Some 20 kilometers to the southwest of Hanoi, Thay Pagoda is a favorite among local Buddhist pilgrims. It is not only crowded during Tet, or Vietnam’s Lunar New Year Festival, when people come here for prayers. It is equally busy during the year-end season, as people come to thank deities for having blessed them with a good year.
Even if you are not a not a believer, the pagoda with a history of more than 1,000 years and magnificent landscape is still worth visiting. Legend has it that Thay Pagoda was built like a dragon whose head is a mountain named Long Dau (Dragon Head).
The dragon’s mouth is made from its front yard and a surrounding large lake, while its whiskers are the two bridges on the pagoda’s sides. A small ancient-looking building in the middle of the lake is said to be a precious pearl that Asian dragons traditionally hold in their mouths. During festivals, the lake becomes the stage for water puppetry.
One of the pagoda's bridges
The pagoda’s main part consists of three temples named Ha (Low), Trung (Middle) and Thuong (High) where statues of folk deities and the Buddha are worshiped. At the highest level, Thuong is dedicated to Tu Dao Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk famous for his significant contributions to popularizing Buddhism in Vietnam, treating sick people, and creating many traditional activities, including water puppetry.
The Cac Co Cave, which is a 10-minute hike uphill from Thay Pagoda, is a must-visit for adventurers and myth lovers. It hosts a hole purportedly containing thousands of sets of human remains. It is unclear when the mass grave was discovered as well as its back story, but some of the remains can still be found there.
The original Vietnamese story can be found here on VnExpress