Must-see tourist attractions including iconic sights and beautiful architectural works are a small part of Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon. The real Saigon is located in far districts and in the huge system of back alleys. Hundreds of hidden attractions should not be missed in Ho Chi Minh City. These brilliant gems include special streets and markets, buildings, slum areas, the monument of a monk burned himself to death for religious equality and many things more. I have listed 17 top hidden attractions which are worth visiting in order to learn more about the city’s less-known parts.
1. Thich Quang Duc Memorial (Monument)
Location: 298 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, Ward 6, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City (crossroads of Cach Mang Thang Tam and Nguyen Dinh Chieu Streets). Click to view on Google Map.
What to do: talk about the story about Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc, how the memorial was planned and built; walk around the spacious garden with green grass and lots of trees; describe the statue, sculptural relief, lotus pond, photos of the burning monk; take some nice photos.
The story of monk Thich Quang Duc Buddhist (or Venerable Thich Quang Duc, Bodhisattva Thich Quang Duc)
John F. Kennedy once said: “No new picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one”. It was about the fact that the patriotic Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc burned himself alive at the crossroad of Le Van Duyet and Phan Dinh Phung Streets (Cach Mang Thang Tam and Nguyen Dinh Chieu Streets today). His act of protest was on papers’ front pages in the world. Journalist Malcolm Browne captured the image of Thich Quang Duc immolating himself and won the World Press Photo of the year 1963. A chain reaction was sparked and the policies of President Ngo Dinh Diem and the history were changed forever.
In 1963, 90 percents of the nation were Buddhist. As a member of the Catholic minority, President Ngo Dinh Diem hated Buddhism, pursued discriminatory policies favoring Catholics for business arrangements, tax concessions, land allocation, military promotions and public service. Some Catholic priests owned private armies, there were forced conversions, shelling, looting, and demolition of pagodas in many regions.
There was a ban in early May on flying religious flags in public places. However, Catholics had been encouraged to fly the Vatican flat at a celebration for Diem’s elder brother who was Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc of Hue. A large number of Buddhists protested the ban, flew Buddhist flags, marching on Vesak – Buddha’s birthday in Hue. Ngo Dinh Diem’s forces fired into the protesters and killed 9 people.
Ngo Dinh Diem refused to take responsibility and blamed Viet Cong soldiers for the death. He also remained unwilling to comply with demands of Buddhists so that increased the frequency of the protest.
Day of immolation
On 7th October 1963, about 350 monks and nuns led by an Austin Westminster sedan started at a nearby pagoda, marched in two phalanxes and carried banners in both Vietnamese and English. They asked for religious equality and denounced Diem government and its policy.
Thich Quang Duc and two monks stepped out of the car. One of the two monks put a cushion onto the street, the other took out a five-gallon petrol can from the car. Thich Quang Duc sat on the cushion, meditated, rotated a string of wooden prayer bead while the monks and nuns formed a circle. Duc was in calm when a monk poured gasoline on his head. After reciting Namo Amituofo, he stroke a match and dropped it on himself. Flames consumed Thich Quang Duc’s robes and body, black oily smoke emanated from fire.
The monk Thich Quang Duc left his last words in four letters, the most impressive words are translated into English as below:
“Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngo Dinh Diem to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organize in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism.”
The living heart
A monk repeated into a microphone: “A Buddhist priest burns himself to death. A Buddhist priest becomes a martyr” in both Vietnamese and English.
Thich Quang Duc’s body was fully immolated after about 10 minutes. The remain parts of his body were collected and carried to Xa Loi Pagoda. Duc’s heart did not burn after the cremation. It was placed in a glass at Xa Loi Pagoda and has been regarded as a symbol of compassion. Duc has been revered as a Bodhisattva.
History of the memorial
After Thich Quang Duc died, Buddhists built a tower in the grounds of Embassy of Cambodia on Cach Mang Thang Tam Street, called Le Van Duyet Street at that time to commemorate him.
On 6th November 2007, the ceremony to start the memorial was organized solemnly at 70 – 72 Cach Mang Thang Tam, Ward 6, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. This was the place where the living monk burnt himself in 1963.
The project of the memorial was designed by the sculptor Vo Cong Thang who won the art competition “Thich Quang Duc statue and reliefs”. The statue was made by Mr. Banjerd Lekkong, known as “the golden hand of Thailand”.
On 18th September 2010, the Thich Quang Duc Memorial was inaugurated.
The memorial has become a favorite place of Saigon people for taking a rest, calming themselves, taking the fresh air, praying for good luck and happiness. A lamp is kept lit constantly and incenses are always available. So that visitors can burn the incenses and insert them into the large burners in front of the statue at any time.
The memorial consists of nearly 1,850 square meter garden with lotus pond, walking paths, green trees and grass.
Statue of Bodhisattva Thich Quang Duc
The bronze statue of Thich Quang Duc is approximately 6 meters high, 12 tons weigh and has a diameter of about 4.5 meters.
Behind the statue is the 16 m long, 3 m high relief. The sculpture of Thich Quang Duc monk sitting in the fire is in the center. On the left, visitors can see lines of monks and Buddhists sitting on their knees and standing, praying while looking at burning monk Thich Quang Duc. On the right is the scene of Saigon people including women and the elderly fighting for nationality, Buddhism, and peace.
Read more about Thich Quang Duc Monument – Everything you need to know.
