Giac Vien Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City

The Oldest Pagoda in Saigon, Vietnam with 160 Years of Old

Rachel Tran
Rachel Tran | Published: October 23, 2019

Giac Vien Pagoda has been existing for more than 160 years in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), Vietnam. It explains why Giac Vien is considered the most ancient temple in Saigon and has held such important cultural and artistic significance in the mind and heart of the Vietnamese people. Coming to Giac Vien Pagoda, tourists can see a very peaceful, quiet and grave atmosphere, completely different from the lively vibe of Saigon. Giac Vien Pagoda promises to be a remarkable spiritual highlight in your vacation in Vietnam.

    Location: No. 161/85/20 Lac Long Quan Street, Ward 3, District 11, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
    Opening Hours: From 08:00 AM to 04:00 PM every day
    Map to Giac Vien pagoda:

History Of Giac Vien Pagoda

The history of Giac Vien pagoda is associated with the rebuilding of Giac Lam pagoda, which was established in 1744. Giac Lam Pagoda was originally named Cam Dem pagoda. In 1774, master Vien Quang returned to take over the temple and renamed it Giac Lam.

Gate of Giac vien pagoda

In 1798, the Giac Lam Pagoda was severely damaged, making Master Vien Quang had to manage the process of repairing the temple. The wood used for rebuilding Giac Lam pagoda was transported by waterway to Ho Dat wharf (located about 2 kilometers from the pagoda). In order to watch over the precious wood, master Vien Quang had built a small house on this wharf and ordered a man to stay there. People called him Huong Dang.

During 6 years of repairing Giac Lam Pagoda, Huong Dang had used the small house as a place to worship Buddha. In 1805, he asked for Vien Quang’s permission to build another temple here and named it Quan Am Vien. In 1850, Quan Am Vien was officially renamed Giac Vien Pagoda.

Since its inception, the Giac Vien pagoda had undergone six successive generations. The pagoda was restored 3 times, the first time in 1899, the construction was led by Venerable Nhu Du. The second time in 1910 by the monk Nhu Phong. Nhu Phong not only repaired the pagoda but also completely changed the pagoda’s architecture. And the third time in the late 20th century was led by Venerable Hong Hung, who was also the abbot of Giac Lam Pagoda. The interesting fact is, he was also the man who designed Giac Lam Pagoda, that is why Giac Lam and Giac Vien have similar structures.

Yard of Giac Vien pagoda

Highlights of Giac Vien Pagoda

1. Architecture of Giac Vien Pagoda

The Giac Vien pagoda has a special architectural form that was synthesized from many construction materials as well as many different historical periods. Most visitors can easily see the influence of the Western culture on Giac Vien Pagoda, especially on the square columns with complicated decorations and the arched front of the building. But overall, Giac Vien pagoda still manages to remain the ancient features that represent the simple culture of Vietnam.

The structure of Giac Vien pagoda consists of two houses with four pillars connected together. The front house was the main hall, used for worshiping the gods, the back house was the lecture hall and the living room. There are two rows corridors named East Lang and West Lang connecting to the main house. Along the East and West corridors, there are small altars with objects of worship. In particular, there are wooden columns carved with bilingual sentences. The letters are intricately carved and painted in lacquer and trimmed with gold.

Constructed from the small house of Huong Dang, the front of Giac Vien Pagoda faces Ho Dat wharf. Later, Ho Dat wharf was exploited into the Dam Sen tourist area. The small river was filled and the land of Ho Dat was no longer used. At the back of Giac Vien Pagoda, there is a small path. The garden behind the temple is filled with many ancient and rare ornamental plants, creating a quiet and solemn landscape.

Giac Vien Pagoda is not big, the acreage of the temple is only a few dozens hectares. But the remarkable beauty of the history and culture still remain on Giac Vien Pagoda, making it a famous tourist destination of Ho Chi Minh City.

2. The Oldest Temple in Ho Chi Minh City

Officially built and named Giac Vien in 1850, to this day, this temple is over 160 years old. With such a long history, Giac Vien Pagoda has become one of the five oldest temples in Ho Chi Minh City.

Giac Vien Pagoda has witnessed many ups and downs in the history of Vietnam. Giac Vien Pagoda has been classified by the Vietnamese government as a cultural relic and a small museum of wood carvings with outstanding historical and artistic value. Because of that, combined with the ancient and attractive architecture, Giac Vien Pagoda has become one of the most attractive tourist destinations of Ho Chi Minh City, in particular, and the South of Vietnam, in general.

Inside Giac Vien pagoda

3. The Statues of Giac Vien Pagoda

Since the beginning until now, Giac Vien Pagoda increasingly owns many precious statues. The temple has a total of 153 statues made of jackfruit wood, Most of them were created in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were displayed mostly in the main hall of Giac Vien Pagoda.

The statues at Giac Vien Pagoda include many kinds, from the Buddha statue to the Arhat statue. All of them are important relics with unique cultural and artistic values that attract the attention of thousands of researchers and visitors from all over the world.

4. The Art of Decorating Curtains

The curtain – or “bao lam” in Vietnamese – is an item to limit the space between the altar and the other spaces in pagodas, increasing the solemnity and nobility of the place. Giac Vien Pagoda used to had more than 60 curtains with intricate carvings. Nowadays, there are only more than 50 of them left. They hold such an important role in Vietnamese culture, history, and art.

