Phat Diem Cathedral – A master piece of art in Ninh Binh

Phat Diem Stone Cathedral is an impressive structure with four roofs standing on six sets of pillars made of iron and wood. It was built sometime between 1875 and 1899. It is surrounded by ponds, lakes, manmade caves and churches.

Even a Catholic cathedral but Phat Diem is modeled after the traditional architecture of a Vietnamese pagoda. Located in Kim Son Dist, Ninh Binh, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Hanoi. It is known as the unique complex with a good combination in term of architecture between modern European and traditional oriental.

Location of Phat Diem Cathedral?

Please see the map below for the location of Phat Diem Cathedral. 

The history of Phat Diem Stone Cathedral

The priest Tran Luc “Cu Sau in Vietnamese”  is the one who ordered the construction of the cathedral. It took 24 years to complete the cathedral. 

In 1954, the cathedral was temporarily closed and now it is known as the worshipping place for many Catholic followers in the regions. 

In 1972, part of the cathedral was destroyed during the Vietnam war. 

From 1994 to 2000, it was under renovated in order to keep the safety of the structures. 



Phat Diem Cathedral

Phat Diem Stone Cathedral, Ninh Binh

Hanoi to Phat Diem Cathedral

Hanoi to Phat Diem Stone church by local bus

The most convenient way is to travel by limousine Dcar offered by Binh Minh Limousine with comfortable seats departs at FLC building (36 Pham Hung), drop off at most of the famous tourist attractions in Ninh Binh such as Tam Coc, Thung Nham, Trang An, Hoa Lu and Phat Diem Cathedral. Ticket costs 250k per person and it takes 2.5 hours to Phat Diem. Booking a ticket on the online platform VeXeRe

Otherwise, there is another choice to go by a local bus depart from Southern Bus Terminal (Ben Xe khach phia Nam). Go to the ticket booth and find a bus to Kim Son, Ninh Binh and ticket costs 70k but they do pick up passengers along the way, it also takes 2.5 hours. This is an option for those who want to travel on a tight budget.

Hanoi to Phat Diem church by Grab or private transfer

Private transfer arranged by the hotel where you are staying is a good choice because you can combine with other nearby attractions. For a day trip, I recommend going to Phat Diem Cathedral, Van Long Nature Reserve (Galaxy Grotto) . For both of these options, you can also take a bike ride with a local guide to explore rural areas and the stunning beauty of limestone karst mountain surroundings.

If money matter isn’t a big deal, then going on a guided tour with a private guide and a private car . The cost is up to $100 USD per person includes a private transfer, guide, lunch, entrance fee, a water bottled per person.

What to see in Phat Diem Cathedral

Phuong Dinh Church is an imposing stone building located in the Phat Diem complex. You can see beautiful stone sculptures on the walls of the church. There is a large bell in the bell tower cast in 1890 that weighs about two tons.

There are four smaller churches around the Phuong Dinh Church. Three stone caves can be seen in the north, the most beautiful being Lo Duc Grotto.

The massive structure of Phat Diem Stone Cathedral is surrounded by paddy fields and several small stone churches. All these small churches look like typical churches of that era built by the Europeans.

The Phat Diem Stone Cathedral was designed and built by Father Sau, a Vietnamese priest and includes five side chapels, an artificial lake, a bell tower, and three artificial grottoes. Grahan Greene has described the cathedral as a massive structure with huge pillars made out of a single tree trunk.

The cathedral is featured with exclusive scarlet lacquer word at the altar, a multi-tiered curling roof with 48 wooden columns. The largest column weighs seven tons. Phat Diem is far removed from the usual European cathedral. The walls are sculptured with angels overlooking carved dragons. The two-ton bell in the bell tower has a gigantic brass gong.

Phat Diem Cathedral during Vietnam War

The bombings in 1972 by US air force during Vietnam War razed two side chapels to the ground but the Phat Diem Stone Cathedral miraculously escaped unscathed although it did lean by about twenty degrees. Despite the war, restoration started instantly. The only trace of the bombing today is that some stone carvings were destroyed. Every year a midnight mass is held on Christmas in the cathedral grounds accompanied by a brass band and attended by thousands of people

Fully handmade construction site – Phat Diem Cathedral

Phat Diem Stone Cathedral

The hall at Phat Diem Stone Cathedral

The cathedral is known as a former capital of Vietnamese Catholics. The total size is about 3000 square meters (32.000 square feet). A priest, Cu Sau (The sixth Grandfather), is the one who built this cathedral within 24 years from 1875 to 1899.

After well-researched in term of history and topography, the 6th father decided to choose Kim Son to build this cathedral for Catholicism. In 1965, Mr Sau started to find and collect materials. In 1975, it was officially started to build.

