Ngoc Son Temple - Asia Travel & Leisure

Asia Travel & Leisure

Ngoc Son Temple

Ngoc Son Temple, or the Temple of the Jade Mountain is one of Hanoi’s most picturesque temples. It is built on an islet in Ho Hoan Kiem where, in the 16th-18th centuries, there was a country villa used by the Trinh mandarins when they boated on the lake. In the 19th century, the site became a Buddhist pagoda, then a temple for the cult of a deified Chinese warrior, Quan Cong, and later for the Spirits of Literature and of the Soil.

This shrine is now dedicated to Tran Hung Dao, a 13th century Vietnamese military national hero, scholar Van Xuong, and to Nguyen Van Sieu, a Confucian master who assumed responsibility for extensive additions and repairs made to the temple and the surrounding areas from 1864. The present building reflects the Chinese style favored by the Nguyen rulers of that time.

To get to the temple, the visitor walks through the Three-Passage Gate (Tam Quan) and across the Morning Sunlight Bridge (The Huc). The entrance complex, designed by Nguyen Van Sieu, consists of a series of three gates, replete with Taoist symbolism.

The first gate displays a series of parallel sentences. The two large red Chinese characters on the first gate are Happiness on the right, and Prosperity on the left. Just inside the first gate is the Pen Tower (Thap But), a ten-meter high stone structure whose tip resembles a writing brush, standing on a “mountain” in the shape of a peach, known as the Writing Pad (Dai Nghien). The mountain represents a good foundation, or the earth, and the symbols on the tower say “Writing on the clear blue sky” (meaning always be truthful).

The second gate is surrounded by Taoist symbols. On the left is the tiger. On the right is the Vietnamese dragon. The tiger and the dragon are the symbols of stability for a large construction, following the Feng Shui theory. Panels on the reverse of the gate show the carp gazing at the moon’s reflection, and a pine tree with roosting storks (phoenix), which symbolizes longevity.

Above the third gate is a large stone representing an ink stone or inkpot. Nguyen Van Sieu placed this stone so that on the 5th of May (lunar calendar) the shadow of the Pen Tower falls on the ink stone. There is a quote from Nguyen Van Sieu which is written on the white scroll in the center of the gate. The scroll is surrounded by bats symbolizing happiness.

The temple itself is reached by crossing the red-painted wooden bridge called The Huc (Rising Sun). Originally, when the lake was much large, visitors to the temple came by boat. In the 18th century, a simple bamboo bridge was built. Nguyen Van Sieu built a red wooden bridge in the arched shape of a sickle-moon or an ivory comb. The original bridge was destroyed by fire in 1958, but rebuilt in the same style. From here you can watch the sunrise.

After passing all agates, you will see the main temple. The temple consists of a main building housing the altars as well as some shops, along with a pavilion in front of the altars. A large bronze brazier sits in front of the main hall, holding burning incense sticks. Inside is the first of two altars. On it sit the two scholars along with several other deities. Behind this altar is the high altar dedicated to the hero Tran Hung Dao. In a room off to the side of the front altar is a preserved specimen of the lake's giant tortoise.

Especially, one or more large turtles still inhabit the lake. At any time of the day people will be seen looking into its waters, hoping to catch sight of a giant turtle, as it is considered a sign of good luck to glimpse the head rising above the water. Smaller turtles are also seen. These have been set free to bring good fortune to the giver.

Notes:
Address:on Hoan Kiem Lake, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. 
Open daily, all year around

Location: in Hanoi center, it normally takes an hour to visit it.

Entrance fee: Adult: 20,000VND = 1dollar. Children under 15 are free of charge.