Chua Thay is about 30km west of Hanoi and it takes roughly 1 hr to drive there by motorbike or car. It is also known as Thien Phuc Tu (Temple of Heavenly Blessings) and is dedicated to Thich Ca Buddha. Tu Dao Hanh was the chief monk of the temple and the annual festival is held in his honour. There is a lower temple at the base of Sai Son mountain and then an upper temple at the top as well as Cac Co cave. This cave is where Thich Dao Hanh is said to have entered in the last days of his life and ‘disappeared’.
Chua Thay is on the same route as the Hanoi – Mai Chau Route. You can see our blog on How to get to Mai Chau here.
Please note: Chua Thay IS a religious site and you should cover your knees and upper arms out of respect. Whilst it is unlikely that anyone will stop you entering if you do not, it is definitely not polite.
When to Visit
There are several factors that will influence your choice of when to visit Chua Thay. If you have the luxury of being able to choose, these are:
In Spring the pagoda’s annual festival is held from the 5th to the 7th days of the 3rd lunar month (approximately March). This includes water-puppet shows. Here is a link to a video taken at Chua Thay, that shows you what water-puppetry is.
The government allows the lights in the cave to be turned on in Spring only
The Summer heat makes the climb horrendous. You would be advised NOT TO CLIMB up between 11am and say 2pm. It can be so hot and humid that it is very uncomfortable to do so.
IMPORTANT There are 237 steps to Chua Cao. This may not seem a lot but factor in 38C and 90% humidity and you will certainly notice it.
The Winter may mean the steps are wet and slippery.
The Weekends are usually very busy with local visitors. As are public holidays you can easily check public holidays on Google or here.
On Weekdays the place is quite deserted.
Public holidays are to be avoided at all casts and there is no need to tell you why.
The route marked on the map below takes you around West Lake until you get to Trich Sai, where you turn right into Van Cao.
From here you pretty much go straight, straight, straight. The road changes name through: Van Cao, Lieu Giai, Nguyen Chi Thanh and Tran Duy Hung until you see Big C Hypermarket on your right hand side and a huge underpass in front of you.
You take this underpass and you will come out on to the CT08 for a short way. Then, you will have to turn off this as motorbikes are not allowed. There is a small side road that you can use. It is quite busy but the traffic is all in one direction (generally)
After around 10km on this road, you will see a large limestone outcrop ( see the photo on the map) about the size of a large house on your right and you will go past two petrol stations. This is then where to turn right and take the road up to Chua Thay.
When returning to Hanoi you will need to CROSS OVER THE CT08 to get on the opposite side of the road to get back. This is easy enough to do as you will see the obvious overpass to take.
You can use this link to download way points that mark the route. However the directions from Google maps are quite simple. They will also show 3 routes and you can use two of these to make a loop, rather than take an ‘out and back’.
How to use the way points
- Open this page on your phone.
- Click the link to the way points (above).
- Click on ‘View map’.
- Choose any of the way points on route (best to start with the nearest one to you).
- Click ‘Directions’ and then ‘Start’ or just click ‘Start’.
- Follow the instructions from Google
Getting There by Motorbike
How long does it take?
It isn’t far from Hanoi at all at around 30km from the centre of town. You should take less than 1hr to get there, even if you drive at a leisurely pace and don’t rush.
What kind of motorbike can you take?
You can take any kind of bike from Hanoi to Chua Thay because it is not too far and the road is not too bad.
You have the choice of an automatic bike. People often call these ‘twist and go’ bikes or a semi auto, which is a little more difficult to drive. You could also choose a manual bike, particularly, if there are two of you.
Where to get petrol
Petrol is easy to find on the CT08 as there are many filling station on the route. You can find one on Lac Long Quan which is the nearest to Rent A Bike. There are also many all along the CT08 after the underpass and there are two just near the turn off to Chua Thay. On the map given, you can see plenty of options.
There is nowhere really pleasant to stop on the way. It is all quite busy road and by the time it gets to be smaller quieter road you are almost on top of Chua Thay. It is best to get out there quickly and in one go. Then, you can spend more time wandering around snacking and drinking at the many small stalls selling tidbits.
