Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest pagoda in Hanoi, offers beautiful architecture, historic artifacts and a peaceful and serene environment.
Built in the sixth century, during the reign of King Ly Nam De, the pagoda was first named Khai Quoc, which means “founding the country”. Since then it has undergone a move, refurbishment and numerous name changes, but it remains a serene place to visit.
It was first constructed on the other side of the dyke road, by the river, but was moved in the 17th century to its current location on West Lake. Clearly the constructors recognised what a prime piece of real estate Duong Thanh Nien was and that the lakeside location would add to the beauty to the pagoda. Besides, you don’t see many tourists on the other side of the lake, so maybe they were thinking ahead.
The Buddhist pagoda is accessed via a short causeway lined with palm trees. The causeway was recently refurbished and the palm trees seem to have shrunk, but it still gives the feeling that you are approaching something of note. The large entrance gate is one of the most recent additions, built in 1815, and through that to the left is a tall tower visible from the street. The tower stands 15 metres high and has 11 tiers, each designed to represent the petals of a lotus flower. Each level has six arch windows containing a statue of Amitabha made from precious stone and on top of the tower sits a lotus flower also made from precious stone — but you can’t get a good view of that from 15 metres below.
Brick built shrines of all shapes and sizes surround the tower, most with incense wafting out from small windows or altars, and some with Chinese writing on the side; we can’t tell you the meaning of these texts, but they are pretty. You’ll also see an artificial pond containing a towering mountain of rock and topped with a Buddhist statue, and a yellow pagoda, construction dated 1939, which houses 14 engraved plaques chronicling the refurbishments in 1813 to 1815.
Along the western edge of the same courtyard is a wooden pagoda, home to priceless antiques including the intricate worshipping statues you can see through the wide wooden doors. You are welcome to enter but don’t forget to take your shoes off and no raincoats are allowed. The most outstanding statue is of Sakyamouni Buddha, laced with gold.
The courtyard at the back is home to a large shrine and an even larger bodhi tree, which was presented to the pagoda by the Prime Minister of India in 1959 and creates welcome shade under its immense breadth.
Tran Quoc is a living, working pagoda, so as well as seeing worshippers at the shrines you are also likely to hear Buddhist chants or the clanging of bells. It’s also a popular fishing spot.
How to get there
Thanh Nien Street is the wide street that runs between Truc Bach Lake and West Lake. From Old Quarter it can either be reached along Quanh Thanh Street or along the main dyke road which runs to the east of Old Quarter. A taxi will cost around 40,000 VND or incorporate it into a cyclo ride around Hanoi.