Ong Bon Pagoda (Nhi Phu Temple), Ho Chi Minh City is the oldest Chinese pagoda (temple) in Saigon. It is also the only temple where Ong Bon is mainly worshiped in the city. The highlights of this religious site include the beautiful Chinese characterized architecture, delicate exterior and interior designs. The temple has played important part in the life of Chinese community in Saigon for hundreds of years.
Location: 264 Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street, Ward 14, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City.
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Opening hours: 6:00 – 17:00.
Total area: 2,500 m2.
Year of establishment: 1730.
History, variations of its names
At the end of the 17th century, many Chinese people who spoke Fujian language left China for Vietnam, then lived in De Ngan (Saigon Cholon now).
Chinese people from two cities Xuanzhou (府, Tuyền Châu) and Zhangzhou ( 漳州市, Chương Châu) donated and built an assembly hall (会馆, Hội Quán) in about 1730. The assembly hall was named 二府 (Nhị Phủ, Nhi Phu, two cities). The full name is 二府会馆（Hội quán Nhị Phủ, Nhi Phu Assembly Hall). It is also called 又称二府庙（Miếu Nhị Phủ, Nhi Phu Temple).
In the pagoda, Ong Bon (越南道教, Phúc Đức Chính Thần, Ông Bổn, Ong Bon) is worshiped. So that they also call this assembly hall Chùa Ông Bổn or Ong Bon Pagoda. This is the only Chinese pagoda (temple) in which God of the Soil is worshiped.
The purpose of building this pagoda is gathering, helping each other, meeting the spiritual, religious and cultural needs of Chinese people.
The people from Tuyen Chau City established On Lang Assembly Hall in 1740. Those from Chuong Chau City built Ha Chuong Assembly Hall in 1809. The two halls are not too far from Nhi Phu Assembly Hall.
The pagoda was restored in 1875, 1901 and 1990. It still remains features of ancient Chinese architecture, exterior and interior designs in Fujian style.
On 30th August 1998, Nhi Phu Temple was recognized as a National Cultural-Historic Site.
Who is Ong Bon?
Ong Bon is a eunuch named Trinh Hoa. According to scholar Vuong Hong Sen, during the rule of Yongle Emperor (1403-1424), the King ordered him to travel Southeast Asia by a sailboat, introduce Chinese people to the neighboring countries and buy precious items. Trinh Hoa had been a talented traveler, explorer, diplomat, linguist. When he arrived at a new land, he brought Chinese people there, help them to rearrange Chinese areas. After Bon Dau Cong died, oversea Chinese appreciated this works, he was ordained to Bon Dau Cong (Bổn Đầu Công) by the king. Later he is known as God protecting soil, ground and people.
Nhi Phu Temple has a total area of about 2,500 m2. The front yard occupies half of the land. The remaining area is for worshipping area and the office.
There are two worshipping areas, which can be called the front building and the back building. The front building and the back building are separated by a small garden.
The front building has a 口 (khẩu, mouth) shape, it is a complex, consisting of four halls which were separately built and have their own roofs, walls. Each of the halls is perpendicular to two left and right halls and parallel to the opposite hall. Generally, the four halls form a hollow square. The square light well (courtyard) faces all halls and bring fresh air and natural lights to the entire front building. The halls are usually called front hall, left hall, right hall and back hall (main hall).
The rectangular back building is more simple but still designed colorfully and splendidly.
The main gate has three entrances and three green and yellow roofs with curved eaves and beautiful ornaments. On top of the middle roof, there is a small yellow stupa. Below the middle roof there is name of the pagoda in Chinese. On two pillars there are parallel sentences in Chinese. The gates are made of wrought iron and has wave, cloud, leaf and flower patterns. The fence is made of concrete, wrought iron and stone.
Small stupa on top of the middle roof, nice ornaments which look like waves or clouds, ceramic Qilin on top of pillars of the fence.
The front yard is rather spacious, local people usually gather in the yard to enjoy the fresh air and calm themselves. In the photo, a Chinese vendor visits the pagoda, burn incenses and pray for a better day in the early morning. The beautiful roof of the front hall looks like waves.
A huge metal incense burner is placed in the yard. There are some Chinese characters related to 二府 and dharma wheels. On top of the roof, there are dragon and fire ornaments.
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口 shaped front building
As mentioned above, the front building consists of Front hall, Right hall, Left hall, Back hall (Main hall) and a sky well which form a 口 shape.
The facade of the front hall, which faces the main gate and Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street, is also the facade of the pagoda.
The front hall is designed beautifully and colorfully.
The roof with red yin and yang tiles and delicate ornaments is one of the highlights of the hall. The roofs look like waves, on top of which are two dragon fighting for a pearl, dragon, cloud, wave ceramic mosaic ornaments. The edge of the roof is decorated with reliefs depicting cranes and pine trees, pairs of birds on branches of flowers.
There are one main doors and two side doors. Above the main door, visitors can see the name 二府会馆（Hội quán Nhị Phủ, Nhi Phu Assembly Hall). On two pillars are parallel sentences in Chinese characters. Two statues of snails in front of the parallel sentences. On the wall, there are reliefs telling stories in China. Two big lanterns with Chinese characters and dragons are hung on the ceiling.
Four carved flower pots and many carved wood depicting birds and flowers in green and pink are used to decorate the purlins (đòn tay).
Nhi Phu Assembly Hall was carved above the main door.
