Exploring the Spiritual Roots of Yen Tu Mountain

Nestled near the stunning mountain ranges and lush bamboo forests of Hanoi, lies a peaceful and tranquil retreat.

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The gentle breeze caressed our vehicle while a sliver of sunlight timidly pierced through a morning veil of clouds. Whispers of fresh air gently grazed my ears as I witnessed the enchanting sight of a lush green tapestry of pine trees unfurling before me. Yen Tu Mountain, located approximately 100 kilometers from the bustling city of Hanoi, is a destination imbued with immense tranquility and delight.

An ideal destination for a quick respite near Hanoi

Hue Quang Kim Thap Stupa is nestled in the forest inside Yen Tu Mountain. Photo: Realtimes

Yen Tu Mountain is situated on the border of Quang Ninh, Bac Giang, and Hai Duong provinces. It is a revered destination that captivates a significant number of both local and international tourists annually.

Yen Tu is widely recognized as home to the Truc Lam (Bamboo Forest) Buddhist sect and has become a prominent tourist destination in close proximity to Hanoi.

According to Michael Keller, the General Manager of Legacy Yen Tu MGallery by Sofitel, accessing Yen Tu Mountain is conveniently feasible for travelers from Hanoi.

According to an interview with the manager, our establishment attracts a diverse range of international guests, particularly from Korea, Japan, and various European countries. These individuals frequently opt to spend a few days in Hanoi before commencing their expedition to discover the enchanting allure of this sacred mountain, as reported by The Hanoi Times.

Furthermore, there is a well-connected highway linking Hanoi and Quang Ninh Province, which greatly enhances the tourism opportunities in both locations. This connection serves as an additional catalyst for the development and promotion of their tourism potential, as stated by the speaker.

Tourists frequently opt for a three- or four-day tour starting from Hanoi and heading to Ha Long and Yen Tu. During the first morning of their journey, they can make a stop at the Con Son – Kiep Bac Relic Site, enjoy a delightful lunch in Ha Long Bay, and conclude the tour by exploring the Yen Tu Complex of Monuments and Landscapes, famously known as Yen Tu Mountain.

A Hidden Gem in the Pine Forest

Legacy Yen Tu – MGallery bird’s eye view. Photo courtesy of the resort  

At 3 pm on a delightful summer day in August, our group of six girls and two boys made their way to Yen Tu. Upon our arrival, the warm smile of the General Manager of Legacy Yen Tu Resort served as a welcoming gesture. The journey from Hanoi to Yen Tu proved to be conveniently short, allowing us to reach our destination without the need for any breaks along the way.

During our stay, we made the decision to stay at this location the night prior to our trip in order to explore the Vietnamese spiritual origins of the Truc Lam Zen Sect. This particular school of Buddhism holds significance as it is unique to Vietnam.

Escape to this 17-acre ecological and Buddhist retreat, perfect for those always on the go. Immerse yourself in the serene surroundings of a bamboo forest and enjoy a two-day, one-night getaway. With exceptional accommodations, this retreat is ideal for busy individuals seeking peace and relaxation.

Legacy Yen Tu – MGallery, meticulously designed by renowned architect Bill Bensley, stands as a magnificent testament to the architectural style of the Tran Dynasty in the 13th century. This exceptional retreat seamlessly merges with the tranquil surroundings of Truc Lam Zen Commons, providing guests with a truly immersive experience filled with captivating history, enchanting ambiance, profound spiritual rejuvenation, and invigorating wellness.

According to reports, numerous architects were invited to participate in the design of the site; however, it was Bill Bensley’s proposal that stood out for its unwavering commitment to honoring the historical significance and preserving the natural beauty of the landscape.

Bill completed the design for the resort at Yen Tu Mountain, including a visit to King Tran Nhan Tong’s tomb, in just one night. After four months of revisions, the final design was approved. In record time, the resort was constructed and completed within one year.

 The space of Thien Quan Lounge at Legacy Yen Tu – MGallery. Photo: Quoc Anh

The beautiful land of Buddha is held in high regard across the globe due to its sacred nature. The teachings of Buddha have had a profound impact on the lives of countless individuals, offering peace, enlightenment, and compassion. This revered destination holds a special place in the hearts of spiritual seekers, as they embark on a transformative journey to discover their inner selves. Plan your visit to this divine land and experience the profound energy and tranquility that emanates from its hallowed grounds.

The highest peak in north-eastern Vietnam is Mt. Yen Tu, standing at approximately 1,068 meters above sea level. Situated north of the provincial capital of Uong Bi and in close proximity to the renowned Halong Bay, it is commonly referred to as Elephant Mountain due to its resemblance to a reclining elephant gazing out at the sea.

