The Yen Tu Pagoda festival takes place from Jan 15 to Mar 15 (lunar year) in Quang Ninh, a border province. Yen Tu is the name of a 1,068m high mountain, some 15 km to the North West of Uong Bi, chief town of Quang Ninh province.
As is well-known, it was the birth place of Truc Lam, a Buddhist sect founded by Vietnam'ss King Tran Nhan Tong (1258-1308). Yen Tu has a beautiful scenery but is very difficult to access, with a myriad of brooks, steep slopes, deep abysses, and small winding lanes leading, through forest of fir trees, to its cloudy top.
The first scenic spot one comes across is the Suoi Tam brook, where King Tran Nhan Tong, on the way to Yen Tu mountain from the Capital, had to stop and take a bath in order to get rid of all the dust of the world of human beings.
Not far from Suoi Tam, is the Cam Thuc Pagoda where the King had his first vegetarian meal, consisting of plain rice cooked with the water in the brook and vegetables gathered on the spot.
Going further, one sees the ruins of the Lan Pagoda with, among other things, a dozen stupas and some stelae. After crossing the
[The Pagoda and the brook are associated with a certain legend which says: When King Tran Nhan Tong left the throne for Yen Tu mountain, a number of royal maids volunteered to accompany him. Arriving at this place, he ordered them to return home. To show their faithfulness to the King, the maids jumped into the brook. Some drowned, while many others were saved by the local population and later settled down in the region. As a result, Nuong village was set up (which now is part of Thuong Yen Cong commune). The King was deeply moved and organized a ceremony to "clear unjust charges" toward the dead. To the same end, a Pagoda was established near the brook.
Then, the lane leads the visitor to the Hon Ngoc (Emerald) garden where is located the Main Stupa which reportedly contains the ashes of King Tran Nhan Tong. It is located on a square land area, dimensions 13m x 13m, and surrounded on four sides by 2m-high walls made of overbaked bricks, with outer edges looking like sea waves. The southern and northern parts of the walls have vaulted doors, and the road leading from the northern door to the mountain top is paved with big-size square bricks, with decorative designs in the form of chrysanthemum flowers and concentric circles. Outside the walls are 44 other stupas dedicated to 44 members of the Tran Royal family who have led a religious life to the end in Yen Tu pagoda area.
Behind the Main Stupas is the Hoa Yen pagoda whose base is higher than that of the former by 7 or 8 metres. It lies among big old fir trees and the fragrance of forests. It was built during the Ly Dynasty and its Chief Monk was later appointed as Teacher of a Crown Prince. Its old name was Van Yen, while the new name, Hoa Yen, was given it during the Le Dynasty. It was initially a very big pagoda, comprising several main buildings, provided with bell and drum towers, living quarters for monks and for guests, a "predestination" shrine (Am Thien Dinh) and more. Later, it fell in ruins. The present Hoa Yen Pagoda is built on the old foundations but it is much smaller, comprising an antechamber and a back chamber, and dedicated to the three founders of the Truc Lam sect (Tran Nhan Tong, Phap Loa and Huyen Quang). It is still regarded as one of the main pagodas in the Yen Tu area, and one of the centres of the yearly festival. It has a number of statues. That of Tran Nhan Tong, the biggest, is placed right in the centre of the back chamber.
Behind the Hoa Yen Pagoda is a bamboo garden and the Do Nhan Stupa built 800 years ago with enamel bricks whose colour has not faded with the passage of time. By following the right slope of the mountain from the Pagoda, one reaches the Ngu Doi brook (where King Tran Nhan Tong bathed) and then the Cloudy Shrine (Van Am) where the King died in peace. With its back to the mountain, the Shrine, which lies amidst pine and bamboo trees, overlooks the sea. Going further, one comes across the "One-roof" Pagoda, also dedicated to the founders of Truc Lam sect, which is built inside a cave with one roof erected outside. From here, a winding lane would lead the visitor to the Bao Sai Pagoda which is near a beautiful cave, provided with stalactites and stalagmites and a very small, limpid brook. To the West of Bao Sai pagoda are the ruins of the Van Tieu pagoda, the base of its altar lying among old pine trees. Not far from Van Tieu Pagoda, is the nine-level Vong Tien Stupa, which has an original structure and a spire.
From here, access becomes much more difficult. Steep slopes facing deep abysses, stones piled on one another in disorder. If the visitor manages to cross the Truc pass full of orchid flowers, he or she will see a 2-metre statue-like piece of stone. This by report, is the statue of An Ky Sinh, a person who, one thousand years ago, learned and practised martial arts in this mountain. Going past this statue, one reaches a Buddhist stele (a stele with an inscription in Pali) and the Dong Pagoda, the highest location in the Yen Tu Mountain. From here, one can view an all-embracing panorama of this region, the mountains, the rivers and the human settlements. It is rumoured that any time the bell rings in Dong Pagoda, clouds and rains follow. The story perhaps is meant to illustrate the height of the yen Tu mountain which touches the clouds. Living in such an environment, one may feel that he or she has divorced himself or herself from the world of human beings.