Giac Lam Pagoda – the ancestral temple of Thiền Lâm Tế Tông in South Vietnam is the oldest pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City. The over 300-year-old pagoda has important cultural and religious values. It is a wonderful blend of Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer, Cham architectures, a perfect mix of modern and traditional designs. The traditional ancient architecture, hundreds of antiques, delicate decorations, a spacious garden attract lots of visitors.
Trinh Hoai Duc – a talented poet, writer and historic under Nguyen Dynasty wrote in the book Gia Dinh Thanh Thong Chi: “Chùa tọa lạc trên gò Cẩm Sơn, cách phía Tây lũy Bán Bích ba dặm…, cây cao như rừng, hoa nở tựa gấm, sáng chiều mây khói nổi bay quanh quất, địa thế tuy nhỏ mà nhã thú!” (The pagoda is located on Cam Son mound, 3 miles West from Luy Ban Bich…, trees are as high as forests, blossoms are as beautiful as silk, in the early morning and late afternoon clouds are around, it is a small land but interesting!).
Location: 565 Lac Long Quan Street, Ward 10, Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City. CLICK HERE to see the location of the pagoda on Google Maps. Giac Lam Pagoda is 7.5 km from Ben Thanh Market. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the pagoda from the city center.
Opening hours: Main gate: 5:00 – 20:30; Main hall: 5:00 – 12:00; 13:30 – 20:30.
Telephone: +84 28 3865 3933.
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Tracy and her team are proud to provide excellent Ho Chi Minh City Day Trips including Ho Chi Minh Motorbike Tour, Ho Chi Minh Food Tour, Mekong Delta Tour, Cu Chi Tunnel Tour, Ho Chi Minh Transfer Service and Shore Excursion to thousands of guests for nearly 10 years. Let us have a chance to show you South Vietnam to the fullest.
Ly Thuy Long built Son Can Pagoda
In the spring of 1744, Ly Thuy Long – a Minh Huong person donated to build a small pagoda. Minh Huong refers to descendants of Ming Dynasty immigrants to South Vietnam during the 16th and 18th centuries. The position of the pagoda was chosen so that it was situated on high land and faced a lotus pond with a small house in the middle.
At first, the pagoda was named Sơn Can which literally means mountain mound. Later, it was named Cẩm Sơn because it was situated on Cam Son mound. They also called it Cẩm Đệm because monk Thuy Long’s private name was Cẩm and he sold Đệm to earn his living.
Pond turned into street
In 1968, many refugees moved to Tan Binh District, built houses and factories. In 1923, the level the pond and made a path named Number 12 in front of the pagoda. The path was turned into Lac Long Quan Street which remains until today.
In 1970, Buddhist monk Thien Thuan donated land next to the Main Hall to build a stupa. But the construction had not been completed.
Giac Lam Pagoda
In 1774, the Zen Master Linh Nhac who was the Abbot of Tu An Pagoda sent his disciple – Zen Master Vien Quang to the pagoda and renamed it Giac Lam. The pagoda was the first Buddhist prayer and discipline of abstinence training center for Buddhist monks in Gia Dinh (former name of Ho Chi Minh City) and entire South Vietnam.
Since 1873, Giac Lam has been managed by Zen Master Minh Khiem, it has been a publishing center where to print, copy, carve prayer books and other Buddhist books.
Giac Lam Pagoda was restored 3 times: 1798 – 1804, 1906 – 1909 and the last restoration completed in 1999.
On 16th November 1988, Giac Lam Pagoda was listed officially as a historic and cultural site by the Vietnamese Department of Culture.
In 1994, the stupa was finished.
In 2007, they started the construction of the new Lecture Hall and Monk Room on the left of the Main Hall.
Giac Lam Pagoda had been restored 3 times and many buildings had been finished for over 300 years. Each building represents characteristics of the time when it was built. In recent, the pagoda has a 7-story stupa, 2 gates, a graveyard, 2 huge statues of Buddha and Guanyin in the garden.
The main buildings include Main Hall, Lecture Hall, Dining Hall (Ong Giam House) forming 三 Chinese character and called Three Jewels. The new Lecture Hall and monks’ room are on the left of the Main Hall (Three Jewels). Detailed designs will be described later.
The walls, Main Hall, roofs, arches are decorated with 7,454 ceramic plates made in Lai Thieu District, Binh Duong Province. Vietnam Book of Records recognized that Giac Lam Pagoda had the largest number of ceramic plates on 30th November 2007. The ceramics make the ancient pagoda brighter, less boring and more modern. Plates with churches represent characteristics of Western architecture while white and blue plates draw inspiration from with traditional patterns.