2. Nguyen Thien Thuat Apartment Buildings
Where is it located? the apartment buildings surrounded by 4 Streets Nguyen Thien Thuat, Phan Dinh Phung, Ly Thai To, Phan Thanh Gian, Ward 1, District 3. Click to see on Google Map.
What to do: walk around, look around the yard, some shophouses, a pagoda in Block G, walk up the stairs, see interesting things about the real local life of Saigon in the apartment buildings.
The Tet Offensive (officially called The General Offensive and Uprising of Tet Mau Than 1968) was one of the Vietnam War’s largest military campaigns against the forces of South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam and the United States Armed Forces launched by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese People’s Army of Vietnam. It was given that name because it happened on Tet holiday in 1968, called the year of Monkey in the lunar calendar. Started on 30th January 1968 in the Corps Tactical Zones of South Vietnam, the offensive was countrywide. Viet Cong and North Vietnamese won in more than 100 cities and towns. The Tet Offensive played an important role in weakening American public support for the war in Vietnam.
Large numbers of houses were destroyed during the Tet Offensive in around the country, including the slums which had existed before 1968 in the area of Nguyen Thien Thuat Apartment Buildings in recent.
The government decided to build many apartment buildings including An Quang, Duong Sat, Nguyen Thien Thuat (also called Ban Co).
Nguyen Thien Thuat buildings were completed in 1969.
Before 2000, the buildings was alcohol, drug, gambling, crime hotspot. In recent, the buildings have been home to many Saigon people. Amongst the residents are old owners who have been living here their whole life. They do not want to move to new houses because they are familiar with the life here. Although the buildings are old, the apartments are good choices for poor families who do not have enough money to buy better houses or apartments in Ho Chi Minh City – one of the most expensive places to own a house in the world. Many students and workers rent the apartments because of cheap rental prices and good location. The contrast between poor and rich is still sharp in Ho Chi Minh City as well as Vietnam. Some are very rich and the others are still poor.
Residents do not need to go far for having a hair cut, getting a massage, ordering prepared foods, buying foods for home cooks, Nguyen Thien Thuat apartments. Hair salons, spas, tailor shops, fashion shops, restaurants and coffee shops are countless in the buildings. Vendors sell products, foods and drinks on moving carts, motorbikes, and at shoulder poles. There is the small Niem Phat Duong Lien Tri Pagoda on the top floor of block G for respecting Buddhas, praying and calming the mind.
A park between the blocks is the place where residents take a rest after a hard-working day or simply escape from the small boxed apartments. Neighbors sit on stone benches, talk to each other, children run and play around the yard in the morning and evening. Teenagers gather, buy some takeaway foods and drinks, eat while chatting leisurely. From the yard, you can see the small Niem Phat Duong Lien Tri Pagoda mentioned above.
Visitors should not miss climb upstairs to see lots of interesting things in the apartment. The 2 m wide staircases have ramps for 2-wheel vehicles. The residents do not have enough places to park their motorbikes and bicycles in the small parking area for both residents and visitors next to the yard on the ground. They must park the bikes in the apartment, bring upstairs and downstairs every day.
Blocks and apartments
Nguyen Thien Thuat Apartment Buildings have 11 blocks: A,B,C,D,E,F1,F2,G,H,J,K. There are about 120 families in a block. Shophouses have an area of about 40 m2 and cost around 2.8 billion VND (~ 130,000 USD). Other apartments have an area of around 30 m2, a height of 2.8 m, a width of 3 m, a length of 8 m. They are rather small.
Appartments in blocks have been painted with different colors including green (the most popular), pink, orange. Beautiful patterned cement tiles which were very popular in Saigon in the 1960s still remain. Some of the apartments have balconies with steel fences, windows with wooden shutters, rolling doors.
Plants and flowers in the balconies make the lively and colorful. They dry clothes, towers, mattresses, even underwears in front of the apartments because there is no place better than the balconies which are windy. They hang the clothes not only on billets but also on electrical wires. From the balcony, you can see the electric clutter or telltale tangles of black wires – one of the most dangerous electrical wires around the world. They even farm chickens on top of the buildings. Residents and visitors can hear roosters crowing suddenly.
Some apartments without balconies have glass windows. Shophouses have corrugated metal or canvas canopies. In front of the apartment, they hang canvas tarps to avoid the strong sunlight and the rain.
A romantic poem
Song Que poetic has written a poem about love with a girl in these buildings.
Chung cư cũ thời gian chồng chất. (Old apartment buildings throughout the years.)
Tuổi 50 nửa thế kỉ tròn. (50 years old half of a century.)
Bao nắng bao mưa đầy kỉ niệm. (Sunshine and rain full of memories.)
Nay đến một ngày mái ngói rơi. (The day when the tiles fall comes.)
Mai dỡ đi rồi xây lại mới. (Tomorrow destroy and rebuild it.)
Xuân xanh trở lại tuổi nằm nôi. (Return to the youth when lying in a cot.)
Hình bóng ngày xưa vào tiếc nuối. (Regret the image in past.)
Khang trang áo mới lại lên ngôi. (It is time for a beautiful new cover.)
Về ngang lạ quá em còn đó. (Come back, too strange, you are still here.)
Hay đã ra đi tự chốn nào. (Or has left.)
Lên chiếc cầu thang đưa mắt ngó. (Walk up the stairs and look for.)
Em còn nơi ấy mối duyên trao. (You are still here and give me your love.)
