Hon Chen Temple

Hon Chen Temple, while not as prominent as some other destinations in Hue city, holds a special charm for those who visit it. Let’s Deluxe Group Tours take you into its serene atmosphere, unique rituals, and cultural significance, knowing why it is so attractive.

About Hon Chen Temple

1. Location

Hon Chen Pagoda, associated with the most legends in the complex of relics of the ancient capital of Hue, is situated on Ngoc Tran Mountain, along the romantic Perfume River, and belongs to Ngoc Ho Village, Huong Ho Ward, Hue City, Thua Thien Hue Province.

Ngoc Tran Mountain, formerly known as Huong Uyen Son, lies on a range of low mountains extending from the foot of the Truong Son Range towards the plain of Hue, with a section of the Perfume River blocking its headwaters. The entire mountain range seems to concentrate its vitality here, forming an isolated peak with dense green vegetation growing steeply along the edge of deep cliffs, which is the deepest part of the Huong River. The ancients chose this Ngoc Tran mountain to build a temple, which is Hon Chen Temple nowadays.

2. The history of Hon Chen Temple

Hon Chen Temple, according to records from some documents, was constructed during the reign of King Gia Long. In March 1832, King Minh Mang ordered renovations and expansions for this temple. The temple underwent further renovations in 1834.

hon chen temple history

From 1954 onwards, Princess Lieu Hanh, also known as Van Huong Holy Mother, was worshipped here. Additionally, Hon Chen Temple also housed statues for Buddha, Saint Quan Cong, and over 100 other deities, disciples of the aforementioned saints. Thus, in terms of religious beliefs, Hon Chen Temple doesn’t adhere strictly to one belief but incorporates various beliefs.

From 1883 to 1885, due to an up-and-down period in Nguyen Dynasty history, King Dong Khanh awaited his turn to ascend the throne after his adoptive father, King Tu Duc. He sought guidance from his mother, Queen Kien Thai Vuong, who visited the Ngoc Tran temple to pray and consult with Thien Y A Na Holy Mother about his future as king. She assured him that his destiny would like his expectations.

Therefore, in 1886, after his coronation, King Dong Khanh ordered the grand reconstruction of the temple, adding more sacred objects for worship and renaming the temple Hue Nam Temple, meaning “Temple of Southern Grace,” as an expression of gratitude to the Holy Mother.

3. About Holy Mother Thien Y Na

Holy Mother Thien Y A Na, the mother goddess of the land, also known as the Goddess Lady of Ngoc, revered by the Chams and often referred to as the Goddess Poh Nagar (or Po Ino Nogar), is a deity worshipped with great reverence by both Vietnamese and Cham people. She was elevated to the ranks of the highest-sacred gods by the Nguyen dynasty.

Many historical documents and legends recount the origin story of Holy Mother Thien Y A Na. According to the Cham people, Holy Mother Thien Y A Na is the embodiment of the goddess Poh Nagar, while the Vietnamese have assimilated her into the figure of Holy Mother Lieu Hanh.

The goddess Poh Nagar emerged from the sea foam and the rays of the sky outside the open sea. One day, as the sea rose high, it carried her to the bank of the Yjatran River in Kauthara (Cu Huan). Thunder and wind immediately arose, announcing her descent to all beings. Instantly, the waters from the source converged into a river flowing down to welcome her, and the mountains bowed low to receive her. As she stepped ashore, trees bent down to show reverence, birds flocked to both sides of the road to pay homage, and flowers bloomed even more brightly to perfume each of her footsteps. Then the goddess Poh Nagar used her magic to transform into a majestic palace, agarwood, and fields of corn…

She possessed numerous magical powers and also had many husbands. In her harem, there were as many as 97 men. However, among them, only Mr. Pô Yan Amo held the highest authority. Despite living with so many husbands, she only gave birth to 38 daughters. These daughters, later on, all became deities, among whom three were bestowed with significant magical powers. They were Pô Nogar Dara, Rarai Anaih (both revered by the people of Phan Rang), and Pô Bia Tikuk (worshipped by the people of Phan Thiet).

Thus, Holy Mother Thien Y A Na worshipped at Hon Chen Temple has its origins as a goddess of the Cham people. When the Vietnamese settlers arrived in Thuan Hoa, they also revered her sacredness. The word “Thien” is derived from Sino-Vietnamese and is appended to “Y A Na,” originating from that period, evolving from feudal times.

