Worth a Trip: Thay & Tay Phuong Pagodas

Stunning limestone outcrops loom up from the emerald-green paddy fields, and clinging to the cliffs are the Thay Pagoda and Tay Phuong Pagoda, about 20 minutes apart from each other by road.

The pagodas are about 30km west of Hanoi in Ha Tay province. Hanoi travel agents and tour operators offer day trips that take in both pagodas. Expect to pay US$48 to $72 per person for two people.

Also known as Sung Phuc Pagoda, Tay Phuong Pagoda consists of three single-level structures built in descending order on a hillock that is said to resemble a buffalo. Figures representing ‘the conditions of man’ are the pagoda’s most celebrated feature – carved from jackfruit wood, many date from the 18th century. The earliest construction dates from the 8th century.

Take the steep steps up to the main pagoda building, then find a path at the back that loops down past the other two pagodas and wander through the adjacent hillside village.

Also known as Thien Phuc (Heavenly Blessing), Thay Pagoda is dedicated to Thich Ca Buddha (Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha). To the left of the main altar is a statue of the 12th-century monk Tu Dao Hanh, the master in whose honour the pagoda is named. To the right is a statue of King Ly Nhan Tong, who is believed to have been a reincarnation of Tu Dao Hanh.

In front of the pagoda is a small stage built on stilts in the middle of a pond where water-puppet shows are staged during festivals. Follow the path around the outside of the main pagoda building and take a steep 10-minute climb up to a beautiful smaller pagoda perched high on the rock. Thay Pagoda is a big and confusing complex for non-Buddhists – consider hiring a guide.

The pagoda’s annual festival is held from the fifth to the seventh days of the third lunar month (approximately March). Visitors enjoy watching water-puppet shows, hiking and exploring caves in the area.