According to written documents, it was really hard work but all done by hand. There was a piece of wood up to 7 tons or piece of a marble stone up to 20 tons, was transferred by rudimentary methods in the late 19th century. It was made of natural stone, jade and ironwood.

In order to get the materials, locals had to transfer stones both by mainland and waterway from somewhere a couple of hundred kilometers from here. Artisans cut big stones over 20 tons into smaller pieces mixed with sugar cage oil and caustic lime in order to create a single building in the whole complex.

Uniqueness in Architectural designs

The heart church – Phat Diem Cathedral

The name “Phat Diem” means “light up the beauty”. What makes it different from any others cathedrals all over Vietnam is its materials, majority from natural stone, jade and ironwood. Combing with manual building methods which makes a massive cathedral. The stone used for construction called yin-yang stone which is good for heath

As a Vietnamese, but Grand Farther Sau soon got to know about Catholic European culture, he himself designed a unique architectural style to build the biggest stone cathedral in Vietnam. Good harmony between communal house, Buddhist temple architectural style of Oriental and Gotic style of European culture.

What makes a memorable experience for visitors is the quintessence of pattern: images of Jesus Christ, the cross, the Virgin Mary flower combines with the images of lotus flowers, old Chinese characters, Four Holy Beasts, including Long (the Dragon), Lân (the Jilin), Quy (the Turtle) and phụng/phượng (the Fenghuang), Tu Quy (precious four season pictures), including spring, summer, fall and winter; were engraved in columns, beams, veranda and porch

Things to see in Phat Diem

Chapel of Heart Phat Diem Stone Cathedral

Phat Diem used to be a coastline region formed by alluvial soil so that it had a weak soil platform, the 6th Grand Father had to order putting down millions of bamboo pillars, a thousand of cubic meters of soils and stones in order to make a stable platform for such a huge construction site like this.

Buildings and Structures in Phat Diem Cathedral

The Cathedral complex comprises a bell house tower, a well, a stone church, a cathedral, and three artificial grottoes. You first see the square well lies right on the main path to the cathedral.

Phat Diem church Ninh Binh

The Church at Phat Diem Stone Cathedral

There is a Jesus Christ statue in a small islet. Bell tower monument is next to it, made of stone carving. There is a massive bell and drum. Next, you will see a huge cathedral built in 1891 with the name “Chapel of Virgin Mary”; its length 74 meters, its width 21 meters and its height 15 meters with 4 roofs, Ironwood for six rows.

The lake with a small island in Phat Diem Cathedral

The lake with a small island in Phat Diem Cathedral, taking 2020

Next to the grand cathedral is a stone church with formed name Chapel of The Sacred Heart’s fully built by stone. And now people call it “Stone church”.

Reviews of Phat Diem Cathedral

It is rated as top 4 things to do in Ninh Binh on Trip Advisor with 87 excellent reviews

  • Worth a visit
  • A place between Heaven and Earth
  • Mix of European and Vietnamese architecture
  •  More than expectation

Please see more reviews of Phat Diem Cathedral on Trip Advisor

Questions and Answers about Phat Diem Cathedral

Do you need to book in advance to visit Phat Diem Cathedral?

In my opinion, you’d better book a guided tour because it isn’t easy to travel to Phat Diem by a local bus. There are no other tourist attractions closed. Going on a guided tour you can also check out other places in the Ninh Binh area.

What hotels are near Phat Diem Cathedral?

There is no nearby hotels. The closest one locates in Ninh Binh city which is 30 kilometers (20 miles) or 50 minutes drive.

What restaurants or cafes are near Phat Diem Cathedral?

There is a vintage cafe (Cafe Mau Dich) near Phat Diem Cathedral, which is right in front of the cathedral. Besides, there is an onsite restaurant at the Cathedral where you can have lunch

Who built Phat Diem Cathedral?

Father Sau (Pere Tran Luc) is the one who orders the construction of the Cathedral

What is the dress code for the Cathedral?

No short sleeves or cover your shoulder

Practical information about travelling Phat Diem

Phat Diem Cathedral Entrance fee : Free of charge

Time to spend : 1 to 2 hours

Mass opens daily at 6.00 am 10.00 am and 4.00pm

Nearby Attractions to see near Phat Diem Cathedral

  • You might want to see Kim Son Sedge Mat village closed by
  • Combining your trip with Galaxy Grotto (Dong Thien Ha)
  • Trekking into Cuc Phuong National park
  • Taking a sampan boat ride on Van Long nature reserve, you may see the monkey in the afternoon from 4.30pm

Read more : Ninh Binh off the spite day tour

You can combine a day trip with other tourist attractions in Ninh Binh area such as Hoa Lu ancient capital, Tam Coc, Trang An eco-tourism site, Bai Dinh Buddhist temple

Hynam Travel offer days trip to Ninh Binh and tours to Phat Diem Cathedral


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