If you are looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake is the ideal destination. Right in the centre of the serene lake is Ngoc Son Temple, a prominent temple sitting on a small island. The sacred temple, along with other architectures, create a historical complex that has been the pride of Hanoian for hundreds of years.
- Location: Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 8:00 - 18:00 from Monday to Sunday
• 30,000 VND per adult;
• 15,000 VND per student (student I.D must be provided);
• Free for children under 15
I. Legend of Ngoc Son Temple
Ngoc Son Temple (Jade Mountain Temple) was erected in the 19th century in commemoration of Tran Hung Dao, the greatest military commander of the Tran Dynasty. With his military brilliance, Tran Hung Dao led the Vietnamese Army to several victories over the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century. The temple also pays homage to Van Xuong De Quan, the God of prosperity in ancient Chinese culture and Taoist philosophy.
Initially, the tourist attraction was named ‘Ngoc Son Pagoda’. However, in Vietnamese culture, pagodas serve as the place for Buddhism practices, while temples are dedicated to the worship of historical figures. Therefore, soon after construction, its name was changed into ‘Ngoc Son Temple’.
The temple underwent inclusive repair in 1865 under the direction of Nguyen Van Sieu, an eminent scholar of the Nguyen Dynasty. Other structures constructed during that time are The Huc Bridge (Light of Dawn Bridge), Tran Ba Dinh (Tidal Wave Defense Pavilion), But Thap (Pen Tower) and Dai Nghien (Ink Slab). Altogether, they form a remarkable complex of relics which reflect the spiritual life of the 1000 year old capital.
II. Highlights of Ngoc Son Temple- Unique Features
It is not an overstatement to call Ngoc Son Temple and its surrounding artifacts the architectural phenomenon of Hanoi. Each part of the complex possesses a unique charm and meaning. And when united, they turn into a harmonious architectural structure. To fully admire the exceptional beauty of the site, begin your journey by crossing The Huc Bridge, then go through a collection of structures before reaching the final destination, Ngoc Son Temple.
1. The Pen Tower and The Ink Slab
Right before getting on The Huc Bridge, you will be captivated by The Pen Tower and The Ink Slab, the impressive stone features contributed by Nguyen Van Sieu.
The Tower, resembling a pen with its nib pointing to the sky, sits on a rock pile which represents the earth. The meaning of The Pen Tower is depicted in three words ‘Ta Thanh Thien’ (Writing on the blue sky), which was carved on a stone slab next to the tower.
Ever since ancient times, our ancestors have had such phenomenal dreams that can only be expressed by writing upon the sky. Nevertheless, none of them seems implausible when we have a firm ground to stand on.
2. The Huc Bridge, Dac Nguyet Lau and Tran Ba Dinh
To reach the island where Ngoc Son Temple is situated, you need to walk across The Huc Bridge. The wooden bridge is visually striking with its vibrant red color and contemporary Buddhist architecture. It reflects the cluster of sunlight, which is believed to bring hope, luck and happiness to the city denizen.
After crossing The Huc Bridge, you will get to Dac Nguyet Lau (Moon Gazing Pavilion), the gate to Ngoc Son Temple. Engraved on the left side of the gate is a turtle, which represents longevity and sustainability. On the other side is a dragon, which symbolizes strength and power.
As you continue walking, you will set foot on Tran Ba Dinh (Tidal Wave Defense Pavilion). Outstanding with its intricate design, the pavilion means more than just the protection against natural catastrophe. It is a reminder to maintain our cultural identity despite invasion of foreign cultural values, a precious lesson deduced from years of fighting for independence.
3. Ngoc Son Temple
From Tran Ba Dinh, take a left turn and you will arrive at Ngoc Son Temple, the final spot of your walking trip. Ngoc Son Temple consists of two main sections, with the internal devoted to worshipping Tran Hung Dao and Van Xuong De Quan. The statue of Tran Hung Dao is placed on a 1-meter long pedestal, portraying the majestic commander with his courtiers. Meanwhile, the statue of Van Xuong De Quan depicts a composed philosopher who has grasped extensive knowledge of humankind.
