Mar 24 2012
Lately I’ve been talking about a few of the more popular pagodas in Saigon. All of these temples are revered places of worship where people actively go to pray and ask for guidance. Each one has had something unique: turtles, incense, or being the oldest temple in town. One thing that they all have in common is that they are tied to a religion or a religious symbol; most pagodas are, which is why the Tomb of Le Van Duyet and its accompanying pagoda are so interesting.
Situated on the corner of the busy intersection of Dinh Tien Hoang and Phan Dang Luu in Binh Thanh district, the Tomb of Le Van Duyet is an oasis away from the outside noise. The site is dedicated to Le Van Duyet, a man with a colourful history. He is most famous for his role in the development of Ho Chi Minh City in the early 1800s during his posting as viceroy of southern Vietnam, which he earned with his instrumental assistance in establishing the Nguyen Dynasty.
From his post, he stabilised the region and ushered in an era of prosperity and wealth. Since his death the residents of HCMC have worshiped him as a hero, although he was actually out of favour with the current government until 2008 due to his cooperation with the French. In fact, he has become so revered that he enjoys a god-like status and residents visit his tomb to pay their respects and to pray.
The complex itself is also quite interesting. The gate of the tomb was thought to be the symbol of the city, now unofficially belonging to the Ben Thanh market or the Bitexco Tower, and inside there are several old photos of Vietnamese people posing in front of the gate.
Walking through the gate leads you to a large, shaded courtyard. The centre of the area is dominated by a few large trees reputed to be hundreds of years old; some believe that they may be the oldest trees in the city.
In the back corner you will find the pagoda and the cement tomb. The pagoda is pretty standard. In the front and middle sections you will find large incense pots and other typical decorations, except there is a stuffed tiger in a glass case. At the rear you will find the golden shrine of Le Van Duyet flanked by disciples on either side. The pagoda looks fresh because it has been recently renovated; the whole site was in disrepair until the government changed their attitude in 2008 and gave the whole place a much-needed facelift.
Directly in front of the temple is Le Van Duyet’s tomb. He rests next to his wife — although he was a eunuch, he sitll had one — each in a large domed sarcophagus. In front of the tomb is an old carved stone that commemorates the deeds performed by Le Van Duyet during his life.
The tomb is certainly one of a kind in HCMC and is an interesting place to visit if for no other reason than to see how after hundreds of years, and multiple changes in rule, a folk hero is still worshipped for his good deeds. Plus you get to see an old city symbol, and maybe the oldest trees in town; not bad for one stop!
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