Hon Chen Temple’s legends

Hue is inherently a spiritual land, as it is home to numerous temples, shrines, pagodas, and tombs. Among them, Hon Chen Temple is perhaps the most sought-after destination, as people not only marvel at its unique historical and scenic beauty but also come to pay respects and seek blessings for peace, prosperity, and health. This place also has many hidden legends and mysterious stories.

1. The legend of Goddess Ponagar

Regarding the legend of the Goddess Ponagar, there is an inscription carved in Chinese characters on a stele erected at the northern tower of Po Nagar (Thien Y A Na), written by the scholar Phan Thanh Gian, who was a doctoral candidate in the Department of Rituals under the reign of Emperor Tu Duc, in the year 1857.

Lady Thien Y is stated to have been born on Dai An Mountain, near Cu Huynh Mountain, in Dai An Village, Khanh Hoa Province, described as a fairyland with the sea surrounding and picturesque scenery. An elderly couple lived on the foot of the mountain, childless, and they planted melons daily. One night, in the course of a flood, they encountered a young lady, about ten years old, stealing melons beneath the moonlight. Feeling pity for the orphaned girl, they adopted her as their child and raised her as though she were born by them.

One day, when the scenery was gloomy due to heavy rain, the young girl remembered Tam Dao, an ancient fairyland, and decided to pick fruits and build a fake mountain to enjoy. The elderly man became angry and scolded her. Regretting her actions, she transformed into a piece of wood and was washed away in the North Sea (China). There, the people couldn’t carry this piece of wood, but the prince could easily bring her to the bank of the sea.

The prince helped her and suggested bringing her into the palace, and he later married her. The couple lived happily and had two children, but she longed for her homeland and decided to return. Before leaving, she left behind rituals and taught the people how to be virtuous and charitable. After her passing, the people built a temple to worship her and called her Thien Y A Na, Lady Goddess Ngoc Thanh Phi.

It is also said that the Holy Mother Thien Y A Na sometimes appears riding on a white horse, wandering through the mountains. Each time the goddess travels, people can hear commands, like the sound of divine orders. Sometimes the goddess appears as a strip of silk floating in the sky under the serene sky or wearing a large fish on her head, playing from island to island.

To worship Lady Thien Y A Na, in Hue, a temple called Hon Chen (Ngoc Trang) or Hue Nam Temple was built on the upper reaches of the Perfume River.

2. The legend of King Thieu Tri

Another legend related to the Hon Chen Temple includes King Thieu Tri. It is stated that when the king, along with his concubines, went cruising at the Perfume River. During the boat trip, one of the concubines accidentally dropped a small golden tube into the water.

Because the object was very valuable, she begged the king to urgently pray to the Holy Mother Thien Y A Na to retrieve it. Initially, the king showed skepticism. Nevertheless, he eventually complied with her request. Surprisingly, very quickly, the tube resurfaced at the water’s surface. Realizing the sacredness of the place, the king ordered the temple to be renovated. However, lamentably, the development was not finished earlier than the king’s death.

3. The legend of Minh Mang King

Another legend related to Hon Chen Temple is associated with another king of the Nguyen dynasty, King Minh Mang. Once, during a visit here, the king accidentally dropped a jade cup into the Perfume River.

Thinking that it would be impossible to retrieve, suddenly a large turtle, as big as a mat, surfaced with the jade cup in its mouth and returned it to the king. Therefore, folklore still passes down that Hon Chen Temple was formerly known as Hoan Chen, meaning “returning the jade cup.”

However, in the official royal decrees of the Nguyen dynasty, the temple still appears with the formal name “Ngoc Tran Son Tu” (the temple on Ngoc Tran Mountain). It was not until the reign of Dong Khanh (1886-1888) that the temple was renamed Hue Nam Temple (meaning to bring grace to the southern kingdom), and it became associated with many other legends. Despite the passing of many years and the numerous legends, the local people still refer to the temple as Hon Chen Temple or Hoan Chen Temple.

Explore Minh Mang Tomb, where nature and architecture blend seamlessly. Learn about its unique design and symbolism

4. The legend of Dong Khanh King

Due to an up-and-down period in Nguyen dynasty history, King Dong Khanh waited for a long time but was never able to ascend to the throne after his adoptive father. Especially when his two younger brothers, King Kien Phuc and Ham Nghi, were chosen to rule while he, despite being older, was not selected. He then asked his mother to visit Ngoc Tran Temple and offer the trance ceremony to ask Holy Mother Thien Y A Na whether he could become king.

