Unique Pagoda Located in a Rock Cave in Yen Bai

Sao Cave pagoda, located in the geological tectonic belt of the earth's crust, is well known as one of the truly splendid and sacred cave pagodas in Yen Bai, discovered during the ancient dynasty of the 6th Hung King.

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Sao Cave pagoda relic is located in Sao mountain with an altitude of 200m, southeast of Phu Sa Phin range in Sao village, Tan Lap commune, Luc Yen district, Yen Bai province. It is locally known as Sao pagoda, which may have originated from the past’s frequent flocks of Sao birds coming and nesting in the cave. Sao Cave pagoda is also known as Huong Thao Tu, in which Huong means “Mountain scent”, while Thao represents “Herbal” – the scent of trees in high mountains.

Unique Pagoda Located in a Rock Cave in Yen Bai
The mountain range where Sao Cave pagoda is located (Photo: Thai Sinh).

Legend has it that this cave pagoda was discovered during the reign of the 6th Hung King. During a visit, the king saw that the mountain was in a place where the coiling dragon and the crouching tiger lay, so he brought Thai mother’s remains here, hence the Thai mother’s palace in the cave nowadays. In the pre-Le era, a king came to this cave and named it “Huong Thao Tu Cave” to compare it with Huong Tich Tu cave in Son Tay town. Today, the locals are used to calling it Sao Cave pagoda.

Unique Pagoda Located in a Rock Cave in Yen Bai
The road to Sao Cave pagoda (Photo: Thai Sinh).

Sao Cave pagoda is one of the most renowned and sacred cave pagodas in Yen Bai. Originally, Sao pagoda was built by indigenous Tay residents in the XIII-XIV centuries to worship Buddha. During the reign of Le Trung Hung, Ms. Vu Thi Ngoc Anh, an appointed deputy general in charge of military supplies and logistics, turned it into a warehouse to gather food in case of war with the Mac dynasty. After her death, in memory of her merits, the villagers worshiped her in Sao Cave pagoda. In the Nguyen Dynasty, the people of Sao village built a small temple with three cottages to worship Buddha and Ms. Vu Thi Ngoc Anh in front of the cave pagoda.

Unique Pagoda Located in a Rock Cave in Yen Bai
Sao Cave pagoda is located in Sao village, Luc Yen district, Yen Bai province (Photo: Viet Dung – VNA).

The pagoda has a cave door facing the northeast, virtually parallel to the left bank of Chay river, about 500m from it. The complex of Sao Cave pagoda consists of 1 natural pagoda (Sao pagoda) and one artificial pagoda (Cave pagoda). Sao Cave pagoda is naturally created and has long been used as a place of worship. It is divided into three pagodas, namely the Lower pagoda, the Middle pagoda, and the Upper pagoda. The Lower pagoda is a stone roof with a rough foundation and a rather flat stone altar in the middle. The Middle pagoda is a steep cliff, connected to the Lower pagoda by a small craggy path following the cliff. The Upper pagoda is the largest one, composed of 2 parts, the upper and the lower caves.

Unique Pagoda Located in a Rock Cave in Yen Bai
Sao Cave pagoda is divided into three pagodas, namely the Lower pagoda, the Middle pagoda, and the Upper pagoda (Photo: Viet Dung – VNA).
Unique Pagoda Located in a Rock Cave in Yen Bai
Inside the Middle pagoda (Photo: Viet Dung – VNA).

Numerous pieces of Vietnamese and Chinese ceramics, dating back to the 18th-19th centuries, have been detected on the cave floor. Right in the middle of the cave are the Three Jewels building and three stone statues of Amitabha. In both the upper and lower caves, we can see many stalactites hanging down on the ceiling to form a fancy shape, and a population of stalactites at the back to create Buddha statues of varying shapes and colors, making us feel lost in a fairyland.

Unique Pagoda Located in a Rock Cave in Yen Bai
Knocking on the stone bell to awaken the mountain god and inform the Buddha in the pagoda (Photo: Thai Sinh).

In December 1949, Sao Cave pagoda, Tan Lap commune was honorably selected to be the holding venue of the second Party Committee of Luc Yen district, a significant milestone in the party leadership to mobilize sufficient resources in an attempt to serve the front lines, thus actively contributing to the victory of Song Thao.

On 17 September 2009, the People’s Committee of Yen Bai province issued Decision No. 1395/QD-UBND recognizing Sao cave pagoda in Sao village, Tan Lap commune, Luc Yen district, Yen Bai province as a provincial historic and cultural relic.

Unique Pagoda Located in a Rock Cave in Yen Bai
Bronze bell in the pagoda (Photo: Thai Sinh).
Ann Phan