Not your average Vietnamese temple, the Bai Dinh Pagoda (Chùa Bái Đính) is actually an almost-three-square-mile complex of temple buildings and gardens dominating the slopes of a rounded hill in Ninh Binh province. The impressive site—whose three-tiered-roof hall leads to attractions such as 30 foot, 200,000 lb. bronze Buddha statue statue; intricate laquerwork and stone carving; a 72,000 lb. bronze bell housed in the 13-story Phap Chu pagoda; and 500 arhat (wisened Buddhist) statues—is a relatively new attraction. Though a much older temple exists up 300 stone steps and tucked into caves at the back of the complex, some of the larger and showier additions, including the bell and its tower, were built only in the last 15 years.
Thousands of Vietnamese pilgrims flood the site regularly, particularly during an annual Bai Dinh Pagoda Festival combining new and old rituals around the sixth day of the first lunar month. Some sources duby this the largest pagoda complex in Vietnam, but regardless of ranking, there’s no question this superlative site is worth a visit. Just don’t expect to have the place to yourself.
The temple complex is located 13 miles west of Ninh Binh town and admission is free. Tours to the Ninh Binh countryside almost all include a stop at the Bai Dinh Pagoda and leave regularly from Hanoi; boat trips to the Trang An Grottoes or Tam Coc cave systems are also often included. The temples are open from 7 a.m. til 5:45 p.m. daily.