Yen Tu Complex

Photo by Els Slots.

The Yen Tu Complex of Monuments and Landscapes is part of the Tentative list of Viet Nam in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

The Yen Tu Complex of Monuments and Landscapes is a series of Buddhist architectural masterpieces constructed in a majestic and poetic landscape, demonstrating human interaction with the surrounding natural environment. The monuments gave birth to Truc Lam Zen Buddhism, a pure Vietnamese line of Buddhism, and contain rare and precious antiques, scriptures, and books bearing witness to its spiritual and ideological values. The temples, shrines, pagodas, and mausoleums of the monuments demonstrate principles of feng shui and are set amidst an unspoiled natural landscape.

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

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Els Slots

The Netherlands - 04-Jan-19 -

Yen Tu Complex (T) by Els Slots

'The Complex of Yen Tu Monuments and Landscape' is a mixed site that comprises a huge area, spread out over 3 separate regions. It is the heartland of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism. Skimming the long description of this TWHS, the Vinh Nghiem pagoda stood out to me as probably the most worthwhile individual component.

The Vinh Nghiem pagoda dates back to the beginning of the 11th century and was enlarged during the Tran dynasty (from the 12th century on), when it became the center of Truc Lam Zen Buddhism. Truc Lam ("bamboo forest") is the only indigenous form of Buddhism in Vietnam. The Vinh Nghiem pagoda was also the first training institute in Vietnam to teach Buddhist monks and nuns.

This pagoda lies near the provincial capital of Bac Giang and within a reasonable bus distance from Hanoi. So on a gloomy New Year's Day I first went with city bus 34 to Hanoi’s long distance bus station My Dinh and there caught one of the half-hourly buses to Bac Giang. The Vinh Nghiem pagoda lies in the village of Tri Yen, some 18km outside of Bac Giang. I had an idea how to get there (take a taxi), but not what to expect of it. Would it be big or small? Would it be open to tourists at all? And an important lesson from previous visits to remote (future) WHS: would I be able to find transport back?

The pagoda turned out to be on the edge of the village of Tri Yen. It looked deserted, but all gates were open. I walked through the large wooden doors into the first big hall of the pagoda. Wow! I knew immediately that it had been a good decision to come here. What an impressive collection of statues of Buddha and arhats. It has a central altar that goes deep into the back of the temple - it seems infinite. Also behind this are rows and rows of statues.

The religious complex of the pagoda consists of four original wooden buildings in a row, including a bell tower. Around it are outbuildings that are still inhabited. There is also a garden.

To the left of the temples there is a storehouse which holds more than 3000 ancient woodblocks for printing. These contain early Buddhist writings in Chinese and Nom (Vietnamese written with Chinese characters). A bit similar to the Tripitaka Koreana at Haeinsa, but they are so special that they are already on another UNESCO list: the 'Memory of the World' register.

I did not encounter anyone during my entire visit. However, music played softly in the background all the time and I found two not too vigilant dogs at the back of the pagoda complex. Afterwards I was prepared to walk the 6km to the main road to catch transport back to Bac Giang and then Hanoi, but already just outside Tri Yen village I stumbled upon a growing group of people waiting for a bus. That bus (arriving at 2pm) turned out to be a big coach. Soon it became clear why: in every hamlet, on every street corner, students were waiting to go back to school or university after the free long weekend. The bus sign said ‘Bac Giang’ but when it turned onto the Bac Giang – Hanoi Expressway I knew that it was going to Hanoi straight away. It was again a lucky escape for me from a remote (T)WHS.

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Full Name
The Yen Tu Complex of Monuments and Landscapes
Viet Nam
Nominated for
Religious structure - Buddhist
2021 Added to Tentative List

The site has 3 locations

Yen Tu Complex: Yen Tu Landscape (T)
Yen Tu Complex: Dong Trieu site (T)
Yen Tu Complex: West Ten Yu Landscape (T)
WHS 1997-2024