exquisitely detailed walls, everything is in place and precise. This is a building that, even with several hundred people inside, has the space to remain comfortably intimate.
All in all, Bai Dinh Pagoda is an amazing complex which will be even more impressive when it is completed. Just up the road from the Trang An tourism site, and near Hoa Lu, Phat Diem and other destinations in the Ninh Binh area, Bai Dinh can only grow from here.