Located in the heart of the Old Quarter, the temple of Bạch Mã, alternatively known as the White Horse Temple, is among the oldest in the city. It was originally constructed in 1010, at the time of Hanoi’s founding by Lý Thái Tổ, though the current structure dates from the early 1800s.
Legend maintains that while Emperor Lý Thái Tổ was out scouting, a white horse appeared as though by magic, and stamped out a specific area with its hooves. Celestial guidance doesn’t get much clearer than that, and the emperor was not one to ignore signs from the gods. He chose the spot as the location for his new citadel, which would be the seat of Vietnamese power for 1000 years. In honor of the white horse, he built Bạch Mã Temple.
Today’s Bạch Mã is a rather humble affair, disproportionately popular with tourists thanks to its central location in the Old Town. If you’re only going to visit one temple in Hanoi, chances are it’ll be Bạch Mã, simply because it’s so convenient. The locals who come in to worship are clearly fed up with the constant stream of foreigners, and aren’t exactly the friendliest.
Rather than the gilded statues or the intricate woodcarvings, what most drew our attention in Bạch Mã were the cartons of industrialized sweets which people leave for their deities. Chocolate pies and butter cookies seem especially popular, not just here, but at every temple around the country.
I wonder how the industry has managed to trick the population of Vietnam into this arrangement. “Yes, buy boxes of Butter Cookies, for Goddess loves them so! Buy stacks and stacks of them, and make Goddess so happy! She’ll grant you so many blessings!” People also leave alcohol and cigarettes at altars. Having already achieved immortality, it appears that Vietnam’s gods aren’t too concerned with healthy living…
White Horse Temple