Temple Hopping & Dim Sum in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City

For a totally unique area to explore, check out the bustling District 5 in Ho Chi Minh City!

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about accidentally getting stuck in Saigon for six months is that I really have been able to explore its many nooks and crannies. I definitely still have a ways to go, but one of the places I enjoyed checking out was District 5!

First I went with Steph and Alyshia on one of our little Sunday aventures and then I went back one random day to try another dim sum place and see some more sights I missed the first time. Even after those two visits, I find myself writing down even more places to visit or eat at!

Often times, people will just call District 5, Chợ Lớn, though technically only the western half is part of Saigon’s Chinatown. A few kilometers away from District 1, which is home to the big sights in the city, it’s hard to believe they’re so close! I almost felt like I was back in Kuala Lumpur with the many shophouses and Chinese signs.

Anyway, I wound up with so many photos and saw so much, I wanted to put it all in a post for you guys. Such a cool area to check out if you’re visiting!

Quick History of District 5

District 5 is brimming with its own history, unique to the Hoa people, otherwise known as the Han Chinese-Vietnamese community. Hoa have migrated to Vietnam for centuries as the two countries have quite a long, entangled history, including multiple Chinese dominations of region.

Like most stories of immigration, they’ve had a history of clashes with native Vietnamese. Many Hoa fled to the area that would become District 5 in late 1778 after they erroneously supported the ruling Nguyễn clan during a rebellion led by the Tây Sơn family. Once the Tây Sơn took over, they began to retaliate against the Hoa, cumulating in the massacre of 1782 where over 10,000 people were killed.

There’s more to their history that could fill up a post on its own. But to fast forward a bit, just know that today they play an influential role in Vietnam’s economy and have managed to retain much of their culture. You can see this in places like Chợ Lớn, which is actually the biggest Chinatown in the world by area.

Nghia An Hoi Quan Pagoda, HCMC, Vietnam

One of the historical tidbits I found interesting was that a French writer, Gontran de Poncins, actually stayed in Chợ Lớn in 1955 to work on an illustrated journal called, From a Chinese City. Apparently he chose this area as he felt Chinese culture and traditions would be stronger in a diaspora community vs. China itself! Kinda shows you just how unique this district is compared to the rest of Saigon.

Anyway, now that you have some of the history, onto my actual guide of the area! I separated this into different places to visit, but at the bottom I organized a recommended walking route if you want to maximize your time!

Temples to Visit in District 5

Chùa Bà Thiên Hậu, HCMC, Vietnam

Ba Thien Hau Pagoda

If you’re trying to jog a friend’s memory, this is the temple you’d describe as having the wall of pink donation ribbons! Its origins date all the way back to 1760, though what you see today is the result of many expansions and updates through the years, most “recently” in 1916.

Its name, Thiên Hậu, refers to the Chinese sea goddess Mazu and the more niche religion of Mazuism. Mazu is actually the deified form of a Fujianese shaman who lived during the 900s named Lin Mo/ Lin Moniang. The main legend about her, and why she became a sea goddess, is that she saved some family members caught in a typhoon with just her spiritual power. After her death, many seafarers saw her as their guardians and began to worship her! She has quite a long list of names, but Thiên Hậu, which probably comes from Tianhou means “Queen of Heaven.”

Nghia An Hoi Quan Pagoda, HCMC, Vietnam

Nghia An Assembly Hall

You know what’s funny? We almost didn’t go into Nghĩa An. It was the last temple of the day, and we were hungry and sweaty. I remember looking at the outside, which is okay but not that impressive, and going “Good enough.” Ha! But then I was like, “Well, if I don’t wind up coming back to D5, I’ll be annoyed that I didn’t just go in.” As soon as we walked through the entrance, the skies opened up and it down-poured. So, accidentally lucky call there!

Of course, the inside of the hall is absolutely stunning with all its gilded designs and ornate details! From what I gather, this isn’t really a temple, as can be seen by its main descriptor, Hội Quán, instead of Chùa. The name Nghĩa An comes the Chaozhou area of China where those who built the hall came from, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what that name translates to in Chinese!

The hall itself, which is one of the oldest in the area, is dedicated to Quan Cong, or Guan Yu in Chinese, a deified military hero from the 200s AD. You can see his statue inside.

Chùa Ông Bổn, HCMC, Vietnam

Ong Bon Pagoda – Nhi Phu Temple

Ông Bổn Pagoda was such a nice temple and quite peaceful while we were there! Funny thing is the whole front was covered in tarp for construction, so at first we thought it was closed.

Anyway, this temple was built by Hoa from the Fujian province of China in the 1700s. Because the main funding came from two different cities, Xuanzhou and Zhangzhou, they called it Nhị Phủ, or two cities. There’s also a pagoda in the center that worships Ông Bổn, a guardian of wealth and happiness, so that’s how it got its other name, Chùa Ông Bổn or Ong Bon Pagoda.

