Vietnam: Making a pilgrimage to the south

by Ngoc Minh, Saigon Times, Jan 15, 2007

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam -- Every January, many urban-ites make a pilgrimage to show their gratitude for a good year and pray for a new year with good health and smooth work.  Nui Ba (Goddess Mountain) in Chau Doc Town is one of the most popular destinations for a pilgrimage because people think that “The Goddess” has supernatural powers.

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Unlike previous pilgrimage tours, when visitors only went to Chau Doc to pray to “The Governess”, Ben Thanh Tourist has organized a two day one night tour to visit the ten ancient pagodas at Phuc Loc Bridge, with beautiful architecture such as Vinh Trang, Buu Lam Co Tu, Tinh Xa Ngoc Vien. Visitors not only visit pagodas, pray for blessing and study Buddhism, but also listen to preaching about Buddhist law.

The first destination is Vinh Trang Pagoda. It is the most well-known pagoda in the South and is an acknowledged national historical and cultural monument by the Ministry of Culture and Information. The pagoda was built by Bui Cong Dat and his wife in the beginning of the nineteenth century. In 1849, Superior Buddhist Monk Thuong Hue Dang sent Giac Lam Pagoda to run this pagoda.  He  enlarged it and named it Vinh Trang. In 1907, Superior Buddhist Monk Chanh Hau restored the pagoda with a combination of Asian and Western architecture, preserving many ancient statues.

Among them is the Eighteen Arhats,  carved by southern artists in the twentieth century.

The second destination is Linh Thuu Pagoda, which is also called Sac Tu Pagoda, built in the eighteenth century near Xoai Hot market, Chau Thanh District in Tien Giang Province. In 1811, Gia Long King renamed the pagoda “Long Tuyen” and in 1841 Thieu Tri King again renamed the pagoda “Linh Thuu”. The main temple is solemnly decorated, many ancient statues have been restored and the doors of the temple are skillfully carved, containing many meaningful panels.

The next destination is Tinh Xa Ngoc Vien (Ngoc Vien Monastery) built in 1948, one of the places forming the school of thought of patron saint Minh Dang Quang. In 1971, the monastery was reinforced, with the main temple in a square shape. This temple holds the Chon Ly (The Truth) scripture, a collection of ten years accumulated preaching lessons of the patron saint.

Tourists will also visit other pagodas, such as the ancient Phuoc Hung Pagoda, opened in 1838 and containing many ancient objects such as a gilded Buddha statue, Buddhism scripture carved in wood, an ancient drum and some nineteenth-century gilded wood panels, and Tinh Xa Ngoc Hoa (Ngoc Hoa Monastery) built in the beginning of the twenty first century in Thien Vieng Ngoc Hanh.

In  Chau Doc Town, pilgrims will visit Huynh Dao Pagoda and Tay An Co Tu. Tay An Co Tu is the best landscape of An Giang Province and the south western area,  and is also an acknowledged national historical and cultural monument by the Ministry of Culture and Information. The recent architecture was embellished in 1958 by Superior Buddhist Monk Buu Tho, who rebuilt the main temple in a combination of Asian and Indian architectures. The temples in the pagoda have about 200 statues and many panels. Thousands of pilgrims and Buddhism followers are drawn here every year.

The last destination is the Temple of the Goddess in Sam Mountain, the most spiritual place for pilgrims, in Chau Doc Town, An Giang Province. The temple attracts thousands of people from around the country to visit and pray for fortune and happiness. Formerly, pilgrims traveling independently had to jostle with the crowds to visit the pagodas.

The pilgrimage tour departing days are February 24, March 3 and 10 with the price of VND685,000 per guest. For more information, contact Ben Thanh Tourist, tel: 5202 020.