Religious sites are special features of Vietnam travel. There is a variety of temples and pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City such as Vinh Nghiem Pagoda and Thien Hau Temple. These religious sites have contributed substantially to the holy aspect of the long-established city. That is also the reason why temples are irreplaceable despite changes in city's landscape. Visiting them is always a super interesting part of your Vietnam travel. Among the must-see ones, Nhi Phu Temple, or Ong Bon Temple, is one of the oldest Chinese temples in Vietnam.
Nhi Phu Temple is located at 264 Hai Thuong Lan Ong, Ward 14, District 5, the center of Chinatown in Ho Chi Minh City. You can easily find this address and get there by bus and taxi because Hai Thuong Lan Ong is a famous and big street in Ho Chi Minh City.
Opening hours: 6.30 AM - 5 PM (from Monday to Sunday)
Nhi Phu Temple was constructed in the early 18th century by the Chinese living in Cho Lon, the biggest Chinatown in Vietnam. And now, it is said to be 300-year old, a true witness of Saigon-Cho Lon (Ho Chi Minh City)'s development over the course of time.
There is an undeniable thing that temples are unique and holy partially due to their history, and Nhi Phu Temple must have undergone a long way like that. At the end of the 17th century, a group of Fujian Chinese left China for Vietnam to earn their livelihood and settled down in Cho Lon. They came from Fujian, one of the provinces to have the most diverse cultures in China. So till now when in some countries including Vietnam, people in that community strongly remain the great culture of their beloved homeland; they have found every good way to preserve the deep-rooted origin. Nhi Phu Temple was established based on the absolute faith of Fujian people.
The outside of Nhi Phu Temple
Back then at the end of the 17th century when Fujian people started their living in the area of Cho Lon, they found a need for a holy place to pray and practice their religious beliefs. Also, they wished to have more get-togethers with fellow-countrymen as a way of connecting and protecting their inherited culture. Then people, coming from the two prefectures called Tuyen Chau and Chuong Chau in Fujian province, made a financial contribution and a joint effort to build the temple. And because of these two congregations, the temple was named "Nhi Phu" as the word “Nhi” in Chinese means two, and "Phu" means prefecture in English. A magnificent statue of Ong Bon, a well-known Chinese diplomat, and historian in the past, is worshiped in the main hall of the temple, so the locals also called this temple Ong Bon Temple.
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Nhi Phu Temple is located on a plot of land with an area of approximately 2,500 meters square, and its structure is quite simple compared to other local temples with a large entrance and small halls inside. The first special feature that can easily be seen is the overlapped roofs that are curved at the end like a ship head and tiled with equal tubular bricks. In front of the halls, there are upright pillars painted in red and chocked by artistically carved stones. The decoration also strongly reflects the Chinese style with many carefully written couplets, statues of dragons, fishes turning into dragons, and subtly sculptures words and stones.
Nhi Phu Temple's entrance
Nhi Phu Temple's roof
The temple ground plan was designed based on the word “Khau” in Chinese (means "mouth" in English), which is written as a character that looks like a square. That means the four halls in the temple are the four sides of the square, creating an open yard in the middle where you can enjoy the sunlight and fresh air. Light and air here represent natural as well as spiritual elements.
Nhi Phu Temple's yard
The center of the main hall is Ong Bon altar made in 1894 with a statue of that worshiped man. The main hall decorations were made mostly from wood, carved with pictures of spiritual and sacred animals like the dragon, phoenix, and unicorn. Ong Bon was sculptured as a benign person with his long white beard, sitting calmly on a chair.
Ong Bon's altar
Besides, there are altars of Jade Emperor, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, and some other Gods according to Chinese beliefs in the temple. All the altars are formally set, each of them has lacquered boards with couplets and a place to arrange the offerings at the front door.
Lacquered boards in Nhi Phu Temple
On special occasions, a lot of people, especially Fujian Chinese, bring offerings to the temple and put coil incense up on the ceiling. The popular offerings are roasted pig, boiled chicken, and some traditional fruits. Moreover, on some special occasions of the year like Tet, people gather joyfully at the temple, and there are performances at the yard for the celebration.
The values of the temple are undeniable when Nhi Phu Temple is not only a tourist spot but also an important shrine for the locals. Nhi Phu Temple represents the cultural exchange between the two countries, its establishment about 300 years ago was associated with the establishment of a part of the Chinese community in Cho Lon. All of the decorations and statues in this temple are antiques from the 19th century that reflecting the artistic skills of craftsmen at the time.
Temples always get strong respect from people and play a big role in the city’s beauty. Paying a visit to the Phu Nhi Temple is an interesting way to discover the Fujian Chinese culture and their efforts to remain it. Whether you are a culture lover, a history buff or an architecture enthusiast, Nhi Phu Temple is a must-see place in your off-the-beaten-path adventure in Ho Chi Minh City.