Hidden in a small commune, the over-100-year-old Phuoc Kien Pagoda (Lotus Leaf Pagoda) in Dong Thap Province has been famous with many Vietnamese and foreign people thanks to ponds of King lotus with giant leaves and mysterious stories about vegetarian old turtles.
General information about Phuoc Kien Pagoda (Lotus Leaf Pagoda) in Dong Thap Province
Location: Hoa Tan Commune, Chau Thanh District, Dong Thap Province. CLICK HERE to see the location of the temple. Phuoc Kien Pagoda is located on a small road on the bank of a channel, the big road is on the other side of the channel. There are some bridges connecting two sides of the channel.
Total area: 5,000 m2
Year of establishment: in the middle of the 19th century
Name: Chùa Phước Kiển (Phuoc Kien Pagoda), Chùa Lá Sen (Lotus Leaf Pagoda)
According to Abbot Thich Hue Tu, it was a small pagoda, built under the rule of King Thieu Tri (from 1841 to 1847).
In 1966, the small pagoda was bombed and almost completely destroyed. The new pagoda which is bigger was built. The craters have become lotus ponds in recent.
King lotus – the most impressive thing at Phuoc Kien Pagoda
Phuoc Kien Pagoda is commonly known as Lotus Leaf Pagoda thanks to ponds with giant lotus leaves, each of which is able to carry a 100-kg person. It was Victoria amazonica – a species of flowering plant, the largest of the Nymphaeaceae family of water lilies.
It looks like hats which were worn by Vietnamese kings and royal families so that Vietnamese people call it King lotus (Sen vua). The traditional Vietnamese flat palm hat “Nón quai thao” which is made from leaves or flat basket (nong, nia). Thus it is also called Flat basket lotus (Súng nia).
The leaf has a diameter of 1.5-3 m and is able to suffer the weight of 150 kg. The lotus plants grow fast in the pagoda during the high water season (from July to September). The leaves in this season have diameters of 3 m. In the low water season, the diameter of the leaf is only 1.5 m. Young leaves have lots of thorns and look like porcupines or bird’s nests.
The king lotus flower blossoms and changes its color continuously for three days. The flower has different colors including white, pink, purple, etc. The flower is many times smaller than the huge leaf.
The pagoda has two king lotus ponds which were all craters. The small one is in a square shape and in front of the main building of the pagoda. The large one is on the right of the pagoda, it has a total area of about 700 m2. Abbot Thich Hue Tu said that the lotus plants have grown on their own since 1992. Many people tried to grow this species outside in other ponds but they do not succeed.
The concrete main gate of the pagoda is painted yellow, blue and red. On the gate, visitors can see the name of Phuoc Kien Pagoda in Vietnamese and Chinese, year of establishment 1962, parallel sentences.
The small road leading to the front yard and buildings is lined with green trees including guava trees, coconut trees, bamboo trees and small channels. Vendors sit along the road and sell a wide range of fruits and specialty foods. Fruits include kumquats, guavas, star apples, papayas, durians, soursops, bananas, longans. Dried shrimps, dried squids, black peppers, Fermented pork roll – a specialty food of Dong Thap, girdle cakes are sold popularly
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In the front yard, there is a small shrine on top of which were placed three statues of monkeys, the square lotus pond, Guanyin shrine, some food stalls and souvenir stalls. The motorbike parking is on the left of the main building.
In front of the small lotus pond, there is a small shrine looking like houses. On top of the small houses, there are three statues of monkeys with different gestures: speak-no, hear-no, see-no. They are usually called Three wise monkeys embodying the proverbial principle “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. The monkeys wear colorful coats and crowns. Visitors usually offer monkeys fruits, the small statue in front of three monkeys is offered tobacco.
This pond has a square shape, it represents the Earth. Round lotus leaf represents the Sky. There are poems of Thich Hue Tu Abbot on the back of the shrine: “Ao liên trì sen báu. Nhìn sen thấy thật đẹp lòng. Xin đừng ném đất – rách lòng lá sen. Liên trì ao trước ao sau. Gieo nhân hái quả luật nào nể ai. Ở đời có một chữ sai. Người trong trần hạ đọa đày hung hăng. Từ bi nó giải chữ sai. Không còn nhân quả ngự ngay liên đài. Huệ Từ Kính Cẩn” (Lotus pond precious lotus. Look lotus, feel great. Do not throw soil – make lotus leaves torn. Front and back lotus ponds. Plant seeds, harvest fruits, one rule for all. There is one wrong word in life. Fierce people damn. Mercifulness broke the wrong word. No cause and effect, sit on lotus. Hue Tu).
Guanyin shrine has two curved roofs, decorated with nice ornaments and Dharma wheels on its top. Glazed brick tiles depicting flowers, carps, flowering trees, dragons and lots of flowers make the shrine colorful. There is a big statue of standing Guanyin and small statues of Guanyin sitting on lotus flower.
Souvenir stalls and wood carving service
Next to the small pond, there is a souvenir stall where visitors buy wooden carved souvenirs such as keychains, motorcycles, cyclos, bracelets, customized words or images. When I visited the pagoda, the vendor was a disabled but a talented woodcarver.
The main hall is built simply, with metal corrugated roof. There are many altars against the walls and in the center of the hall.
At first, the pagoda follows Linji school (Lâm Tế tông) of Buddhism and Buddhas are worshiped here. Visitors have brought statues of Buddhas, Jade Emperor (Ngọc Hoàng), Dharmapala (Hộ Pháp) and many other deities which have been worshiped on the altars later. The pagoda also worships the dead turtle who was the close friend of Abbot Thich Hue Tu.
One of the highlights in the main hall is the over-100-year-old bell which was cast when the pagoda was established.
In the hall, visitors do not only burn incenses, pray in front of altars but also touch turtles (Ông Rùa) on the floor. They have belts so that visitors present them money, sometimes ask them for something. These turtles are considered sacred animals in the pagoda. They are farmed in a pond on the left of the main hall. Monks put a tray in the pagoda, if a turtle would like to be in the main hall, it will move onto the tray and let monks bring it to the main hall.
In the back hall, there are some altars and a place for getting their fortune told via sortilege. The dining room and living room are in the back hall. Monk’s rooms are behind the back hall.
Big lotus pond – photo service
The top highlight of the pagoda is probably the large lotus pond on the right of the main hall. Here visitors can simply admire the beauty of a pond which is full of big green round trips and nice flowers floating on water and surrounded by green fruit trees, shade trees, flowering trees and plants. They can also walk on the pedestrian bridge. In a peaceful and green place, visitors calm themselves and forget all the troubles.
One of the most interesting things to do at Lotus Leaf Pagoda is trying standing or sitting on a giant lotus leaf. It would be a big miss if visitors do not take great photos with the leaves. A local man use a wooden panel to connect the concrete pedestrian bridge and a lotus leaf and help visitors to hop on and hop off the leaf safely. A photographer takes great photos of customers with his/her professional camera. They charge visitors who would like to be on the leaf and take photos a small fee which is about VND 20,000 (~ $1 USD). The fee includes a printing photo. Certainly, partners of visitors can take photos with their own cameras or smartphone.