Four years ago, in my very first trip to Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City), I was strongly interested in visiting Chinatown in Saigon. However, at that time, due to my limited time as well as my limited knowledge related to Chinese culture, I did not visit a lot of places at that time. In my recent visit in Saigon, I decided to spend one day to get around this place and was totally satisfied with my decision.
When it comes to Chinatown in Saigon, people often refer to various places scattered around District 5, District 6 and District 11. When I first told my colleagues about my intention of visiting Chinatown in Saigon, everybody warned me that I should not expect too much for they said that it does not really look like Chinatown or there is nothing special there. In the evening before the trip, I did my own research on the Internet to map out several places to visit in District 5 and felt a little bit disappointed how there was little information available on the Internet. Notwithstanding that, after one hour searching the information and checking the location on Google Map, I made my own map for a day trip to Chinatown Saigon as follows.
I had a hang-out with the Vietnamese classmate of mine at NCCU around the Chinatown. We first traveled by motorbike all the long way from Phu Nhuan District, where she is staying to 184 Hong Bang to visit Minh Huong Pagoda.
Minh Huong Pagoda or Phúc An Hội quán (福安會館), located at 184 Hong Bang, District 5, also known as “Ong Pagoda”, or the Pagoda that worships Guan Yu, is said to be built by descendents of Chinese people from Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang (China) from 1902.
After Minh Huong Pagoda, we stopped at Ha Ky Foodstall at 138 Chau Van Liem for sweet soup. We parked our motorbike at the house next door, which is also an old building in tradition Chinese style, enjoying the sweet soup and then having a walk around the area.
Lao Tu Street, which is named after Lao-tzu, was our next destination. We visited Quan Am Pagoda (or Guanyin Pagoda or Ôn Lăng Hội quán (溫嶺會館)), a Chinese-style Buddhist pagoda located on 12 Lao Tu Street, dedicated to Guanyin. The pagoda was first built by Chinese immigrants from Fujian, China by the end of the 17th century (around 1740), firstly dedicated to Mazu Goddess, and later to Guanyin in addition.
Walking along Lao Tu Street and its neighborhood, we easily figured out the traces of Chinese things by having a look at the doors with decoration of Chinese characters or the traditional Chinese characters in the old rusted advertising panel. It took us only a few minutes to walk at Luong Nhu Hoc Street, which is famous for its name as “Lantern Street”. As we visited the Lantern Street on an ordinary Monday, there was no lantern available at sight.
We took a right turn from Luong Nhu Hoc to 802 Nguyen Trai, where Hà Chương Hội quán is located. Hà Chương Hội quán, also known as Hội quán Chương Châu, or Chùa Ông Hược, was built by immigrants from Fujian, China by the end of the 17th century. There were no people when we came there.
We then continued to go along the Nguyen Trai Street to reach Thien Hau Temple or Ba Thien Hau Pagoda at 710 Nguyen Trai. When I set my very first step into the Pagoda, I was strongly impressed at the delicately decorated roof with small fashioned porcelain figurines expressing themes from Chinese religion and legends. The temple was first erected c. 1760 by the Cantonese community in the city. It was saw major repairs or expansions in 1800, 1842 (and possibly also 1847), 1882, 1890, and 1916 and dedicated to Mazu Goddess. My friend and I were a little bit surprised to see several Indian tourists along with a group of tourists from Hong Kong.
Located just several steps to the corner of Trieu Quang Phuc and Nguyen Trai Street, Tam Sơn Hội quán (三山會館), built in 1839 by Fujian immigrants, is dedicated to Me Sanh, the Goddess of Fertility, and entreated by local women praying for children. Thien Hau – the Mazu Goddess – is also revered within the main shrine.
Our final destination of our short trip was Nghĩa An Hội Quán or Chùa Ông (“Ong Pagoda”), located at 676 Nguyen Trai Street. As said to us by the old man in the Pagoda, this Pagoda was built 238 years ago by immigrants from Chaozhou, China and dedicated to Guanyun.
During our short visit at these historical sites, my friend and I often felt pitiful that these places somehow resemble to those we have visited while we were in Taiwan (i.e. Tainan, Dadaocheng or Datong in Taipei) but unlike in Taiwan where the detailed maps of these places with suggested route and detailed information are available at every bus station or MRT station or public tourist centers, it was very difficult for us to find any map of Chinatown of Saigon on the Internet, let alone a decent map provided by the authority. During our visit there, we still heard the old men/ women living in these pagodas or having vendors in front of these places speaking Cantonese or Teochew. Given the diversification and complication of Saigon’s history and its well-preserved old buildings, Chinatown in Saigon is definitely a place that is no less interesting than any Chinatown in the world, and even places like Taiwan or China.