I have already featured a recording of Buddhist chanting in Kampong Cham, Cambodia (World Sounds #021). This time we head a bit further East, to the historic city of Hue in Vietnam. Hue is the capital city of Thua Thien – Hue province and between 1802 and 1945 was the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty. The city is located in central Vietnam on the banks of the Sông Hương (Perfume River), about 700 km south of Hanoi and about 1100 km north of Hồ Chí Minh City.
Back in 2009 we spent a few incredible days here, a trip which nearly didn’t happen at all. We were trekking in the northern province of Sapa just days before we intended to head to Hue when we heard the news that typhoon Ketsana had hit the East coast of Vietnam and that both Hue and Hoi An had been badly affected. A lot of people we met in Sapa had decided not to visit either of these cities due to the effects of the storm, but after a bit of indecision ourselves, we finally decided that we would head down and see what the situation was like. In towns where the local economy relies heavily on tourism, we knew that Hoi An and Hue would be affected and decided that we wanted to make the effort to see them. If it really was that bad, we’d move on to somewhere else. This turned out to be a fantastic decision as we enjoyed a fantastic few days in the region. The damage that had been done was pretty evident, but the locals just seemed to be getting on with things as though nothing major had really happened.
On our second night in Hue, we were hanging out at our local haunt for the duration of our stay, the Phuong Nam Cafe – the most amazing fruit shakes in Vietnam – when we got chatting to two locals named Quy and Ty who were promoting their local business, Hue Riders. Their concept is simple. Two very cool guys, with very cool motorbikes who take you on a ride to visit places that you would never normally get to visit otherwise. We weren’t sure if it was really a good deal at first, but in the end they convinced us to take them up on an offer of going on a day-long trip around the region of Hue. And what an awesome decision that turned out to be – it was just amazing!
In total, we must have visited about eight or nine different sites around the region including some beautiful pagodas, the tomb of Emperor Tu Doc, some important sites from the Vietnam war as well as stopping at various villages along the way. Towards the end of the day, we stopped at a Japanese covered bridge used by locals as a place to shelter from the sun, and enjoyed an iced coffee whilst they talked about the effects of the war, their feelings on the country, life. All in all, it was a very genuine, open-hearted discussion which topped off an incredible day.
So what’s this all got to do with the Buddhist chanting then? One of the places Quy and Ty took us to was the Bao Quoc Pagoda, situated on the Southern side of the Perfume River about one kilometre West of Hue City. It was built in 1670 by Zen master Thích Giác Phong, a Buddhist monk from China and was one of the three national pagodas of the city during the time of the Nguyễn Dynasty. The beautiful temple is located on a small hill called Hàm Long and a spring from the top of the hill flows down into the grounds of the temple. With over 2 hectares of magnificent gardens and forest, it is an active pagoda, with many monks living and studying here.
As I have commented before, I find religious places to be fascinating to visit and I they are usually very calm and peaceful too. The general atmosphere in the grounds of the Bao Quoc Pagoda was very, very peaceful. It was a genuine pleasure just to walk around and enjoy the calmness and serenity of the place. To add to this feeling, we often met groups of people as they participated in a meditation walk led by some of the in-house monks. A very cool, chilled out vibe.
After about half an hour of exploring the temple, we stumbled across a group of monks praying in one of the temple buildings. With the utmost discretion, I decided to record the chanting as I found it to be a beautifully, enchanting soundscape. The recording lasts 11 minutes but I do recommend listening to it in it’s entirety in order to appreciate the way the chanting evolves throughout the prayer ceremony. Quy and Ty later explained to us that this ceremony is performed once a day during which fruits are offered to Buddha. These fruits act as a symbol of the rewards of virtuous deeds performed by the monks.
The day we spent with Quy and Ty was one of the most memorable days from our entire six month trip around South-East Asia. After such an awesome day spent with them, we were somewhat disappointed to find out that they could drive you all the way to Saigon over the space of a few days, stopping at all kinds of interesting places along the way. Sadly we had already bought our tickets to do the journey by bus which turned out to be a grueling 24 hour journey. I would highly recommend anyone who visits Hue to hook up with the Hue Riders and if you have the chance to get out to the Bao Quoc Pagoda, it is also well worth visiting too.