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Here you will find articles on an ambitious plan to travel from Singapore to Morocco overland, i.e. without flying.

I will use buses and trains to travel through South East Asia, China, Mongolia, Russia, and Europe.

Read about The Plan So Far.

Temples of Nihn Binh & Vietnamese New Year

Written by Joshua Fuglsang on .

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AsiaTravelVietnam
The lower temple in Bich Dong
The lower temple in Bich Dong - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

New Years Eve

It’s Viet­namese New Year Eve and I have just checked in to my hos­tel af­ter a long nine hours on the train. The town is se­date, with the lo­cal pop­u­lace at home for­get­ting the trou­bles of the year past and wish­ing for bet­ter days in the year to come.

The evening is a late one. My­self and two Ger­man ladies left one hour be­fore mid­night to watch the fire­works wel­com­ing the new year. How­ev­er, as soon as we left the front door, we are grabbed by a group of Viet­namese, none of whom speak Eng­lish, and a group of trav­ellers, none of whom speak Viet­namese, to join them for Bia on the street cor­ner. The Viet­namese very kind­ly of­fer each of us a can of Bia and we glad­ly ac­cept. We chat away and toast to the new year, with “cheers” and “hap­py new year” be­ing our shared vo­cab­u­lary. Soon enough we are stand­ing in the mid­dle of the road with traf­fic banked up all around us watch­ing the mid­night fire­works. The fire­works end and the traf­fic re­sumes its steady march.

Bich Dong Temple

View from Bich Dong Temple
View from Bich Dong Tem­ple - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

For the past few years I have at­tend­ed tem­ples scat­tered around the world for the Lu­nar New Year. Though, I am not par­tic­u­lar­ly re­li­gious, I like the habit of mak­ing my thanks for the year past and mak­ing wish­es for the year to come. Each year I pray to achieve my goals, and for the hap­pi­ness and health of those clos­est to me. The first year that I made my prayers was 2015 and I had a very good year that year, and then again in 2016, and so on un­til now. Per­haps there is no di­vine in­ter­ven­tion, how­ev­er the act cer­tain­ly so­lid­i­fies what is im­por­tant in my life and gen­er­ates em­pa­thy to­wards those I care for.

The new year was en­tered with fa­tigue: the late night and free Bia cer­tain­ly took its toll on my body, par­tic­u­lar­ly be­cause I am not much of a drinker. So, my day didn’t start in earnest un­til af­ter mid­day. The first tem­ple was the un­for­tu­nate­ly named Bich Dong. It is a love­ly lit­tle tem­ple, built in to the side of a small moun­tain. The tem­ple al­so seems to be off the main tourist trail, which was ap­pre­ci­at­ed. I spent some time won­der­ing around the grounds, be­fore notic­ing that peo­ple were scram­bling up the karst moun­tain di­rect­ly above the site. Cu­ri­ous, I fol­lowed and climbed my way up the hill. The stone of the Karst moun­tains is very in­ter­est­ing. It is a sol­u­ble bedrock, so is eas­i­ly ma­nip­u­lat­ed. The stone which saw a lot of foot traf­fic is very smooth to touch, al­most soft. While the stone which is sel­dom touched is very sharp and brit­tle. My heavy rock climb­ing shoes some­times shat­tered the black edges. I read on­line that Karst is one of the most frag­ile and un­sta­ble ge­o­graph­ic for­ma­tions. Be­cause it is sol­u­ble it has lead to some spec­tac­u­lar caves over time, in fact the largest cave in the world, Son Doong, is in a Karst area. I wrote briefly about Son Doong in my pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cle. Even­tu­al­ly I reached the top of the moun­tain where there were just four of us: two Viet­namese, a Rus­sian man, and my­self. We took some pho­to­graphs of each oth­er, then of the land­scape, be­fore de­scend­ing back down the brit­tle black cliffs.

Bai Dinh Pagoda

The Bai Dinh Pagoda
The Bai Dinh Pago­da - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

From Bich Dong I jumped on the scoot­er and head­ed through to Bai Dinh Pago­da. By this stage it was ear­ly evening, with just a lit­tle light in the sky but the drive to the Pago­da was spec­tac­u­lar. It trav­elled through some of the mount beau­ti­ful Karst land­scape which I have seen so far in Viet­nam. It’s just a pity that it is in such a de­vel­oped area. The Lone­ly Plan­et men­tions this fact as well, de­scrib­ing Ninh Binh as “ce­ment fac­to­ries mixed with stun­ning na­tion­al parks”. This seems to be due to a lack of fore­sight on the Viet­namese gov­ern­ment’s be­half.

Main Temple and Pagoda
Main Tem­ple and Pago­da - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

Bai Dinh pago­da is ab­so­lute­ly enor­mous. In fact, ac­cord­ing to Wikipedia, the tem­ple com­pound is said to be the largest in Viet­nam. I’m not sur­prised, I on­ly saw the main at­trac­tions of the com­plex: the Pago­da and the main tem­ple, but even those two took me more than two hours to vis­it. The tem­ple I think is very in­ter­est­ing from a de­sign per­spec­tive. I went at night and it was just beau­ti­ful the way it was lit up. I saw per­haps a dozen oth­er peo­ple in the two hours that I was there; a pro of go­ing at night. The scale of the com­plex is just breadth tak­ing. It’s quite new and so doesn’t have the clas­sic beau­ty that an­tiq­ui­ty pro­vides. If I had to use one word to de­scribe the tem­ple, I would prob­a­bly say “state­ly”, which is not of­ten a word that you as­so­ciate with re­li­gious sites. It has very clean lines, mut­ed colours, and lacks the in­tri­cate de­tails that old­er tem­ples have in sur­plus. It is like it has been de­signed by a team of in­te­ri­or de­signs and ar­chi­tects fol­low­ing a uni­fied vi­sion, rather than hav­ing grown or­gan­i­cal­ly over cen­turies. The new com­plex was built be­tween 2003 and 2010, and has the feel of a big-bud­get tourist at­trac­tion, rather than a his­tor­i­cal site seep­ing with re­li­gious sig­nif­i­cance. It is strik­ing none­the­less, and cer­tain­ly unique. Worth a vis­it, es­pe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing it is free if you are will­ing to walk rather than jump on one of the elec­tric bug­gies which are avail­able.

Conclusion

All in all I had a nice day vis­it­ing the tem­ples of Ninh Binh. Con­sid­er sub­scrib­ing or fol­low­ing me on In­sta­gram or Twit­ter to stay up to date.

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AsiaTravelVietnam

About

Here you will find articles on an ambitious plan to travel from Singapore to Morocco overland, i.e. without flying.

I will use buses and trains to travel through South East Asia, China, Mongolia, Russia, and Europe.

Read about The Plan So Far.