"Hue is the land of the Buddha and has a large number of pagodas," researcher Nguyen Huu Thong, one of the delegates at the "Vietnam Buddhism Heritage and Hue Tourism Development" conference organised by the Vietnam Sub-Institute of Culture and Arts.
Beside large pagodas, Hue has a plethora of small village pagodas, which are also repositories of the ancient capital’s cultural heritage, he said, calling them "folk museums."
Buddhism also pervades the daily life of people who practise many rituals on full moon and other days.
The Hue vegetarian fare is simple but diverse, frugal, and elegant.
"Hue’s Buddhist culture has not been discovered fully by visitors," Thong said.
Tran Thanh Hoang, another researcher, said: "Recently started tours do not fully exploit the tourism potential of Hue Buddhism."
The Japanese example
Some famous pagodas in Japan have been successful in selling themselves as spiritual tourism destinations, and pagodas in Hue should do the same, researcher Nguyen Dac Xuan said.
"Hue Buddhist authorities should organise tours during the Buddha’s birth anniversary."
Writer and translator Buu Y said: "Pagodas are not built for tourism, but sooner or later they have to yield to tourism pressure."
But tour operators should be careful about preserving the sanctity of holy places, he said, adding, "Tourism should not destroy the tranquillity of pagodas."
Phap Tri, a local Budhist bonze, said: "Visitors litter, causing a lot of trouble for pagodas."
Buu Y said: "Pagodas and vegetarian food are Hue’s particular attractions. Hue tourism will be successful if we make use of both."
Traditional cuisine expert Hoang Thi Nhu Huy suggested starting traditional Hue vegetarian tours.
"Everything is related to travelling, including cuisine. Because nobody travels on an empty stomach. A food market tour to buy ingredients and vegetarian cooking classes will attract tourists," she said.
A senior Buddhist monk, Thich Thai An, however, was all for spiritual tours: "If there is demand for spirit tourism, tour operators should contact pagodas. We will willingly arrange for them to witness rituals and join meditation sessions".
VietNamNet/Viet Nam News