Three-entrance gates on Lac Long Quan Street
The original pagoda has no three-entrance gates like most of the ancient pagodas and temples. In 1955, 2 three-entrance gates were built, both of them are located on Lac Long Quan Street. The gate has 3 entrances, 4 yellow pillars with red parallel sentences in Chinese, 6 green roofs with dragon and dharma wheel ornaments.
Passing through the Three-entrance gate, visitors see a stupa on the left. The construction of the stupa was started in 1970, had been stopped until 1993, and completed in 1994. It was inaugurated solemnly on 17th June 1994. The stupa has 7 floors, a height of 32.7 m, and the cross section in a hexagonal shape. The total floor area of the stupa is 600 m2.
On the main altar on the ground floor, Statues of Western Three Gods (Di Đà Tam Tôn) – Amida Buddha (Phật A Di Đà) and his two assistants Padmapani (Quán Thế Âm Bồ Tát) and Mahasthamaprapta (Quán Thế Âm Đại Thế Chí) are worshiped. The set of 3 statues is very popular in pagodas in Vietnam.
On the next floors are worshiped a large number of statues of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and other Buddhist monks. A sample of the relics of Gautama Buddha is worshiped on the 7th floor which is decorated with nine dragon ceiling. The Buddha’s relics were presented by Narada Maha Thera – a famous Theravadan Buddhist monk and translator in Sri Lanka on 24th June 1953. The opening ceremony was accompanied with the arrival of the relics from Long Van Temple in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City where they had been stored since their delivery in 1953.
Three-entrance gate in the garden
Besides the 2 gates on Lac Long Quan Street, there is another Three-entrance gate in the garden. The gate is simpler, it separate the land with the stupa and the land with the main buildings.
Three Jewels or Tam Bảo comprising Main Hall, Altars of Patriaches, Dining Hall, Lecture Hall, monks’ room is built on a rectangular area with a width of 22 m, a length of 65 m. 3 halls are supported by 98 pillars. Three Jewels is 1 m higher than the yard. It was designed according to the traditional “tiên bái Phật, hậu bái Tổ” (firstly bow Buddha, secondly bow ancestors) so that the Altars of Patriaches is behind the Main Hall.
Front Yard and Two-entrance gate
The rectangular front yard is 10 m wide and 20 m long. The yard and Three Jewels surrounded by a low fence and a two-entrance gate. The 2 lions represent Indian culture, Barca snakehead is a part of Khmer Buddhism, square pillars, geometric patterns and concrete carved decorations are from Western countries. There is no entrance facing the entrance to the Main Hall in order to avoid devils going straight from the gate to the main door of Main Hall.
In the yard, there is a small shrine in which is placed a statue of Guanyin made of stone and a statue of Maitreya Buddha. The old Bodhi tree was presented and grown by Narada Maha Thera on 24th June 1953. A big incense burner is put at the center of the spacious yard with terracotta tiles.
The Main Hall of Giac Lam Pagoda was designed according to the traditional Vietnamese style: một gian hai chái (1 main room 2 side room) and tứ trụ (4 pillars). The pyramid-shaped roof consists of 4 triangular parts, has no curved eave but gutters. The roof was similar to the roofs of houses in South Vietnam at that time. Two dragons facing the moon decoration on the top of the roof is one of the highlights of the Main Hall’s design.
The Main Hall has 4 wooden supporting pillars with golden characters and many wood and metal windows in green color. In the front corridor, there is a small altar. More surprises will be revealed after visitors pass the entrance to the Main Hall.
Wood dominates the Main Hall and makes the hall mysterious and warm. The pillars, statues, roof frames, decorations, furniture including altars, tables, chairs are made of wood. Inside the hall, there are 56 dark brown pillars and carved wooden panels with golden parallel sentences.
Giac Lam Pagoda has more than 100 wooden antiques including 9 Bao lam, 19 Carved wood panels (Hoành phi), 86 gilded parallel sentences, 46 altars and many ritual weapons, tools of worship. Bamboo tocsin made in the 17th century, bell with a diameter of 58 cm cast in 1894, 33 incense burners in different sizes still remain in the pagoda.
