One of the highlights of the tour to Chau Doc – An Giang is climbing over 400 stairs to Phuoc Dien Pagoda which is also Hang Pagoda (Cave Pagoda) on Sam Mountain.
The lower part of the pagoda includes monks’ quarters and two hexagonal tombs in which the founder of the pagoda, a female tailor named Le Thi Tho, and a former head monk, Thich Hue Thien, are buried. The upper section has two parts: the main sanctuary, and an astounding complex of caverns and grottoes.
The main sanctuary features the statues of A Di Da (the Buddha of the Past) and Thich Ca Buddha (Sakyamuni, the Historical Buddha), while in the caverns and grottoes you’ll find a host of deities, including a 1000-arm and 1000-eye Quan Am. There’s also a mirror room of Buddhas and an effigy of Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism.
Phuoc Dien Pagoda was founded by Mrs. Le Thi Tho (her nickname is Mrs. Tho), her religious name of Dieu Thien and it was restored in several times. From the available beauty, Hang pagoda was restored and embellished, therefore it becomes prominent and really attracts tourists to worship and explore its mystery. From the foot of the mountain to the Hang pagoda, visitors must pass 400 stairs. Hang Pagoda is a community of relics with beautiful architecture, representing the imbruement of the traditional cultural identity of the nation. Carrying the beauties of the ancientness, the seriousness and the majesty, many visitors are impressed and curious because the attachment with the name of Hang Pagoda is a natural cave with many legends transmitted orally in many generations…
According to legend, Le Thi Tho came from Tay An Pagoda to this site half a century ago to lead a quiet, meditative life. When she arrived, she found two enormous cobras, one white and the other dark green. Le Thi Tho soon converted the snakes, which thereafter led pious lives. Upon her death, the snakes disappeared, but remain in statue form in one of the dark cavern passages.