Where beach bounty serves a higher purpose

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PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE
The interior of Bao Tich Tower, which is entirely built from coral rocks and decorated with shells and clams, at Tu Van Pagoda in Cam Ranh Town, the central province of Khanh Hoa

If you happen to visit the famous resort town of Nha Trang in Khanh Hoa Province, do not fail to add the Tu Van Pagoda to your itinerary.

Located some 60 kilometers from the town's center, the pagoda stands on the 3 Thang 4 Street in Cam Ranh Town.

Over the years, the pagoda has become a popular destination among locals and visitors. Thanks to the innovative and impressive use of coral rock, clams and shells.

Its most famous attraction is the Bao Tich Tower a manually built structure over five years starting in 1995. Since it is entirely built with corals and decorated with shells and clams, the tower is also known as the Oc (shell) Pagoda.

The 39-meter high tower has two floors and eight doors known as Bat chanh dao (the Noble Eightfold Path) one of the principal teachings of the Buddha that prescribes the way to end suffering.

It was overwhelming to stand inside the tower and find myself surrounded by thousands of shells and clams arranged in different patterns. When I looked up to the top of the tower, it felt like I was inside a giant spiral shell. Smoke from burning incense spread throughout the tower, adding a mysterious look as well a touch of mystery to the surroundings.

Thich Thong Anh, chief monk of the Tu Van Pagoda, said that in 1985, the pagoda's monks started collecting coral rocks, shells and clams that were practically everywhere along the local beaches. Later, they designed and built several works towers, caves, tunnels and bridges, decorating these with what they'd collected on the beach.

Another attraction at the pagoda is the tunnel that leads to"¦ hell. The 500-meter long tunnel depicts the torment and torture that sinners undergo in Naraka (a Sanskrit term for Hell).

It can be exciting to go through the tunnel that is almost dark, except for places where sunrays filter through slits, or when people use flashlights or candles. But the depictions on the way makes it eerie, and although they are supposed to be metaphorical, I felt some relief when I got out of the tunnel through an exit that is designed like the mouth of a big dragon.

Tu Van monks also used shells and clams to make other works around the pagoda, including several small and big statues.

A large number of Buddha statues in various positions, are also worth visiting, even though they are not made from the special materials.

There is no better way to end a trip to the Tu Van Pagoda than bathing in the nearby white sandy beaches, especially during the hot summer. It is not for nothing that Khanh Hoa Province has become world famous.

About two kilometers from the pagoda is public beach No. 4. Further are beaches in Ba Ngoi Town and then there is the Dai (long) Beach.

And, last but not least, coastal areas always come with their own seafood specialties. Lobsters or blood cockles are just some of the delicacies that Cam Ranh Town offers, that visitors should not refuse.

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