The Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest temple in Hanoi and dates back to the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De Dynasty. This makes the temple more than 1500 years old! It is now a symbol of the city and a visit is one of the best things to do in Hanoi.
Tran Quoc Pagoda History
Tran Quoc Pagoda was built in 541 and completed in 545 under the reign of King Ly Nam De. At that time it was called Khai Quoc Pagoda (Khai Quoc means National Founder). This Buddhist temple has been modified a number of times over the years.
It now sits on an islet in West Lake, the largest lake in Hanoi, but was originally built on the banks of the Red River. When the riverbank crumbled after many years and was effecting the temple, it was moved to Kim Ngu (Golden Fish) islet in 1615, under the reign of King Le Kinh Tong. Since then, the name has been changed to Tran Quoc (National Defense).
Monks have lived at the Tran Quoc Pagoda for many centuries, teaching Buddhism to the locals of Hanoi. Because of the stunning surroundings by the lake and a lot of greenery, the Tran Quoc Pagoda was also the favorite spot among the kings and royal families for events, festivals, Tet New Year and full moons.
Highlights of Tran Quoc Pagoda
The temples on the island are built according to the architectural philosophy of Buddhism, with a total of three buildings. These three main buildings are connected and facing west. When viewed from the front, the pagoda resembles a blooming lotus.
You have the main pagoda with a height of 15 meters protrudes above everything and consists of 11 levels. It has six arched doorways, with a statue on each floor. The statues resemble Buddha Amitabha and are made of precious stones. On top of the stupa is a nine-storey lotus.
Symmetrically next to the stupa is a Bodhi tree in the garden of the pagoda. This was a gift from the former president of India when he visited Hanoi in 1959. It is believed that this tree descended from the sacred bodhi tree where the Buddha enlightened.
The second building which is also the main shrine is used for burning incense. Visitors to the pagoda give offerings such as money or food as a gift to the gods to bring themselves happiness. Incense is burned to send wishes to the gods and get good luck in return.
The third building is now used as a museum. It is definitely worth a visit. You will mainly antiques here that date from 100 to 1000 years old, such as ancient worshiping statues. These statues are all beautifully carved by the best craftsman in the country.
In the temples and on the walls in the Tran Quoc Pagoda you will find many Buddhist symbols and lotus flowers. The lotus flowers symbolize purity of mind, body and speech as well as enlightenment and achievement. Mainly the female Buddhas, known as the Mothers, are worshipped. These shrines are located at the front of the courtyard. So you have the red Mother for the sky, the white Mother for the water and the green mother of mountains and forests. These are some of the oldest goddesses worshiped in Vietnam.
Visiting Tran Quoc Pagoda
Like all the temples in Vietnam, is it respectful to dress politely. This means nothing more than that your knees and shoulders are covered. For example, you can simply wrap a scarf or sarong around you if you are wearing shorts or sleeveless shirt.
There is no admission fee, only donation based.
Every day from 7:30am to 6:00pm.
Best time to visit
The Tran Quoc Pagoda is one of the best places to watch the sunset in Hanoi. It is also the best time to take the stunning photos of the island with the pagoda. Otherwise, the morning is also a good time, as it can still get quite busy during the day.
How to get there
The heart of Hanoi Old Quarter, where most tourist have their accommodation, is 3.5 km from Tran Quoc Pagoda. The easiest way to get there from this area is by taxi for around 4 USD. If you travel alone, you can also opt for a motorcycle taxi. A traditional cyclo, a bicycle taxi, is probably more fun. They are easy to spot in the old town, but negotiate the price first.
Other things to do around Tran Quoc Pagoda
Tran Quoc Pagoda is located directly on West Lake, the largest lake in Hanoi. It’s too big to walk all the way around it, but it’s definitely recommended to walk a bit around the lake. It is located slightly outside the center, so you can see the real local life around the lake, especially in the evening. Many locals around the lake come here to socialize, exercise and unwind from the busy city life.
Ba Dinh Square is less than 2 kilometer walking from the temple. Here you will find the famous Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Presidential palace, One Pillar Pagoda and Ho Chi Minh Museum. You can therefore perfectly combine Tran Quoc Pagoda with West Lake with this area.