Simple buddhism facts in Vietnamese pagodas

With nearly 15.000 pagodas in Vietnam and 1000 ones in Hanoi, a visit to such a site can become repetitive and confusing. Below are some artifacts or images frequently seen in those places. From which, we can turn them into either explainations or stories targeted at “fresh outsiders”, decoded as people who have no idea what Buddhism is about 🙂

Religions, after all, reflect basic human spiritial beliefs and exploring core spiritual cornerstones of a country is an essential step in decoding their mindset. In Vietnam, with a long history of invasion, our ideologies are a mixture of both Western and Eastern influence, in which Buddhism still stands out.

Upon visiting, what people want to perceive is a basic understanding of what Buddhism is as a religion, its core philosophy, how it is perceived in Vietnam and some regularly seen sites. This is minimum coverage, probably a  “Buddhism for dummies” and deeper illustration is encouraged.

1. The Buddha tree (“cây bồ đề”)

The type of plant often seen in front of a pagoda.

cây bồ đề

Etymology: Bodhi tree

Vietnamese: Bồ đề (which is a direct pronunciation of this name)

What it means: awakening/ enlightenment (giác ngộ)

Why is this tree often put in pagodas: according to buddhism myths/ stories, Buddha sat under this type of tree for many days, which directly led to his enlightenment.

“According to Buddhism, after his Enlightenment, Buddha spent 48 days in front of the tree, standing with unblinking eyes, gazing at it with gratitude. A shrine was later built where he had stood”.


Biologically, it is a type of fig tree (họ cây sung).

2. The life journey of Buddha (simplified)

Not all, but definitely many pagodas feature a big picture or series of pictures about life of Buddha. How this figure is portrayed has a direct influence to core ideas of Buddhism.


A simple way to summarize his life

“One day, an Nepalese prince called Siddhartha Gautama, who afterwards became Buddha went outside and saw 4 types of people: a convent (monk), an old person, a sick human and a corpse”.

Vào một ngày nọ, hoàng tử Ấn Độ Siddhartha Gautama, người sau này trở thành người truyền bá Đạo Phật và trở thành Đức Phật đã ra ngoài và nhìn thấy 4 loại người: một nhà tu khổ hạnh, một ông già, một người bệnh và một xác chết.

These 4 types of people made him understand and realize that life is a cycle of suffering. He decided to be a convent, explore the world and get away from his royal life.

Bốn loại người trông thấy trên đã khiến hoàng tử Ấn Độ hiểu và tin rằng, cuộc sống là một vòng tròn của đau khổ. Ông quyết định trở thành một nhà tu khổ hạnh, từ bỏ cuộc sống nhung lụa của một hoàng tử để ra đi, khám phá thế giới và học hỏi.

After a long journey and last 49 days of meditation under a Bodhi tree, he reached final enlightenment and became The Buddha.

Sau 49 ngày ngồi thiền định, Siddhartha đã đạt tới sự giác ngộ cuối cùng và trở thành Đức Phật – Thế Tôn.

The Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka

The Bodhi tree that he sat under was cut a branch to plant in Sri Lanka. Until now, it is still the most well-known Bodhi tree in the world.

It’s also necessary to note that after the prince went out and be aware of the sufferings, he did not go on a journey right away. In fact, he was not allowed by his father – the King. Soon after hearing about the plan of his son, the King recruited a beauty to marry him and soon the price had a son. Looking at the baby, he signed “Here comes a new suffering, an attachment”.

Eventually he still insisted to go and tried to remove life’s temptations by going through lack of comfort. He was constantly in thirst, danger and on the verge of death but still could not come to an ultimate awareness or enlightenment.

He then decided “The journey must be explored from inside“. During this time, a lot of temptations appeared to prevent him from enlightenment. Following is a series of meditation days under Bohdi tree, as we know it.

phật 2

In this big picture (taken from “Chùa bà đá”) , we can see that when he got enlightenment under Bodhi tree, many types of temptations and threats approached him (beautiful women, snakes) but he got over them all (?) :)).

