On the second day of our family's vacation in Vietnam (10 Mar 2014), it took us almost two hours to reach the Chùa Bái Đính (Bái Đính Temple) in Ninh Bình Province which was located about 120 kilometres south of Hanoi.
When I was planning this trip to the Vietnamese capital, I was a bit thrilled to realise that we could celebrate Wesak overseas. My wife was saying it was a pity that she could not celebrate Wesak at the Buddhist Hermitage Lunas this year as we would be away, but I knew that the Bai Dinh Temple would certainly give her a good surprise.
We arrived at the temple grounds to find the whole place decorated with the Wesak flags and buntings. The 2014 United Nations Day of Vesak, an international Buddhist conference, was being held there at the same time and I read later that the Sri Lankan Prime Minister DM Jayaratne, ambassadors and officials of many countries, over 1,000 Buddhist dignitaries and experts from 95 countries and territories, along with 10,000 Vietnamese monks, followers and citizens were present. That was certainly impressive.
The entrance into the Chùa Bái Đính grounds which at 700 hectares could make it the biggest Buddhist temple complex in South-East Asia.
Main decoration for the United Nations Day of Vesak 2014 celebrations.
In order to reach the Pháp Chủ Hall, we had to walk through a long corridor. On one side was a long stretch of arhats, standing 2.3 metres high and carved out from green Ninh Bình stone. It was interesting to see that visitors had rubbed the statues until the surfaces had smoothened out to display the stone's deep green hue.
According to what I've read, there are altogether 500 such statues, with each Arhat striking a different pose, but along this corridor I could count only 250 of them. Maybe there is a different corridor for the remaining statues but we weren't taken to see them.
This was the Pháp Chủ Hall with the magnificent statues of Lord Buddha and his disciples. As this was the Wesak week in Vietnam, worshippers were everywhere, taking up almost all the space in the vast hall, and some even leaving their bags and belongings on the floor to reserve their personal space while they disappeared somewhere for lunch. We wanted to go further and visit the pagoda and the Tam Thế Hall but because of the conference, entry was restricted only to the delegates and we were not allowed in. Reluctantly, we turned back, going past the same 250 Arhat statues that we saw earlier.
The same arch that we entered from, as we existed from the Bái Đính Temple.
We took these tramcars to and from the car park some one or two kilometres away.
Itinerant traders in their make-shift stalls.