The Yen Tu mountain holds significant historical value, serving as a refuge and retreat for monks over the centuries. However, it gained even greater significance when Emperor Tran Nhan Tong, renowned for his heroism, abdicated the throne in 1299 to dedicate himself to Buddhism and pursue spiritual enlightenment on this sacred mountain.

The emperor, accompanied by two disciples, Phap Loa Ton Gia (1284-1330) and Ly Dao Tai (1254-1334), is believed to have established the Truc Lam Zen Buddhist Sect on Yen Tu Mountain. This sect was characterized by its humanistic approach and its distinct Vietnamese traits, and Yen Tu Mountain became known as the spiritual hub of Buddhism in Vietnam.

Before Nhan Tong rose to prominence for his religious endeavors, he had already garnered a commendable reputation as a formidable and fair sovereign. With the invaluable assistance of the esteemed general Tran Hung Dao, the youthful king successfully guided the nation to triumph in two decisive battles against the invading Mongol forces, in the years 1285 and 1288.

 The giant statue of Buddha Emperor Tran Nhan Tong (1258-1308) in Yen Tu Mountain. Photo: Viet Trung

Conquering Yen Tu Mountain is an exciting and challenging adventure. Yen Tu is located in Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam, and stands at an impressive height of 1,068 meters. This majestic mountain offers breathtaking views and a deep spiritual experience.

The journey to conquer Yen Tu Mountain starts with a cable car ride that takes you up to the halfway point. From there, you can choose to continue by foot or take another cable car to the summit. The trek to the summit is not for the faint of heart, but the stunning views along the way make it all worthwhile.

At the summit, you will find the Yen Tu Pagoda, a sacred place for Buddhists. This pagoda is said to have been built in the 13th century and is home to many ancient relics and artifacts. Exploring the pagoda and learning about its history and significance is a memorable experience.

Throughout the journey, you will encounter lush forests, picturesque landscapes, and stunning natural beauty. You will also pass by other temples and shrines, each with its own unique charm and atmosphere. The peaceful atmosphere of the mountain will envelop you, providing a serene and tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Conquering Yen Tu Mountain requires physical strength and determination, but the rewards are immeasurable. The sense of accomplishment and the spiritual connection to nature and history make this adventure truly unforgettable. Whether you are a seasoned hiker or someone looking for a new challenge, Yen Tu Mountain is a must-visit destination.

In Yen Tu, individuals desiring a more expedient path to enlightenment can opt for the cable car. While it may appear to some as an easier way out, it offers stunning panoramic vistas. Two state-of-the-art cable car systems have been implemented to efficiently ferry numerous Buddhist devotees and tourists to their intended destination.

The route along Tran Nhan Tong’s inaugural pilgrimage is renowned for its numerous attractions. One of the earliest stops on this route is Suoi Tam, also known as Bathing Brook, where the king traditionally cleansed himself of the impurities accumulated during his mortal existence. In close proximity lies the illustrious Cam Thuc pagoda, commonly referred to as Fasting, where the king partook in his first ever vegetarian meal.

The upcoming destination is Giai Oan Stream, also known as the Salvation of Wandering Souls.

Located just a short distance away, visitors can find the revered Hue Quang Kim Thap Stupa. This sacred site serves as the eternal resting place of King Tran Nhan Tong and is encircled by 97 smaller stupas housing the remains of Yen Tu monks from the Tran dynasty.

The bridge across Giai Oan Stream. Photo: Viet Trung

The Hoa Yen Pagoda stands as the grandest and most exquisite structure along the trail. Situated on a slender piece of land, 800 meters above sea level, this esteemed location served as the retired king’s sanctuary for meditation, preaching, and receiving his courtiers.

The renowned Dong or Bronze Pagoda is situated atop Yen Tu Mountain, making it a highly sought-after destination that demands considerable effort from its visitors. This small bronze temple holds great significance and promises an unforgettable experience.

According to legend, this peak is believed to be the final boundary between heaven and earth, where the ethereal realm meets the clouds. It is rumored that whenever the pagoda’s bell tolls, rainfall is imminent.

After reaching the pagoda, my companion Ly Nguyen expressed her exhaustion, yet immense satisfaction, as she took in the breathtaking views from the mountain peak. “The ascent was truly magnificent!” she exclaimed. “Each step brought us closer to the heavens, making it an extraordinary climbing experience.”

After an arduous ascent lasting approximately four hours, we can truly say that reaching the summit feels like a great achievement. This pilgrimage is not only a test of our physical endurance, but also a demonstration of our unwavering faith in Tran Nhan Tong, the revered Emperor and embodiment of the Buddha within the Truc Lam Zen Sect.

Hoa Yen Pagoda is the place where Buddha Tran Nhan Tong meditated, preached, and received his courtiers. Photo: Viet Trung