Eventually, he died and transformed into Nivarna, in lying position.

niết bàn nivarna


3. Flag of buddhism


The official  flag for Buddhism was originated in 1880 in Sri Lanka.There are 6 colors in this flag, symbolizing for the light surrounding Buddha when he reached enlightenment. There are many ways of explaining what they mean. Below is a popular one:


  1. Blue – Kindness

2) Yellow – Royalty.

3) Red – Morality.

4) White- means the religion goes beyond time and space.

5) Orange – Intellect

6) The hybrid color (sixth color) – abslute truth.

4. Core ideas of buddhism

Buddhism has many branches, however they share some core ideas

Universe and the world, according to buddhism, is always changing and the world does not have a beginning or an end. There is no eternal. Nothing is consistent and forever. Human is also part of that forever -changing current.

Suffering is an inevitable part of life and Buddhism encourages people to look inward to look for inner peace.


=> In that way, Buddhism sounds more like a philosophy rather than a religion. However, the fact that Buddhism worships a certain figure (Buddha) and the karmic rules that govern the morality system still make it very spiritual.

5. How Buddhism is transfered to Vietnam

– From India (orginally via commercial trading, then leading to culture and
religion exchange)
– Afterwards it has some interactions with Chinese Buhhism. Different from the original Buddhism, this version in Vietnam also worship a female figure.

ExtraInfographic about religions in the world






Cu Chi Impression

Riding for 4 hours per day in the ultimate toxic tropical heat for many times in a row, Cu Chi should be a name to scare me personally.

Yet bringing different people to this land, getting them endure the heat together just to crawl inside the same set up branches of dirt forth and back is still a notable experience. From being an explorer, you switch your role and become observer, story teller. Your sense of ego melts, invisible to let other people’s experiences shine. Cu Chi in me is

Beautiful rubber jungles


In a dry land with nothing aside but an overwhelming heat about to burn you anytime, dotting here and there are still beautiful vast rubber plantations. We ride slowly in small paths under lovely protection of rubber shadows, admiring milky latex drippings crystalized into see-through golden threads.

And once in a while, a character appeared, letting us intrude into his work and try cutting rubber for the first time.


To him, getting enough rubber milk for a work day when it’s not too hot is already a happiness. That simple. Happiness roots from not knowing, or knowing it’s enough to be content.

Intimacy in a flash

As a guide, I am allowed to cut through people’s interactions for a short time. Before a tour, we are not aware of each other. After a tour, we clear each other out of our minds. I don’t even try to remember their names because there is no point, and so do they.

Being intimate in a flash allows me to touch their precious adventure moments. Like seeing couples trying to sneak in a tunnel trunk I know too well, seeing them excited, nervous and their eyes spark the moment their partner got out with tunnel cover on hand, full of dirt.

Love is in the air.





Mekong Delta Guiding Q&A (part 2)

Interacting with people you first meet is either very easy or very difficult, depending on group chemistry. But guiding is a special case: you meet people in a totally controlled context, where basically everything is set up. The things that trigger curiosity in customers are predictable. Yep, we will have FAQs for every area. Time to read customers’ mind.

What are FAQs for Mekong Delta?

Plantation & Agriculture


Customers can ask about ANY plant they see on the road and even though an honest “I don’t know” may gain points for authenticity, after several times it just becomes awkward, shows unprofessionalism and lack of preparation.

Below are plants of Mekong Delta we will encounter along the road. A purely linguistics matter. No need to collect those words ourselves. Let’s just do some searches

Source 1

Source 2

Aside from general plantation vocabulary, there are some plants that are typical for Mekong area which should be given more attention.

Looking from customers’ perspective, images that pop up in their mind about the area are: vast rice paddy fields, fruit gardens, floating villages. Our role is to go deeper and analize WHY the plantation landscape is like that, some typical plants in the area, HOW locals utilize the plantations (for different industries), HOW that even affect their personality and culture. In short, we analize the interdependent relation between nature/ plantation and people’s culture and daily lives in the area.

Same thing applies in other guiding areas.