The hall is decorated with 9 carved wood decors called “bao lam” with traditional patterns including 4 sacred animals (dragon, unicorn, turtle, phoenix), 4 seasons (pine, bamboo, daisy, peach apricot, golden apricot blossom), bird of paradise, etc. Visitors feel relaxing to see flowerpeckers holding worms in its mouth, perching on a branch. 9 dragons spraying water when Buddha was born represents the nine-dragon land – Mekong Delta in South Vietnam. Relieves represent mouses crawl on cucumber and pumpkin fields. The decorations depicting Vietnamese countrysides mix wonderfully with the mysterious and solemn hall filled with Buddha statues.
Entering the Main Hall through the main entrance, visitors see altars and worshiped statues in 3 rooms divided by 2 lines of pillars. In the center room or main room, there are 3 altars. The innermost altar called Amida Altar (Bàn Di Đà) is the highest, the middle Council Altar (Bàn Hội đồng) is lower, and the outermost Three Jewels Altar (Bàn Tam Bảo) is the lowest. Each of the 2 side rooms has only 1 altar.
On Amida Altar in are worshiped Amida Buddha (Phật A Di Đà), Gautama Buddha (Phật Thích Ca), Maitreya Buddha (Phật Di Lặc) arranged vertically. On 2 sides of Gautama Buddha are his 2 disciplines Mahakasyapa and Ananda and 2 Dharmapala.
On Council Altar are worshiped Jade Emperor (Ngọc Hoàng) and his 2 assistants named after two stars Crux and Big Dipper (Nam Tào, Bắc Đẩu).
On The Three Jewels Altar are placed the statues of Amida Buddha, Gautama Buddha and 4 Bodhisattva: Mahasattva (Bồ tát Đại Thế Chí), Padmapani (Bồ Tát Quán Thế Âm), Manjushri (Văn Thù Sư Lợi), Samantabhadra (Phổ Hiền Bồ Tát).
In the right room is worshiped Bodhisattva Padmapani. On the altar in the left room is worshiped Bodhisattva Mahasattva. These 2 Bodhisattvas and Amida Buddha in the middle room form a Western Three Gods in Pure Land Buddhism. The set of 3 statues is very popular in pagodas in Vietnam.
Giac Lam Pagoda houses 119 statues, including 113 ancient statues, made of different materials such as wood, bronze, concrete, gypsum. The most valuable are the wooden Gautama Buddha – the oldest statue at the pagoda, nice dragons and the newborn Gautama Buddha statue made of bronze, 2 sets of 18 Arahat statues, Five Sage (Ngũ Hiền) set of Buddha and 4 Bodhisattva statues, 2 sets of 10 Yama statues. Other statues include Ksitigarbha (Địa Tạng), Bodhidharma (Bồ Đề Đạt Ma), Dragon King (Long Vương), Guan Yu (Quan Thánh).
It has been researched that the statues were made by sculptors in Can Duoc District, Long An Province and Thu Dau Mot District, Binh Duong Province. Arahat statues were made to be totally different from those in China, Japan, India and other countries. The statues’ faces and bodies are similar to Vietnamese people’s faces and bodies. The robes are also simpler than colorful outfits of Arahat statues made in China.
Altars of Patriaches
Altars of Patriaches is the place to worship ancestors who were Abbots of the pagodas. In the opposite of ancestral altars are worshiped a statue of Cundi (Phật Chuẩn Đề), Manjushri (Văn Thù Sư Lợi) and Samantabhadra (Phổ Hiền Bồ Tát) paintings, and a bust of President Ho Chi Minh.
Dining Hall (Ong Giam House)
The dining hall has wooden tables and chairs where Buddhist monks and guests have their meals. In the War against the French colonial and the U.S. armed force, the halls are used as the military logistics base.
Green space in the Three Jewels
The yard around the Three Jewels has a nice fish lake with a Guanyin altar in the center. Lots of cannonball tree which flowers are considered as a symbol of Buddhism. The pagoda monks farm dozens of doves in the yard, they have built lovely birdhouses for them. After visiting and praying in the Main Hall and Altars of Patriaches, visitors can relax in the green and peaceful yard.
Thien Duong Hai Tinh
A building named Thien Duong Hai Tinh has been built on the left of the Main Hall. They plan to use the building as a lecture hall and monks’ room. The construction has not been completed until the end of 2019.
