Although there are plenty of pagodas in Saigon, as I’ve mentioned a few times recently, most of them are pretty quiet; which could lead to inner peace, or you might just get sleepy from boredom. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy my temples as much as the next guy but I can only watch turtles play and incense burn for so long. If you could use some adventure in your pagoda life, it might be time for a visit to a pagoda where something is going on: Vinh Nghiem Pagoda in District 3.
Sitting next to the canal at the end of Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Vinh Nghiem looks like your ordinary Buddhist pagoda, albeit a large one. Finished in 1971, it’s a modern place and was one of the first pagodas in town to be made with concrete, which is one of the reasons the complex is so large.
The pagoda is part of a larger complex that includes a large school; the main sanctuary is a large building that sits in the middle of the courtyard. Inside you will find a long hall with a large shrine to Buddha as well as some other relics. The 40-metre stupa, to the left of the gate and main hall complex, is notable as being the tallest Buddhist structure in all of Vietnam. The whole place is usually festively decorated with flags everywhere, on the roof, on the stairs, and strung up over the courtyard.
Although the place is big, the best reason to visit Vinh Nghiem is to witness one of the many celebrations the temple hosts. The large area becomes packed with people on important days, and you can follow the crowd to partake in the activities. The large bowls of incense grow into large glowing red piles of smouldering ash, the main hall fills with people praying to Buddha, and the street outside the gate turns into a mini market with vendors selling bushels of incense sticks.
My favourite part of these activities is waiting in the long line that forms to wait to ring the pagoda’s large bell. The line snakes all around the front of the main hall, so expect to wait several minutes, but when you finally get to the end you can swing the large piece of wood, which is tied to the top by rope, and ring that bell yourself. It’s a good-sized bell too, about two metres tall, and it rings rather well. So well that I’m glad I don’t live next door because this goes on all night.
If you want to come to a pagoda where there is something going on, this is the place. The events are held according to the lunar calendar; the best nights are the 1st, 5th, and 15th of each lunar month and any Buddhist holiday, especially lunar new year.
By Angela Schonberg
Last updated on 25th July, 2014.