  1. Agriculture in the area

Source: Viet Wikipedia


  • accounts for 30% of total Vietnam agriculture land.
  • 27% GDP of total Vietnam
  • 50% area of Viet rice plantation.
  • 30% of total Viet agriculture revenue.
  • 54% of Viet fishery.
  • Main rice exporting area of Vietnam.
  • Rices are planted mostly in An Giang, Long An, Dong Thap, Tien Giang.
  • Duck growing also develops in provinces of Dong Thap, Hau Giang, Bac Lieu, Soc Trang, Ca Mau.
  • Typical fuits: coconuts, rice, breast milk, watermelon, jack fruits, mangoes, durians, cacoa (used for chocolates)



1. Demographics

90% Viet, 6% Khmer, 2% Hoa, 2% Cham (Khmer) people. They live and work together in the same area, integrate and assimilate different characteristics to form a common Mekong Delta culture.

This forms the diversity of the area.

2. Personality

People here are mostly friendly, generous and brave. Why? When the first settlers come to Mekong area, the area is just vast wild jungle land. To conquer harsh nature conditions and live in harmony with nature, Mekong people need to adapt themselves, be resilient, generous and open.

The abundance of natural resources make Southern people in general and Mekong people in particular: easy going but short term thinking 7 unstrategic mindset (because there is no urgent need to save, things seem to be abundant all the time). People have a sense about season but do not really treasure time in general. To an extent, this is a drawback. The rate of education in this area ranks as one of the worst of Vietnam.

To be continued…














Mekong Delta Guiding Q&A (part 1)



Less than 100km away from Sai Gon, Mekong Delta is an interesting area with various things to discover. Whether informally taking friends around in their first time visit or being a professional tour leader for tour companies in the area, there are some common topics you can cover. The purpose is to blend general introduction with fascinating details along the road.

Know your audience’s expectations & knowledge


Putting experienced travelers who come to Mekong Delta many times before aside, most travelers just have a vague idea about Vietnam and Mekong in general. They tend to have a romantic visualization: abundant in vegetation, typical tropical land, heaps of fruit, interesting local guilds.

You can enrich your KYC (Know Your Customer) database by asking those questions:

  • Is this the first time you come to SEA/ Vietnam/ Mekong Delta?
  • How do you feel about the area (applied for return guests)?
  • Is there anything you find strange or irritating on your trip?
  • What other places have you been in Vietnam?
  • How long is your trip in total?

These questions can vary, aiming at knowing what customers already know, where they have been, their general impression as well as their concerns about the journey. It also helps you to set their expectations in an acceptable spectrum: not too low to still be excited & look forward, but not too high to be disappointed later.


A good briefing should put the destination in perspective. These information are general, covering: geography, history, population and some prominent facts. These facts and figures will help customers know why they should visit the area and not somewhere else.

Mekong pic

Some facts gotten from credited sites: Lonely planet, Wikipedia, Vietnamese history sites, guidebooks. Your customers may be very well-read and informed. Especially, some documentaries about Mekong area is a great source of knowledge.

Again, a general rule should be repeated: If the customers want to show what them know, go ahead, let them shine. Don’t try to force yourself and pretend to be a know-it-all.

Below are some facts gathered from Vietnamese and English Wikipedia.

Terminology (origin of Mekong name)

mekong river in Laos

Different countries name this river differently.

In China:  – Lan Cang Jiang – wavy river

In Laos & Thai: Menam Kong (by Laos & Thais people) as “mother river” – origin of the current international name.

In Cambodia: Either Mekongk (by Laos ethnic group here) or Tonle Thom (big river, Khmer language). In rainy season, the water flows back to Tonle Sap.

In Vietnam:

When Mekong flows to Viet area, it splits into 2 rivers called Tien Giang (former river) & Hau Giang (later river) & gather in Mekong Delta, after that it splits again into 9 smaller rivers. Therefore in Viet language it is called “Cuu Long” or “9 dragons”.

Myths (interesting stories)

Myths can be a great source of information, excellent for story telling.

(in research period he he)

General facts/ figures/ numbers

Only use numbers/ figures to illustrate a point. If not, it’s boring and not useful.


  • 12th worldly in length
  • Length: from 1200km to 1400km.
  • Half of the river flows in China territory. In Chinese territory it flows through very deep cliffs. When it flows out of China the water level is only 500m above sea level.
  • Flows changes in different seasons. (Disadvantage for waterway transportation but an advantage for rice planting)
  • Starting from Yunnan (China)
  • Crossing Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam.
  • Local name: Cuu Long (9 dragons)
  • Size: 39,000 square kilometres (the combined size of Texas and Arkansas- used for guests from US)
  • 36 bridges crossing the river built by different countries in the area.

