Buddhist pagodas in Vietnam bear a resemblance to pagodas in China with one significant difference – the dragons decorating the roof tops. Virtually every pagoda in Vietnam has dragon decorations on the roof tops; they give Vietnamese pagodas their distinctive style. As far as I know, Buddhist temples elsewhere have nothing comparable. Late afternoon light on a crystal clear day has the roof top dragons at this small temple almost glowing. The Chinese characters say something like “golden hall of the ancestors”, but I am not sure of the Vietnamese name of this Da Nang pagoda.
A friend visiting from Thailand and I took a day trip to My Son, a UNESCO world heritage site about 80 km south of Da Nang. My Son was an important temple complex of the Champa Kingdom that existed in central and southern Vietnam from roughly 300 to 1700 CE. The Cham civilization was Indianized and the temples at My Son celebrate Hindu deities. For many years the Cham and the Vietnamese moving south from the area surrounding modern Hanoi contested the central part of what is now Vietnam. The Vietnamese eventually prevailed and the Champa Kingdom disappeared. The Cham people were assimilated into Vietnamese society, influencing the development of Vietnamese culture in the process. The temple pictured is one of a group of structures built in the 11th to 13th centuries CE.
Marble Mountain – a mass of marble and other rock jutting above the coastal plain just south of Da Nang. The place is a maze of steep paths, caves, and grottoes with Buddhist temples and shrines throughout. It is a very interesting place, worth another visit. But my legs are stiff today from all the climbing.
The Bửu Đài Sơn pagoda, which is located across from the beach north of downtown, is one of Danang’s lesser known Buddhist sites. There were several Vietnamese inside when I visited, but not a foreign tourist in sight. I could not find any English language information about this place when I searched online. The place catches your eye when you ride by and this time I decided to walk inside. Bửu Đài Sơn is a good example of the extent to which Buddhist temple architecture in Vietnam has taken its cue from China. The design of the building is clearly Chinese in origin, very different in appearance from the many Buddhist wats I visited in Thailand. The fat Budai, sometimes called the Fat Buddha or Laughing Buddha, sitting in front of the temple also originated in China. The magnificent dragons decorating the Chinese styled roof of the temple are, however, distinctly and uniquely Vietnamese. I am finding this often to be the case in Vietnam: whether it is the way people behave and interact, traditional architecture and design or cultural patterns, there is broad similarity with China and things Chinese, but the details are very much Vietnamese, often delightfully so.
The centerpiece of Wat Chedi Luang, which according to its Wikipedia entry, means the temple of the big stuppa is this enormous stuppa in the center of the temple complex. Construction was begun by one of the Lanna kings in the 1300s, though the stuppa was not completed until the mid-fifteenth century, only to be damaged by an earthquake one hundred years later. A restoration was undertaken in the 1990s, though this has been the subject of controversy as some claim new elements in the reconstruction are in the Central Thai style, not Lanna style. Well, it’s all Thai to me. I felt quite fortunate to get a group of young monks in the foreground instead of a crowd of Chinese tourists.
In addition to being a very striking building, the library at Wat Phra Singh is an example of classical Lanna architecture, or so I have read. Before the modern Thai state began to take shape in the late 18th century, a Lan Na kingdom centered in Chiang Mai ruled much of the northern part of what is now Thailand. The history is complex and I certainly only know the barest outline. But Lanna as a tradition (and a marketing buzzword) is alive and well in Chiang Mai today – Lanna architecture, Lanna style, Lanna cuisine, Lanna massage, et cetera, et cetera… Be that as it may, Wat Phra Singh has one cool library building.