Erected in 1845, the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation (also known as Ong Bon Pagoda) is one of the most remarkable historical sightseeing attractions in Hoi An. Its cultural beauty lies in the artful carvings on doors, walls and altars, which would definitely catch your eye in the very first encounter.
- Location: 157 Nguyen Duy Hieu Street, Hoi An Town
Opening hours: all day
1. History of the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation
Chaozhou (Trieu Chau in Vietnamese) refers to a city in the eastern part of Guangdong Province in China, with Fujian Province to the east. You may wonder, what were people from such a distant area doing in Vietnam? Why did they build an assembly hall in Hoi An?
The story dates back a few centuries ago. Some might argue the Assembly Hall was built in the 17th century, while others claim the construction was finished in 1845. There is a backstory to it: how the Ming Dynasty in China was dethroned and replaced by the Qing Dynasty.
Historic records confirmed the Ming Dynasty was going through its worst crisis during the 17th century. In the meantime, the empire of Qing people from Northeast China was raging on. Eventually, the Qing people invaded the land of the Ming, dethroned the Ming Emperor and took over. The early days of the mighty Qing dynasty had unfolded since.
Not willing to accept the situation, the former Ming generals gathered to plan a scheme for a political takeover. When the scheme fell apart, many of them had to travel far away to escape from the imperial court’s hunt. A few came all the way to the south, reaching Vietnam and asked the current Nguyen Dynasty for protection. They were allowed to settle down in Hoi An.
With excellent skills in trades, they turned the tranquil Hoi An old town into one of the busiest port towns in Asia. They formed alliances and built great Assembly Halls to gather and support each other. The Halls were separated by areas: Guangdong Assembly Hall, Fujian Assembly Hall, Chaozhou Assembly Halls and so on.
At first, the Hall was built primarily by wood. From time to time, Chaozhou people contributed to construct a more spacious, glorious hall. The current construction you see nowadays is greatly different from the original design.
Not only hosting intimate gatherings, the Assembly Hall also served as a holy temple to worship gods of the sea and sky. Maritime trades were prevailing at the time, hence most businessmen praised for good weather and peaceful sea throughout the year.
2. Highlights of the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation
Many tourists pictured the Hall as an ordinary pagoda in Vietnam, just to find out there was so much more to it when they came here. The most compelling feature of the Assembly Hall was its one-of-a-kind architecture.
Experiencing a number of amendments, the construction still relies primarily on wooden structures. The framework was said to be created by the hands of the contemporary most skilled craftsmen.
The whole setting is claimed to follow the architecture style “noi cong ngoai quoc”. According to architects, the style originated from ancient China and was used mostly in pagodas. The inner architecture is shaped like a Chinese’s “cong” letter (工), while the outer is shaped like a “quoc” letter (国).
The Assembly Hall can be divided into 3 relatively separate sections, each serving a different purpose.
Walking from outside, you’ll see the facade with meticulously carved stone sculptures. The patterns are legend-based; each item tells a different folk story. The front house was built basically by stone and wood. Sophisticated carvings were all around: on the beams, altars and walls. Patterns of all kinds depict the cultural characteristics of the Chaozhou people, ranging from legendary animals, to plants and landscapes. The tile roofs are shaped pointily with multiple layers representing flower petals.
The main house consisted of three connected spaces, surrounded by sizable wooden pillars. On every end of the pillars, one can find unique dragon patterns of all shapes and sizes. Wooden doors are also carved with pictures showcasing the hope for prosperity and good luck. In the middle, a holy altar is located with splendid carvings and accessories. This is where people gather to worship the gods of the sea and the sky.
The back house is meant to be a place for guest welcoming. The offerings are also prepared within this space during the special occasions of the Congregation. In the Lantern Festival (on the 15th of the first month in the lunar calendar), the Congregation often holds special ritual sessions for praying and worshipping.
3. What to See and Do?
The Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation is one of the largest, most beautiful assembly halls in Hoi An. The hall remains less touristy than the other halls, due to the fact that it is located far from the center. This, on the contrary, is appealing to many tourists: you can enjoy a sense of perfect tranquility visiting this Assembly Hall.
Most tourists come here to take gorgeous photos of the old-fashioned architecture, sophisticated carvings and mythical legends. The locals would also visit to worship, devote their offerings and pay respect to the holy gods. Traders often come at the beginning of the year to pray for prosperity, while others drop by seeking for happiness and good luck for their families.
So, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. You might prepare some offerings (typically fruits and flowers) and imitate the local ritual practices. Burning incense, putting hands together while whispering prayers are the most basic and common practices in Vietnam.
4. How to Get There?
The Hall is nestled in the Ancient Town of Hoi An. From the famous Bridge Pagoda, walk along about 750 meters on Tran Phu Street, towards the Quan Cong Temple and you’ll find the Hall right in front of your eyes. It’s best to combine the visit to the Assembly Hall with a tour around the ancient Hoi An Town.
5. Visiting Tips
- If you’re seeking an exotic experience, come to the Assembly Hall exactly on the Lantern Festival (the 15th day of the first month according to the lunar calendar). The Hall will be packed with locals and foreign tourists coming to share a magnificent cultural experience.
- For those who are planning to immerse yourself in a quiet historical journey, just pay a visit on the other days of the year. The Hall is said to open all day, so you are free to arrange a visit in accordance with your personal schedule.
- It’s a local sacred place, so make sure you remember to cover all your limbs. Don’t wear short skirts, cut-out dresses or transparent clothing if you wish to visit the Assembly Hall.
Packed with numerous cultural and architectural relics, the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation will surely leave you no disappointment. It’s one of the most intriguing cultural attractions in Hoi An and a must-visit spot on your next trip to this old UNESCO town.