Of the remaining decorative curtains, there are 17 of them are about the subject of Buddhism and 38 of them show typical plants and animals of the South. At the main hall, there are 9 curtains, the Buddhist teaching area has 23 ones, the Tay Lang and Dong Lang corridors have 9 for each of them.

The curtains at Giac Vien Pagoda are rich in genres, content and have many works of pure Vietnamese style. It can be said that this is a system of the curtain which has high value in terms of art, as well as a valuable asset of ancient art.

All in all, the carved curtains of Giac Vien pagoda are not only have visual value but also show the development of the decorative process of Vietnam. The decorations on each curtain represent the folk nature, the Vietnamese daily lifestyle. As one of the ancient pagodas and temples in Vietnam that still retains a unique artistic sense, the most outstanding one is the sculptural “bao lam”, Pagoda Giac Vien has contributed to the demonstration of a memorable Buddhism of Vietnam.

Giac Vien pagoda 2
Giac Vien pagoda 2 (@zelda_allen)

Activities In and Nearby Giac Vien Pagoda

1. Praying in Tet Holiday

On Tet holiday each year, the Vietnamese people often have the habit of going to temples to burn incense and pray. They pray for a lucky and happy year with good health for their relatives and families. In Ho Chi Minh City, Giac Vien pagoda is one of the temples that people come to the most.

If you travel to Ho Chi Minh City on Tet holidays, you can come to Giac Vien Pagoda with local people to pray for your own happy and wonderful new year. Otherwise, you can burn incense to express your gratefulness toward Buddha as well as pray for a peaceful life. Also, don’t forget to enjoy the solemn beauty and remarkable culture and historical values of Giac Vien pagoda.

2. Visiting the Tomb Towers at Giac Vien Pagoda

At Giac Vien pagoda, there is an area of tomb towers,  which are the resting place of the abbots in the temple. This is a very unique cultural monument of Vietnam. The first tower was built in 1930, and so far 7 towers have been built to burry 7 monks who have passed away. Each of them had once managed the Giac Vien pagoda responsibly and carefully.

Coming to Giac Vien pagoda, you can visit these tomb towers to understand more about the architecture, art, and culture of Vietnam. Besides, do not miss the exquisite sculpture curtains and rare bonsai pots in Giac Vien Pagoda.

3. Visiting Dam Sen Cultural Park

Dam Sen Cultural Park is located at number 3, Hoa Binh Street, Ward 3, District 11. The place also has an additional entrance on Lac Long Quan Street, near Giac Vien Pagoda. Many visitors after visiting Giac Vien Pagoda often combine to visit Dam Sen Cultural Park as well.

The entrance ticket fee to Dam Sen Cultural Park is different each day, depending on the number of guests and the days of the week (the ticket fee is more expensive on the weekend). Coming to Dam Sen Cultural Park, visitors can watch the circus animals, visit the Roman square with extremely unique European style design, watch the astonishing aquarium, participate in adventure games and lots of other interesting forms of entertainment.

Dam Sen Cultural Park is considered to be one of the largest theme parks in Vietnam. Along with the ancient Giac Vien Pagoda, this is also a wonderful place to visit.

How to Get to Giac Vien Pagoda

Giac Vien Pagoda is located in District 11, which is a little far from the center of Ho Chi Minh City. For example, the temple is located at least 7.5 kilometers from the famous Ben Thanh Market. It might be hard for you to travel to Giac Vien Pagoda by public transportations since the distance is quite far. Taxi is the ideal option, although it may cost a lot more money.

If you want to save money by traveling to Giac Vien Pagoda by public bus, there are several buses that will pass the roads near the temple, which are buses number 145, 148 and 62. Remember that the buses won’t be able to take you straight to Giac Vien Pagoda, you will have to walk for a while before reaching your destination.

Things To Note When Going To Giac Vien Pagoda

  • There is no entrance fee: Visitors don’t have to pay to get in the Giac Vien pagoda. Therefore, if you want to have a trip with less money and more peacefulness, Giac Vien pagoda is the perfect destination.
  • Wear polite clothes: Like many other temples in Vietnam, Giac Vien pagoda is a sacred place for visitors to pray and express their gratefulness towards Buddha. When visiting Giac Vien Pagoda, you should not wear revealing clothes, such as miniskirts, T-shirts or two sleeves shirts. You also shouldn’t wear sandals or high heels because those kinds of shoes are considered to be disrespectful as well. Dress nicely and politely is a basic but wonderful way to show your education level as well as your attitude toward an important belief in Vietnam.
  • Only pray for the right things: Buddha only blessed you with peacefulness, not with money, wealth, fame or power. Therefore, when you pray, you should pray for protection and safety only, not for money and material assets. Only when you pray sincerely and pray for justifiable wishes, Buddha will grant them for you.

With a long history of more than 160 years, Giac Vien Pagoda has long become an important imprint of culture and artistic values in Ho Chi Minh City. The temple plays a remarkable role in the development of history and folk nature in Vietnam. It may not be an interesting destination, but it represents the simple yet kindly lifestyle of the ancient Vietnamese. If you ever have the chance to visit Ho Chi Minh City, Giac Vien Pagoda is really a must-see.

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