What time to visit?
Quiet in the afternoon, the most crowded, noisiest in the morning and evening. The buildings are the most hustle and bustle in the afternoon.
Who is Nguyen Thien Thuat?
Born in Hung Yen Province, Nguyen Thien Thuat (1844 – 1926) was a high-ranking official governed some provinces in North Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty and a revolutionary leader, known as the leader the famous Bai Say uprising. In 1883, he continued armed resistance against the French although the Nguyen ordered to stop fighting. The 9-year revolt (1883 – 1892) ensued in the swampy area of Bai Say (Field of Reeds) in Hung Yen Province.
Nguyen Thien Thuat used guerrilla warfare strategy, ordered small groups of Vietnamese combatants who were small and easily hid in the field of reeds, swamps, villagers’ houses to attack the less-mobile French forces.
3. Ho Thi Ky Flower Market
Location: Ho Thi Ky Street, Ward 1, District 10, Ho Chi Minh City. The market is hidden in the area of Le Hong Phong apartment buildings in Ho Thi Ky street and its narrow alleys. Click to see on Google Map.
Opening hours: 24/24.
What to do? Walk around, see flowers and their meanings in Vietnam, the real life at the non-sleeping market, eat lotus seeds.
Opened since 1987, the non-sleeping Ho Thi Ky Market is The biggest and oldest wholesale flower market in Ho Chi Minh City.
Mrs. Ni was 60 years old and owns a small convenience store in the market. She told us that she spent her childhood at this flower market where she ran around the shops and play with her friends amid thousands of flowers. She did not remember when the flower market was opened. From the beginning, there were a few vendors sell flowers in front of Ho Thi Ky elementary school. Then they moved to nearby places in the street of Ho Thi Ky. More and more vendors had started their business until it became a large wholesale and retail flower market. When the markets were crowded, she and her friend did not sleep, help the vendors to sell flowers.
Saigon people like buying flowers at Ho Thi Ky market but not at other flower shops or local markets because of the cheap prices, the variety of choices, the freshest flowers, and friendly vendors.
The market sells hundreds of flowers in different colors from many regions of Vietnam including Dalat – the land of flowers, Mekong Delta – the region of nine dragons, Hanoi – the capital of Vietnam, etc.
It is always crowded and busy at any time of the day. From midnight to early morning, sellers are busy selling flowers at wholesale to retailers. You can see trucks, 3-wheel vehicles, 2-wheel vehicles full of flowers transferred from farms to Ho Thi Ky, from Ho Thi Ky to other markets and flower shops. It does not mean that they do not sell at retail at this wholesale market. The street and back alleyways are usually filled with Saigon people who come to buy flowers and plants.
Saigon people and flowers
Saigon people love flowers as well as beauty. They like to arrange fresh flowers and plants in vases and put them on windowsills, tables, desk, counters. On the altars, they arrange daisies (yellow and white colors are the most popular), lilies, white tuberoses, gladioluses (red, white, yellow), Dracaena fragrans. The flowers show Vietnamese respect to their ancestors.
At Tet festivals, Full moon festivals, and other festivals, the houses are usually full of flowers and plants.
They use fresh flowers to decorate not only houses but also places for weddings, parties, death anniversaries, funeral, and special events. Flower decor packages cost from a few million VND (~ 50 USD) to hundreds of millions VND (~ tens of thousands USD).
Flowers are one of the best presents in Vietnam, like in most of the countries in the world. They present flowers to lovers at any time of the year or on Valentine’s Day, to women on the International Women’s Day, Vietnamese Women’s Day, to teachers on Vietnamese Teachers Day. Flowers are great gifts on happy birthday parties.
When you come to a pagoda, church or temple in Saigon, you can see lots of flowers arranged by the monks and nuns, offered by Buddhists, Catholics, visitors, etc. At special Buddhist and Catholic events such as the Birthday of Buddha, Chrismas Day, Mid August, thousands of flowers make the religious sites more solemn.
At festivals, on special days, Ho Thi Ky market has no space for vehicles. The crowd of buyers fill the streets and alleys, choose the freshest flowers.
Some people do not have enough time to change the water, clean vases, and arrange fresh flowers. They choose artificial flowers which look like the real ones bought at good prices at Ho Thi Ky market. These artificial flowers will be changed when they are covered with dust after some months.
Flower shops and flowers
Meanings of flowers in Vietnam
Name of flowers and plants in English and Vietnamese and their meanings in Vietnam:
Rose – hoa hồng:
Red rose symbolizes for love and roman. White rose symbolizes for pure love. Velvety rose (hồng nhung) symbolizes for sweet love. Some Vietnamese people think yellow rose is the symbol of betrayal in love. However, it symbolizes for friendship. Each number of roses has its own meaning in our country.
1 rose means only you, 2 roses mean strong love, 3 roses mean I love you, 6 roses mean I would like to own you, 9 roses mean forever love, 11 roses mean only love, 24 roses mean I miss you 24/24, 50 roses mean never regret, 100 roses mean we are together until 100 years old, 101 roses mean I do not love anyone but you, 108 roses mean Will you marry me?, 123 roses mean free love, 1001 roses mean honest love forever.
Daisy – cúc symbolizes for purity.
Red daisy symbolizes for love, multi colorful daisy means thinking about an absent friend, white daisy symbolizes for kindness, marigold (cúc vạn thọ) symbolizes for longevity, yellow daisy means memory and regard.
