One of the quintessential parts of touring historic Asian countries like Vietnam is visiting their many temples. It doesn’t really matter if you’re a new or a returning tourist, as seeing these temples up close and personal is sure to give you a sense of sublime wonder nonetheless. If you’re one among the many millions practicing Hinduism and Buddhism, then visiting these temples hold even more meaning.
In Vietnam, there are about 17,000 religious buildings like temples, and Ho Chi Minh City has quite a few of them. If you’re planning on a temple tour anytime soon, here are a few suggestions on which ones to visit in Vietnam’s largest city.
Giac Lam Pagoda
Built in 1744, Giac Lam Pagoda in Tan Binh District is considered to be the oldest temple in Ho Chi Minh City. The pagoda is shaped like the Chinese symbol for “three” and thus has three main areas: the ceremonial hall, the chanting hall, and the refectory. Meanwhile, the surrounding space boasts a walled garden and statues of dragons that are said to be guardians of the temple. Inside the ceremonial hall, there is a large statue of Buddha surrounded by five smaller statues. These are images of Sakyamuni Buddha and the four principal bodhisattvas named Samantabhadra, Manjusri, Avalokiteshvara, and Mahasthamaprapta.
Outside and in front of Giac Lam Pagoda, there is a hexagonal tower called Xa Loi. This seven-story stupa is a new addition, built in 1994 to store the relics of Buddha from the Long Van Temple in Binh Thanh. In front of the stupa is a white statue of Kuan Yin standing open lotus flower. There’s also a Bodhi tree brought in from Sri Lanka, planted in the yard of the pagoda in 1953. In 1988, the pagoda was listed by the Department of Culture as a historical site.
Giac Lam Pagoda is only 15 minutes away from the airport. For those flying in and checked into a hotel near Tan Son Nhat Airport (khách sạn gần sân bay Tân Sơn Nhất), this ancient pagoda should be a nice place to start your tour.
Giac Vien Pagoda
Giac Vien Pagoda is another ancient temple in Tan Binh district. It was built in 1789, when a monk who was in charge of restoring Giac Lam Pagoda decided to build a pavilion to use for his daily prayers. This pavilion was eventually rebuilt and renamed as the Giac Ven Pagoda during the reign of King Tu Duc. One of the defining parts of the temple is its 153 statues, all of which are made from jack wood. These statues are intentionally placed low, helping create a feeling of closeness for the viewers.
From the main shrine of the temple, there are corridors branching to the east and west. Along these corridors are small altars, as well as red-painted wooden pillars and trimmed with gold. In addition, Giac Vien Pagoda has a mini museum with a total of 60 wooden plates with engravings on them. One of the most iconic of these plates bears engravings of 18 Arhats riding different animals.
As its name suggests, the Mariamman Temple is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Mariamman. Built in the 19th century by traders from Tamil Nadu, the Mariamman Temple first served the Chettiar community in the area. It is one of the few Hindu temples in Vietnam, and visitors are said to gain blessings of luck and wealth. The devotees of the temple are mostly Vietnamese and Sino-Vietnamese, who believe that they have been blessed or have experienced the powers of the goddess.
Aside from the statues of Mariamman, the temple also has statues Brahma, Ganesha, Muruga, and Vishnu. There are also images of Lakshmi, Murugan, and other devas in the hallways and rooms inside the temple. Meanwhile, the main hall features a statue of Mariamman with her protectors Maduraiveeran and Pechiamman.
Vinh Nghiem Pagoda
In 1964, two monks from northern Vietnam headed south, intending to spread Buddhism. These monks thus began the construction of the Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, one of the largest ones in the country. Located in District 3 and covering about 6,000 square meters, Vinh Nghiem Pagoda has a combination of modern Japanese and traditional Vietnamese architectures. The name Vinh Nghiem was derived from the Vinh Nghiem Buddhist temple in Duc La Village in Bac Giang Province, dating back to the 11th century during the Ly Dynasty.
Vinh Nghiem Pagoda’s most distinctive structure is the seven-story, 40-meter-high tower, where the faithful make offerings and pray for blessings. In addition, this pagoda is also a place of worship for Siddharta Gautama, Samantabhadra, and Manjusri.
Thousand Buddha Temple
Also called the “Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas” or Chu Van Phat Temple, the Thousand Buddha Temple is a four-story structure with an almost-constant smoke emanating from the incense offerings on its altar. The name came from a statue of Buddha towering at over 20 feet, surrounded by 10,000 smaller statues.
This Buddhist temple is a little difficult to find, tucked away in Nghia Thuc Street in Ward 5, District 5, and surrounded by residential structures. Perhaps this is the reason why it’s not as popular as other temples in the district and Ho Chi Minh in general. However, it’s worth venturing to this temple if only to see the intricately detailed Buddha statues on the fourth floor.
Ba Thien Hau Temple
Another temple in District 5, Ba Thien Hau Temple is dedicated to the Chinese sea goddess Mazu. “Thien Hau” is the Vietnamese transcription of the name “Tianhou,” one of the titles of Mazu meaning “Empress of Heaven.” While it’s not officially recognized in China and Taiwan, Mazuism is popular in maritime provinces. In Vietnam, Mazuism is often united with Taoism and Buddhism.
The Ba Thien Hau Temple was built in 1760, and underwent a series of repairs and expansions through the years. Located in Nguyen Trai Street, the temple features an iron gate and a roof with delicate porcelain figurines and dioramas with themes from Chinese legends and mythology. Meanwhile, the altar to Mazu is located at the end of the temple’s interior. It features three statues of Mazu with bronze faces and colorful crowns and clothes. The courtyard leading to the altar are incense burners for use in offering prayers.
Whether you’re a religious or a spiritual person or not, visiting temples is certainly a worthwhile experience. It can help you understand these faiths better and at the very least make you appreciate the artistry of these structures.