History & culture timeline (if possible, turn it into a timeline infographic)

  • 1st century: Malaysian & Indian culture
  • 5th century: Khmer Kingdom
  • Due to difficulties in waterway transportation, different cultures along the river can not integrate.
  • 16th century: The influence/ discovery of the West: 1950 – The first Portugese explorer. (for religion spreading & trading)
  • 19th century: French influence ( after colonization of Saigon in 1861 & imposing Cambodia in 1863). In this period it becomes part of Indochina.
  • 1893: Indochina was set up. But during this period, expeditions by French made them realize that Mekong is too rough for waterway system.
  • After independence from France, the delta area officially becomes part of Vietnam.



To the West of HCMC.

Trinagular shape.

Comprising of Phu Quoc.

Physical landscape: lat flood plains in the south, a few hills in the north and west.

(caued by tectonic transformation 50 million years ago)

In the past (Holocene area) water flowing to both South China Sea & Gulf of Thailand. Now only to South China Sea.

Forest coverage: 7,7 %


A giant Mekong catfish caught by 2 Thai fishermen.

the world’s largest inland fishery

25 percent of the global freshwater catch and provides livelihoods for at least 60 million people.

second only to the Amazon River in terms of fish biodiversity

st 1,100 freshwater species

Many rare animals: Irrawaddy dolphin, giant freshwater stingray ( up to 1,300 pounds), the Mekong giant catfish.



Population: 17,33 million people (2011)

Majority: ethnic Viet.

Khmer area (due to history, formerly part of Khmer area)

Hoa (Chinese Vietnamese population) in Tra Vinh & Soc Trang.

Most children go to HCMC and other big cities for work, so the demographic rate is quite low.

Contemporary concerns, projects & Climate changes

A good presentation should not miss the contemporary sociology-politics big picture which is happenning.


Mekong river for survival


A river of conflict. 6 countries share the river with different needs & priorities for its people.

  • Population growth
  • Deforestation
  • Sewage discharge into water.
  • Pollution from agriculture and industrial sources.
  • The Mekong is a case study in hydro-politics and Asian water security.



  • xay-thuy-dien-tren-song-mekongviet-nam-anh-huong-nang-ne_2700166
  • Current situation: 15 dams in China and 15 dams in Laos, Thailand & Cambodia.
  • Affect the flow of fertile soil and the waterflow downstream, affecting the water level of Tonle Sap, agriculture and fishing industry.
  • Affect to Vietnamese community in Mekong Delta in particular: electric dams will turn 55% of water downstream into lakes, which changes the eco nature of the river, decrease of swamps, changing the immigration path and habitat of water animals.
  • What is Vietnam doing to cope with this situation: an estimated amount of 130 billion VND (nearly 6 million USD) is considered for research to present Mekong mutua organization. The plan was devised in December 2015.











Nationalism is inevitable


Upon deleting buried trash in my feed, I found this article again.

3 years ago I was angry with the article. Now I just laugh it off.

If I detach my identity from Vietnam, would the article trigger any feeling in me? Definitely not.

If I attach my identity with Vietnam as part of nationalism, should I be angry either? Probably not.

A personal opinion should not be taken personally.

However, there is one thing I know for sure: no matter how rational & neutral I try to be, nationalism always leaves a trace in my heart, making all observations biased. Home is a concept to be nostalgic about, when we get beaten by harsh life. I know I am welcome here. If VN is good, I will be proud, if VN is bad, I will try to be a tiny positive change agent. I know many are conscious and willing to be positive change agents as well.

The only people I cry for are my dear people in this country, and rarely anyone else. Not because they are better. Just because they are part of my root, part of my bedrock, the ones who share the same privileges or same struggles.

Running away is easy. Especially when a better material life is not what I am craving for.

