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Travel Report: Temple of Literature, Hanoi.

Temple of Literature Hanoi.

Temple of Literature. Hanoi, Vietnam.

April 2018.

No matter where I go, I aways seem to bump into my old buddy Confucius. Indeed I’ve been to perhaps a dozen temples across the world dedicated to the famous philosopher. I’ve also photographed statues of the celebrated old sage in Thailand. And visited Hyanggyo School, constructed in his honour in the South Korean city of Jeonju.

The Chinese philosopher Confucius.

Confucius: You can’t get away from him.

Moreover, the ultimate Confucius experience if you will, I went to his hometown in the Chinese city of Qufu. It’s pretty much a Confucius Disney World, where you can visit Confucius Temple, Confucius Hall and even his grave, set on the edge of the pretty Confucius Forest.

Confucius Temple Qufu China.

Outside Confucius Hall in the summer of 2009.

When I first heard about a Confucius dedicated temple in Hanoi, I admit my initial thought was… meh. During my stay in the Vietnamese capital I’d been (kind of) taking a break from temples. Plus I figured there are only so many Confucian temples one needs to see.

But then…. typical me.. I ended up within close walking distance one day. Thus I found myself strolling through the entrance gates of Quoc Tu Giam (Temple of Literature).

The First Courtyard Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature: The First Courtyard.

King Ly Thanh Tong ordered the temple’s construction in the autumn of 1070. According to historians, he’d become fascinated by the teachings of Confucius. Hence he dedicated the place to the great man and his four closest disciples Yan Hui, Zengzi, Zisi and Mencius. That’s the First Courtyard pictured above, home to a family of stunning banyan trees.

Temple of Literature.

Second Courtyard Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature: The Second Courtyard.

In 1076 Vietnam’s first university sprung up within the temple grounds. It was created in order to educate members of the royal family, in addition to noblemen and wealthy Hanoians. For the most part courses focused on Chinese literature, poetry and classical writing. It remained Vietnam’s most prestigious establishment until 1802 when a new imperial academy opened in the city of Hue.

Constellation of Literature Pavilion Temple of Literature

Constellation of Literature Pavilion.

The handsome Constellation of Literature Pavilion connects the second and third courtyards. Added in 1805, the stone platform represents the Earth, while the wooden two story tower symbolises the sun. Known locally as Khue Van Cac, it contains a large bronze bell and carved paragraphs of some of Vietnam’s most cherished poetry.

Third Courtyard Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature.

The Third Courtyard is definitely the most beautiful of the temple’s five sections. And it’s all thanks to the gorgeous Thien Quang Well, a large, square, deep-green pond with fish and turtles. An immaculate frame of lush greenery surrounds it, including fulsome rosebushes and twisting bonsais.

Visit Hanoi Temple of Literature.

Temple of Literature.

Consequently, The Third Courtyard is the busiest part of the temple. On the day of my visit there was a sizeable group of college graduates posing for photos. Dressed in their robes and clutching flowers, it was fun to watch them celebrate their achievements in Hanoi’s most historic educational institution.

The Third Courtyard.

Vietnamese graduates Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature.

The Third Courtyard is also home to two rows of curious stone Doctor’s Tablets. The turtle themed steles (turtles are a symbol of wisdom and longevity) honour the educational achievements of over 1300 students who reached doctoral ranks in the exams of The Royal Court.

Stone Doctor's Tablets Temple of Literature

Doctor Steles.

The tradition of adding a tablet for graduates began in 1484. Each creation has a unique turtle design and includes personal info as well as details regarding the examination itself. The turtles are also symbols of good luck. In fact, it’s a custom for students to come and rub their heads prior to taking important exams.

From The Third Courtyard I emerged into The Courtyard of the Sages, the temple’s ceremonial heart. Also known as The Fourth Courtyard, this is where you’ll find two 19th century halls honouring Confucius.

Sage Courtyard Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature.

