Tran Quoc Pagoda Hanoi – Local Guide

The Oldest Pagoda Symbolizing Vietnamese Buddhism

Rachel Tran
Rachel Tran | Published: October 11, 2019

Hanoi is always a great destination for Buddhists with many ancient pagodas and temples. Most of the old pagodas are located around West Lake. Especially, nowhere else is better than Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest one in Hanoi, if you are interested in Buddhism.

Tran Quoc Pagoda is more than 1500 years old, which means the place holds such an important role in the development of Vietnam in general and Hanoi in particular. That is the main reason why the temple attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world every year.

    Location: Thanh Nien Road, Yen Phu ward, Tay Ho District, Hanoi
    Opening Hours: from 8 am to 4 pm every day
    Entrance fee: free
    Dress code: not allowed to wear shorts, mini skirt, and tank-top
    Map to the Tran Quoc Pagoda:

History Of Tran Quoc Pagoda

It was constructed in541 and completed in 545 under the reign of King Ly Nam De. At that time, it was called as Khai Quoc Pagoda (Khai Quoc means National Founder). It was first built on the bank of the Red River. When the river bank crumbled after more than 150 years, it was moved to the Kim Ngu (Golden Fish) Islet in the early 17th century, under the reign of King Le Kinh Tong. Since then, its name changed into Tran Quoc (National Defense).

Tran quoc pagoda from outside
Tran Quoc pagoda – the oldest one in Hanoi (@lozjeffries)

With a history of over a thousand years, it used to be the capital of Buddhism during the Tran dynasty and now considered as a symbol of Hanoi capital, both in the past and today.

Architecture and Structure

Inside Tran Quoc pagoda
Tran Quoc pagoda renowned for its deep cultural and Buddhist values. (@jessicadaughters)

Famous for sacred sanctuary and stunning scenery, Tran Quoc Pagoda used to be a favorite place for sightseeing of many kings of Vietnam in special festivals such as Tet holiday and full moon days. More than 1000 years have passed, the pagoda still preserves its fame and unique characteristics in its architecture in spite of urbanization.

Thanks to its advantageous location just right beside the dazzling West Lake and on an island which is linked by a bridge between the two most romantic lakes of Hanoi, which are Truc Bach Lake and West Lake, the pagoda attracts a lot of tourists each day.

Lake view from Tran Quoc pagoda
Tran Quoc pagoda is located beside the dazzling West Lake. (@dragonson19091988)

Tran Quoc has special architecture which resembles that of ancient temples in Hanoi. It bears the bold Buddist architectural image with many layers of buildings. You can see it clearly through the three main houses of the pagoda. Why are there 3 main houses? Because Vietnamese believe number 3 represents luck and prosperity.

Its entrance is a unique point of the pagoda. Many visitors who visit Tran Quoc Pagoda feel strange. When you see the gate from afar, it looks deflected. But there is no sense of it at all when approaching there.

Gate of Tran Quoc pagoda
The gate of Tran Quoc pagoda (@markjlwang)

Going through the gate, you need to follow the way which is paved with red brick to see the interior space. 

  • Tien Duong (the Front House) is located in front of the bell tower and faces the west. In front of the Front House, there is an incense burner in the yard so the Buddhists and tourists can thurify.
  • Nha To (the Ancestor House) is on the right of Tien Duong, worshipping the previous generation of monks.
  • Nha Bia (the Stele House) is on the left of Tien Duong, holding 14 important steles engraved from 1813 to 1815. It shows the renovating process of the pagoda after a long time in ruin.

The three main houses are connected and make the pagoda look like a blooming lotus. It can be said that Tran Quoc pagoda is a harmonious combination of the serene ambiance of green garden, far-flung lake, and ancient and imposing architecture. That’s why it was recognized as a national monument in cultural and historical values by the Ministry of Culture and Information in 1962.

Highlights of Tran Quoc Pagoda

Passing through gardens, tourists have a chance to see the sacred Bodhi Tree with heart-shaped leaves. The tree was donated to the temple in 1959 by the Indian President Rajendra Prasad. Many people believe that it is a branch of the sacred bodhi tree where the Buddha enlightened. That’s why tourists and pilgrims come here to honor this monument from all over the world.

Tran Quoc pagoda Hanoi
Beautiful architecture, historic artifacts and a peaceful and serene environment in the pagoda. (@tu_pham1994)

Besides, a fairly complete system of statues is still preserved in Tran Quoc Pagoda. It can be said that Tran Quoc is a small museum storing priceless antiques. Most of them are hundreds of years old such as some worshipping statues in the front house. Notably, there are statues of Three Sages and ancestor monks of the pagoda. The most outstanding one is the statue of Buddha entering Nirvana (the folk often calls him the Reclining Buddha and Vietnamese calls him “Thich ca thap niet ban”). His statues are rarely seen in the north but mainly seen in Thailand or Laos. And, the statue is evaluated as the most beautiful statue in Vietnam.

Due to its beautiful and peaceful scenery, Tran Quoc Pagoda was mentioned in a lot of poems and parallel sentences of Vietnamese kings and mandarins, especially under Nguyen Dynasty. Until now, there are many poems preserved in the pagoda. You will have a chance to get to know Vietnamese literature style in the past and the country’s history also.

It would be a miss if not mentioning about “Bao Thap Luc Do Dai Sen”. It is an eleven-story which is 15 meters high. Being built in 1998, it has six arched doorways and a statue on each floor. The statues resemble Buddha Amitabha and are made of precious stones. There is a nine-story lotus on the top of the tower and it is called the “Cuu Pham Lien Hoan”.

How to Get to Tran Quoc Pagoda

The pagoda is just 5 kilometers from the city center, so you can reach there by different means of transportation.

  • By bus: you can catch bus No. 50 that drops you right in front of the pagoda. If it’s not convenient to catch this bus. Please get on bus No. 31, 41, 55A, 55B or 58 to stop at An Duong bus stop, then take a walk around 5 minutes to get there.
  • By taxi: To get to the pagoda by taxi, it’s better to book one by Grab application on your mobile phone. 
  • By motorbike or scooter: You can rent a motorbike to easily move around the West Lake also. It takes about 12 minutes to get to the pagoda.

Tips on Visiting Tran Quoc Pagoda

  • The pagoda is always crowded, especially on the 1st and 15th day of the month in the Lunar Calendar, on which Buddhist monks and tourists visit the site for thurify and sightseeing. If you want to explore the Vietnamese’ religious culture, these two days is always a great time. But if you don’t like huge crowds, it is a good idea to avoid these days.
  • Because the pagoda is a holy sanctuary, visitors must wear clothes that strictly follow a fixed dress code. Remember to wear an appropriate outfit and do not wear skin-showing clothes.
  • Just like when you enter any other pagodas in the world, please take off hats, umbrellas, and shoes before coming into the shrines for worshipping. It shows your respect to the gods and the pagodas.

Vietnam is surely a must-visit country for those who are highly interested in spiritual attractions. If you have a chance to set foot in this beautiful country, don’t miss the chance to visit Tran Quoc Pagoda – the oldest temple in the north of Vietnam.


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