What to take with you
Well, of course you have thought to bring a small day pack to put items in and leave your hands free. For sure, you also have some cash. However, do you have lots of small bills (5s, 10s and 20s? ), because you won’t be making large transactions.
For the ride out there, you it is a very good idea to wear sunglasses or protective goggles. This is because the road has a lot of trucks on it. They and the road throw up a lot of dust and small debris, which will really tire out your eyes.
Also, if you are driving, you should wear some decent footwear with good grip. This is to protect your feet when riding and also to keep your footing when climbing up to and in the cave. The steps are quite polished and can be slippery and the inside of the cave is muddy.
Taking a water bottle to fill is a good idea as the climb is thirsty work not matter which season. One or two small snacks, like a granola bar or some chocolate, might be a good idea too, just in case.
If you are visiting in the hotter months you will already have sun screen, a decent sun hat and possibly mosquito repellent. These are good to bring for obvious reasons. Another good item is a small towel that you can use to wipe sweat from your brow or hands or… ? as it is very sticky and uncomfortable climbing in the heat. This can also help you keep drops of sweat off your camera lens
You may also consider visiting very early in the morning. Things will be open from as early as 6am but I doubt you will be getting there that early. Staying later is an option but the cave warden will be looking to leave. When he does, he will lock the gate to Cac Co Cave and it could be at around 5pm or earlier some days.
At this time of year, it is likely to feel quite cold on the bike and you will need something to keep you warm and maybe a waterproof poncho. However, when you climb you will get quite hot and it would be best if you had layers that you could remove. A small foldable raincoat would be a useful item as would a small umbrella to keep showers off.
The vietnamese style alternative would be a conical hat and a flimsy plastic rain poncho. You can buy these in shops in Hanoi or near the pagoda in wintertime.
This is when the smoothly worn rocks on the path to Cac Co Cave and Mot Mai Pagoda will be treacherous. You must take great care on these and wear good shoes with good grip.
Where to eat nearby
There are lots of small stalls around the lake selling snacks or instant noodles. These are good for drinks and to relax under a fan. For something more substantial there are several places to eat (marked on the map).
What to do when you are there
You can spend as little as 20 minutes to as long as all day here as there is so much to do. If you only wish to see the main lake (Ho Long Tri) and Thay Pagoda, it will not take long to do so.
The lake is picturesque and you will often see kids having great fun swimming there on Summer afternoons. The Pagoda has many statues and altars and is in reguar use by the local monks.
Remember: When entering the inner areas to get to the altars REMOVE SHOES OR SANDALS. Also, as you step over the threshold you should NOT STEP ON THE THRESHOLD. Both actions are very impolite and disrespectful and you WILL get told off.
If you really want, then you can spend some time down at this main pagoda and then take the trek up the hill to Cao Pagoda at the top. From there you can visit Cac Co Cave and then go further on to Chua Mot Mai. If that isn’t enough, you can then carry on to Uncle Ho’s Cave and the Uncle Ho Memorial House. By this time, you will probably be exhausted and need to get to a café or restaurant. There are plenty around Long Tri Lake that will have food and drink for you.
There is a whole complex of temples in the area and if you look at the back of your entrance ticket you will see them mapped out. Visiting all of these is a bit too much for one day even. I suggest you just follow the advice below. If you really want to see more then you can easily find those temples close by.
A standard visit to Chua Thay
Most people will do the same thing when visiting Chua Thay. They may add their own personal variation but nothing too wild. Generally:
You will easily see the main entrance to the pagoda as you drive in to Chua Thay from the highway. You can see that in the image above. There is a large lake and the main pagoda is on a kind of island connected by two small wooden bridges.
Most people will drive straight up to the main entrance on the right as you see the lake. You will pass a lot of street stalls selling food, snacks and drinks. Then you will see quite a few places to park your motorbike and the ticket booth. The ticket is 10,000vnd for adults and children are free. How old or how tall a ‘child’ is I do not know.
You can park at any of the cafes on the lake, or in the house opposite the ticket booth. Parking is generally 5,000 on the street or 10,000vnd in a house. No dual pricing. This area is quite busy and you will have a lot of people crowding around you offering their services. I find it a bit too much.
