The temple to Thay and Thim continues to enchant pilgrims.
Thay and Thim were an enchanting couple. Here was no doubt that Thay was a popular, skillful magician, but what was really magical about the couple was their compassion and unswerving devotion to those in need.
The poor people at the receiving end of their magnanimity gave them the sobriquet that has lasted centuries. Their life so inspired the people that 130 years ago, they built a monument of great beauty and charm in the couple’s honour.
The Thay Thim Palace in Binh Thuan Province stands today as a symbol of national culture and marker of a humanitarian lifestyle.
Recognized in 1997 as a national heritage monument, the palace is a leading southern contender for those who favor "Return to the Roots" tourism, along with the Lady Xu Temple in An Giang Province and the Lady Den Pagoda in Tay Ninh Province.
The palace, located on a two-ha compound in La Gi Town’s Tan Tien Commune, is packed with historical, cultural, architectural and religious values.
Situated in the middle of a quiet deciduous forest completely separated from the hustle and bustle of daily life, the Thay Thim Palace is also flanked by verdant rice fields and white dunes. The sound of the waves from the sea nearby adds just the right meditative touch.
The palace compound is enclosed by a trapezoid-shaped fence with a perimeter of about 600m. The fence has three doors - one on the front, and two on the sides.
Like many other religious works in Binh Thuan, the Thay Thim Palace is built to magnificent proportions, using traditional materials including wood, ancient double tiles, Bat Trang bricks and a special mortar created from a mixture of lime, sand, molasses and pine resin.
The palace’s layout consists of a main entrance, the inner sanctuary, the Vo Ca house, the Tien Hien house, a wall-screen at the gate, and the area for tombs.
The tu tru (four-column) architectural style can be seen in all buildings in the palace. This style was very popular in religious monuments built in Binh Thuan between the 18th and 19th centuries.
All the columns in the palace are made of wood elaborately carved with dragons, phoenix, flowers and leaves. Their bases are shaped like urns.
The 72sq.m main sanctuary is a most imposing and solemn place. It has a two-level roof adorned with the statues of Luong Long Chau Nguyet (two dragons flanking the moon) and is surrounded by the Tu Linh reliefs of the dragon, unicorn, tortoise, phoenix and flowers.
The inside of the hall is adorned with solid altars, net like panels and parallel verses. Also enshrined are many ancient Chinese writings that sing the praise of Thay and Thim - their merit, talent and virtues. The writings also contain numerous moral and ritual strictures.
Behind the main hall is the Vo Ca house that hosts annual traditional festivals in the area. The house is also where locals and tourists offer flowers and incense to Thay and Thim and other ancestors who developed the region.
The Vo Ca house, also boasting the four-column architectural style, features illustrations of the story of Thay and Thim, and the daily life of days gone by.
Next to the Vo Ca house is a big wall-screen whose twin surfaces are decorated with vividly embossed dragons and horses. At its two sides are the statues of a couple of white and black tigers looking towards the main hall. Legend has it that these tigers were escorts for the couple.
The palace’s flower garden is another major attraction. A walk through the garden with hundreds of flowers of different kinds and bonsais that are nurtured under the canopies of ancient, giant trees is a soothing experience.
From the palace, a 30 minute trip on bullock carts up a 3km road gets the visitor to the tombs of Thay and Thim. The tombs are located in a middle of a pine forest called Bau Thong. The one-ha spot has a quiet, lyrical atmosphere to it.
For aficionados of folk culture, a visit to the Thay Thim Palace on the fifth day of the first lunar month, or in middle of the ninth lunar month is worthwhile. Two major festivals are celebrated on these days with many interesting cultural and sporting activities.
And for those wanting to just chill out after this cultural adventure, the Tam Tan beach, lined with pine tree groves, is a perfect spot, ideal for swimming or just basking in the sun.