The main shrine (Dai Bai Duong) is where worshippers come to pray before the altars of Confucius and his disciples. Furthermore, there are shrines to some of the Imperial Academy’s most noted students. And even a small museum that exhibits their books, pens and ink pots.

Temple of Literature.

Altar to Confucius Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature.

Right at the back of the complex, in the Fifth Courtyard, stands a cluster of traditional halls. Known collectively as the Thai Hoc Buildings, they mark the spot where the now destroyed Imperial Academy once stood.

It was the French who demolished the site in the 1940s to make way for a hospital. Today that’s gone too, while the buildings in its place host cultural events, ceremonies and exhibitions.

Imperial Academy Hanoi

Temple of Literature.

I’m glad I took the time to check out the Temple of Literature. It’s a really handsome compound and the sense of history that runs through the place is inescapable. Indeed there is no underestimating how important the complex is both historically and in the hearts of the Vietnamese. Images of the temple even feature on the back of the 10.000 Dong banknote. It opens seven days a week between the hours of 08:00-16:30. Entry is 30.000 VND ($1.30).

Amazing bonsai tree Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature.

For more on Vietnam’s amazing capital, have a look at my other pieces from around Hanoi.

Like these? Then why not have a leaf through my articles from across Vietnam.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

Leighton Travels logo travel reports and short stories.


  • Little Miss Traveller

    The Temple of Literature is indeed beautiful and I enjoyed your guided tour around the complex brought to life with the graduates proudly posing in their brightly coloured gowns for photos.

    August 23, 2021 - 10:11 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Marion, I think the graduates really made this experience and helps the article not be just another typical temple piece.

      August 23, 2021 - 10:13 am Reply
  • UnstableTrip

    My partner always says – you’ve seen one temple you’ve seen them all. That usually means we’re not going to visit one. It’s sad because you never know where you’re going to find something new and exciting and this one looks particularly pretty. Maybe next time we’re in Vietnam I simply go there alone. It looks amazing!

    August 23, 2021 - 11:40 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I can understand the “seen one temple” train of thought. If you’ve been around the Asian block, one eventually gets to the point where you feel “templed out”. Even after years of traveling around Asia I push myself to see a temple in each new place and honestly I’m rarely disappointed. Thanks for reading and hope you do go alone next time if that’s what you want to do!

      August 24, 2021 - 12:03 am Reply
  • Lookoom

    Thanks for the review. It’s always difficult to talk about an author through a blog based on photos, fortunately there are writers’ houses and in some cases temples dedicated to these writers. Although I don’t know of any writer’s temples in the western world.

    August 23, 2021 - 11:54 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah, I guess this temple is quite unique in that regard. Thanks for dropping by!

      August 23, 2021 - 11:56 am Reply
  • Memo

    Definitely a place where I would have spent a day. Every visit to such a beautiful compound is bound to hold some personal revelation. I’m guessing that yours was about the students and their studies. Confucius has always been an intriguing figure, it’s not difficult to see how people can spend a lifetime studying him.

    August 23, 2021 - 2:58 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you enjoyed this one Memo. Yes the presence of the students and the discovery of the tablets was the highlight for me and what made the place so memorable.

      August 23, 2021 - 3:03 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    I like the look of the Constellation of Literature Pavilion! Thanks for a great tour around this temple. I will conclude with a favourite Confucius saying: “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated” ☺️.

    August 23, 2021 - 3:05 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha I can only respond with a quote from Bubbles, my favourite character in The Wire: “True Dat”. Thanks for reading!

      August 23, 2021 - 3:10 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Obviously Confucius and Confucianism made a big impact around this part of the world. I think mankind has gained much knowledge since that time, but lost a lot of wisdom. A beautiful compound and the perfect place to celebrate graduation. Thanks for the tour Leighton. Allan

    August 23, 2021 - 3:22 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Allan, glad you enjoyed visiting The Temple of Literature. Hope all is well with you!

