Yen Tu Mountain - A Sacred Place To Millions of Buddhists
Yen Tu Mountain, the most famous religious attraction in Vietnam, is located in the northern coastal Quang Ninh province. Yen Tu is well known for the picturesque landscapes, ancient pagodas and especially the foundation of Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen Sect. With the unique landscape, architecture, culture and history, Yen Tu Relic and Landscape Complex has been recognized as a special national relic and a dossier is being prepared to submit to UNESCO for its recognition of the complex as a World Heritage Site.
1. General introduction about Yen Tu scenic monument
The area of Yen Tu is made up of a system of pagodas, shrines, towers, and forests, belonging to the village of Thuong Yen Cong Commune, Uong Bi Town. It is about 40 km from Ha Long City and 14 km from Uong Bi Town.
Situated within the immense arched mountain range of north-eastern Vietnam, Yen Tu Mountain bears at its peak the Dong Pagoda: at an altitude of 1,068 m above sea level. The beauty of Yen Tu consists of the majesty of its mountains mingling with the ancient and solemn quietness of its pagodas, shrines, and towers. In the early morning and late evening, both the mountain and the Yen Tu relic are covered in clouds; therefore, the ancient people also called Mount Yen Tu as Bach Van Son (white cloud mountain). On clear days, visitors can see the towers of Yen Tu relic from the foot of the mountain.
Additionally, Yen Tu has great natural diversity. Along the path to ancient pagodas, temples, there are thick bamboo and pine forests. Also, architectural masterpieces can be seen anywhere: In the dense forests, next to the pagodas and temples, or even at the peak of the mountain. From the top of Yen Tu Mount, visitors can look to the East and enjoy the poetic scenery of Ha Long Bay with thousands of limestone islands or they can look to the South and see Hai Phong city with Bach Dang rivers flowing gently like a ribbon. Each year, Yen Tu holds the spring festival lasting 3 months from the 10th day of the first lunar month.
2. Best time to visit?
Annually held in January, Yen Tu Festival starts from 10th and lasts until the end of March (the lunar calendar). However, it seems that this is not the best time to visit as the historical site looks more like an overcrowded site than a tourist attraction. Traveling to Yen Tu this time is definitely not a good choice if you would like to avoid the crowds and enjoy some tranquility. Similarly, summertime is not advisable as visitors may get tired too quickly. The most suitable time for Yen Tu tours lasts from September to November when the weather is quite favorable and the place is not yet clustered with tourists.
If you go there for sightseeing purpose, it will be better for you to visit the mountain from September to December as there are not many tourists, so you can enjoy the peaceful, quiet atmosphere and also, the weather is not rainy, which will be easier for you to climb to the grand mountain peak.
3. How to get there?
- From Hanoi: You can use a local bus, taxi or motorbike (137 km from Hanoi) if you go by local bus.
Note: The bus will drop off at No 18 National high way. From here, you will need a motorbike or taxi ~15km)
- From Ha Long Bay: After a cruise in Ha Long bay. You can use a local bus, taxi or motorbike (54 km from Bai Chay) if you go by a local bus.
Note: The bus will drop off at No 18 National high way. from here you will need a motorbike or taxi ~15km). Or you may use the shuttle bus from cruise company - then ask driver drop off point where you can go to Yen Tu Mountain.
4. Best places in Yen Tu
Giai Oan Stream (Exoneration stream)
One of the most amazing destinations was Giai Oan Stream, where concubines committed suicide as a way to persuade King Tran Nhan Tong to return to the palace. The King decided to build the place as a death memorial of the poor women dying for him. The stream, combined with a 10m long bridge, looks ancient with unique architectural features.
In front of the pagoda, the yard is white and yellow lilies. There are totally six towers around the pagoda, with the biggest one for Tran Nhan Tong’s tomb. On both sides of the tomb are the graves of Phap Loa and Huyen Quang sorcerers.
Giai Oan Pagoda (Exoneration Pagoda)
Giai Oan Pagoda is the first destination in the journey to conquer Yen Tu Climbing Route, with the next stops being Hoa Yen Pagoda and Dong Pagoda. On the way climbing up the mountain peak, Hue Quang Tower Garden, which is made of marble, features King Tran Nhan Tong in a meditative pose. In 2015, some of the towers inside Hue Quang Tower Garden were restored in a national scale project, but the ancient look is still well maintained.
Hoa Yen Pagoda
Hoa Yen, the largest pagoda, is adjacent to Hue Quang Tower. Built-in the 11th century, this pagoda was the place in which King Tran Nhan Tong used to preach. At that time, it was called “Ca Pagoda”, and was renamed “Hoa Yen” after King Le Thanh Tong noticed its spectacular beauty.
Halfway from the ground is the One-Roof Pagoda, with a wide range of altars being protected here. The site was originally Thanh Long Cave, where King Tran Nhan Tong read books and wrote religious texts. Half of the roof is exposed to the sky, while the other half hides behind the mountain. This explains why it used to be called Ban Mai (half-roof).
Dong Pagoda, also called Bronze Pagoda, is on the top of the Yen Tu Mountain, at 1068m above sea level. The peaceful and quiet spirit sets this historic site apart from others in Uong Bi city. To reach the pagoda from the ground, it normally takes a strong hiker 3 hours, so it is a good idea to bring some food and drinks along.
- You can either climb to the top of Yen Tu or use the cable car. The price for cable car is 280.000 VND round trip. There are some extra services like electric cars, buses, car park cost around 10.000 VND to 20.000 VND, remember to bring cash to spend because local people don’t accept credit cards.
- You can complete your trip to the top of Yen Tu pagoda within a day (you will have to start very early in the morning if you climb), so you don’t have to book accommodation in advance. If you want to spend a day or two to discover Uong Bi city, you should book hotels in Uong Bi city which is about 15km to the north. Uong Bi is a small peaceful city with friendly local people and a huge pagoda name Ba Vang. It is worth to spend a night thereafter Yen Tu.
- Yen Tu pagoda is not a super popular destination for foreigner tourists, but a visit to the center of Buddhism in Vietnam will not disappoint you.
Written by: Hieu La