King Dong Khanh
King Dong Khanh

Therefore, after ascending the throne, King Dong Khanh immediately ordered the reconstruction of this temple in a grand manner, adding many sacred items for worship and renaming the temple Hue Nam Temple to express his gratitude to the Holy Mother. As mentioned above, Hue Nam means bestowing blessings on the southern country, the king of the south. With the hope that the Holy Mother would help him escape from his short-lived fate.

During the period of Dong Khanh King, there was a historical event that occurred: King Dong Khanh humbled himself and addressed “thần” with Holy Mother Thien Y A Na. This is an event that has never occurred in the history of feudal dynasties in Vietnam. In that period, the king was the one standing above all deities, and “thần” was the address of the below ones, and there had never been any kings who “lowered themselves” to proclaim themselves as “thần”.

At the same time, he improved the annual rite held right here to a national ritual and recounted himself as the disciple of the Holy Mother, although the king handiest cited the Holy Mother as “chị” (sister).

The architecture of Hon Chen Temple

Certainly, what makes you fascinated when visiting the Hon Chen temple is that every detail inside the structure is adorned with captivating and exquisite artistic architecture. According to elders’ accounts, the architecture of the Hon Chen temple carries historical significance, representing the highest level of artistry in the late 19th century.

hon chen temple

Upon stepping foot into the Hon  Chen temple, you will have the opportunity to witness about 10 large and small structures nestled on the slopes of Ngoc Tran Mountain. These structures all face the Perfume River, surrounded by lush green trees. Therefore, the Hon Chen temple is not only a sightseeing spot for architecture enthusiasts but also a picturesque destination that many people choose for their check-in photos.

Join the Hue dragon boat tour program to visit the Hon chen temple

Among the 10 structures, the most prominent is the Minh Kinh Dai located right in the center of this construction. On the left side, there are the Ngu Hanh palace, altars for officials, the Am Ngoai Canh (Am is a small outside structure used for worship), and the shrine of Mr. Tiger. On the right side are the Quan Cu house, the Holy Pagoda, and the Trinh Cat Chamber. Adjacent to the Perfume River is the Am Thuy Phu.

Minh Kinh Dai was built in 1886, during the reign of King Dong Khanh, with a ground plan structure in the shape of the Chinese letter ” 三 ” (Three) with a total area of ​​over 250m2. From bottom to top, Minh Kinh Dai is divided into 3 parts:

De Tam Cung (the third palace) or Tien Dien (the front temple), is where a large incense table is placed, with two bell towers on either side, serving as the location for conducting rituals. The area for pilgrims to stand and pay respects. This area has been expanded with the addition of a canopy and a courtyard in front of the building later.

De Nhi Cung (the second palace), or the Council Palace, features a tall and large altar in the middle, where dozens of different sacred statues, including Buddha statues, are worshipped. This hall is also used as a place to display ritual items used during major ceremonies, such as Phung Lien (the carriages, palanquins, and ceremonial staff are carved and embroidered with images of lotus flowers and phoenixes), Long Dinh (which is the most common traditional palanquin in the religious ceremonies and beliefs of the Vietnamese people), etc.

De Nhat Cung (the first palace), also known as the Upper Palace, is divided into 2 floors. The upper floor is dedicated to worshipping the Holy Mother Thien Y A Na, the Holy Mother Van Huong, the image of King Dong Khanh, and some other high-ranking deities in the religion; the lower floor is used as a reception area and residence for the palace guards…

de nhat cung- hon chen temple

Another notable feature of Minh Kinh Dai is the abundant decoration of phoenix imagery. During the Nguyen dynasty, the phoenix was often used to symbolize queens, as this was a place of worship for the Holy Mother, so the phoenix was predominantly used.

With its rich history, the temple still preserves over 600 relics belonging to 284 different types, all of significant historical value. Particularly, within the De Nhat Cung of Minh Kinh Dai, there is a mirror painting depicting the 7 disciples of the Holy Mother, one of whom is King Dong Khanh.

Experiences at Hon Chen Temple

1. Listening to the legends of Hon Chen Temple

Under the cool shade of lush green bamboo, the dreamy Perfume River winds its way, embracing the majestic Ngoc Tran Mountain, the site of the historical and cultural relic – Hon Chen Palace. This place captivates you not only with its magnificent natural scenery but also with the hidden mystical legends that enchant the soul.

hon chen palace

The mythical tale of King Minh Mang’s jade cup and King Thieu Tri’s journey, the sacred legend of King Dong Khanh’s ascension to the throne, all these legends contribute to the special allure of Hon Chen Palace, making every stone, every corner of the palace vivid and mystical in your mind.