Two wall paintings depict beautiful landscapes.
The two round windows have red and white patterns which look like flowers. Green bamboo fragments make the window rustic. On two side of each window, there are ceramic mosaic paintings telling some stories or the life in China. This is the photo of the left window.
The right window.
Inside the front hall, there are some horizontal carved wooden panels with golden and red characters. Six lanterns are hung on the ceilings. When the doors are open, visitors can see the two door Gods (Menshens) when being in the front hall.
Two Menshens who are responsible for protecting Ong Bon Pagoda from evils.
Inside the front hall, there are boards with red papers on which names of donors are written. A golden altar is placed in the middle of the hall. Visitors can buy incenses, candles at a small stall on the right of the front hall.
The relief depicts dragon dance, parade at Ong Bon celebrations at Ong Bon Pagoda on the 15th days of January and August every year.
Chinese people including those from Fujian and Vietnamese people come to the pagoda, offer Ong Bon roasted pork, live pigs, live goat, boiled chickens, fruits, other foods, incenses and lamps.
The sky well brings natural lights, fresh air and wind to the courtyard and the halls. A big incense burner is in the center of the courtyard. Visitors usually hang incense coils on lines above the courtyard.
The back hall is behind the front hall and the courtyard. This is the must-see part of Ong Bon Pagoda.
As mentioned above, each hall has its own roof. The back hall (or main hall)’s roof is also decorated with mosaic ornaments: two dragons facing a pearl. The edge is decorated with green glazed tiles and golden flower and leaf patterns.
The main hall can be divided into three parts, the middle one is for worshiping Ong Bon, Thai Tue Gia Gia altar is on the left and Quang Trach Ton Vuong altar is on the right. The area looks splendid and magnificent, with red lacquer golden gilt panels on black big round pillars, horizontal panels, doors with beautiful decor items and “bao lam” carved woods which are usually used to decorate the upper parts between two pillars or entrances in Vietnam.
The statue of Ong Bon is 1.5 m high, depicts an old man with a long white beard. Ong Bon wears colorful embroidered outfit and hats decorated with beads and many other twinkle things. The altar is a masterpiece which is carved sophisticatedly, with wooden carved birds, leaves, flowers, fruits, dragons, etc.
Thai Tue Gia Gia (Thái Tuế Gia Gia) is worshiped on the left altar. On the left wall, there is a relief depicting fierce tigers.
Quảng Trạch Tôn Vương (Quang Trach Ton Vuong) is worshiped on the right altar. The left wall is decorated with a relief depicting two dragons fighting for a pearl.
Thai Tue Gia Gia and Quang Trach Ton Vuong in beautiful wooden altars. Two statues are decorated with colorful outfits and hats.
Reliefs depicting two Vajrapani on the walls of the main hall.
An ancient bell and a drum in the main hall.
The left hall is simpler, it is decorated with reliefs depicting beautiful woman, deer, vase and flowers, dragon, beautiful landscape.
Guan Yu (Quan Thánh Đế Quân) is worshiped in the left hall.
The altar in front of the Guan Yu altar tells stories about Guan Yu. On two walls, there are paintings of Guan Yu.
Paintings of Guan Yu and Guan Yu statue on the altar.
Although the right hall (and left hall) has front doors, visitors usually go through the main door of the front hall, enter the sky well, then step into the right hall (or left hall).
Reliefs depicting stories on the front wall of the right hall.
Chú Sinh Nương Nương (Chu Sinh Nuong Nuong) is worshiped in the right hall.
Chu Sinh Nuong Nuong statue, wall paintings telling stories about Guanyin helping people and a monk, the altar with stories in China.
The round entrance on the path leading to the back building.
Passing the round entrance, visitors see the Monkey King (Tài Thiên Đại Thánh) altar. Stories about the Monkey King are painted on the walls.
Monkey King altar.
Two ancient bells in on the path leading to the back building.
On the back wall of the main hall is a relief depicting heaven and deities. A yard with pots of trees, plants, flowers, a lake with miniature rock mountain, two lakes with dragon spraying water.
Rectangular back building
The back building has a tiled roof with dragon ornaments, red round pillars.
Jade Emperor (Ngoc Hoang) altar.
Guanyin altar on the left and Gautama Buddha altar on the right.
Two relievs, each of which depicts 9 Arhats.
Two impressive reliefs.
Two impressive reliefs.
Nhi Phu Temple houses some antiques: an ancient bell since 1825, a cast iron bell since 1875, stone statues of Qilin, “bao lam” wood carvings, folding screen since the 19th century. There are 14 parallel sentences and 30 horizontal panels, most of which are made from 1864 to 1901. The artworks have floral, dragon, cloud, wave patterns and Chinese characters carved on wood.
The wooden or gypsum statues of deities and Gods are placed in altars with delicate and vivid wood carvings. The God of the Soil and the Ground altar since 1894 is the most valuable, splendid and magnificent. It is made of wood, red lacquer painted golden gilt, have carved two dragons fighting for a pearl, phoenixé, Qilins, coins, longevity characters in Chinese, shrimps, crabs, fishes, etc.
All of them praise the deities and are highly valued wood carvings and calligraphy artworks.
More photos of Ong Bon Pagoda
A white and black photo of Nhi Phu Temple in the past
Old Chinese people from Fujian gather on the first day of the lunar new year at Ong Bon Pagoda.