Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, is a modern and dynamic city where people from many regions come to live together, which has created a multi-cultural community for more than 300 years. The Chinese people have also contributed to the diverse culture with their outstanding construction to serve the needs of the Chinese community. Coming to Ho Chi Minh City, a Chinese pagoda that will immediately attract you at first sight is Ong Bon Pagoda, or Nhi Phu Temple.
- Location: 264 Hai Thuong Lan Ong, Ward 14, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening hours: 08.00 – 16.00 daily
Entrance fee: no charge
Dress code: formal clothes
I. Overview of Ong Bon Pagoda
Ong Bon Pagoda, Nhi Phu Temple or Nhi Phu Assembly Hall are three names used to call the construction of a pagoda built by the Chinese in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. The Chinese from two palaces of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou in Fujian Province of China came to Gia Dinh (the old name of Ho Chi Minh City), then built the pagoda at the end of the 17th century. The main god of worship is Ong Bon, Phuc Duc Chinh Than, the god protects the land and people according to Chinese beliefs.
II. Highlights of Ong Bon Pagoda
“Ong Bon” is not a specific person. The Chinese immigrants valued the place they moved to, so they named the pagoda after the land god (Ong Bon) in general. According to the Chinese community, “Ong Bon” means progenitor, “Bon” means root. Almost all the Chinese see Ong Bon as “Phuc Duc Chanh Than”, the god blesses luck and happiness for their community.
However, each distinct Chinese community has their own concepts and beliefs about Ong Bon. For those from Fujian to Saigon Cho Lon, their Ong Bon is Zhou Da Quan, a ruler of the Yuan Dynasty in China. As mentioned above, Ong Bon Pagoda is named “Nhi Phu Temple” because it was established by the contribution of two palaces from China.
In the end of the 17th century, the Chinese from Fujian Province moved to Gia Dinh to earn their living. In order to have a place of worshiping, custom practice and meeting hall, they built Ong Bon Pagoda around the year of 1730.
Since its construction up to now, Ong Bon Pagoda has undergone three major restoration in 1875, 1901 and 1990. However, the pagoda still retains its ancient features in the architecture and decoration of the Fujian people.
2. Structure and Architecture
The pagoda grounds are about 2,500 square meters. The yard occupied nearly half of the total area of Ong Bon Pagoda. The rest of the space includes shrines, guild headquarter and the courtyard. Ong Bon Pagoda has an overall architecture in the square shape, consisting of four rows of houses which creates a heavenly courtyard in the middle.
The shrine has the form of a house with wooden frames, tiled roof and brick walls. The wooden frame is painted in red and decorated with the carving of lotus flowers. The roof is covered with pipe tiles, and it looks like a dragon boat. The roof is also decorated with the images of fish, apricots, orchids, bamboo, dragons and phoenixes in colorful ceramics.
The interior decoration of Ong Bon Pagoda is quite simple but no less solemn. The altar of Ong Bon, the god who protects land, is placed in the middle of the main shrine. The two sides of the main shrine is to worship Quang Trach and Thai Tue god. Along the sides of the courtyard are two halls to worship Quan Thanh De Quan and the Lady of Birth. And the back shrine is dedicated to the Jade Emperor, the Buddha and the Bodhisattva. The gods and goddesses are represented by wooden or plaster statues, which are placed solemnly in the pagoda.
Not only being a holy place to worship Ong Bon and other gods, Ong Bon Pagoda also plays an important role in the daily life of the local Chinese community. The pagoda includes rooms for assembly meetings and other events of the local residents. The pagoda helps the Chinese to maintain and preserve their original custom and tradition, which is an evitable part of cultural diversity in Ho Chi Minh City.
Moreover, in Ong Bon Pagoda, many precious treasures are kept as a part of this place such as ancient bells from the 18th century, horizontal lacquered boards, pairs of wooden panels, animal statues, and so on.
III. What to See and Do in Ong Bon Pagoda?
1. Discovering Ong Bon Pagoda
The 2500-square-meter of Ong Bon Pagoda will give you a chance to contemplate the typical architecture of the Chinese in each brick, each tile and each decorating pattern. The pagoda attracts many Chinese in the Cho Lon area to come to worship. You can participate in the rituals with the locals, in the sound of bamboo tocsin.
2. Going to Chinese Town
District 5 in general and the Cho Lon area near Ong Bon Pagoda in particular is the place where many Chinese come to live and do business. They established their own streets with houses in unique architecture and decoration. If you want to visit “a small China” inside Ho Chi Minh City, Chinese Town is an intriguing destination that you should not miss.
3. Enjoying local foods
After a long journey, what would be more thrilling than having a meal in a food stall with the specialties of both Vietnam and China. Most Ho Chi Minh food stalls and restaurants near Ong Bon Pagoda offer you a wide range of choices for delicious dishes. Besides, street foods in Chinese Town is another choice for you to enjoy your trip.
IV. How to Get to Ong Bon Pagoda?
Ong Bon Pagoda is about 7.5 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City center. To get to Ong Bon pagoda, you can choose to go by bus or by motorbike.
The public transportation system in Ho Chi Minh City is quite convenient for tourists to reach places of interest nearby the city center. You can reach Ong Bon Pagoda by the buses number 08, 139, 56 and 68. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the pagoda by bus.
If you want to go by motorbike, just follow Vo Van Kiet Boulevard, then turn right to Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street. Continue to go about 500 meters and you will get to Ong Bon Pagoda. Going by motorbike is much faster than going by bus. It only takes you about 20 minutes to get there by motorbike.
Besides, if you don’t want to go by bus or drive a motorbike yourself, you can book a Grab car or motorbike with a reasonable price.
V. Extra Tips
Dress formally whenever you enter a worshiping place such as pagodas, temples and churches.
The surrounding area consists of a variety of Chinese pagodas, each pagoda is for worshiping a distinct god. If you have time, you should visit some of these pagodas to know more about the Chinese architecture as well as culture.
Keep silent in the grounds of Ong Bon Pagoda, especially during the rituals.
Many prayers coming to this pagoda is Chinese, and if you cannot speak Chinese, it would be better if you go with a tour guide. A tour guide will tell you all you need to do in this pagoda.
VI. Frequently Asked Questions about Ong Bon Pagoda
It is recommended to book tours to Ong Bon Pagoda in advantage at least 24 hours before you starts your trip. Some travel agency allows travelers to cancel the booking up to 24 hours before the tour starts for a full refund.
Hotels near Ong Bon Pagoda include:
• Sao Mai Hotel
• Prince Hotel
• Uy Danh Hotel
• Trung Mai hotel
Restaurants near Ong Bon Pagoda are:
• Cam Cam Kafe
• Dong Nguyen Chicken rice
• Back In Time Cafe
• Ai Hue Restaurant
Although Ong Bon Pagoda has witnessed the ups and downs in the history of Ho Chi Minh City, it still remains almost all of the values in the spiritual life of the Chinese community in this city. If you have a chance to visit Ho Chi Minh City, don’t forget to pay a visit to this impressive pagoda!