Listening to the legends of Hon Chen Temple is like stepping into a mysterious world, sparking curiosity and belief in wonders. These stories contribute to enriching the cultural and historical value of this heritage site, making Hon Chen Temple an unmissable destination when traveling to Hue.

2. Exploring the constructions at Hon Chen Temple

Visiting Hon Chen Temple, the unique architectural and cultural-historical space here will be an ideal place for you to explore. With ancient moss-covered architectural structures, intricately carved statues, and majestic natural scenery, exploring the architectural structures at Hon Chen Palace will surely be a trip without regrets.

Hon Chen Palace is a religious architecture that may not be grander than others but has a distinctive feel, with all architectural elements adorned with exquisite decorative art famous for the late 19th century. The main motifs are dragons, phoenixes, lotus flowers, and vines, all with vibrant colors, creating a beautiful and impressive overall aesthetic.

Hon Chen Palace is a structure with a distinctive architectural style, bearing the characteristic features of ancient landscape architecture. Not only that, but the temple inside also bears the imprint of religious architecture. All of these elements blend together to create a poetic and charming historical monument, harmonizing with the rivers and mountains of Hue.

The temple stands apart from the mundane world, blending with nature and amidst the romantic Perfume River, creating a beauty so captivating that in the royal decree issued for the temple in 1886, King Dong Khanh praised the natural beauty of Hon Chen Palace as a lion stretching its head down to the Perfume River to drink water.

3. Participating in Hon Chen Temple Festival

The festival of Hon Chen Temple, also known as the Hue Nam Festival, the Mother’s Commemoration Festival, or the Thien Y A Na Goddess Festival, is a traditional folk festival associated with the historical site of Hon Chen Temple and the village temple of Hai Cat, located in Huong Tho commune, Huong Tra town, Thua Thien Hue province.

Hon Chen temple - Thua Thien Hue province
Hon Chen temple – Thua Thien Hue province

This festival is considered a celebration of the folk culture of the Hue region along the Perfume River, often held twice a year, in the third month and the seventh month of the lunar calendar, at the Hon Chen Temple located on Ngoc Tran mountain, where the Thien Y A Na Goddess is worshipped.

The festival resembles a celebration of folk culture along the Perfume River, bustling with boats adorned with colorful flags that pilgrimage to the Hon Chen Palace to worship the Holy Mother. In the temple area, there will be activities such as the Holy Mother’s village procession, the village worship ceremony, the procession welcoming the Holy Mother back to the palace, the release of creatures, and the launching of lanterns.

The ritual of the Hon Chen Temple festival is divided into two main parts, including the Nghinh Than Ceremony (procession of deities to the temple) and the Chanh Te Ceremony (the main ceremony with many activities imbued with traditional folk culture).

The Nghinh Than Ceremony is solemnly organized on the Perfume River to escort the goddess Thien Y A Na from Hon Chen Temple to the village temple of Hai Cat. The boats in the procession are adorned with colorful flags, and the atmosphere is lively with the melodious singing of female mediums, folk songs, and ritual singing.

hon chen temple festival
Hon Chen temple festival

The procession, with a scale of hundreds of people on dragon boats, reenacts the unique traditional cultural traits of belief systems, showcasing a diverse array of ancient colorful costumes combined with distinctive forms of recitation and dances characteristic of the Mother Goddess worship.

The Chanh Te Ceremony takes place immediately after welcoming and escorting the deities and Holy Mother. This section of the Hon Chen Temple festival is organized with various activities such as offerings to the Holy Mother, village offerings at Hai Cat, releasing animals, releasing lanterns and floating flower lanterns, etc. All of these activities bear the distinctive mark of traditional folk culture and are widely embraced.

4. Admiring the unique features of the séance ritual

The most captivating aspect of the Hon Chen Temple festival is the séance ritual. This is a unique spiritual ceremony where the mediums wear the costumes of the deities, dance to music, and sing praises describing the spirits.

You immerse yourself in the joyous atmosphere of the festival, eagerly watching for hours without fatigue because you get to experience the unique spiritual space.

Chau van-hon chen temple
Chau Van- Hon Chen temple

Essentially, the séance ritual is a ritual of communication with deities through the mediums. It is believed that the spirits can inhabit the bodies of these mediums in a spiritually elevated state to convey messages, dispel evil spirits, heal the sick, and bestow blessings and fortunes upon devotees and disciples.

