Bich Dong Pagoda – another historical site in Ninh Binh (Trang An).
- Personally, I find the area in Ninh Binh very interesting both in terms of history and cultural and natural heritage. The city of Ninh Binh is easily accessible from Hanoi and getting around is very easy if you have a scooter / motorcycle or even a bicycle. Anyone going to northern Vietnam should visit this place. One of the very popular and visited places is the Bich Dong Pagoda + Dark Cave (Chùa Bích Động), which is right next to the pagoda (there are 2 other caves nearby). Bich Dong Pagoda is only about 3 km from Tam Coc boat wharf, it is a tourist center of Tam Coc.
- The whole area in Tam Coc is a very impressive karst area, interspersed with rivers, and even the Bich Dong Pagoda is part of the fascinating Trang An scenic complex. Well, it is there in Ninh Hai village, Hoa Lu district that this pagoda and cave is hidden among the hills and small mountains. Trang An is one of the most visited places in this area, but also in northern Vietnam. Especially on the New Lunar New Year celebrations, it is very popular by Vietnamese people. Boat tours in Tam Coc and Trang An are very popular. So you have to count on the fact that you will simply be in a top touristic and visited place, where many foreigners also come.
The history of Bich Dong Pagoda in Ninh Hai dates back to the 15th century.
- If we look at the absolute beginning and the origin of Bich Dong Pagoda, it is the year 1428, when the pagoda was founded and built in the Ngu Nhac Mountains. In the 18th century, two monks (Tri Kien and Tri The) decided that repairs would be made to the original structure and it would also be expanded. To this end, they asked for donations from other devout followers of the Buddhist religion and began their work to build three temples in the area of the mountain known as Bich Dong. Bich Dong Pagoda in Ninh Hai village consists of 3 pagodas. The pagodas are called – Ha (Lower), Trung (Middle) and Thuong (Upper) which are connected by stone steps from the bottom up to a cave with shrines and a nice view of the surrounding area.
- In the coming years of the 18th century, several prominent figures of Vietnam, such as Trịnh Sâm, came to Bich Dong Pagoda and decided to call the place „Bach Ngoc Thanh Son Dong“ because of the beautiful scenery in front of their eyes. It means something like „Temple of blue stone that has the beauty of white pearl“. The pagodas are mainly built with wood and stone, a material that was mainly used in that 18th century to build pagodas and palaces or temples. The pagodas are shaped like the Chinese word „Dinh“ (工), have a two-storey roof and eight other smaller roofs. The overall view of the three pagodas is reminiscent of the Chinese word „Tam“ (三), which means the number 3.
Bich Dong Pagoda (Chùa Bích Động) = 3 pagodas in total:
1. Ha Pagoda – lower pagoda at the foot of the mountain behind the entrance
2. Trung Pagoda – pagoda above the stairs, half in the cave
3. Thuong Pagoda – pagoda is a part of cave, 2 shrines
Bich Dong Pagoda is part of the popular Tam Coc (Tam Cốc – Bích Động).
- Tam Coc is approximately 3 km away, a place of karst scenery and popular boat trips. Therefore, this place is also called as Tam Coc – Bich Dong and is part of various group tours that go from Tam Coc to Bich Dong Pagoda and Trang An. The entire Tam Coc area also offers other historical sites and palaces (for example Am Tien Pagoda) or even caves that are part of the Trang An complex.
- Bich Dong Pagoda also offers about 3 caves in the vicinity, one is part of the already mentioned pagoda, the other is a few hundred meters behind the pagoda in the valley, where you can go by a marked path. One more cave is supposed to be next to the valley, but I didn’t visit this cave and don’t know the exact route.
- The cave, which is part of Trung Pagoda (Bich Dong Pagoda), is also called „Dark Cave“ (Hang Toi). Previously, during the French colonization, this cave was just a place where Vietnamese patriots made some weapons. There is also a copper bell in the cave, and it was said that the victim of some injustice who rings the 3 bells here will get justice and their pain will disappear. So you can also try it in this cave.
- The cave is not particularly large, but it is quite magical, there are stalactites and it is interestingly located in the mountain and from this cave you can go to the last small Thuong Pagoda. And a little bit from here, there are more stairs leading to a lookout over the valley behind this pagoda and cave. Then you can also go down into the valley and look into another small cave (but this cave was close during my visit.
Bich Dong Pagoda can be reached from Hanoi or Ninh Binh in various ways.
- If you want to go to Bich Dong Pagoda (or Tam Coc), you have several options of transport. Travel distance from Hanoi to Bich Dong Pagoda is about 110 km via Ninh Binh city and Tam Coc. From Hanoi to Ninh Binh there are trains of Vietnam Railways, buses, private minivans or cars. Some minivans and buses from Hanoi also go straight to Tam Coc to the boat wharf and you can buy these tickets online. So, from Tam Coc it’s only 3km to Bich Dong Pagoda and you can get here either by scooter, motorbike or even by bike or taxi.
- I recommend to get around Tam Coc and Trang An complex either by scooter / motorbike or by bicycle. If you are afraid of driving a motorbike, you can also use a motorbike transport with a driver, it is called mototaxi (or Grab). That being said, Ninh Binh is a lowland area, so it is easy to get around the whole Trang An area. Tam Coc is the biggest base for tourists in this area and you can stay in the area. There is no airport in Ninh Binh, so forget about air travel. Ninh Binh Railway Station is about 4 km from Tam Coc.
