Giac Vien, a nearly-170-year-old pagoda, sits in an alley off of a busy street. However, the peaceful and tranquil atmosphere inside is not disturbed at all. Giac Vien Pagoda is a representative of Saigon’s Other Side, where you can calm your mind as well as gain some knowledge about Buddhism in Vietnam and the lifestyle of the Southern people.
Address: 161/85/20 Lac Long Quan, Ward 3, District 11
Opening hours: 8 AM - 9 PM
Entrance fee: Free
Giac Vien Pagoda is located about 7.4 kilometers from Ben Thanh Market, easily accessible by taxi or public bus. It is not far away from Giac Lam Pagoda, also one of the oldest pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City.
In 1798, under an extensive restoration of Giac Lam Pagoda, the land where Giac Vien Pagoda is located nowadays was used to keep the woods which would later be sawed for rebuilding the pagoda. The man who was in charge of taking care for those woods built a hermitage to worship the Bodhisattva Guanyin. After the restoration at Giac Lam Pagoda had finished, the Abbot decided to upgrade this hermitage and called it Guanyin Pagoda.
In 1850, the Temple was restored and officially had the name of Giac Vien Pagoda.
In 1993, Giac Vien Pagoda was recognized as National Historical-Cultural Relic.
Giac Vien Pagoda has gone through many restorations
The whole area of Giac Vien Pagoda is nearly 20,000 square meters. The pagoda was designed like the shape of the word “zhōng” (中), with two four-pillar houses that are used as the sanctuary, auditorium, and guest rooms. On the sides are the West and East hallways which are connected to the main house. The area also includes the ensemble of tower tombs - the burial site of the former Abbot at Giac Vien Pagoda.
The sanctuary of Giac Vien Pagoda
The tombs of Giac Vien Pagoda’s former Abbots
The most incredible characteristic of Giac Vien Pagoda is its massive and unique decoration. It has nearly 160 statues which were precisely sculptured in the 19th century or at the beginning of the 20th century. Around the main house of the pagoda are dozens of sculptures with high artistic value. Two significant ones of which are the Hundreds of Birds Sculpture and the Eighteen Arhats Sculpture. The Hundreds of Birds Sculpture has 3-meter length and 2.2-meter in width depicts from beautiful birds like Phoenix, peacock, pheasant to familiar ones which are easily in the Southern countryside of Vietnam such as stork, sparrow, nightingale, kingfisher. Each bird is busy doing its own business: flying, eating, fighting, cuddling. The diversity in their actions makes the sculpture lively than ever. And with the sculpture of the Eighteen Arhats, the facial expressions of the Arhats are what make it unique. While the pagodas in Northern Vietnam usually make them have angry or worried faces, the Arhats in Giac Vien Pagoda bring either funny or kind-hearted vibes.
Some of the statues inside the main house of Giac Vien Pagoda
Besides the statues and sculptures, there are many other special and valuable ornaments such as reliefs, couplets, artifacts. These decorations worship religious figures or describe the daily life of the Vietnamese farmers.
A couplet in Giac Vien Pagoda
Giac Vien is an old pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City. It is where you can escape from the hustle and bustle of the city center, and you should take your time to look into its design and decoration so that you could know more about the characteristics of the Buddhism in Southern Vietnam.
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© Written by Mai Bui for itourvn.com