Hue makes bid to be Buddhist getaway

Currently in Hue, there are over 400 Buddhist pagodas and temples, making up a third of the total number of pagodas in Vietnam. However, the question on whether Buddhist culture can be turned into an attractive tourism resource in modern Vietnam has yet to be answered.

Pagoda's in Hue are arranged to blend in with nature.
Watching the Buddhist nuns making decorations will add variety to an attractive tour option when visiting pagodas.

Hue was once the Capital of Buddhism in the southern half of Vietnam. When the Nguyen dynasty chose Hue as its capital, the development of pagodas and temples there had already made significant advancements and were second only to Thang Long (Hanoi).

Despite this fact, the Buddhist culture of Hue still holds many mysteries and is still largely unknown to outsiders. One reason for this is that travel agents only organise trips for visitors to see the pagodas scenery and architecture, not to explore the culture.

About 30 speeches followed by discussions with practical ideas focusing on the theme "Hue Pagodas and Tourism" took place at the "Buddhist Cultural Relics and Tourism Development of Hue Conference", held on May 7 in Hue City.

At the conference, researchers discussed many pros and cons and many differing possibilities, with the aim of determining whether spiritual tourism could attract visitors on a large scale.

According to researcher Nguyen Phuoc Bao Dan, Hue pagodas were classified into two types, small and simple ones placed deep inside the forest and grand ones decorated in sophisticated style. However, from the space, to the architecture, to the decoration style, Hue's pagodas are in harmony with nature, giving it a strong advantage in regards to tourism.

Upon a visit to one of Hue's magnificent pagodas, visitors will have an opportunity to taste vegetarian dishes that use freshly grown vegetables and fruits from the pagoda's garden. After the main meal, desserts such as cakes and sweet soup hand-made by Buddhist nuns and monks are served. At the end, visitors can converse, drink tea and meditate among the monks.

A complete tour that consists of sight-seeing, cuisine tasting and meditation at Hue pagodas as mentioned above, according to Ton Nu Khanh Trang's research, would likely make visitors feel relaxed, comfortable and tranquil during their trip.

Nguyen Dac Xuan, a scholar of Hue studies, said that since the end of the nineteenth century, the French people had begun to organise tours to Hue and one of the highlights was visiting the city's numerous sanctuaries, shrines and mausoleums.

In many tourism guidebooks by Marcel Monnier, Ph.Esbérhard (France), the information he provided for readers everywhere on Hue pagodas attracted major interest. During the twentieth century, specifically after Vietnam's Reunification, pagodas have become must-visit destinations for all tours to Hue.

Many ideas were introduced, and one of them, "Hue Buddhism Musical Festival", would allow visitors to actively take part in Buddhist rituals, appreciate the artistic value of Hue's pagodas, traditional music and bring peace to their own soul.

At present, Dong Duong Commercial Trading Travel Company has adopted this special feature on their "Travel for Peace" tours, which include sight-seeing, conversing and eating vegetarian meals at Dong Thuyen, Ba La Mat pagodas.

"Travel for Goodwill" tours aim at meeting and sharing stories with needy children and helpless elderly living in Dus Son Pagoda. The idea has attracted a large number of visitors both in Vietnam and from overseas to come and visit Hue's pagodas. There are also other tours that allow visitors to see how the Buddhist nuns hand-make their sauce, breads, cereals and incense.

Mr. Nguyen Huu Thong, the head of the Vietnam Art and Culture Institute in Hue suggested that tours to old temples located in the villages could also be arranged. "The temple as the main destination along with the beautiful and natural rural settings of the villages would create an important opportunity for agricultural tourism and folklore tourism to develop. Tourists will be able to explore many traditional and special characteristics of Hue villages themselves," Thong added.

In response to what could possibly be done to attract a large number of visitors to Hue's pagodas, Dr. Tran Duc Anh Son, Deputy Director of Da Nang Institute for Socio-Economics Development stated, "We should consider using one of the biggest Buddhist festivals in Hue as a lever to attract tourists. The "Quan The Am" (Avalokitesvara) Festival (held on June 18 -19) could be turned into a significant cultural and religious event that is held annually."

However, Nguyen Dac Xuan suggested developing a "Spiritual-tourism Festival" project, in which he set out the content, purposes, members, and organisation methods for a special Buddhist festival that could be held every two years during the odd-numbered years of Buddha's birthday (full moon April).

According to statistics from Thua Thien - Hue Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism in 2009, the province welcomed over 1.5 million visitors and received more than VND 700 billion (USD 36 million) in revenue. However, the main type of tour was just bringing visitors to sight-see famous attractions and historical relics. With the aim to fill up their travel time, visiting the pagodas has only been a minor feature included in tours.