You can also turn left at the lake and go past a few cafes, where you can park your bike. You can then enter from the opposite side to most people. This cuts down on the amount of people you see as you enter and is generally a calmer route. The parking will cost 5 – 10,000vnd just like at the main gate. There is a guard here but the gate is not very apparent so expect to be called over to pay. Make sure you get a ticket.
Climb to Cao Pagoda
From the main pagoda there are steps taking you up the hill to the Cao Pagoda near the top. This is not a difficult climb but you will need to catch your breath. There are several rest places on the way up. There are also small stalls where you can sit under a fan and buy a cold drink. Once at the top, there are several small pagoda buildings and shrines to pray at. There is also a cave tomb which you can visit.
Explore Cac Co Cave
The cave is further up than this. So, once you have regained your composure and taken a few pictures, you will need to carry on upwards. On the way there are lots of little stalls selling drinks and snacks. They also have fans and electric fans. For this reason, it might be worth stopping at one.
The climb at this point is not technical, nor difficult. It will simply be a bit hot and sticky, especially in the Summer.
When you get to the cave entrance, you will see a man with some torches, his name is Chinh. He will rent them to you whilst you enter the cave for 5,000vnd. He is a chatty fella and worth listening to, if you both have the time.
You can see him in this video: Nhà Thơ Tạ Anh Chính ( Ra mắt tập thơ Bóng Núi) It is all vietnamese but there is some good camera work. This will give you a good idea of the layout.
Be very careful in the cave as it is dark and damp and slippery. The stone steps have become quite polished. There is loose stone and gravel everywhere and there is mud on the rocks. This is where the shoes with good grip come in and the day pack to stow your things and allow you to have your hands free. A small towel is a very good idea to mop away any sweat.
There are a few signs warning of dangerous areas and limestone formations as well as two small shrines before the big one. The main shrine has the bones of .. [story]
Taking an Extended Tour
Chua Mot Mai
Now, if you feel like you have the energy and desire to explore a little further, you can take the walk / scramble over to Mot Mai Pagoda.
Be warned, this path is less trodden and is much more difficult to navigate. The limestone is sharp and ragged and a tumble would be a bad thing.
The path winds around the hill and up slightly to the pagoda. Again, there is a small courtyard and a house for statues of Buddha and other deities. And, as always, you will see the smoke billowing from the incense being burnt.
Uncle Ho’s Cave
It is highly likely that this gate will be locked and you will not be able to enter. However, if it is open you will need to bring your own flashlight to go down here.
There are several local people that act as guides and they will generally be around the Chua Cao area. They will ask you if you would like a guide to show you around. They are pleasant enough and not too insistent.
You can expect to pay around 100,000VND for a guide to take you up to the cave and inside. They will tell you the whole history of the pagoda and the buildings. Whether it is all true or not is questionable but isn’t that what faith is all about.
How to return to get your bike
You now have two choices: to climb over the hill again, or to walk around on the road. Climbing the hill again is obviously strenuous and maybe not wise in Summer.
Walking back along the main road taking you back round to the lake and pagoda is not the greatest use of your time either. However, it does give you the opportunity to visit the Well (Gieng Dinh) and take a few snaps. If that is your route then some kind of shade: a sunhat or umbrella, is advised.
Let’s leave you to decide which works best on the day.
Back at the Main Pagoda
Once you are back at Long Tri Lake, it is definitely time for a well earned cup of coffee or a beer. Add on a few snacks and you will start to feel refreshed. There are plenty of hammocks available for you to lounge around and relax in.
If you need to rent a motorbike to get out to Chua Thay, then you would do well to choose RentABike Hanoi. They have good quality rental bikes of all kinds: auto, semi-auto and manual. You can contact them on 0904392423 or take a look at their website.
Overall, Chua Thay is a great day out. It is not far from Hanoi and there is plenty to see there. You will get a good work out, climbing all those steps and you will get to see a little bit of countryside Vietnam. Chua Thay is surrounded in all neighbouring villages by small pagodas.