      August 23, 2021 - 3:25 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    Fascinating post- really loved learning about the Temple of Literature. And what an incredible place to celebrate graduation 🙂

    August 23, 2021 - 7:56 pm Reply
  • Christie

    Such a wonderful place to celebrate the college graduation, a meaningful place to take photos for sure!

    August 23, 2021 - 11:55 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Christie, glad you liked the temple!

      August 23, 2021 - 11:58 pm Reply
  • salsaworldtraveler

    What a wonderful monument to education. I visited a Confucius shrine in Tokyo, Yushima Seidō. It is much smaller and not as fancy. Confucius got around.

    August 24, 2021 - 2:16 am Reply
    • Leighton

      He certainly did! Thanks for stopping by John.

      August 24, 2021 - 9:04 am Reply
  • Coral Waight

    Very interesting. Thanks.

    August 24, 2021 - 3:54 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Coral!

      August 24, 2021 - 9:04 am Reply

    Hi Leighton. During our time in Hanoi, we walked a long way to see this temple, only to find even the gardens closed and all the gates locked and guarded. So many reasons to return! Yes there’s a few of these people who keep cropping up as you travel. Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Apollo, the Medicis…. Ali Pasha, Claude Challe, George Gilbert Scott (those three may need further explanation some time!)

    August 24, 2021 - 4:41 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ah, another spot for your grand return to Hanoi. Yes, it’s fascinating how certain folk keep cropping up. George Gilbert Scott I know as the architect of London’s St Pancras Station and St Columba’s Cathedral in Oban.

      August 24, 2021 - 5:27 pm Reply

        Scott was also the architect at Brownsover Hall, where Michaela & I were married…

        August 25, 2021 - 8:08 am
      • Leighton

        Ahhh, good stuff! “It’s a small world!”

        August 25, 2021 - 8:26 am
  • ourcrossings

    Such a fascinating place! I’ve read and seen many posts about temples from other bloggers here on WordPress and can never get enough of them. I would love to visit a temple like this someday, it looks so beautiful and interesting to learn about! I also like that they have green spaces and water throughout the site. I’m going to add this one to my very long list! Thanks for sharing and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva

    August 24, 2021 - 7:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Aiva! Glad you enjoyed the temple enough to add it to the great to-do list.

      August 24, 2021 - 11:35 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    The Temple of Literature is more than just a temple; it’s a PALACE. The place is so massive that it reminds me somewhat of the Forbidden City in Beijing. I think it’s amusing to see college students take their graduation photos here for “the ‘Gram,” all the while to be in such a historic and influential space for scholarly ventures. I think your visit here was well-worth it, despite your hesitation in the beginning!

    August 25, 2021 - 5:14 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I can see the Forbidden City link, what with all the connecting courtyards. Glad you also appreciated the #templegram students.

      August 25, 2021 - 8:40 am Reply
  • travelling_han

    What an amazing place!!!

    August 25, 2021 - 11:51 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you think so Han, thanks for reading!

      August 25, 2021 - 11:52 am Reply
  • Trouspinet

    It reminds me some very good memories. I love Hanoi and I wish I could go back. I too visited the temple of litterature and saw recent graduates being photographed.

    August 26, 2021 - 9:12 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    I didn’t have much time in Hanoi, but did get to walk the gardens at the Temple of Literature. Not too many cultures will celebrate writing, poetry, literature in this way. A well educated, literate culture even in those historic days.

    August 30, 2021 - 7:02 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Absolutely Ruth, it is quite a unique temple in that respect. Glad you also enjoyed this handsome complex.

      August 30, 2021 - 8:02 pm Reply
  • Toonsarah

    I’m catching up on some old posts today and really enjoyed reading your account of your visit here. The Temple of Literature was one of my favourite places in Hanoi. It wasn’t quite this busy when we visited (no students as the universities were already closed due to Covid, and fewer tourists for the same reason). But the graduates add some lovely colour to your shots!

    November 18, 2021 - 4:06 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you Sarah. It must’ve been nice to experience the temple at a quieter time. Thanks for stopping by!

      November 18, 2021 - 5:27 pm Reply

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