I tried finding out more on who Ong Bon is, but haven’t had any luck. If you know his history let me know!

Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda, District 5, HCMC, Vietnam

Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda

I somehow missed this temple on my first visit so I made sure to pop in on my second! It’s right on a busy road near the mall and dates all the way back to 1902. Loved all the color, especially the yellow decor inside!

It’s a Taoist temple and is dedicated to Quan Cong, though it also has shrines for Ông Bổn and Nam Bag Ngu Hanh.

Quan Âm Pagoda, HCMC, Vietnam

Quan Am Pagoda

If you’ve studied the Vietnam War or are a TIMES photo aficionado, then Quan Âm will definitely ring a bell as it’s near where the famous Eddie Adams execution photo was taken.

On a less gruesome note, Quan Âm is by far the most colorful temple in Chợ Lớn and they were even putting on a fresh coat of paint as we visited! It’s dedicated to the Buddhist bodhisattva, Guanyin, who’s known as the goddess of Mercy. In Vietnamese, her name often translate to Quan Âm, Quán Thế Âm, or Quán Tự Tại, hence the temple name.

It actually started as an assembly hall called Ôn Lăng in 1740 and the temple part was added later, but I’m not sure where the name came from.

Tam Son Hoi Quan Pagoda, HCMC, Vietnam

Tam Son Pagoda

This is the “sunset pink” hall if you’re describing it to friends. The whole exterior and much of the interior has this pretty pinkish hue. It’s dedicated to the Taoist fertility goddess, Me Sanh or Mother Sanh, so you might find some women and couples hoping to conceive on your visit!

Other Places to Check Out in District 5

Cholon Mosque, HCMC, Vietnam

Cholon Jamail Mosque

I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to visit unless you’re Muslim and looking for a place of worship. However, it’s sure to be on one of your temple hopping routes, so it’s nice to see. It was originally built in 1935 by Tamil Muslims, who would’ve originally come from India and Sri Lanka. Today, though, it’s mainly Malaysian and Indonesian Muslims who attend.

Cha Tam Church (St Francis Xavier Parish), HCMC, Vietnam

St. Francis Xavier Church

St. Francis Xavier Church was the very first stop on our little DIY tour of D5! It’s a very pretty yellow church fairly close to Binh Tay Market and looking over the Fabric Market. Its names come from Father Francis Xavier Tam Assou or Cha Tam/Father Tam for short. He helped found the church and grow the Chinese Catholic community during the 1900s. You can see his burial site next to the entrance.

One of the cool aspects of the church is that despite its clearly European design, there’s a lot of Eastern influence in the details, like the entrance gate. One less cool, more gruesome aspect is that it’s where President Ngo Dinh Diem was seized before he was assassinated in 1963.

Jeanne d'Arc Church, District 5, HCMC, Vietnam

Jeanne d’Arc Church

Jeanne d’Arc Church, which goes back to 1922, is in a rather unique position in HCMC: it sits at the center of a 6-way intersection… in place of an old Chinese cemetery! Sadly the church isn’t kept up as much as Cha Tam Church is, so you can’t go inside at all.

Hào Sĩ Phương, District 5, HCMC, Vietnam

Hao Si Phuong

Hào Sĩ Phương is a famous alleyway that you’ve probably seen on plenty of Vietnam-based Instagrams. It’s known for its 100-year-old history and architecture and just feeling like its own little escape within District 5. Unfortunately, insta-fame means its residents don’t quite appreciate all the photoshoots! There’s a sign in Vietnamese that essentially says it’ll cost you 500K if you want to take photos there, though they don’t mind a quick phone photo or two. As always, be respectful!

The Lover Shophouse

One movie that has really nice scenery of Saigon and Cholon in particular is The Lover, a movie and book that 100% would not be made today lol. The movie itself is pretty erotic, so, you know, don’t watch with your parents or kids! Anyway, after I finally got Alyshia to watch it, she also wanted to visit the shophouse where the affair took place, so we planned another little day in District 5.

The actual shophouse is at 7 Phú Định, according to this site, but really the whole alleyway is quite cool! All the alleys in this area are pretty interesting — quite crowded, motorbikes whizzing through, and very old looking shophouses or random shops sprinkled throughout. Definitely get dropped off here and then sort of weave your way in and out.

Thuan Kieu Plaza (Ghost Apartments)

If you’re walking around District 5, you’ll definitely see these towering green apartments at some point! Apparently, they’re haunted and, thus, remain pretty much empty! This post goes into it a bit more if you’re curious about the ghost tales!

District 5 Markets, HCMC, VIetnam

Markets

Admittedly, I didn’t spend much time in the markets, but there are quite a few all around, just look for the “Chợ” in the name. The biggest one is Chợ Bình Tây and, of course, the Fabric Market outside of Cha Tam Church!

