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
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.
By Max Murta
Last updated on 19th September, 2014.