VietnamHo Chi MinhOld Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh: Giac Lam Pagoda

Old Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh: Giac Lam Pagoda

Each religion or sect in Vietnam has its main spiritual center as a gathering site for followers on special occasions. There is a Zen school of Buddhism called Lam Te Zen, and Giac Lam Pagoda is among the most influential Lam Te Zen places in Southern Vietnam. Moreover, the Buddhist temple is also an attractive religious place to both locals and tourists.

Address: 565 Lac Long Quan, Ward 10, Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City
Opening hours: 5 AM – 12 PM and 2 PM – 8 PM from Monday to Sunday
Entrance fee: Free
How to get there: Giac Lam Pagoda is over 7 km from the city center. You can get there by taxi or take bus number 27 from Ben Thanh.

History of Giac Lam Pagoda

Giac Lam Pagoda was set up by Ly Thuy Long, an immigrant from Minh Huong, China, in the spring of 1744. The pagoda’s initial name was Cam Son due to its original location on Cam Son Hill. Over 30 years later, the new name “Giac Lam” came to be due to the inauguration of a new abbot. From then on, Giac Lam Pagoda played an essential role in teaching commandments to monks in Southern Vietnam and copying and engraving important Buddhist books. The pagoda is now one of the oldest ones in Ho Chi Minh City, with solid architecture and precious religious values.

The main gate

A triple gate built in 1955 welcomes visitors into the pagoda. Each gate has its roof decorated with sophisticated patterns. You will see the front garden and the big Bodhi tree upon entering the pagoda. There is a small statue of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara under the tree. You will feel such a tranquil atmosphere when seeing the grave and sculptures in the middle of the open garden. You will see sights of locals doing small walks or jogs upon entering.

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The triple gate of Giac Lam Pagoda
giac lam garden buddha statue
giac lam garden buddha statue 2
The statues of Buddha in the pagoda’s garden
giac lam yard cement tiles
Sophisticate cement tiles with lotus imprint

Xa Loi Stupa

Xa Loi Stupa, or the 7-story stupa, is 32m high, and each floor is shaped like a hexagon. It is the storage area for the samples of relics of Gautama Buddha brought along with the Bodhi tree by monk Narada. Therefore, you will see many ancient Buddhist relics displayed in the stupa. Also, a statue of Bodhisattva stands in front of the stupa on the stairs leading to the entrance. Since its official inauguration in 1994, the tower has been a noticeable landmark in Ho Chi Minh City.

giac lam stupa
Xa Loi Stupa standing as a landmark of the city

The main hall

The pagoda is featured by the rectangular-shaped building set up based on the word “tam” Ξ in Kanji. More specifically, there are 3 smaller buildings: the main ceremonial hall, altars of patriarchs, and dining hall, and they were all designed in typical Vietnamese architecture. Generally, the building is supported by 98 sophisticated pillars carefully carved with Buddhist couplets.

Within the altars of patriarchs, many antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries are stored in wooden and glass cabinets, along with over 100 old statues; some are made of bronze, and some are of wood.

The steep roof tiles of the main hall were designed for quick drainage on rainy days, and there is a narrow corridor with a solid fence surrounding it. The arch of the main hall’s entrance is also attached with many artistic crockery plates, which present the traditional customs of Southerners in pottery. Inside the gallery are sacred altars, with the main one worshiping Amitabha Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha, and four bodhisattvas, Samantabhadra, Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, and Mahasthamaprapta. Along the two passages of the main hall, two 18-Arhat statues and the statues of 10 kings of hell are placed on the altars, and they are among the oldest sculptures of the pagoda.

giac lam main hall outside
The main hall looked from the outside
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The main altar with the statues of Buddhist gods
giac lam main hall inside
Two ancient sets of arhats are placed on the passages in the main hall

The altars of patriarchs are particularly important in worshipping. Numerous plaques of monks and Buddhists have stayed there for many decades, indicating Buddhism’s development in Southern Vietnam and Vietnam as a whole. As for the dining hall, there is an altar of Buddha gods, and the atmosphere is archaic but still cozy for everyone.

giac lam patriaches altars antiques
The antiques kept in the altars of patriarchs where the abbots and monks are worshipped
giac lam kitchen
Kitchen hall
giac lam main hall lefside 5
Entrances to Zen Hall, on the left of the main hall
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Zen hall for learning Buddhism

On the left of the building is a complex of abbots’ stupas. Among them, the stupa worshipping the monk Thich Vien Quang is the oldest. Most of the stupas have 3 to 4 floors, and one particular square statue symbolizes four immeasurables: love, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity (tu, bi, hi, xa).

The Cultural Value of Giac Lam Pagoda

Every year, on the Tet holiday or the Vesak, Giac Lam Pagoda attracts many people to pray to the Buddha and bring offerings to the deities. Because of its long history and quiet location, it is ideal for you to visit the pagoda to see how Buddhists and Vietnamese as a whole pray for good things during these cultural days.

giac lam pagoda stupa entrance

Though a Chinese man first laid down its foundation, Giac Lam Pagoda has been renovated and embellished the Vietnamese way, preserving values in terms of architecture, religion, beliefs, and Vietnamese customs. The pagoda is a significant artifact where you can learn the spiritual values of the Vietnamese ancestors and the culture over time. In 1988, the pagoda was recognized as a historical-cultural heritage site by the Ministry of Cultures, Sports, and Tourism.

Summary of the Giac Lam Pagoda

Giac Lam Pagoda is one of the oldest Vietnamese pagodas with traditional architecture and lasting religious values. It is ideal for you to get the sight of serenity, get away from the hustle and bustle of the vibrant city out there, and at the same time, learn about Vietnamese culture and religious values.

Check out more must-see pagodas in Ho Chi Minh

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