Chùa Bích Động


Useful Information

Location: Ninh Hải, Hoa Lư, Ninh Bình.
7 km from Ninh Binh city center. From Ninh Binh follow QL1A south 3.8 km, turn right on DT491C to Hoa Lư 3.4 km. Turn right 2.2 km to the end of the road.
(20.2174623, 105.9157081)
Open: All year daily during daytime.
[2024]
Fee: free.
[2024]
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church SpeleologyKarst Cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System bring torch
Dimension:
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:
Address: Chùa Bích Động, Ninh Hải, Hoa Lư, Ninh Bình, Tel: +84-.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1428 cave temple constructed during the reign of Emperor Ly Thai To.
1705 two Buddhist monks named Tri Kien and Tri The discovered this pagoda and added the second and third level.
1774 Lord Trinh Sam of Dang Ngoai (Outer Land) visited the pagoda and was impressed by the breathtaking panoramic view.
2014 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Description

Chùa Bích Động (Emerald Temple Pagoda) is generally listed as Bich Dong Pagoda in tourist guides, which is a mixture of vietnamese and English. It's also a tautology, as temple and pagoda are synonyms, more or less the same thing. In the last years it became known under the double name Tam Cốc-Bích Động. Tam Cốc (Three Caves) is a boat ride on a river through three caves which starts 2.5 km down the road. It seems the two sites are often visited together. However, we decided to make separate pages and use the simple name Bích Động (Emerald Temple).

Located on the karst tower Ngu Nhac Mountain, there is actually a series of three cave temples, one above the other. They are named Chùa Hạ (Lower Pagoda), Chùa Trung (Middle Pagoda), and Chùa Thượng (Upper Pagoda). A trail with many stairs leads uphill, from one temple to the next, and the walk ends on the top of the mountain with a pleasant view. The Lower Pagoda was built in 1428 during the reign of Emperor Ly Thai To. Two Buddhist monks named Tri Kien and Tri The discovered this pagoda in 1705 and built the second and third cave temple higher up. Lord Trinh Sam of Dang Ngoai (Outer Land) visited the pagoda in 1774 and was impressed by the breathtaking panoramic view. He actually named it Bích Động. Dong is the word for cave as well as pagoda or temple, probably because so many temples are actually in caves. Bich seems to be rather hard to translate, it means gem, but the name is translated Emerald Temple as well as Jade Temples or Green Pearl Cave. It seems jade, pearl and gems are synonyms in Vietnamese, or probably the translations are a little off.

The visit starts with a scam, the parking lot of the temple is actually free, as is the temple, donations are welcome though. But a shrewd entrepreneur has apparently discovered that it is possible to charge a variable parking fee to foreigners who are unaware of this. Sometimes it costs VND 10,000, sometimes 20,000 and sometimes 30,000, but how the price is arrived at is a mystery. Other pages say that it is necessary to buy a ticket for Tam Cốc-Bích Động which includes the visit to the temple. As far as we know, this is nonsense, there is no entrance fee for the temple.

However, the scams are forgotten as soon as the visitor has a look at the temple. A stone bridge without railing leads across an artificial lake to a spectacular entrance gate, surrounded by limestone rocks with karren. Through the gate the lowest cave temple is reached, which is located at the foot of the karst tower.

Lower Pagoda is a two-story structure with 10 roofs and 5 rooms, made of an ironwood truss, crossbeams, and spars. There is a remarkable 4 m high monolithic stone pillar in front of the temple. Inside is an altar adorned with Buddha statues surrounded by burning incense sticks. Middle Pagoda is located halfway up, and is reached on a staircase with 120 steps. It has traditional tiled roofs and walls adorned with Chinese letters. It has two parts, one in front of the cave portal, and one inside the cave. A massive bronze bell with intricate engravings is hanging from the cave ceiling. Upper Pagoda is 40 steep stone steps further up. It also has two rooms and a forecourt. The first room contains a stone altar, the inner room houses a shrine of Bodhisattva. Nearby is a pond called Cam Lo, the water of the pond is though to have healing properties.

Going up another 21 steps, the Hang Tối (Dark Cave) is reached. This cave has no temple, but it contains a large bronze bell and numerous Buddha statues and there are paintings on the cave wall. This bell was cast by the two monks, Tri Kien and Tri The in 1707. Then Động Xuyên Thủy (Xuyen Water Cave) is reached. The 350 m long cave runs east-west through the karst tower. The passage is in average 6 m wide, but the widest point is 15 m wide.