Jade Emperor Pagoda (Phuoc Hai Pagoda)

The 100 year-old Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of Saigon's most famous religious buildings.

Put this atmospheric Cantonese pagoda, built in 1909, at the top of your HCMC attractions visiting list. The Jade Emperor, heaven's gatekeeper, watches over an incense-filled room while hidden chambers harbour woodcarvings and altars depicting scenes from Taoist and Buddhist myths. One hall houses the go-to deity if you're seeking fertility and the upstairs section represents heaven and features the goddess, Kwan Ying.

The temple, AKA the Tortoise Pagoda, was constructed in 1909 by Saigon's Chinese population. The pagoda is a photographer's paradise that features ribbons of aromatic incense smoke, robed monks, artful carved figures, Buddha sculptures and a turtle pond. Even if you're not the praying kind you owe it to yourself to check out the Jade Emperor Pagoda. It's a cheap taxi ride to the temple from central Ho Chi Minh City.

For more information about the history of this landmark, you can read our full and detailed review about our visit to the Jade Emperor Pagoda. You can also read our list of Pagodas in Saigon.

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Photo Story: Pagoda Charm

Vietnam is famous for its religious diversity, which includes Caodaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism and Confucianism. If there is one religion that stands out from the rest, however, it’s Buddhism – and the pagodas have a lot to do with it.

It’d be impossible to completely understand Vietnamese culture without visiting these spiritual spots and getting a closer look at Vietnamese Buddhism’s deeply-ingrained spiritual traditions. The smell of incense lingers in the air, the dark colours creates a mysterious ambience and the numerous historical figures encapsulated in the intricately carved wall friezes make pagodas a truly special place to worship.

While temples (‘Đền) are used to worship emperors or national heroes, pagodas (Chùa) are exclusively reserved for worshiping Buddha. Throughout Vietnam, visitors will find hundreds of pagodas reflecting the historical Chinese influence through their ornamentation and architectural design (three entrance gates, bell tower, garden courtyards with bonsais, etc.).

We headed out to District 11 to visit two pagodas (Chùa Phụng Sơn and Chùa Khánh Vân Nam Viện) that have remained untouched over the years, showcasing both authenticity and tradition in equal shares.

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