Vietnam's verdant northern region now has a beguiling new tourist attraction.
The Bai Dinh Pagoda, located in a massive valley with several lakes and mountains, has become the country's biggest pagoda at 700ha.
The new attraction is easily accessible for tourists on city breaks to Hanoi, which is just 80km (49.7 miles) away.
Also called Bai Dinh Buddhism Spiritual Centre, it was built to mark the 1,000th anniversary of Thang Long-Ha Noi (1010-2010).
King Ly Thai To transferred the capital city from Hoa Lu in Ninh Binh to Thang Long (now Hanoi) in 1010.
The new pagoda's entrance gate features two bronze statues of Ho Phap protective deities, and eight bronze statues of Kim Cuong, angels who safeguard Buddhism.
It also boasts Vietnam's biggest bell of its kind, the 36 tonne Dai Hong Chung bell constructed from bronze and gold, which can be heard 10km (6.2 miles) away.
The pagoda's corridors extend for a total of 1km (0.62 miles), housing 500 Arhat stone statues of vast artistic value.
The complex also includes south-east Asia's largest gilded bronze Buddha statue (100 ton). In addition, the tree-packed pagoda complex has the two biggest bells in south-east Asia (36 and 27 ton).
The new pagoda fuses 21st-century craftsmanship with the work of designers who have drawn on the country's rich heritage of ancient Buddhist pagodas.
The pagoda is surrounded by various amazing natural landscapes and "must-see" cultural sites.
The Tam Coc-Bich Dong river-cave complex and Trang An landscapes fall into the first category. The former royal capital of Hoa Lu, the Phat Diem Stone Cathedral and the ancient spiritual tourism complex of the original Bai Dinh Pagoda belong to the second group.
Tourists have to climb 300 stone steps to reach this 11th-century pagoda atop a small mountain summit in Gia Sinh Commune in Gia Vien District.
Bai Dinh means "the worship of heaven and earth, Buddha and celestial angels". Its ornate surroundings and quiet, meditative mountains and forests are conducive to private journeys and group tours alike.
Copyright Press Association 2014
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