Gerbera – hoa đồng tiền, Dracaena fragrans or happy plant – cây phát tài symbolize for richness. Christmas berry, Australian holly, coral ardisia, coral bush, coralberry, coralberry tree, hen’s-eyes, and spiceberry – cây kim ngân lượng also is the symbol of richness.
Chinese taro (Caladium hortulanum) – môn tai phật which leaf looks like Buddha’s ear symbolizes for calmness and peace.
Orchid – hoa lan symbolizes for wealth and love.
Lily – hoa ly; Tuberose – huệ; Gladiolus – lay ơn, ; Carnation – cẩm chướng; ; Hydrangea – cẩm tú cầu; ; Orchid – hoa lan; Sunflower – hướng dương; Lotus – hoa sen; Filler flower – hoa dặm thêm; Baby’s breath – hoa bi; Peony – mẫu đơn; Tulip – tuy líp; Chrismas flower – cây trạng nguyên.
Tips for choosing flowers in Vietnam
Red color and roses for lovers.
Purple, white colors and orchids, tuberoses, daisies for funerals.
Flowers in bright colors for celebrations, weddings, happy birthdays, Teacher’s Day, Women’s Day.
Spring apricots, marigolds, spiceberries, happy plants, orchids at Tet festival.
Saigon real local life: sellers and workers
Who is Ho Thi Ky?
Born in Ca Mau Province, Ho Thi Ky (1949 – 1970) is a Vietnamese martyr who fought against the American forces in her hometown in the Vietnam War. On 3rd April 1970, she killed a general of The Republic of Vietnam. She died from a landmine at the age of 21. The commune where she was born, schools, and the biggest flower market in Saigon were named after this female hero.
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4. Cambodian Market
Location: Alley 66 Hung Vuong, Ward 1, District 10, Ho Chi Minh City. The market is located on a narrow alley of Hung Vuong Street. The alley is parallel with Ho Thi Ky Street. View on Google Maps.
What to do? walk around, see strange things including lively animals, eat Vietnamese grilled sesame/banana girdle cakes (crackers).
In the 1970s, a large number of Vietnamese Cambodians escaped from Cambodia to Vietnam. They lived in border provinces and Southeast Vietnam. More and more Vietnamese Cambodians came to Saigon and has built the culture of Cambodia in this city. Similar to Chinese culture, Cambodian culture is an important part of Saigon. Cambodian foods and products have been sold at shops in an alley for more than half-century. It has become the paradise of foods not only Cambodia but also different regions of Vietnam, China, Thai. It attracts lots of Vietnamese Cambodians, Saigon people, foodies, visitors, and tourists.
The market is always full of people and very noisy. In the morning, local people come here for uncooked foods and have breakfast. From 2:00 PM, most of the food and drink stalls open and the market is overwhelmed with foodies.
What to buy and see at Cambodian market?
At the Cambodian market, you can find everything from clothes to accessories, from dried foods to uncooked foods.
What to eat in the Cambodian market?
5. Temple of Ten Thousand Buddha
Temple of Ten Thousand Buddha, Ten Thousand Buddha Temple, Van Phat Pagoda.
Location: 66/14 Nghia Thuc Street, Ward 5, District 10, Ho Chi Minh City. View on Google Maps.
Opening hours: 4:30 – 19:00. The main hall on the fourth floor opens from 6:00 to 17:00.
What to do: Get fortune via Sortilege machine, climb up to 4th floor – the most beautiful hall of the pagoda.
Ten Thousand Buddha Temple was built by two monks Thich Dieu Hoa and Tang Duc Bon in 1959. The temple was a place for Chinese Buddhists and people in Saigon and neighboring provinces to train, pray, worship Buddha.
In 1998, the Venerable Thich Truyen Cuong from Guang Dong, China decided to restore the temple. On 9th June 2008, a ceremony was organized to celebrate completion of the restoration project.
For over 50 years, they have run lots of social charity campaigns and organized free Buddhism and meditation courses. This alley (hẻm) hidden gem has been attracted lots of Buddhists and visitors including foreigners thanks to the unique architecture and countless Buddha statues.
The main gate located at the beginning of the alley leads the way to Van Phat Temple’s building. The gate has 2 roofs with green tiles and dragon carvings. Between two roofs is the sign written the name of this temple in Chinese. From the gate, visitors can see a 4-story building decorated with lines of red lanterns.
The temple’s building is some hundreds of meters from the gate. There is another gate with two stone pillars tiled roof right in front of the building. Two stone guardian lion statues are put in front of the main entrance on the first floor. There are also two entrances on two sides.
Ten Thousand Buddha Temple was located in an alley in an urban area full of houses. The temple covers an area of fewer than 200 m2, has four floors and a terrace. The total built-up area is less than 1,000 m2.
Vietnamese people usually come to pagodas and temples to get their fortune told via sortilege. Traditionally, they use a cylindrical box containing bamboo or wooden sticks, each of which is numbered to draw lots. The person who would like to get his fortune sits on his knees, sends devoted prayers to the Gods and shake the box until one stick drops on the floor. Then he gives the numbered stick to a sortilege fortune teller in order to get a lot about his future base on the number.
Van Phat Pagoda has taken this tradition and practice to a higher level, automating the process and having a fairy deliver a note (or lot) on your future. Unlike the old custom, the new method makes the whole procedure easier. How to get your fortune by this machine?
