Three kilometers to the East of Tam Coc boat pier in Ninh Binh province, Bich Dong pagoda (the pagoda of the Emerald Grotto) located in the Truong Yen range, looks on a valley of fertile rice fields, crossed by the Truong Giang River and leans on Bich Dong Mountain of Ngu Nhac Son Mountains. To access the pagoda, the only way is steep stone steps. However, what is waiting for you after the long way is really worth your climbing.
The pagoda was built by two monks Tri Kien and Tri The in early 18th century. It comprises three pagodas having the traditional architecture’s characteristics of wood and stone due to the style at that time when Le Dynasty was coming to the end and the period of Nguyen Dynasty began. They were named after their positions on Bich Dong Mountain. Ha Pagoda (Lower Pagoda) is situated at the foot of the mountain. Trung Pagoda (Middle Pagoda) is placed on the mountainside while Thuong Pagoda (Upper Pagoda) is located on the top.
The unique of Bich Dong Pagoda is the perfect combination of ancient pagodas with cross-covered roofs, natural caves and majestic mountains, and so on, hidden in the green of tropical forests. All of them create the panoramic view of wonder called “Bich son bat canh” (An astonishing place gathers enough eight beauties of the country).
The pagoda has the floor plan based on a Chinese word – “Dinh” (工). It has 5 rooms with 2-story roof including 8 smaller roofs while its broad eaves were constructed by 6 stones steps. The fence and two gables of Ha pagoda were all made of stones. Its upper temple was built of stone pillars.
Like Ha Pagoda, Trung Pagoda has the floor shape of “Dinh” (工). It has a two-story roof, a three-room upper temple, and a forecourt which all head to the west. What makes the pagoda unique is the mixture of traditional Vietnamese architecture of pagodas such as the tiled roof or walls covering the cliffs and the mysterious space inside a mountain cave.
To get to the Upper Pagoda, tourists have to go through Blue Cave or Dark Cave with 40 stone steps on the mountainside. Along the short journey, a breathtaking view of impressive limestone ridges, scattered peaceful villages, and refreshing ambiance is a gift for your attempt.
Thuong pagoda has 2 vertical house-style rooms with the forecourt and stone altar in the outer room and a special statue of Bodhisattva in the inner room. She sits on the top of the mountain making gestures like preaching by her hands.
On the eaves of Ha pagoda, a Chinese sentence was engraved “Gia lam than hoang bao dien Nam thien to” (this place is for worshipping the ancestor of Vietnamese people). The pagoda is also preserved four rows of ancient Buddhist statues including in order the ones of Tam The(Past, Present, and Future Buddha), the one of Di Da Tam Ton, the one of Bodhisattva Kwan Yin with a thousand eyes and hands, and the statue of Thich Ca So Sinh (Baby Buddha). In addition, there are also many other priceless statues and worshipping objects such as candles, incense burners and lamps creating a solemn ambiance.
At the front yard of Trung pagoda, the most splendid features are the Chinese letters “Third beautiful grotto under the Southern sky” carved by Lord Trinh Sam in the 18th century and Nguyen Nghiem (father of the great poet Nguyen Du) complied with the order to carve it on a front cliff of Trung pagoda. There are also three stone statues in the pagoda: Buddha Di Da in the middle, the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva on the left and the Bodhisattva Vajrayana on the right.
Thuong pagoda has two small temples – the left one for the local earth god and the right one for the mountain god. From the pagoda, tourist can see Ngu Mon field (Five gates) and the wonderful spectacle of Tam Coc, Bich Dong.