Hoa Lu, the ancient capital, is appealing to tourists not only because of its natural beauty but also its atmosphere of tranquil spirituality. It would be remiss to visit Ninh Binh and not to stop at Bich Dong, the ancient pagoda in the heart of Trang An that is surrounded by vast greenery.
Bich Dong is built on Ngu Nhac Mountain, Ninh Hai commune, Hoa Lu district, Ninh Binh province. This historical and cultural site is a part of the Trang An – Tam Coc – Bich Dong Landscape Complex, recognized as a significant national monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in a cave, a popular construction style in Ninh Binh. Similar famous places that use this style are Bai Dinh pagoda, Dich Long pagoda and Canh Dieu pagoda. With its wild and magnificent beauty, Bich Dong is one of the three most beautiful caves in the country and it is called Nam Thien De Nhi Dong, literally the second most beautiful cave of the South, after Huong Tich (Hanoi).
Few people know that this place was first called Bach Ngoc Thach Son Dong, meaning “a pagoda built with stones as flawless and beautiful as white jade in a remote place.” In 1774, Lord Trinh Sam (1767-1782) and Prime Minister Nguyen Nghiem, father of the great poet Nguyen Du, stopped by this pagoda after leading the army back to the capital from a border march. They named this place Bich Dong, meaning “green cave” in Vietnamese. By the name, people can imagine the ancient architecture surrounded by green mountains, caves, water, and trees.
A unique pagoda
Like other ancient pagodas, Bich Dong is made of rosewood and has a tile roof with blade-shaped corners. Some say that those corners resemble gracefully winding phoenix tails. Others compare the roof to a spectacular Vietnamese dragon boat treading water.
However, the pagoda’s most unique feature is its construction in the style of the Chinese character “三” (meaning three in English). It has three sections ascending along the mountainside. The rocks, caves, and pagodas blend together to create seamless scenery.
Ha Pagoda (Lower Pagoda)
Ha Pagoda is at the foot of the mountain. It has five rooms, laid out in a T-shape (following the Chinese character 丁). The stone pillars are taller than four metres, a sign of hard work and impeccable craftsmanship. The pagoda is a place of worship for Buddhists and houses altars for Buddhist statues and religious items, such as incense burners and lamps. The main hall is across the front yard and over the wooden doorstep. Here, you can see Chinese calligraphy.
Trung Pagoda (Middle Pagoda)
To reach Trung Pagoda from Ha Pagoda, you climb 90 steps along the mountainside. The cliffs here are concave, resembling a dragon’s mouth opening to its full extent. The protruding porch-like rocks form its upper jaw, and the pagoda’s wall is its lower jaw. Inside the dragon’s mouth is Trung Pagoda with half of its roof outside and half of the pagoda built into the cave. Like Ha Pagoda, it is also a place of worship for Buddhists.
Next to it is a small temple, from which there is a small path leading to the Dark Cave (Hang Toi). Stepping into the cave, you will feel its solemnity and stillness even if you’re not all that perceptive. There is also a bell from 1707 which many visitors ring to pray for blessings.
Thuong Pagoda (Upper Pagoda)
Connecting Trung and Thuong Pagoda is a small bridge named Giai Oan. According to Buddhist tradition, crossing this bridge will clear all the troubles in your mind.
Located at the highest position of the complex, Thuong Pagoda is a place to worship Bodhisattva. There are temples where the statues of the local Mountain God and Earth God reside on two sides. Thuong Pagoda’s front faces the east, while its western side leans against the mountain. Its northern and southern walls are both made of stone.
Standing in the yard, tourists can see five independent mountain tops resembling five lotus petals, turning towards Bich Dong mountain. Next to the pagoda is a water tank called Cam Lo. It is rumored to contain Kim Son Cuc plant, a precious medicine that can improve your eyesight.
This content is also available in: Tiếng Việt