Journey to the pagoda in the clouds

Ngoa Van is a sacred pagoda located on Bao Dai Mountain, in the territory of two communes, An Sinh and Binh Khe, in Quang Ninh Province.


 Built during the Tran Dynasty (1225-1400), the pagoda was the final destination in King-Monk Tran Nhan Tong’s journey of Buddhist practice and enlightenment.

Tran Nhan Tong was the third king of the Tran Dynasty. He was born on November 11 (lunar calendar) in 1258, became the Crown Prince at 16 and ascended the throne at the age of 21.

After reigning for 14 years, in 1293 he ceded the throne to his son Tran Anh Tong, and retired to Thien Truong Palace as Thái Thượng Hoàng (King’s father) to guide and help the new king reign over the country.

Because of his admiration for the Zen monks of Yen Tu, in September 1299, when the young king was mature enough, Tran Nhan Tong officially got ordained as an ascetic at Tu Tieu peak, Yen Tu Mountain.

Journey to the pagoda in the clouds
Ngoa Van is associated with King-Monk Tran Nhan Tong’s journey of Buddhist practice and enlightenment. VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Dat

He founded Thiền phái Trúc Lâm Yên Tử (Truc Lam Zen Buddhism) — a line of Buddhist meditation imbued with Vietnamese culture.

The King-Monk spent the rest of his life practising Buddhism, providing health services to the poor, and encouraging people to do good deeds. Finally, he chose Ngoa Van Pagoda as the place to attain nirvana. Ngoa Van has been considered the holy land of the Tran Dynasty and Truc Lam Zen Buddhism ever since. 

Today Ngoa Van is a pilgrimage site containing traces of ancient people in the Tran dynasty complex, and special national relic sites in Dong Trieu.

From the foot of the mountain to the Ngoa Van summit, researchers have found countless traces of ancient architecture and culture throughout different times, such as from the Tran, Le and Nguyen dynasties.

Journey to the pagoda in the clouds
Ngoa Van contains traces of ancient culture in the complex of the Tran Dynasty special national relic sites in Dong Trieu Town. VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Dat

The most impressive examples are probably the architecture found in the Da Chong area, where archaeologists recently unearthed and discovered multiple layers of relics of the Le Trung Hung (Restored Le) era from the foot to half-way up the hill.

The tower of Buddhist King-Monk Tran Nhan Tong on the top of Bao Dai Mountain is a place containing many mysteries and is visited by pilgrims every year.

Journey to the pagoda in the clouds
The tower of Buddhist King-Monk Tran Nhan Tong on the top of Bao Dai Mountain contains many mysteries. VNS Photo Mai Huong

Ngoa Van Pagoda means “Pagoda in the Clouds”. At an altitude of 600 metres above sea level, the pagoda has beautiful landscape, leaning against the cloud-covered Ngoa Van peak.

Surrounded by two mountain ranges on both sides and a beautiful valley in front, this sacred place is a perfect destination for those who want to find inner peace.

As a most sacred place, Ngoa Van Pagoda has been developed as one of 14 tourism destinations in Quang Ninh to meet the demand for spiritual tourism of monks and pilgrims across the country.

Journey to the pagoda in the clouds
The statue of King-Monk Tran Nhan Tong in Ngoa Van Pagoda on Bao Dai Mountain. VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Dat

To create a chance for pilgrims and visitors to show respect and gratitude to Tran Nhan Tong, and to pray for a happy and peaceful year and to attract more tourists, the provincial authorities have worked hard to turn the location into an ideal destination for tourists.

A traditional path to the pagoda was paved and a cable car system was built to let visitors contemplate the peaceful atmosphere and the breathtaking beauty.

The pagoda relic complex includes four areas: Thong Dan, Ngoa Van, Da Chong and Ba Bac, with 15 groups of different temples and towers.

Ngoa Van Pagoda is the central part of the complex. In the past, people had to walk along a slippery, rocky path to get to the pagoda by starting from An Sinh Temple, going along Phu Am Tra stream to Do Kieu slope and crossing Thong Da.

A pilgrimage to Ngoa Van Pagoda in winter has special meaning for Buddhists. Under the mist on the top of the mountain and the golden rays of the sun, visitors can feel the cold of winter, peace of mind, and an absolute purity when standing on the top of the mountain looking down.

The landscape here is also extremely airy. Those who have stayed at the temple in autumn during the moonlit nights find the scenery here like that of a fairyland.

Those who have knowledge of feng shui claim that the area has an extremely good location as there is “a blue dragon on the left and a white tiger on the right”, mountains in front and behind, and water far away.

In order to preserve and promote the complex, in December 2020, on the 713th anniversary of King-Monk Tran Nhan Tong attaining nirvana, the People’s Committee of Quang Ninh approved a project to restore Ngoa Van Am (Ngoa Van Shrine) thanks to a donation from the Thien Tam Fund of Vingroup.

The project was carried out with the principle of preserving the antiquity of this Buddhist work. The construction was carried out under the strict supervision of archaeologists to ensure accuracy.

Ngoa Van Pagoda was officially inaugurated on December 4, after the renovation.

It is now ready to welcome Buddhists and others to visit this holy land of Truc Lam Buddhism. 

Source: Vietnam News