· Greet Ong Bon in his pagoda
· Meet a Buddhist goddess of mercy in the Quan Âm Pagoda
· Learn about a very special Chinese girl in the Thien Hau Pagoda
· Appreciate the importance of fertility in the Tam Son Hoi Quan Pagoda
Down in Cholon are some of Ho Chi Minh City’s most impressive religious sites. A reminder of Ho Chi Minh City’s former, and current, status as a trading hub, the temples are the result of a Chinese community from the south and coastal areas which settled itself in the city during the 18th century. Go around them, with your own personal guide, to see its vibrant syncretism.
Jollity and Mercy
Walking into the Ong Bon Pagoda, which is dedicated to the eponymous guardian, your guide will take through the Taoist shrine to see Ong Ban himself. It can be difficult to miss him, as the statue occupies a key spot in the room, is surrounded by LED lights and is 1.5m tall. Even so, it is still easy to understand why people appeal to him when you see the image of an old man with a kind face and long beard.
Not far is the Quan Âm Pagoda. Named for a deity who – according to their full name – listens to every cry in the world, it is a colourful space where both the interiors and exteriors are richly decorated in this very Chinese-style temple.
Mazu plus Children
The Taoist Thien Hau Pagoda is the type of place that it is difficult to replicate away from Vietnam. With a weathered appearance and maritime theme abounding, not to mention the dozens of incense coils (some of which have a diameter of over a meter) dangling from the ceiling in front of the altar, it is a great place to learn about Mazuism. A little-known faith, unrecognised officially in China and Vietnam. It celebrates a Chinese girl who saved her family during a typhoon by displaying spiritual powers. It is often syncretised with both Buddhism and Taoism, meaning labels can be tricky, but your guide will be happy to talk about it in more detail during your visit.
You will also step inside the Tam Son Hoi Quan Pagoda; a temple that is less well-known than its neighbours but is an excellent place to witness the power of belief as you see people give offerings. A temple built in the 19th century for the fertility goddess Me Sanh, many of the worshippers who pray in front of the altar at the back of the temple are women seeking children. If you have any questions about how Me Sanh got her status, or the goddess’ role in daily life, then don’t forget to ask your guide!