The third statue you will see is of Amitabha, a holy Buddha according to the doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism. The three sculptures are proof of diverse religious beliefs in Vietnam. For many years, they have coexisted in peace, contributing to the unity and prosperity of the nation.
III. What to Do around Ngoc Son Temple?
If you are planning a trip to Ngoc Son Temple, it may be a good opportunity to discover other Hanoi attractions in the surrounding area. These places are just a few minutes walking distance. But they are all you need to visit to get an authentic sense of Hanoi.
1. Hoan Kiem Walking Street
Established in 2016, Hoan Kiem Walking Street is part of Hanoi tourism development program. Every week, from 7 p.m Friday to 12 a.m Sunday, all kinds of vehicles are prohibited from the streets around Hoan Kiem Lake, leaving the entire space for pedestrians.
There are so many things to try out on Hoan Kiem Walking Street. Watching street performances of talented artists, joining in various traditional games, enjoying local delicacies offered by street vendors, just to name a few.
It is not hard to explain the attractiveness of Hoan Kiem Walking Street to both natives and expatriates. No other places in the modern city would give you such immense exposure to Vietnamese culture while wiping off the worries amassed from tiresome working days.
Location: 16 routes surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake
Opening hours: 19:00 Friday – 24:00 Sunday (vehicles are not allowed to access)
2. Ly Thai To Garden
Just about 1 kilometer from Ngoc Son Temple, Ly Thai To Garden will capture your attention with its remarkable 10-metre bronze statue of King Ly Thai To. Being the first emperor of the Ly Dynasty, he was the one to move the capital from Ninh Binh (then known as Hoa Lu ancient citadel) to Ha Noi (then known as Dai La) and renamed the land ‘Thang Long Citadel’.
Under the rulership of the King and his descendants, Dai La turned into a land of prosperity, as well as a political and cultural centre. These qualities have been etched in the mind of every Hanoian, becoming a singular pride that has been passed down for generations.
You can get to Ly Thai To Garden at any time in a day as the spatial playground is always filled with people. From youngsters in swanky clothes practicing hip hop to elders cheerfully dancing to 80s melodies. Their looks might not be alike but their hearts share the same affinity for the lovely city. Once again, Hanoi presents itself as a city of diverse, yet harmonious culture.
Location: Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
3. Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
Water puppetry is a unique traditional art of Vietnam that has existed since the 11th century. Originated from the Red River Delta of Northern Vietnam, it used to be a form of entertainment for farmers during flooding season. When rice fields became deluged, puppeteers would stand in waist-deep water and use bamboo rods hidden underwater to control wooden puppets.
Nowadays, artists do their jobs behind a bamboo mat, manipulating their puppets to portray Vietnamese legends or daily activities. There is never a dull moment during a water puppet show in Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. The fusion of colors, music and domestic atmosphere leaves audience with everlasting memories.
Location: 57B, Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 15:00 – 20:00 from Monday to Sunday (5 shows per day)
Phone: 024 3824 9494 – 024 3825 5450
IV. Tips for Visiting Ngoc Son Temple
- Get to the temple
It is quite easy to get to Ngoc Son Temple as most vehicles are allowed to travel in the area of Hoan Kiem Lake. If you use your personal vehicles, parking areas are just around the corner. Taking a walk is also recommended if you want to discover interesting spots in the surrounding.
- Entrance fee collection
Entrance fee is collected at the Dac Nguyet Lau (Moon Gazing Pavilion), after you cross The Huc Bridge. Remember to bring cash because credit card is not accepted.
- Be respectful while being in worshipping areas
Obey the rules when you enter sanctuary areas: Avoid wearing tank-tops or short skirts; take off your hats and footwear; don’t talk and laugh too loudly.
Hanoi is a budding city driven by growth and innovation. At the same time, it is a city with its tradition nurtured and passed down for generations. If you want to understand the cultural and aesthetic values that have shaped Hanoi, Ngọc Son Temple would be one of the best options.