Tu Van Pagoda, or often known as the Shell pagoda, is probably one of the most unique pagodas I’ve ever visited. This place stands out from many other temples in Vietnam as it’s made entirely from coral and decorated with seashells.
About Tu Van Pagoda
The Shell pagoda is in Cam Ranh, about 60 km from Nha Trang, Vietnam.
The pagoda was built in 1968 and restored recently. With its unique architecture, Tu Van attracts a large number of Buddhists and visitors from many regions of the country every year.
How to get to Tu Van temple
The pagoda is about 60km from Nha Trang coastal city, so you can easily get here by taxi, car charter, or bike. From Nha Trang, it takes about 1 hour to travel to Tu Van pagoda. You can rent your scooter here.
For places to stay in Nha Trang, we recommend booking a hotel room in advance. We love our stay at Mia Resort. The resort is located in a beautiful location, a 30-minute drive from Nha Trang. The staff was helpful and the little attention to detail made everything very personal.
Things to see at Tu Van Pagoda
Visiting the temple, the first thing we experienced was the airy, peaceful space. Here, we saw a lot of sculptural groups of Buddha, images of the goddesses, and miraculous animals.
The main tower
What makes this pagoda so famous is the Bao Tich Tower. With a height of 39 m, this tower is recognized as the tallest Bao Tich tower in Vietnam. It was built in 1995 and took 5 years to complete.
The tower was well designed and built with 49 small pyramidal towers outside. In each sub-stupa, there’s a different Buddha statue such as Amitabha Buddha, Bodhisattva, Shakyamuni Buddha, and Maitreya Buddha.
At the top of each small tower is placed an additional stupa.
The tower has 8 doors and 2 floors. The first floor is where visitors or Buddhist monks can visit. Upstairs is a place for worshiping Buddha.
The tower is also decorated with a very unique and delicate pattern, showing meticulousness in each line. The decorative motifs on the tower are made of shells and corals, and the roof of the tower is built in a cone pattern.
Pathway to Hell
Exiting the main temple, we followed a small path leading to the 18 levels of Hells. Along the path, we spotted several statues made from coral and rocks. We finally arrived at a small gate and started our exploration to the Pathway to hell.
The Pathway to hell is a walk through a narrow tunnel, which is the body of a dragon. It took us about 40 minutes to walk through the whole tunnel.
The tunnel was very dark and narrow, so our guide asked us to turn on the light from our phones. There were several spots where we had to bend or wriggle to get through, so generally, it was quite tough. Also, it was quite humid in the tunnel, and the path was a bit slippy.
At the end of the tunnel, we saw the depictions of hell, before exiting through the dragon’s mouth. The drawings depicted human crimes and horrible punishments for the purpose of admonishing people not to do evil but to live in kindness and compassion.
After passing 18 levels of hell, we reached Nai Ha bridge, which marked the end of suffering and we returned to earth through a dragon’s mouth.
Be mindful that although there are openings for air and light, it can be quite hot and very dark. Also, remember to bring water, wet tissue, hand wash, and have enough battery on your phone for flash-lighting your way through the dark parts.
You should also follow the rules of the pagoda and avoid saying bad words when visiting.