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Làng cổ đường Lâm

Làng cổ Đường Lâm quả là thú vị :X. Dù đã mở cửa cho du lịch từ lâu nhưng không khí không nhuốm mùi thương mại và hầu như 100% các ngôi nhà đều được giữ nguyên trạng, xinh xắn, yên bình và sạch sẽ. Các khu hàng nước chè với chiếc chõng tre và vài ba chiếc võng, bên này là một cụ ông tóc bạc phơ, bên kia là cụ bà mải miết với món chè lam thơm dịu sẵn sàng kể cho bạn tất tần tật lịch sử của làng. Ngồi lâu chán thì có thể thuê xe đạp lượn sang các làng bên cạnh. Khác với Mai Châu ngày càng biến chất, mình tin Đường Lâm sẽ phát triển theo hướng bền vững trong nhiều năm nữa. Xứng đáng là 1 weekend hideaway tuyệt vời.

Một điều làm mình hơi bức xúc là chỉ có 20% số tiền vé được chia cho dân làng, vậy nên các bạn nếu có đến đó thì đừng tiếc 1 chút tiền mua quà quê cho các cụ nhé. Món chè lam và khế ngọt tuyệt đỉnh :X. Nhưng kẹo dồi nổi tiếng của làng thì hơi thất vọng #>#.

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P/S: Nên đến đó 1 mình hoặc 2 mình. Đi phượt ồn ào k hợp vs Đường Lâm chút nào.

A new year trip in Lan Ha bay

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After a wonderful trip to start new year in Lan Ha bay, there are some things I want to remember

1. Prepare

A few hours for logistics, but it actually takes 12 years to learn language and 2,5 years to get some experiences. Such a long time to be comfortable and natural in this profession (or any kind of job I guess). I used to be burnt out by enthusiasm. Not anymore.

That’s why I am not very excited about interns. So eager about transforming into sb else, they r like “Can u give me some formulas, guidelines, etc?”

Time. Work. Constant work. That’s the “formula”.

The funny thing about experience spectrum: the more naive you are, the more eager you become. And with customer service jobs, sometimes it pays off. That’s why tour company like new blood. New blood or interns always go out of their way to deliver and prove. In return, employers motivate by lavish compliments. Why not? Lavish compliments don’t cost a thing.

And that’s exactly what new ppl crave for: appreciation.

They can TAKE ADVANTAGE of your enthusiasm if they can. That’s it in business. But eventually, If you are good, you stay. If not, you are out.

Sometimes it’s not about being good but being suitable. Another complicated story. Just because we are humans, unpredictable animals.

2. Expect nothing

Weather can be bad and guests can be demanding. And it’s fine.

Anytime there are some people you can’t handle, you learn st to approach next time.

3. Make the most of surprises.

Don’t promise surprises (what u can’t control or surely deliver). If it comes, cool, ride with it.

4. Know you role.

Things happen for a reason: cash from customers, teamwork. I am part of a chain and I don’t overrate my role.

However, in interactions, just be “there”. Forget about real drives behind things. Just be there as a person to listen, share and observe.

Give people space. Be there when it’s necessary. Stay away when it’s not.

5. Know your privileges and enjoy it

Sure work can be great. Because Why not? 😉

Overcome the most challenging pass in Vietnam

Well known as the most balanced city in Vietnam with sandy beaches, fresh air and clean, organized urban landscape, Da Nang is also a favorite destination for riders coming to the central part of this country.


Here locating the legend pass: Hai Van. Literally means Ocean Cloudy in local language, this 21 km long pass is a breathtakingly scenic route for riders. Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear proved he was right upon exclaiming this is “a deserted ribbon of perfection—one of the best coast roads in the world” while the Guardian puts Hai Van the top great lesser known scenic drives on earth.


With sandy beaches on one side, rugged mountain on the other and a unique climate thanks to being the boundary between North and South Vietnam, Hai Van pass is a top choice for adventurers.

Source: Da Nang cyclists discovering Hai Van pass.

After many centuries of restricted commuting due to limited infrastructure, in 1966, Hai Van pass was widen and improved by American army. 39 years later, in 2005 Hai Van tunnel was officially built, helps reduce traffic flow coming here which makes it even more attractive for motorbikes and bicycle riders.


