After a day exploring the Cham towers of Quy Nhon’s hinterland, we thought we try and find something in town to see. After all, Quy Nhon was a city of 280,000 people, with three hundred years of history behind it; it had to have something to show from all those years. A brief search online suggested that the city did a few pagodas, the most venerable of which was called Long Khanh Pagoda, dating back to the early eighteenth century. Being centrally located it was easy to find, and we found that even on a weekday it was quite popular with locals.: there were a number of cars and motorbikes parked out front and devotees heading in and out.
The pagoda is said to have been built in 1715 by a Chinese merchant to the city, which was during the reign of Emperor Nguyen Trinh Tuong. The temple is sometimes claimed to be typically Southern Chinese in style, but it reminded us just as much as other Vietnamese pagodas we have seen as those from Guangdong or Fujian. The other complicating factor is that it was largely destroyed during the early 1950s during the First Indochinese War- in other words, the one against the French. However, a few treasures from the imperial period remained, justifying its inclusion on a blog about South-East Asia’s pre-colonial history.
When you arrive the first thing you will see is a 17-metre high statue of the Buddha in an elaborately draped robe. This statue was commenced in the 1964 and finished in 1972. Both in its size and style it is rather garish structure, but it is a fair representation of the eclectic nature of this city pagoda, which mixes together buildings from a variety of different cultures and time periods. The other very modern feature of the pagoda is a nine-storied tower in a Chinese style. Unfortunately, it is made from concrete and looks very much like the recent addition that it is. More worthwhile are the colourful mosaics which decorate the grounds of the temple and make for excellent photographs. They may not be of any great age but they are more sympathetic with the historic character of the temple. The same can be said of the bonsai garden, which is situated in the front of the main hall.
For history lovers, a better bet is the larger bronze bell which survived the war. It is said to date from the reign of Emperor Gia Long and have been cast in 1805. The temple also has a silver seal from 1813 which states that the name of the pagoda was also Long Khanh at that time. There is also a bronze gong which dates back to 1739. More controversial is the main hall: most of the accounts state that it was destroyed or at least badly damaged during the Indochina war, while at least one claim that it is mostly original. Based on my observation, it reminded me of other early Chinese temples from South-East Asia. Unlike modern temples, it is quite small and simple, amounting to little more than a large room. It also has a red-tiled roof with ceramic ornamentation, which is typical of many older temples from the port cities of South-East Asia. Some of the woodwork on the temple also have an antique look, being delicate and subtle, quite in contrast with the kitschier elements on the shrine. If it is not an historic building, it is an unusually good imitation of one.
While Long Khanh is certainly not a major sight of Vietnam, it is Quy Nhon’s most important pagoda and well worth seeing if you are in the neighbourhood. An eclectic combination of modern and historic buildings, it combines kistchy elements with a few historical genuine treasures. Its mixture of Chinese and Vietnamese features also evoke the mercantile history of this coastal city.