- Donate money into the donation box next to the machine.
- Get one coin in the plate next to the machine. Insert the coin to the slot on the machine. The coin prompts the fairy to do her thing.
- A lovely fairy handing a tray on her hand goes through the beautiful garden and disappeared through the door of the red houses.
- She comes back with a tiny tube containing a lot on the tray, then drops the tube so that you can get it from outside.
- The lot is written in English, Vietnamese and Chinese.
1st floor – Ksitigarbha Hall
On the altar, they worship:
- Statue of Ksitigarbha (Bồ tát địa tạng) depicted as a monk with a halo around his shaved head, carrying a staff to force open the gates of hell and light up the darkness.
- On two sides of Ksitigarbha are statues of Tôn giả Đạo Minh và Trưởng giả Văn Công.
- Pure Land Buddhism (Di Đà Tam Tôn) statue group of
- Amitabha (Amida, Phật A Di Đà) – the principle Buddha in Pure Land Buddhism – a branch of East Asian Buddhism,
- Padmapani (Guanyin, Quán Thế Âm Bồ Tát) that embodies the compassion of all Buddha,
- Mahasthamaprapta (Đại Thế Chí) representing the power of wisdom.
2nd floor – Dai Bi Hall or Guanyin Hall
In Đại Bi Hall,
- Statue of Guanyin having dozens of hands,
- Guanyin’s acolytes (nguời theo hầu):
- Sudhana (Thiện Tài Đồng Tử),
- Dragon Girl (Long Nữ).
3rd floor – Medicine Buddha Hall – Điện Dược Sư
They worship Three Eastern Buddhas (Đông Phương Tam Thánh) statue group of
- Bhaisajyaguru (Medicine Buddha, Phật Dược Sư) known as a doctor that cured suffering using the medicine of his teachings.
- Two Medicine Buddha’s acolytes:
- Suryaprabha (Bồ tát Nhật Quang) whose name means sunlight that lightens the world and destroys darkness.
- Candraprabha (Bồ tát Nguyệt Quang) whose name means moonlight and who symbolizes fulfillment and peace.
4th floor – Main Hall – Pho Quang Hall
- Altar in the center worshipped
- Vairocana (Phật Tỳ Lô Giá Na, Đại Nhật Như Lai), seen as the embodiment of concept Sunyata referring to five aggregates of experiences and the six sense spheres.
Five aggregates include The form (or matter or body) (rupa), perceptions (samjna), mental activity or formations (sankhara), sensations (or feelings, received from form) (vedana), and consciousness (vijnana). Six internal sense spheres include the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body & mind. Six external sense spheres include visible forms, sound, odor, flavors, touch & mental objects.
- In the center is Siddhartha Gautama (Gautama Buddha, simply Buddha, Phật Thích Ca), believed to have lived sometime between 6th and 4th centuries BCE and be an enlightened teacher helping sentient beings end rebirth and suffering. He sits on a huge golden lotus having one thousand of petals, each of which contains one tiny white statue.
- On two sides are Amida (Phật A Di Đà), Medicine Buddha (Dược Sư), Quanyin (Bồ tát Quán Thế Âm), Ksitigarbha (Địa Tạng).
- Two big Buddha lamps.
- Altar in the front
- Gautama Buddha, simply Buddha, Phật Thích Ca.
- Altar on the right
- Manjusri (Bồ tát Văn Thù) whose name means Gentle Glory and who is the oldest and most significant Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism.
- Altar on the left
- Samantabhadra (Bồ tát Phổ Hiền) – Mahayana Buddhism’s Bodhisattva who associated with practice and meditation.
- On the wall
- Ten thousands of Buddha statues.
- Fairy, flower, dragon, phoenix carvings.
- Big bell and drum since 2004.
- Three boards on which written Phổ Quang Minh Điện, Diệu Trí Văn Thù và Đại Hạnh Phổ Hiền.
- Walk upstairs from the main
- Twenty six big paintings of eighteen Arhat (A La Hán) who gained insight into the true nature of existence and has achieved Nirvana – the goal of the Buddhist path, two Maha (Tổ Ca Diếp) who became an arhat and was the disciple of the Buddha, Ananda (A Nan) – the primary attendant of Buddha and one of Buddha’s ten principal disciples, six Zen Buddhist (Tổ Thiền tông Trung Hoa).
- Ten Thousand Buddha Tower that has 5 floors.
- The tower for worshipping Buddhist monk Tang Duc Bon who left in 2000.
- Nine Dragon carvings (Cửu Long Bích).
What to know about Buddhism?
- It is believed that as many as 535 million people (8% and 10% of the world’s total population) practice this religion.
- The country with the highest proportion (96.9 %) is Cambodia.
- China has the largest population of Buddhist worldwide.
- Buddhism originated in India, between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE.
- Extant branches of Buddhism include:
- Mahayana is believed to be the largest, popular in China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. Mahayana school recommends a vegetarian diet.
- Theravada is a second largest, has widespread in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia. Theravada does not require vegetarianism. Buddhist monks live without money, eat one meal on a day, walk single file, oldest first, carry alms bowls so that people can offer them foods.
- Vajrayana is popular in Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, Tibet.
- Soka Gakkai.
- Hoa Hao.
6. Cao Dai Temple
Location: 891 Tran Hung Dao Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. View on Google Map.
