Jun 27 2012
Most travellers visiting Saigon stick only to the main points of interest in the city’s downtown District 1, but just a short taxi ride outside of District 1 lays one of HCMC’s most interesting areas: Cholon, or Chinatown. If you’re in Saigon, and have the time to spare, spending a day in Cholon is worthwhile.
The most popular thing to do is likely visiting Saigon’s largest market, Binh Tay. Binh Tay is not a market that caters to tourists; you won’t find many designer knockoffs or souvenirs. Instead, you will find a more authentic market catering to bulk purchases, where you can get a taste of true Saigon commerce. You’ll also notice that the market is huge — much bigger than the more famous Ben Thanh market, with two storeys spanning a wide area. The market’s peak period is in the morning and that’s when you should head there as well. Take a long stroll around the market’s expansive grounds and watch the hustle and bustle. Take the opportunity too to try some of the Chinese-inspired street foods, like banh bao, that are sold in the area.
After checking out the market it’s time to explore Cholon’s other attraction: pagodas. We’ve mentioned before that there is no shortage of places of worship in Saigon, however, in Cholon, there is a tight collection of some of the city’s better ones. The most popular of these temples is the Thien Hau pagoda. Thien Hau is one of Saigon’s must-see pagodas not because of its grandeur or size, but because of its incense, which even coils from the ceiling. Some of these hanging spools of incense are more than a metre long and take over a month to completely burn through.
Many other temples are located in the immediate surrounds: Quan Am Pagoda, thought to be one of the oldest pagodas in the city, is one of the city’s most popular; Cha Tam Church is where President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother fled after the November 1963 coup; a visit to Nghia An Hoi Quan Pagoda is home to some elaborate and finely detailed wood carvings; and a stop at Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda will let you look upon its beautiful collection of porcelain figurines. You’ll even find the blue gates and white walls of the Cholon Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in the city.
A good way to tour these pagodas is by hiring a cyclo for a few hours; the drivers will know exactly what to do. To find a cyclo, look no further than Binh Tay where dozens of drivers congregate.
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