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Where in the World?

Posted on 11/14/2017 12:00:00 AM in Travel Trivia

With practically every surface covered in mosaics of broken glass, Linh Phuoc Pagoda is impressive both in its scope and its details.

Question: In which palace of broken glass can you pray to a duo of giant goddesses before descending the stairway to hell?

Answer: Linh Phuoc Pagoda, Dalat, Vietnam

Since 1952, Buddhist pilgrims have boarded the Dalat Railway for Linh Phuoc Pagoda, just a short ride from Dalat’s city center—but renovations in 1990 transformed the temple complex into an attraction for visitors of all faiths. Virtually every surface at Linh Phuoc is inlaid with broken glass, terracotta, and porcelain, earning it the (very literal) Vietnamese nickname “Ve Chai,” or, “pieces of broken glass bottles.”

But while these quirky, colorful mosaics would be delightful enough on their own, they’re just one element of Lin Phuoc’s grand visual playground. Massive statuary, soaring tiered towers, colorful sculptures, and flashes of neon come together in a mashup that’s equal parts ancient and modern, spiritual and theatrical. But even where the imagery seems to border on the absurd, the artwork is faithful to Buddhist tradition, incorporating common symbols, themes, and architectural styles.

Everywhere you look, there’s a lot to take in, so make sure you make time for a few can’t-miss sights—most of which, we admit, would be hard to miss if you tried.

Six Fantastic Features of Lin Phuoc Pagoda

  • A 160-foot-long dragon sculpture winds through the complex, encircling a small lake that houses an image of Maitreya Buddha—prophesied to arrive on earth after the teachings of Buddha have been forgotten. The dragon itself symbolizes power, prosperity, and life force. It took 12,000 beer bottles to create the glass used for its scales—we’ll leave it to you to decide whether this supports or detracts from the symbolism.

  • Housed in a seven-tiered tower, a 40-foot statue of Guan Yin, goddess of compassion, dwarfs a coterie of delicate jade Buddha images and “miniature” renditions of the goddess herself (each of which stands seven feet tall). Venerated by Mahayana Buddhists, Guan Yin is not a Buddha, but a bodhisattva: a disciple of Buddha who intentionally delays enlightenment in favor of helping sufferers on Earth.

  • In the same tower, you’ll find the largest bell in Vietnam. In 1999, three generations of craftsmen spent the entire year molding, casting, and engraving this 15-foot, 9-ton behemoth, whose four sides represent the four seasons and are flanked by eight dragons. Visitors are encouraged to write a wish on a piece of paper, affix it to bell, and chime three times to send prayers to Buddha.

  • Dalat is the capital of Vietnam’s flower industry, and a 66-foot-tall floral image of Guan Yin pays homage to the city’s bounty of blooms. Some 600,000 strawflowers cover every inch of the massive statue. Appropriately nicknamed the “golden everlasting,” strawflowers owe their longevity to paper-like “petals” that actually aren’t petals at all. Technically called “bracts,” these leaves basically bloom dry, making them a favorite in unforgiving climates.

  • The inner sanctum houses an image of Sakyamuni Buddha—the Mahayana name for Gautama Buddha, who we generally think of as the Buddha. At 16 feet tall, he’s not as physically imposing as other statues in Linh Phuoc, but the sanctum itself is striking. A field of royal blue carpet paves the way to the golden Buddha, who sits atop a lotus flower with concentric circles of neon surrounding his head. Above, fluffy white clouds float across a serene sky-blue ceiling. And all around, reliefs on the walls tell the story of Buddha’s life, from birth, to enlightenment, to teaching, to death.

  • In the basement of the pagoda’s main building, a demonic gate leads you into the depths of hell. That’s right: underneath Linh Phuoc’s riotously colorful theme park atmosphere, you can follow a darkened tunnel through the 18 levels of Buddhist hell. It looks like the kind of haunted house you might visit on Halloween, with eerie music, flashing lights, and life-sized dioramas depicting scenes of gore. Yes, of all the contrasts you’ll find within Linh Phuoc, the stairway to hell reveals the most dramatic of them all.

Take the train to Linh Phuoc and admire its many contrasts when you join O.A.T. for Inside Vietnam.

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