What to know about Caodaism?
- Caodaism was established in Tay Ninh Province, which is about 90 km from Ho Chi Minh City in 1926.
- This religion has existed not only in Vietnam but also in North America, Australia and Europe.
- As a new religion, Caodaism is a mix of big religions including Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Shinto.
- Caodaists should be honest, kind, do not kill, help people around, pray, venerate dead ancestors, have vegetarian diets to express the love for all creatures.
- Caodaism or Cao Đài literally meaning High Power is believed by Caodaist to create the universe.
- The symbol of the faith is the Left Eye of God.
- It is estimated to be up to 6 million Caodaists.
- Caodaists wear white clothing and wear black round hats.
- Men can wear colored clothing and square hats if they reach high levels in this religion.
In 1949, the highest dignitary Pham Cong Tac bought a French villa in an area of 931 m2 with the purpose of practicing Caodaism in Saigon.
After many times extending and restoring, the construction of Cao Dai Temple was started in 1999 and completed in 2001.
The architecture of the Saigon Temple imitated the architectural design of The Holy See (or Cao Dai Temple) in Tay Ninh.
The gate is built in three-door style so that it has three doors. The two side entrances are smaller the one in the middle. Under the roof, the following lines of text are written in Vietnamese:
Đại Đạo Tam Kỳ Phổ Độ which means The Great Faith Third Universal Redemption (Yellow line);
Tòa Thánh Tây Ninh which means Tay Ninh Holy See (Blue line);
Thánh Thất Sài Gòn which means Saigon Cao Dai Temple (Red line).
Looking from the gate, visitors can see two towers which are called Hiep Thien Dai.
A three-color flag, known as Caodaist Flag, Tam Thanh Flag or Cờ Tam Thanh is hung in front of the building. The yellow color represents Thái or Phật (Buddhism), the blue represents Thượng or Tiên (Taoism), the red represents Ngọc or Nho (Confucianism). This is an example of the mixture of different religion in Caodaism.
The front yard is not too small but not too large. Lines of Tam Thanh flags are hung in the yard. One of the impressive things in the yard is a human-powered two-wheel dragon boat used in funerals.
The first floor functions as a living room where Caodaists meet and talk together.
On this floor, visitors can see a pair of ivory tusks, tens of tables and chairs. Caodaist flags are everywhere.
On the wall of the corridor, there is a painting of Cao Dai Tam Thánh or Three Saints in Caodaism: Ton Dat Tien (1886 – 1925) – Chinese politician, physician, philosopher and the first president of the Republic of China, Victor Hugo (1820 – 1885) – French poet, novelist and dramatist of the Romantic movement, and Nguyen Binh Khiem – Vietnamese educator, poet, administrator, sage and a saint of Caodaism. The original painting was created by artist Le Minh Tong in 1947 and has been displayed in the Holo See in Tay Ninh.
The logo of Caodaism or consists of:
- Bình Bát Du was the alms bowl of Gautama Buddha. This bowl floated against the flow of Ganga River when he was swimming there. This object represents Buddhism.
- Phất Trần or Fly-whisk, used by Laozi – the founder of Taoism. It represents Taoism.
- Kinh Xuân Thu or Spring and Autumn Annals, compiled by Confucius, is the core Chinese classics since ancient times. It represents Confucianism.
Hiep Thien Dai (Hiệp Thiên Đài, Legislative Board)
Hiep Thien Dai consists of two towers in which bells and drums are placed. Each tower is 18 m high and has 5 floors. Hiep Thien Dai communicates with the occult to receive divine messages, to preserve the religious laws and listen to the complaints of the miserable, meaning to symbolize the equality in the religion
Hiep Thien Dai is connected with the Main Hall – the area of Cuu Trung Dai and Bat Quai Dai on the third floor.
Cuu Trung Dai (Executive Board, Cửu Trùng Đài)
In the center of the Main Hall is Cuu Trung Dai, whichi is supported by six pillars in two lines. Cuu Trung Dai takes charge of missionary activities, Caodaists sit on their knees, pray in this area.
Every day at noon, Caodaists come to Cuu Trung Dai, find spots to sit on their knee, chant their prayers.
Bat Quai Dai (Bát Quái Đài, Supreme Holy Organ)
Bat Quai Dai is located at the back of the second floor. Bat Quai Dai directs all activities of the universe under the leadership of Holy Spirits and God. The Supreme Holy Organ has eight dragon carved pillars and a big altar which has eight steps. The image of God Eye is placed on the top step.
Read more about Saigon Cao Dai Temple.
7. Saigon Floating Market or Tan Thuan Floating Market
Location: 23 Tran Xuan Soan Street, District 7, Ho Chi Minh City. The market is located next to Tan Thuan Bridge so that it is called Tan Thuan Floating Market. View on Google Map.
Products are transferred by boats, sold on boats floating on Te channel and on its bank. Boats are served as means of transportation and places to live month by month, year by year.
At the market, they sell specialties of Mekong Delta and other regions, most of which are fruits including coconut (dừa), jackfruit (mít), mangosteen (măng cụt), mango (xoài), mandarin (quýt), guavas (ổi), pomelo (bưởi), ambarella (cóc), longan (nhãn), lansat (bòn bon), papaya (đu đủ), orange (cam), soursop (mãng cầu ta), custard apple (na), plum (mận), dragon fruit (thanh long), rambutan (chôm chôm), pineapple (khóm), banana (chuối), star apple (vú sữa).