When is the best time to visit Bich Dong Pagoda in Ninh Binh?
- The best time to visit Bich Dong Pagoda is September – October or spring months, which is the same as for the whole Ninh Binh area. In reality, however, you can of course come all year round. Officially, Bich Dong Pagoda is open all day, so just come during the day as you like. In the summer months, the Ninh Binh area can get heavier rains, it’s monsoon season and so there is a risk of very high temperatures. You can also come in winter, but you will miss the colours of nature a bit and the temperatures can be lower, so this is for those who can’t stand the extreme tropics.
- There is no entrance fee to Bich Dong Pagoda (I don’t rule out that it may be changed in the future), entrance is still free for now, you can leave a voluntary entrance fee in the pagoda if you wish. Only the parking lot in front of the pagoda entrance, in front of the lake, is paid. You should also beware of some people who may offer tickets to tourists around the pagoda, definitely do not buy any tickets from these people, they are scammers.
1. If you can, skip the monsoon season (summer months)
2. September > October – a good time to visit Ninh Binh
3. Temperatures can be lower in the winter months.
Where to stay close to Bich Dong Pagoda and Tam Coc?
- If you’d like to stay in the area around Bich Dong Pagoda, there are some very nice homestays or private bungalows. These are mostly bungalows, homestays or resorts and located in close proximity around the pagoda. This neighborhood is a bit quieter than the Tam Coc center by the boat harbor, so on the one hand it’s not bad to stay here and explore the whole Trang An scenic complex or Tam Coc from here. A couple of the tourist resorts are also very upmarket, otherwise they are standard bungalows / homestays of very decent quality at lower prices.
Accommodation in Ninh Hai (Bich Dong Pagoda):
Practical Information — Bich Dong Pagoda in Ninh Binh:
1️⃣ Where is Bich Dong Pagoda located?
- Bich Dong Pagoda is located about 110 km from Hanoi, approximately 10 km from the centre of Ninh Binh in Ninh Hai village. The pagoda is 3 km away from Tam Coc, which is a big tourist and popular place. The whole area is part of the Trang An scenic complex, which is the most visited place in Ninh Binh.
2️⃣ How old is Bich Dong Pagoda?
- The origins of Bich Dong Pagoda date back to 1428. In the 18th century, the pagoda was repaired and expanded.
3️⃣ How to get from Hanoi to Bich Dong Pagoda?
- From Hanoi to Bich Dong Pagoda – private minivans, buses or cars to Tam Coc
- From Ninh Binh to Bich Dong Pagoda – private car, taxi, mototaxi, motorbike
- From Trang An Ecotourism Site to Bich Dong Pagoda – motorbike, private car/taxi
4️⃣ Is it necessary to have a tourist guide to Bich Dong Pagoda?
- No, you don’t need a tourist guide to visit Bich Dong Pagoda, it is a small but very nice place, easily accessible.
5️⃣ What is the dresscode for Bich Dong Pagoda?
- Reasonably, you’re going to a historical sacred place, so you’re probably not going to come here in a swimsuit. I mean, there’s no one guarding it, but respect is in order. Personally, I was in shorts and a T-shirt. Don’t take pictures anywhere naked.
6️⃣ Is it necessary to buy tickets to Bich Dong Pagoda?
- No, entry to Bich Dong Pagoda is free, you don’t need any tickets. It can’t be ruled out that this will change in the future. Beware of some scammers in the area who may offer tourists tickets to this place, don’t buy anything like that. There is only a charge for motorbike/car parking outside the entrance to the pagoda area.
7️⃣ What can be seen in Bich Dong Pagoda?
- Bich Dong Pagoda is an important historical site, you can see small pagodas, temples, caves, shrines or prayer houses. There are also some preserved spiritual relics or Buddhist statues or even a copper bell.
8️⃣ When is the best time to visit Bich Dong Pagoda?
- If you want to explore the Ninh Binh area for more days, I recommend choosing either the beginning of autumn (September, October) or the spring season (April, May). In winter it can be very cold, the surroundings are not very colourful and in summer there is a possibility of heavy rains and very hot weather.
9️⃣ What are the opening hours of Bich Dong Pagoda?
- Officially, Bich Dong Pagoda is open all day. All day means just come sometime during the day.
🔟 Is it possible to stay at Bich Dong Pagoda?
➡️ How big is Bich Dong Pagoda and how to pass it?
- Bich Dong Pagoda is not a very big complex and you can just walk through it here, a few steps into the cave. You can then follow the marked path into the valley and past another small cave, the valley is behind the pagoda.
➡️ Is it possible to buy some food and refreshments here?
- Immediately in front of the pagoda there are a couple of restaurants and you can buy small snacks and drinks.
➡️ Where can you go from Bich Dong Pagoda?
- If you are already at this pagoda, you can continue further, for example to the Thung Nham Bird Park, located about 5 km west of Bich Dong Pagoda. You can go to the park by motorbike, bicycle or you can walk.
Map of the travel route from Hanoi to Bich Dong Pagoda:
(the most convenient way is of course to combine the trip with a visit to other places in Ninh Binh, e.g. Tam Coc).