There are 3 graveyards in the garden of Giac Lam Pagoda. The graveyard in front of the main building has 3 stupas. The graveyard on the right of the path leading to the main building has 33 stupas, built at the beginning of the 20th century. The ancestral graveyard has 8 stupas of Abbots and 3 tombs of other Buddhist monks, built at the beginning of the 19th century and in the 20th century. The ancestral graveyard is situated behind Linh Son Thanh Mau shrine.
All the stupas were built according to Khmer, Vietnamese, Cham architectures. However, they used modern materials and applied modern techniques to build the stupas.
Linh Son Thanh Mau Temple
Linh Son Thanh Mau Temple is a small temple on the right of the Three Jewels. There are a big incense burner and especially trees with red ribbons which represent the wishes of prayers. This is one of the most well-known places to resort to sortilege in Ho Chi Minh City.
A huge statue of Gautama Buddha under a Bodhi leaf is situated in a beautiful green space behind the second gate which is next to the graveyard with 33 stupas.
In the spacious garden of Giac Lam Pagoda, an area with Penjing moutain, dragon and cloud, Guanyin statue and a large number of old green trees attracts many visitors to relax and pray.
Buddhist Culture Presentation
Visitors can find a wide range of Buddhist books, Buddhist culture products, meditation tools, souvenirs at the Buddhist Culture Presentation.
Photos of Giac Lam Pagoda in 2010
The above photos were taken by Tracy Do in December 2019. The following photos were taken in 2010. The pagoda has not been changed for nearly 10 years.
Pagoda & vegetarian food tour by Scooter tour is the perfect way to see a huge amount of the city in just a few hours.
Giac Lam Pagoda is widely recognized as an important and historic pagoda, the oldest temple in the city. Built in 1744 on an undeveloped area of jungle, it has since been consumed into the west of the city.
Originally thatched, the buildings have undergone significant remodeling at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Historically significant, it is now protected as an official cultural heritage site.
In the main garden stands a famous bodhi tree donated by Sri Lanka to the temple in 1953, in its shade stands a statue of bodhisattva Aralokiteshvara. In the grounds also stands a 32 meter (100 foot) high seven story hexagonal stupa; in total there are over 100 statues to admire.
The main, and original, temple is in the rear of the area. Leaving the stupa you pass by a couple of large Buddha statues and the garden/graveyard where the old tombs of monks and caretakers of the pagoda rest under a bodhi tree. The temple is pretty interesting inside. The first of two main rooms is “the Altars of Patriarchs”, with walls lined with metres and metres of pictures of people who have passed on. It’s dark, there are lots of old pictures, and it’s definitely a mood setter.
There is also an eerie and worth seeing funerary chamber with photos and shrines dedicated to former monks of the temple. At the main altar, Buddhists pray for peace and good health. By writing their names and their relatives’ names on paper and sticking it into the grand bell they believe their wishes will be carried when the bell is struck and echoes into heaven.
Typical architecture of southern pagodas
“The Third” structure of Giac Lam Pagoda is also typical of southern pagodas. It means the pagoda consists of 3 main buildings: the main ceremonial hall, the dharma preaching hall and the meal hall. The first one is big with many huge pillars engraved with meaningful sentences. It worships many Buddhas such as Buddha Amitabha, Buddha Shakyamuni and some Bodhisattva like Maitreya Bodhisattva, Samantabhadra Bodhisattva and Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. Giac Lam Pagoda has 113 statues made of wood, bronze and cement. 7 of the statues are made of bronze. Most of them are very ancient and valuable, which demonstrate the development of Vietnamese art of sculpture in 18th century. Not only is Giac Lam a place to observe the traditional southern structure of pagodas, but it’s also where tourists can discover the specific cultural characteristics of Vietnam, like the 4-season fruit pattern.
A review about Giac Lam Pagoda
I’ve recently covered a few of Saigon’s many pagodas — here and here — and you may have noticed a common theme emerging: they are small and are being chocked out by surrounding buildings. But there is a pagoda that staked its claim early enough, and far enough out of downtown, that it was still actually got some land to spare.
You can reach Giac Lam Pagoda in many ways: by taxi, by scooter or by bus (see guide to Ho Chi Minh City Bus). If you travel by bus, all you need to do is catching bus No.27 at Ben Thanh Bus Station and then get off at the crossroad Lac Long Quan – Au Co. Then you can find the way to Giac Lam Pagoda.
If you would like to discover Giac Lam Pagoda please go with us: Pagoda & vegetarian food tour by Scooter tour is trying to making lantern by yourself and you will have unforgettable memories. Don’t miss it!
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