In fact, identify which one is pagoda or temple is still a trouble even with some Vietnamese people. The two constructions seem to be similar at a glance but they have distinct architectures, purposes, and customs. Understand clearly about these destinations you visit will make your Vietnam vacation more interesting and enjoyable.

Pagodas & Temples in Spiritual Life of Vietnamese

In the Vietnam spiritual world, many deities are actually real human beings that have lived exceptional lives and have kept their influential position in the afterlife. Buddha is the highest ranking of all. Others deities of human origin include famous and powerful emperors, mandarins and national heroes that influenced Vietnamese history. Buddha the compassionate has to take care of everybody, irrespective of his or her deeds and situation. He is therefore extremely busy and does not have time to cater to each individual prayer. However, other figures are choosier; they will look upon individual prayers and decide which one they will answer favorably. This is why Vietnamese worshippers will visit different temples, addressing specific prayers to specific deities. A business request might be submitted to a successful mandarin, a family problem may be submitted to the Mother, etc.

Pagodas and Temples in Spiritual Life of Vietnamese

In English, ‘temple’ is a more general term designating any building where people go to worship, while ‘pagoda’ more specifically refers to a Hindu or Buddhist temple. Vietnamese also uses two main words “đền” and “chùa” translated respectively as temple and pagoda.

What is a Vietnamese Pagoda?

It is the base of activities and propagation of Buddhism, a place where Buddhist monks and nuns gather to practice and teach Buddhism. Everyone, including believers or non-believers, can visit, worship, watch or practice Buddhist rituals. In some places, the pagoda is also the place where the blessing spheres of true practitioners are kept and the monks are buried.

Vietnamese pagoda

What is a Vietnamese Temple?

Temples are architectural works built to worship a saint or historical figures worshiped as divine. In Vietnam, the temples were built to commemorate the merits of  Vietnamese heroes or the merits of an individual with locality built in folklore.

vietnamese temple

Some famous temples can be mentioned in Vietnam such as Hung Temple, Kiep Bac Temple, Soc Temple, Tran Temple … are places to worship national heroes. Other temples such as Voi Phuc Temple, Bach Ma Temple, Kim Lien Temple, Quan Thanh Temple … worship the saints according to Vietnamese folk legends.

Other Vietnamese Worship Places

Vietnamese Shrine (Miếu)

The shrine is a type of cultural relics in Vietnamese folk beliefs, which is smaller than the temple. The one is worshiped in the shrine is very diverse, which is expressed in the name of the shrine. Shrines are usually built on high ridges, mountain slopes, river banks, villages, and quiet places so that spirits can be peace, not to be affected by the noisy life of normal people.

Vietnamese Shrine

Vietnamese Communal House (Đình)

A communal house is a worship place of the tutelary gods of the villages, as well as a meeting place for villagers. Communal house is considered as the center of cultural activities associated with a community of residents and characteristics of the Vietnamese rice civilization. A tutelary god is a man who has merit with the people and the country, set up villages, hamlets or founded a profession (the father of the profession).

Vietnamese Communal House

Things to Remember When Visiting Temples or Pagodas in Vietnam

Buddhism focuses on Vietnamese religious life although many people do not practice Buddhism. During your Vietnam vacation, you may have chances to visit temples or pagodas as interesting points for experiencing history, culture and local religion. Therefore, the list of things to avoid when visiting Vietnam’s temples and pagodas will be helpful to avoid an unexpected situation during your trip to these places:

  • Do not bring anything from the pagoda or temple to your house if that is not what the monks offer to you. All things in the pagoda and the temple are offered by other people.
  • If you are offered food or drinks inside the pagodas, you should give some money as donations because in the Vietnamese perception, when you receive something, it’s good if you send back something else.
  • In most Vietnamese worship places, you must take your shoes off before getting inside.
  • There are usually 3 doors in a house of worship, so do not walk in the middle door because it is the door for gods, deities and the king in Vietnamese perception.
  • Show respect for God’s statues, do not look at it, you can take pictures, but try not to use the camera’s flash, make noise and sound in places of worship or in front of the altar.
  • Do not try to touch the statues.
  • Do not run, laugh and do not speak loudly in places of worship.
  • Do not smoke, chew gum or spit inside temples and pagodas.
  • Try not to stand upright in the middle of the altar.
  • The best clothes to visit temples and pagodas are long-sleeved shirts, pants or at least clothes can cover your underarms and your knees. Do not wear too much-exposed clothing or tight clothing such as skinny, tank top,…
  • The best way to greet the guardians of pagodas or the monk is keeping your palm close to your chest or your nose and tilting your head slightly.