At 4:30 AM, the market is crowded and noisy because they transfer products from the boats to local markets. The fruits are sold wholesale at cheap prices. They also arrange the fruits on the boats and on the bank of the channel to sell at retail.
When the vendors sell out the fruits, they drive the boats to fruit orchards and transfer fruits to the market for selling. Day after day, they transfer, sell fruits, make money, pay for foods and necessities.
Life on boats
Attractions which we drive along without stopping: (you should let guests know about them on the bike).
Thuan Kieu ghost building, Special markets in District 5: Tan Thanh motorbike accessories market, bird market, Trang Tu fruit market, Hai Thuong Lan Ong lantern market, Chinese medicine market, Soai Kinh Lam fabric market.
Tran Phu painting street, Nguyen Trai fashion street.
Slum areas looked from Nguyen Van Cu bridge.
Nguyen Van Binh book street (stop if we have time)
Read more about Saigon Floating Market.
8. Tan Thanh motorbike accessories market
Location: An area of Bui Huu Tri, Do Ngoc Thanh, Tan Hung, Tan Thanh, Ha Ton Quyen Street, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. View on Google Map.
Old and new motorcycles, Vespas, moped, motorcycle parts and accessories. It has been said that there are more than 3.5 million motorcycle parts in the world. The prices at this market are cheap. Some motorcycle components are original, new or secondhand, some are fake. Bargain is a must at this place to win a good deal.
Products include wheel (bánh xe), tyre (lốp xe), seat (yên xe), footrest (bàn để chân), light (đèn), engine (động cơ), mirror, disc brake (thắng đĩa), exhaust pipe (bô xe), screw (ốc vít), etc.
The area around Tan Thanh Street has hundreds of shops selling motorcycle components. Tan Thanh motorbike accessories market has been full of people and the loud sound of vehicles. There are Each shop have some sellers at all of ages. They sit and stand in front of shops, offers passengers to buy their products. They always welcome customers and introduce the accessories.
9. Bird market
Location: Tan Hung Street, next to Garden Mall (Thuan Kieu Plaza), Ward 12, Ho Chi Minh City. View on Google Map.
Some stalls selling birds, bird cages, and insects used to feed birds in the area next to Garden Mall which was the ghost building Thuan Kieu Plaza has been existed for over 20 years. They call it Thuan Kieu bird market or Insect Market. Insects include crickets (dế), larva (nhộng), grasshoppers (châu chấu), worm (sâu).
In the morning and afternoon (6:00 – 8:00, 15:00 – 16:30) bird lovers bring their birds to the spacious pavement next to the market so that the birds sunbathe. The bird lovers, most of which are Chinese and Chinese born in Saigon China Town gather, sit, talk leisurely, share bird care tips in the area. Coming here, you can see the real Saigon local life, relax while listening to beautiful bird songs.
Read more about Thuan Kieu Bird Market.
10. Trang Tu fruit market
Location: Trang Tu Street, Ward 14, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. View on Google Map.
Opening hours: 24/24
Trang Tu Street is located near Cho Lon Bus Station and Binh Tay Market in Saigon China Town. It is a small street lined with fruit and vegetable shops. Some vendors have no shops, they arrange the products in 3-wheel vehicles (xe ba gác), motorbike, even on sheets on the ground. The street is usually overwhelmed with lines of people and vehicles.
From 21:00 to 5:00 on the next day, it is a night wholesale fruit markets with dozens of trucks of fruits, vendors selling and buying fruits at wholesale. During the day, the market sells fresh fruits and vegetables at retails at very cheap prices.
Read more about Trang Tu fruit market.
11. Hai Thuong Lan Ong lantern (decorations) market
Location: Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street, Ward 13, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. View on Google Map.
Opening hours: early morning – 20:00.
Shops lined on Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street and a part of Chau Van Liem Street sell lanterns in different shapes, colors, sizes, and materials. There is a wide choice of decor products including artificial flowers and plants. Some shops are specialized in wedding decor products such as flower gates, wedding letters, wedding money box. At Tet festival, they sell red envelopes, wall stickers, good luck hanging pendant (dây treo may mắn). At Chrismas, they sell artificial Chrismas trees, Chrismas balls (quả cầu), Santa statues, stars, wooden pine cones (quả thông), banners, etc.
Read more about Hai Thuong Lan Ong Decoration Street.
12. Chinese medicine market
Location: Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street, Ward 13, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. View on Google Map.
Opening hours: different. A few shops open until 21:00.
It has been said this Chinese medicine market has existed for hundreds of years. At the end of the 17th century, Chinese soldiers and generals immigrate to Bien Hoa – a city of Dong Nai Province. These Chinese people had become Chinese medicine practitioners. They start medical clinics and Chinese medicine shops. About 100 years later, the practitioners came to Minh Huong village which is the medicine market in recent. The market has been bigger and bigger. It still remains despite the Vietnam wars and the rise of Western medicine in the country.
Today, more than 100 Chinese medicine shops are located on Hai Thuong Lan Ong, Trieu Quang Phuc, Luong Nhu Hoc Streets. They sell Chinese medicines at wholesale and retail. Some of them function as clinics. The smell of Chinese medicine overwhelms the air in the area. Medicines are packed in sacks so that sellers or shippers transfer them easily. The shops provide lots of high-quality medicines including rare ones which are used to treat thousands of patients in the countries.