Hanoi’s 5 best kept secrets

Two years ago, Lonely Planet labeled “egg coffee” in Old Quarter as “The best kept secret of Old Quarter”. Since then, hundreds of people have had the chance to navigate along a very small typical lane of Hanoi old town, immerse themselves within the ancient architecture and refreshing view of Hoan Kiem lake as sipping smooth “eggy” texture of that cafe.
 Despite many Tripadvisor users raving about how “touristy” it has become, to me it is just positive. Those kinds of secrets being revealed help balance out various experiences and travel styles of people coming here, blending themselves more deeply to local community, creating a better picture of Hanoi in the hearts of people who just come here once or twice in their lives.
 This post is dedicated to that spirit from personal viewpoint and information gathered from Vietnamese travel communities.

Long Bien Bridge

Long Bien (the side of dragon), the rusty steel bridge built in 1899 has been a history connector to Hanoians. February 2014, when the Ministry of Transportation proposed the plan of destroying Long Bien to build a new one, people almost went crazy. To us, Long Bien is much more than a kind of commuting.

It is where hundreds of young couple solidify their love with cute small locks, where young volunteer groups gathering, playing guitar, eating grilled corns together, singing like no one is listening. Long Bien is probably the best place in the city to hunt sunrise and sunset, a favourite place of photographers.

You can get to Long Bien just by 10 minute walking from Old Quarter. Being there at any time of the day is nice, yet the feeling of watching Red river at night does give you a serene state of flow.

B-52 lake

Ngoc Ha village, 1972. A striking moment of anti-American war (known internationally as “Vietnam War”). After 12 days of consistent defending, 34 B-52 planes were shot down, marking a victorious moment of the “Dien Bien Phu on air” campaign.

One of the planes fell down into a small lake of Ngoc Ha, a peaceful village. A part of the remnant is brought to showcase in Military History Museum on Dien Bien Phu street, the body is still kept there. Very close to Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, you may ask your driver or tour guide to stop there after paying a visit to Uncle Ho.

An obvious scar of war blends harmoniously with the peaceful rhythm of a small village, making me speechless the first time I had a chance to go there.

Catching “sun fish” from Sunset bar of Intercontinental, West Lake

Many people would probably argue that this is not a secret at all, let alone a local experience. Well, “live in culture, stay in comfort” will be contemporary slogan of travelers. After hours venturing in small lanes of Hanoi, treat yourself with a drink, contemplating while the sun goes down. Sun set bar is seperated from Intercontinental hotel, which makes it a truly spacious location to relax. Spoil yourself and your camera at the same time. A potential competitor might be Summit Lounge of Sofitel Plaza, where the views opens to Thanh Nien, the most romantic street in the city.

Cruising West Lake


Combining “Vietnam” and “Cruising”, people would think of the classic Ha Long bay, not West Lake Ha Noi. Yet that somewhat ridiculous idea turned out to be a pleasant experience. Out of 28 lakes in Ha Noi, West Lake is the biggest one with a peremeter of 14 km. People come here to fish, to swim, to kayak and to enjoy windy, fresh summer nights. Until now Potomac Cruise seems to be the best choice with their good service and regular promotion programs.

Dining out while cruising West lake is definitely not a bad idea if you are short of time in a business trip.

Eating “Bun dau” in Phat Loc lane, Old Quarter

People coming to Vietnam and Hanoi rarely know about anything else other than “Pho”. To them, “Pho” of Vietnam is like Sushi of Japan or Kimchi of Korea, a “signature dish”. I don’t deny that. However, to us, Bun Dau may express even better characteristics of Vietnamese Cuisine.

“Bun” means “rice vermicelli” and “dau” means “tofu”. Made of cheap and available ingredients, “Bun Dau” was originally made for poor workers who can’t afford more costly dishes. Over time it has become a favourite choice of most of Hanoians. Luke Nguyen, a Vietnamese-Australian chef once commented

Vietnam cuisine is all about balance

“Bun Dau” reflects that very obviously: the smooth texture of rice vermicelli, the crispiness of just fried tofu slices, the freshness from various kinds of herbs, the exotic taste of “shrimp taste”, altogether creating a hard-to-forget street dining experience. You can eat Bun dau just at any street, yet the vendor in no 55 of “Phat Loc” lane, Old Quarter sets itself apart thanks to delicate selection of ingredients and hustling, vibrant atmosphere you would expect in a truly local favorite dining area.