When the spirits input, the mediums are not themselves but turn out to be the embodiment of the spirits inhabiting them. To serve this critical ritual, a shape ritual singing known as “Chầu văn” has been created to facilitate the technique of spirit possession and divine manifestation.

Especially,  Mother Goddess worship is mainly the séance ritual, which became recognized by UNESCO as a cultural history on December 1, 2016, and formally covered within the representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Hon Chen Temple travel experience

1. How to get to Hon Chen Temple

The historical site of Hon Chen Temple is located approximately 8km southwest of the city center. From a distance, you can see the temple nestled amidst the mountains at the peak of Ngoc Tran, casting its shadow over the gentle Perfume River.

If you travel by personal vehicles such as motorcycles or cars, you can start from the center of Hue city. You should head along Bui Thi Xuan street, then turn onto Huyen Tran Cong Chua street. After that, you go to Than wharf and then continue by boat on the Perfume River to reach the foot of the mountain, then continue walking to Hon Chen Temple.

Furthermore, to have special experiences, you can immerse yourself in dragon boat trips to Hon Chen Temple. This is an experience that allows you to both admire the picturesque scenery and immerse yourself in the mystical and serene atmosphere of the Perfume River.

Another option to optimize your trip is to book a tour of Hue that includes the experience of Hon Chen Temple. This is the perfect choice for you, as everything from transportation to the itinerary is taken care of, eliminating the need for you to plan.

No matter the means of transportation, Hon Chen Temple is definitely one of the must-visit destinations when you come to Hue.

2. Ticket prices

As it is part of the Complex of Hue Monuments, if you wish to visit Hon Chen Temple, you will need to purchase a ticket priced at 50,000 VND per person. This ticket covers only the visit to Hon Chen Temple and does not include access to other monuments within the Complex of Hue Monuments.

You should consider your needs and preferences when choosing the appropriate type of ticket. If you want to visit many monuments within the Complex of Hue Monuments, then it’s advisable to purchase a combination ticket. If you only want to visit Hon Chen Temple, you can buy a single ticket for Hon Chen Temple alone. You can refer to the price list of monuments within the Complex of Hue Monuments below to make your decision.

NoSightseeing spots/routesAdultChild (from 7 – 12 ages)
1Hue Imperial City200.000 VND40.000 VND
2Relics: Tomb of King Minh Mang; Tomb of King Tu Duc; tomb of King Khai Dinh150.000 VND30.000 VND
3Tomb of King Gia Long150.000 VNDFree
4Tomb of King Dong Khanh100.000 VNDFree
5Relic sites: Tomb of King Thieu Tri; Hue Museum of Royal Antiquities; Hon Chen Palace; An Dinh Palace; Nam Giao Altar50.000 VNDFree

To be able to visit these attractions, please join our Hue city Tour 1 day and Hue Half Day Tour programs.

3. Nearby attractions

When visiting Hue, there are countless other destinations besides Hon Chen Temple for you to explore and enjoy checking in. Here are some recommended attractions near Hon Chen Temple that you can refer to:

  • Thien Mu Pagoda: The ancient and revered Thien Mu Pagoda is located on the romantic banks of the Perfume River, about 2km away from Hon Chen Temple. Thien Mu Pagoda is one of the iconic symbols of Hue City and a spiritual tourism destination that will definitely attract you not only by its beauty but also by its captivating activities.
  • Minh Mang Tomb: One of the most majestic tombs in the Nguyen Dynasty’s tomb system in Hue, located approximately 4km from Hon Chen Temple, is the Minh Mang Tomb. Minh Mang Tomb is one of the most beautiful architectural tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty, set amidst majestic and picturesque natural scenery.
  • Dong Ba Market: The bustling and vibrant Dong Ba Market, the largest market in Hue city, is located approximately 7km from Hon Chen Temple. Dong Ba Market is a famous tourist attraction in Hue where you can not only shop for souvenirs and specialties of Hue but also experience the culinary paradise of Hue cuisine.

With my experiences at Hon Chen Temple that have been shared above, I promise that Hon Chen Temple will be a highlight of your Hue trip. Combined with the information that I have shared with visits to Hon Chen Temple, your trip will be enriched, allowing you to appreciate its cultural significance and beauty even more deeply. Don’t miss the chance to immerse yourself in the historical, spiritual, and unique rituals and delights that Hon Chen Temple has to offer.

Author: Thuy Hang