If you travel to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), besides some historical attractions such as Independence Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office, and War Remnants Museum that we highly suggest you should come and visit, there are other exciting local places which we ensure you would want to see. Some of these are old temples and pagodas in Saigon that were built many years ago, including the Jade Emperor Pagoda where you would explore the practice of Buddhism in Vietnam and how the locals pay offerings to their deities.
Address: 73 Mai Thi Luu Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
How to get there: Because the Jade Emperor Pagoda is in the area bordering Binh Thanh District, quite far from the city center, we suggest that you take a ride on a motorbike or taxi. If you start from the Independence Palace, it would cost about 10 minutes and about VND 50,000 for taxis fare.
Opening Hours: From Monday to Sunday, 5 AM – 6 PM.
Jade Emperor Pagoda often opens until 7 PM on special occasions in the lunar calendar so that it would be convenient for the believers to come and pay offerings.
The Legend of the Jade Emperor
The Jade Emperor is believed to be the most powerful god; he controls the sky, the ground, and the ocean, creating humanity and all of the things on Earth. Besides the Jade Emperor, there are other gods, goddesses, and fairies who support him in protecting and developing everything on Earth. According to Vietnamese belief, they are all living in a palace in the sky; the believers always worship Jade Emperor as the ultimate god “Ngoc Hoang” or “Ong Troi” (God in the Sky) and hope to be saved or given the best wishes to their life by him.
History of Jade Emperor Pagoda
The Jade Emperor Pagoda is believed to have been built by a Chinese man who emigrated from China in the early 20th century. There are many myths about this man; some say that he moved to Vietnam because he did not want to live under the Qing Dynasty and was planning the rebuilding of the Ming Dynasty. There are some others saying he was just like other Chinese immigrants at that time, choosing Vietnam as his second hometown and becoming a businessman trading goods with the Vietnamese locals. This man was a follower of a school of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, so he spent his money to build a pagoda to worship Buddha and Jade Emperor.
Since the pagoda was handed over to a Vietnamese monk, Thich Quang Tu, in 1982, this pagoda has belonged to Vietnam Buddhism Congregation. It was known as the Jade Emperor Pagoda by the locals until 1984 when the name was officially changed to Phuoc Hai Temple. But many still call it Jade Emperor Pagoda because of the Jade Emperor statue inside the pagoda. In 1994, it was recognized as National Art Architectural Heritage by the government. The pagoda is so famous that on the last trip before resigning from office in 2016, the president of the US, Barack Obama, made his visit here and also gave incense like other locals.
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Traditions of Jade Emperor Pagoda
People from the past chose the ninth of January in Lunar Calendar as the birth of the Jade Emperor, and they often make offerings on this day to pray for their health, business, and luck. Following this traditional practice, nowadays, people usually visit the pagoda and worship the legend on special occasions such as Tet and full moon days.
Visiting the pagoda, besides asking for blessings in health, property, and business from the Jade Emperor, some people also pray for fertilization, especially the young married couples, by giving offerings like flowers and incense to Lady Kim Hoa and the 12 “Ba mu” (midwives fairies). Moreover, there is a small pond in front of the main hall where a traditional custom usually takes place, called “phong sinh” (set free). According to rumors, if married couples “set free” a couple of turtles with their names written on them into the pond of this pagoda, the wish will come true, especially when the turtle is pregnant. People also “set free” other animals such as birds and fish.
The pagoda is believed to be truly sacred because there are many wishes people to become true. Therefore, more and more visitors come and pray every day. Some of them even come back to make offerings to pay their gratitude to the gods and goddesses.
Structure of Jade Emperor Pagoda
The design of the Jade Emperor Pagoda was similar to that of a Chinese pagoda. The top of the roof was tiled and decorated with ceramic statues. There are also sculptures of two dragons on the gates of the pagoda. In the front garden which is about 2,300 square meters, there is a small shrine of the law protector god. In this open space, everyone can sit, find a little peace for their soul, and get away from the hectic world outside.
There are many old pictures, valuable statues, and tablets that have been preserved for many years. Some of them are made from ceramic, wood, and cardboard, which are of high-value materials. This place is also the only pagoda in Vietnam that keeps the statues of fairies and Jade Emperor made of cardboard, depicting a meeting in heaven.
The interior of the landmark includes three halls: the front hall, the mid-hall, and the main hall. Before you go inside, you can buy incense to donate to the pagoda; then you should give offerings to pray for your wish. In the front hall, there is an altar of Buddha and people often give their wishes here before they visit inside. There are also two huge wood statues on both sides in the main hall; one is the general god who tames tigers, and the other is the general god who tames dragons.
The altar of the Jade Emperor was placed in the center of the pagoda, which is crowded with many visitors and prayers. To the left of the main hall, there is an altar of the God of Luck who is believed to bring good fortune to your family. Students before exams and businessmen before opening their stores would make their wish for their success in this section. Another valuable statue in the pagoda is put in a glass frame, sculpturing the Buddha of medicine.
And the place which is the most crowded in this pagoda is where people worship Lady Kim Hoa who takes care of the birth process. Families who have children or pregnant women pray for their relatives to get the best wishes because, according to the legend, most kids are taught and taken care of by these fairies in heaven before they are born. To the right of this hall is the place of worship for Guanyin Bodhisattva, the altar is one floor up, and people should make offerings there.
Summary of Saigon Pagodas: Jade Emperor Pagoda
As one of the most famous pagodas in Saigon, Jade Emperor Pagoda is usually packed with many visitors. We recommend you come and visit on days that are not special occasions to enjoy the peace of walking around the pagoda, with a light sense of incense all around. But visiting on events like the birth of Jade Emperor Pagoda could also bring you a different experience, seeing many locals practicing their beliefs, Buddhism and folk religions, in a traditional way.
If you are interested in religious places like the Jade Emperor Pagoda, you may also like:
Best Temples and Pagodas in Vietnam
Saigon Temples: Thien Hau Temple
Best Churches in Ho Chi Minh City
Off-the-Beaten-Path in Saigon