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Close by Ho’s Silthouse, the One Pillar Pagoda rivals the Tortoise Tower as a symbol of Hanoi. It is the most unusual of the hundreds of pagoda sponsored by devoutly Buddhist Ly Dynasty kings in the eleventh century, and represents a flowering of Vietnamese art. The tiny wooden sanctuary, dedicated to Quan Am whose statue nestle nestles inside, is only three square meters in size and is supported on a single column rising from the middle of an artificial lake, the whole structure designed to resemble a lotus blossom, the Buddhist symbol of enlightenment. In fact this is by no means the ordinal building – the concrete pillar is a real giveaway – and the last reconstruction took place after departing French troops blew up the pagoda in 1954.

The pagoda’s origins are uncertain but a popular legend recounts that it was founded in 1049 by King Ly Thai Tong, an ardent Buddhist with no male offspring. The goddess Quan Am appeared before the king in a dream, sitting on her lotus throne and holding out to him an infant boy. Soon after, the king married a village girl who bore him a son and heir, and he erected a pagoda shaped like a lotus blossom in thanks. The fact that King Ly Thai Tong dreamt that Quan Am invited him to join her on the lotus throne. The King’s advisers. Deeming this an ill omen, advised him to found a pagoda where they could pray for their sovereign’s longevity.

Whatever the truth, most people find the pagoda an anticlimax – partly because of its size and the concrete restoration work, and partly because of the overpowering presence of Ho Chi Minh’s Museum. Behind the pagoda grow a bo tree, said to be an offshoot of the one under which the Buddha gained enlightenment, which was presented to Ho Chi Minh on  a visit to India in 1958. Finally, take a peek in the adjacent Dien Huu Pagoda: inside is a delightfully intimate courtyard full of potted plants and bonsai trees.


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