Pagoda of the Celestial Lady

The Pagoda of the Celestial Lady in Hue is for Vietnamese people one of the most important buildings in the country. This 7 storey pagoda on the banks of the Perfume River, within the grounds of a large temple, is the location of the many of the more important events, real and mythological, in Vietnamese history from the time its construction in 1601 through to modern times. The Pagoda has come to be associated with the aspirations of the Vietnamese people for religious, cultural and political freedoms.

History of the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady

There is a popular legend surrounding the circumstances under which the Pagoda of of the Celestial Lady (known locally as Thien Mu). This legend has several different versions depending upon which historical source you refer to.

Pagoda of the Celestial Lady in Hue
Pagoda of the Celestial Lady in Hue

One version is that the Nguyen Lord who ordered the construction of the Pagoda was visiting the hill upon which the Pagoda was later built spoke with a local person who told him that an old lady had foreseen that we would visit and later build the Pagoda. The other version of the legend is that the Lord himself met the old lady whilst surveying to establish the best place to establish the new capital city of Vietnam and that he built the Pagoda in her honour in return for the advice she gave him. Either way, the ‘Celestial Lady’ is the old lady in the legend.

Shrine in the gardens of Thien Mu Pagoda
Shrine in the gardens of Thien Mu Pagoda

The second of the great legends of the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady surrounds the story of the daughter of a noble who fell in love with a poor orphan boy. The girls family disapproved of the relationship and the pair met secretly at the Pagoda until the family finally decided that it was time that the girl got married and they arranged a match with a young man from a wealthy family. The unfortunate lovers decided that they would commit suicide together and made a pact to throw themselves into the Perfume River and spend eternity together. The tragic end to the story is that whilst the boy drowned the girl get swept to the banks of the river and was rescued by fishermen. The legend is that the boy’s spirit roams the banks of the river searching for his true love and many Vietnam people are superstitious about visiting the Pagoda with their girlfriend or boyfriend in case they suffer similar misfortune.

Travel to the Pagoda

The Pagoda of the Celestial Lady is on the bank of the Perfume River on Ha Khe hill 4.2 km from Hue Railway Station. You can travel there by public bus and the city’s inexpensive public river boat service, the river boat runs through the city and the stop you need for the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady is called Thien Mu Boat Station.

Hue is located on the main railway line in Vietnam running from Saigon in the south to Hanoi in the north. Hue is slightly over half way from Saigon to Hanoi and a popular stop over point for rail passenger travelling between the two cities. The train journey from Saigon to Hue takes 19 to 22 hours depending upon train you take, and 13 to 15 hours from Hanoi to Hue.

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