The Ho Chi Minh City municipality is a sprawling, densely-packed 2,000 km². With every hẻm of a hẻm packed with tiny boutiques, eateries, novelty shops, pagodas, hair salons, and shops that only sell motorbike seats, it’s no wonder that there are endless surprises to be found by eager explorers, whether they’ve lived here for a short time or proudly call themselves người Sài Gòn. One such “hidden” delight is the Bửu Long Pagoda, tucked away in the very outskirts of HCMC in rural District 9. For travelers, it’s a unique oddity not often seen by foreigners; for expats and locals living in Saigon, it’s a refreshingly peaceful reprieve from the constant hustle and bustle of the city center.
Visiting this pagoda feels like a trip to the Thai countryside. Built in 1942, what locals call the “Thai Temple” is replete with Thai and Myanmar-style architectural embellishments from the golden bell-shaped stupa towering overhead to the carvings and statues depicting the Naga, a mythical river snake that replaces the Dragon in the Thai zodiac.
As you approach the courtyard you’ll be greeted by a clear blue-green pool of water with a fountain that periodically and quite suddenly bursts out from the center as a few plastic ducks wobble helplessly about. As the temple faces due east, it’s best to go in the morning when the sun shines directly on it (and your Instagram will thank you). Go around the pool and you’ll see the steps leading up to the first floor, but unsurprisingly, you’ll have to remove your shoes first.
There are three floors that offer balcony views of the courtyard below and the surrounding countryside, each with its own places of worship, shrines, and a plethora of unique backdrops for the selfie addicts. Standing out over the balcony on the third floor, a light breeze carries the tinkling sound of wind chimes through the air as you look out onto the Dong Nai River and watch the freight ships drift lazily by.
Bửu Long Pagoda is truly one-of-a-kind in this part of Vietnam, a unique blending of Southeast Asian Buddhist cultures, and a rare escape to a quiet place of peaceful zen in the midst of Vietnam’s busiest and most populous municipality.
Driving is the only way to get there, whether on your own or by hiring a car/motorbike. It takes roughly 45 minutes to get there from the city center. Be advised: the upper deck closes at 4:30 pm, so get there before then for the best views. Snacks and gifts are available for purchase before the entrance to the temple.