Ta Cu Mountain, some 29 kilometers to the south of Phan Thiet, is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and Buddhists.
The 694-meter mountain, situated in Thuan Nam Town, is a national reserve whose animal and plant species include more than 10 endangered ones like the black-shanked douc, a red-listed monkey.
But its main attraction is a complex of two pagodas, four giant Buddha statues, and other Buddhist works located two-thirds of the way up.
The complex’s main structure is Linh Son Truong Tho (Long Live Sacred Mountain) Pagoda, also known as Nui (Mountain) or Tren (Upper) Pagoda.
It was built between 1870 and 1880 by Tran Huu Duc, a monk famous for his medical skills and contributions to many pagodas across Binh Thuan Province, who went to the mountain to meditate. It was later preserved and expanded by his successors.
The pagoda features Buddhist architecture that became popular during the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) era. It has a sanctum dedicated to Duc, dubbed the pagoda’s Forefather.
Also located in the pagoda’s precinct are the grave tower of the Forefather and his successors, and the Bach Ho (White tiger) grave for a white tiger said to have been tamed by Duc, which died after his death.
According to historical records, the pagoda was named by Nguyen King Tu Duc (1847-1883) in honor of Duc, who had cured his mother, Tu Du, of a serious illness in 1880.
After Duc passed away in 1887, his successors built the Long Doan Pagoda, locally known as Duoi (Lower) Pagoda, next to Linh Son Truong Tho.
In another part of the complex is a 49-meter long, seven-meter high statue of a reclining Buddha attaining Nirvana that was finished in 1962.
Records show that a man named Truong Dinh Tri began its construction in 1958 with contributions from Buddhists across the southern region. The work was said to be done manually, but it remains a mystery how the materials were hauled up the mountain.
Nearby are three smaller statues of the Amitabha Buddha, Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, and Bodhisattva Mahāsthāmaprāpta. All are between 6.5 and seven meters tall.
The complex includes the Forefather’s cave, where it is believed Duc initially practiced Buddhism.
The cave offers a thrilling passage for the adventurous: its slippery steps are each a meter high, and the bottom is about 100 meters down with an underground stream.
Since the cave is dark and narrow, it can take more than two hours to navigate it and reach the other side.
After the first few hundred meters, one can come across small streams in whose cool waters they can wash their face and hands.
The trip starts getting tough after the first kilometer when the going becomes steep. The payoff is the chance to enjoy centuries-old giant crape-myrtle trees and the cool atmosphere and hear birds sing.
But later the climb becomes easy again, and the reward for some hard work is magnificent views of the plains below and forests partly hidden by mist.
Visitors can take a cable car to the top, but still have to climb some 100 steps to reach the pagoda complex.
The other way is to climb more than 1,000 steps. It takes nearly three hours to climb the 2.25-kilometer distance, but the views and things to discover along the way make it a worthwhile trip.
Thanh Nien News (The story can be found in the August 24th issue of our print edition, Vietweek)
A 49-meter-long, seven-meter-high statue of the reclining Buddha attaining Nirvana that is located two-thirds of the way up Ta Cu Mountain in the central resort town of PhanThiet