Baoz Dimsum, District 5, HCMC, Vietnam

Where to Find Dim Sum

Can’t go to any Chinatown in the world without checking out its dim sum scene, and Chợ Lớn is no exception. Here are some spots you might like to try!

Baoz Dimsum

Steph, Alyshia, and I stopped here for lunch during our temple hopping and the nice A/C was much welcomed! It’s located in the Garden Mall, which is front of the ghost apartments. Pro is that they had soup dumplings which, as you know, are my absolute favorites.

Alyshia loves them too, so when we went to order, I was like “Ok so since each basket only comes with three, let’s get one for each of us” in addition to all the other dim sum and veggies we got. Steph replied with, “What if I wind up not liking them?” and both Alyshia and I were like, “Oh don’t worry, we’ll eat them if you don’t.” Ha!

Nha Hang Sik Dak Fook

Ok, hands down these had some of the best soup dumplings I’ve ever had! On par with Din Tai Fung, that’s how good. After our walk around the alleys near the Lover shophouse, we walked over here for a nice, big dim sum lunch. Don’t worry, we wound up ordering a whole second round from what you see in that pic and cleaned up quite a bit between us two and Lee, who met us there.

Tan Nguyen Thai Dimsum, District 5, HCMC, Vietnam

Tan nguyen thai dimsum

I ate here when I came back to D5 during the week. It rained and I was hungry, so the result was the giant meal above! I hate to say it, but I think I actually preferred the Baoz dimsum. Felt like they had a better balance between dough and filling! Guess I’ll just have to return to try more for further research.

Other Dimsum Spots

Two other spots I wanted to try but didn’t get a chance to:

  • Tien Phat: Diem-tam Hong Kong
  • Cho Dai Quang Minh

I know those all hardly cover it, so if you know a good spot in District 5 for dim sum, let me know!

Tips for Visiting Cholon

District 5, HCMC, Vietnam

Route to Follow

So, if you’re trying to see as much as possible in D5 in one day, then I recommend starting early in the morning at Binh Tay Market. If you’re not interested in markets, then you can always start a Cha Tam Church instead! Just have your Grab drop you off at your starting point.

Here’s what I’d do then:

  • Walk from Cha Tam Church through the Fabric Market
  • Turn to check out Ong Bon Pagoda
  • Walk up to Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda
  • Eat at Baoz dimsum
  • Head to Quan Am Pagoda
  • Walk over to Thien Hau Temple
  • Then over to Tam Son Pagoda
  • Walk up to Nghia An Pagoda
  • Pass by Cholon Mosque
  • Check out Hao Si Phuong
  • Walk up to Jeanne d’Arc Church
  • Get dinner at Tan nguyen thai dimsum

That is a truly packed day! Really, I’d split it up into two days because even the biggest temple lovers are going to get templed out.

What to Wear

I didn’t see any official dress code for any of the churches or temples, but a friend did tell me to dress a bit more conservatively if you want to be respectful. Also remember to bring mask as many temples still require one for safety! Thien Hau will even take your temperature.

Also, yes, I did bring a change of shirts because it was humid when we went, and I was sweaty! The first top is this cotton one from Metiseko, and the white top is an old linen one from Reformation. Pantswise, I had a linen mix pair from Old Navy and wore my trusty Birks!

Tours Around District 5

Obviously I’ve done a DIY tour with friends and then on my own, but if that’s not something you’re comfortable doing or you’d like a more local guide to tell you about the district’s history, then try one of these tours!

Murder Mystery Tour

Maryam and Frances told me about this Urban Tales tour, and OMG it looks so fun! If things are looking okay while I’m still here, I’m 100% doing it. It combines a tour of D5, a murder mystery, and a treasure hunt in one as you solve the murder of Dr. Lam. What more could you ask for?! Book Here

HCMC Discovery Tour

For an overall HCMC tour, you might like this one which includes Cholon, Thien Hau Temple, and Binh Tay Market. Book here

Chinatown Walking Tour

If you don’t mind walking and want a little motorbike experience, this is a four hour morning tour that’ll take you through Cholon! Book here

Chinatown Motorbike Tour

Or if you’d prefer, this is the motorbike version! Book here

Saigon Unseen & Street Food Tour with a Student

This one is another tour that includes District 5. It also covers Districts 1, 3, 4, and 10 with lots of cool, lesser known spots around Saigon. A lot of these places I haven’t actually been either! Book here

Stay in District 5?

I mean I think you can but I’d recommend staying in nearby District 1 or 3 more. They’re much more central for your HCMC sightseeing vs. District 5. For longer term, I’d stay at this nice Airbnb which is where I spent my first 3 months! It’s super central (I used to run around Independence Palace) and across the street from a grocery store. If you’re only here for a few days, stay at either the chic Odys Boutique Hotel or the trendy Hammock Hotel.

And there you have it! A little guide to the lesser known District 5 of Ho Chi Minh City! Have you been? What did you think?

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