13. Soai Kinh Lam fabric market
Location: 481 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ward 14, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. View on Google Map.
Opening hours: 7:30 – 16:30.
The market was named after the Soai Kinh Lam Restaurant, which has been closed, next to it. It is also called silk street. Coming to the market, you can see buildings, one of each has a sign “Thương Xá Đồng Khánh” or Dong Khanh Shopping Mall.
The market was established in 1989 when People’s Committee of District 5 decided to move fabric shops to Dong Khanh Shopping Mall. In recent, the market has about 500 fabric shops. Every day, tons of fabrics are sold and transferred to other regions.
The market sells fabrics of different materials and at different prices, ranging from a few thousand to a few hundred VND per m2. Common natural clothing materials include cotton, flax, wool, ramie, silk, denim, leather, parkas, fur. Common synthetic materials include nylon, polyesters, spandex. The fabrics are made from China, India, Korea, Japan, Vietnam.
Besides common fabrics, the shops provide special fabrics for making wedding dresses, stage clothing, monk robes, clothing at death anniversaries, on celebrations for longevity. Some shops specialize in the Vietnamese traditional long dress (Ao Dai).
14. Tran Phu painting street
Location: Tran Phu Street (from the crossroads of Tran Phu and An Duong Vuong to Nga Sau Cong Hoa Roundabout), District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. View on Google Map.
Opening hours: morning – 21:00.
A nearly 1 km segment of Tran Phu Street is lined with galleries providing artworks by Vietnamese artists. Saigon people also call this street “art street”. Prices range from some hundreds of thousands of VND to some hundreds of millions of VND.
Galleries on Tran Phu Street provide lacquer painting (tranh sơn mài), oil painting (tranh sơn dầu), embroidered painting (tranh thêu), cross-stitched painting (tranh thêu chữ thập), painting with gems (tranh cẩn đá quý), textured bronze painting (tranh đúc đồng), painting with bronze powder (tranh phủ nhủ đồng), silk painting (tranh lụa), painting with paper (tranh giấy), rice painting (tranh gạo), sand painting (tranh cát), oil painting print (tranh in sơn dầu), painting with 2D, 3D printing (tranh in công nghệ 2D, 3D), painting on velvet fabric (tranh nền vải nhung).
Some shops specialize in painting frames made from metal, plastic, wood, etc.
15. Nguyen Trai fashion street
Location: Nguyen Trai Street (from Nguyen Van Cu Street to the crossroads of Tran Phu and Nguyen Duy Duong Streets), District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. View on Google Map.
Opening hours: morning – 21:00.
Since 26th April 2018, Nguyen Trai Street’s segment from Nguyen Van Cu Street to the crossroads of Tran Phu and Nguyen Duy Duong Streets has become officially Nguyen Trai fashion street. There are more than 200 shops and vendors who sell fashion products on 4-wheel vehicles, cloth hangers.
Clothing, shoes, accessories jackets, bonnets, muffs, boots and shoes, cravats, ties, scarves, socks, hats, jewelry, watches, shawls, belts and suspenders, gloves, sashes, and stockings.
16. Slum areas looked from Nguyen Van Cu Bridge
Location: Nguyen Van Cu Bridge. View on Google Map.
Along the polluted channel, exist slum areas of very small stilt houses which area is less than 15 m2. The house was built from tole sheets, wood, bamboo, carton box sheet and anything they can pick up from somewhere.
Residents here are poor people and immigrants from other regions. Some of them have been living here for dozens of years. The houses are wet when boasts cruise along the channels and in high-water season. So that they usually live with insects such as cockroaches. The number of people in a house can reach up to 10 people. They sleep, study, cook, eat, and farm animals in small areas. These slums show a sharp contrast between the rich and poor in Vietnam’s biggest city.
17. Nguyen Van Binh book street
Location: Nguyen Van Cu Bridge. View on Google Map.
Opening hours: 7:00 – 20:00.
On 1st September 2016, Nguyen Van Binh book street was opened for the first time. Nguyen Van Binh book street has about 20 bookstores, some coffee shops decorated with books, a small playground, souvenir stalls. There is an area for exhibitions of books, photographs, magazines. It has been a favorite place for reading books, buying new and old books, enjoy drinks at book coffee shops, buy souvenirs.
Read more about Nguyen Van Binh Book Street.
Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) offers hundreds of things to do thanks to the history of hundreds of years, the mix of many cultures and religions. There are not less than one hundred of choices including Ho Chi Minh City Tour by bus or private, Cyclo city tour, Saigon culture tour, etc. It would be a big miss if we do not mention Ho Chi Minh Motorcycle Tour – one of the perfect choices to experience Saigon in a unique way, a great chance to explore the city to its fullest. Bus or car tours only take you to tourist attractions which are very popular in any Saigon guide book. Only motorcycle tour can take you to the real Saigon in far districts and in small alleys. The culture of Saigon does not include cars or buses but motorcycles which are the most effective and popular means of transportation. Some people may read that Saigon traffic is crazy and it is dangerous on a motorcycle. Experienced drivers and guides know how to be safe. These amazing places should not be missed on a Ho Chi Minh Motorcycle Tour. Tourists will not regret visiting hidden gems of the city which can only be reached by motorcycles. The followings are some good choices on which you can enjoy Top must-see and secret attractions on Ho Chi Minh Motorcycle Tour: