Once a Buddhist country, Vietnam is currently home to hundreds to thousands of temples and pagodas. These religious places appear in almost every place throughout the country, and Ho Chi Minh City is not an exception. The biggest city in South Vietnam possesses several ancient to new Buddhist pagoda, many of which date back to centuries ago. And Giac Lam Pagoda in Tan Binh District is among the oldest and holiest ones.
I. Where Is Giac Lam Pagoda?
Giac Lam Pagoda is one of the oldest pagodas in Saigon. It is located at No. 565 (the former No. 118), Lac Long Quan Street, Tan Binh District. It is located on Cam Son Hill; therefore, people used to call it Cam Son Pagoda. This ancient pagoda is the major Linji Zen School in South Vietnam.
Opening Hours: 05:00 – 12:00 and 14:00 – 20:00 daily
How to get to Giac Lam Pagoda?
From your hotels in Saigon, you can easily reach the pagoda by motorbike or car. The route is super clear on Google map, and the pagoda is located on a big street also; therefore, you won’t need to worry about getting lost. Still, be careful if you want to try the scooter or motorbike in Vietnam as the traffic is terrible and people here do not follow any fixed traffic rules (even though there are).
A safer and more convenient to travel to Giac Lam Pagoda is by car. If you travel alone without any tour operator, you can ask the hotel receptionist to book a car for you. And in case this pagoda is already included in your Saigon tour itinerary, the tour operator will transfer you there in their car. Depending on which tour you are on, you might get a luxury private van or a shared shuttle bus.
II. History of Giac Lam Pagoda.
Giac Lam Pagoda was established by Monk Ly Thuy Long – a native of Minh Huong (the Chinese community in South Vietnam) in the spring of 1744, under the reign of Lord Nguyen Phuc Khoat. Initially, the pagoda was named “Sơn Can”, which means “a small hill” and later “Cẩm Sơn” according to the name of the small mound where it was located. The locals also call it “Cẩm Đệm” by combining “Cẩm” the regular name of Monk Ly Thuy Long and “Đệm” (cushion) – his former career before becoming a monk.
There is no historical record that mentioned the abbots of the pagoda from 1744 to 1774. From 1774, Zen Master Linh Nhac – the abbot of Tu An Pagoda sent his disciple – Zen Master Vien Quang to take control of the pagoda. Monk Vien Quang, later on, changed the name of the pagoda to Giac Lam.
Under the period that Zen Master Vien Quang was the abbot, Giac Lam Pagoda became a big Zen school in Gia Dinh (Saigon nowadays) and the adjacent Southern regions. By 1873, under the abbot of Zen Master Minh Khiem, this place was also a place for printing, copying scriptures, carving woodblocks, laws that are dedicated to Buddhism.
Nowadays, Giac Lam Pagoda is still a holy place where Buddhist practicers take a pilgrimage to during the Full Moon, Tet Holiday, or other special occasions. It has always been one of the most important religious sites in Saigon that attracts both locals and visitors.
III. Architecture and Design of Giac Lam Pagoda.
1. The architectural style of Giac Lam Pagoda
After centuries, Giac Lam Pagoda has undergone several restoration and reconstruction. The two biggest reconstructions occurred between 1799 and 1804 led by Monk Vien Quang and between 1906 to 1909 by Monks Thich Hong Hung and Thich Nhu Phong.
The pagoda covers an area of approximately 29,000 meters square and follows the architectural style of Southern pagodas. Hence, originally, there is no “Cổng Tam Quan” – the typical triple-arched gate appearing in temples and pagodas in Vietnam and China. It was not until 1955 that this gate was built.
The pagoda nowadays has the architectural style of the letter “Tam” (Ξ), which means “three” in Mandarin. It consists of 3 rows of interconnected houses, not counting the annexes. They are the main hall, the dharma preaching hall, and the Ong Giam’s house (the house for the monks). There exist 98 carved pillars inside the pagoda, each of which contains meaningful Buddhist phrases.
The Main Hall of the pagoda is for ceremony purposes. It follows the traditional “một gian hai chái” (one main and 2 winged compartments) and contains 4 pillars. The hall is wide and deep enough to house 56 columns that are bigger than an adult’s embrace. Parallel sentences are carved and gilded on these vermilion-lacquered wooden pillars.
The main hall is home to the altars dedicated to Amitabha Buddha and significant Buddhist deities like Sakyamuni Buddha, Samantabhadra, Manjusri, Avalokiteshvara, and Mahasthamaprapta. These figures are the principle bodhisattvas that form the Mahayana Buddhism that is popular in South Vietnam.
Behind the main hall is the altar that worships the Venerable Monks who established and presided over Giac Lam Pagoda.
The second hall is the preaching hall that is used to practice the dharma and other Buddhist teachings. The last hall is the place where the abbot and monks stay.
Similar to other Buddhist pagodas in Vietnam, Giac Lam Pagoda possesses plenty of small to big statues. There are now 113 ancient wooden statues that are gilded with gold and 7 bronze ones. Notably, all these statues, as well as the tables and the relic towers inside the pagoda, were hand-crafted. The oldest statue is believed to have existed since the 18th century. Other statues date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In addition to the main halls, Giac Lam Pagoda also includes a series of stupas amidst its garden. The biggest one is the 7-story hexagonal stupa that houses the relics of Buddha. The construction began in 1970 based on the design of architect Vinh Hoang but was interrupted in 1975. It was not until 1993 that the stupa continued to be built.
On the left of the pagoda also locates some stupas that worship the abbots who presided the pagoda in the past.
2. Top sites inside Giac Lam Pagoda
Of course, the main pagoda is a must-visit when you come to any complex of pagodas and temples. Not only does Giac Lam Pagoda possess a large number of precious statues and special architecture, but it is also one of the most sacred pagodas in Saigon in particular and the South in general.
The locals often take a pilgrimage to this pagoda to pray for a happy, healthy, and prosperous life. In every full moon and important occasions, Giac Lam Pagoda is full of pilgrims from different parts of Vietnam coming to worship the Buddha.
Being one of the most significant religious sites in Ho Chi Minh City, the pagoda also attracts a large number of foreign travelers each year. It is easily reached, so don’t forget to come there during your Saigon culture tours.
The 7-story Stupa
In 1953, the world-famous Venerable Narada came to Vietnam and brought along the relics of Gautama Buddha and a bodhi tree as gifts. However, because there was no place to keep the relics, it was temporarily stored in Long Van Temple in Binh Thanh District while the stupa in Giac Lam Pagoda was under construction.
The 7-story stupa inside the pagoda was inaugurated in July 1994, after one year of construction. It should have been completed years sooner if it hadn’t been for the Fall of Saigon in 1975 when the whole region was experiencing the chaos of war and dissolution. The Gautama Buddha relics were sent back to the pagoda on the same day.
The stupa consists of 7 stories and has a hexagonal shape. Each floor has its separate tiled roofs and doors on every side. The total height of the stupa is 32 meters, and it poses eastwards. This tower is one of the tallest and most important Buddhist stupas in Saigon.
The Stupas of the Abbots
Besides the big stupa that houses the Buddha relics, Giac Lam Pagoda also contains several smaller towers that are to worship the abbots who did preside the pagoda ever since its first days. There are stupas of Monk Thich Vien Quang, Thich Minh Vi, Thich Hai Tinh, Thich Minh Khiem, Thich Nhu Loi, and Thich Thu Phong.
The garden with the Avalokiteshvara Statue and the Bodhi Tree
After penetrating the main gate, you will see a big Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara that lies under a tall green Bodhi tree. Bodhi tree is the holy Buddhist tree where Prince Siddhartha sat and saught enlightenment before becoming the Buddha.
This bodhi tree was brought to Vietnam by Venerable Narada altogether with the Buddha’s relics from Sri Lanka in 1953.
IV. Things to bear in mind when visiting Giac Lam Pagoda
1. Things you should do
The very first thing to bear in mind whenever you come to a religious place is to cover yourself and dress modestly. As it is a sacred place, it would consider “disrespect” if you wear short clothes or reveal your skin too much. Therefore, cover yourself with long pants and use modest clothes only. In Vietnam, the proper length for both men and women’s clothes are under the knee. Even when it is super hot outside, dress discreetly,
Besides, remember to remove your hats and shoes before entering the hall.
Be culturally respectful whenever you go by turning off your mobile phones, removing your headphones, lowering your volume, and avoiding swear words. If you do the opposite, you might cause unwanted offense.
Be respectful to the monks
It would be common if you meet a monk inside the pagoda. Therefore, to avoid offending these Buddhist followers, there are a few things you should pay attention to. First, if you see the monk sitting, then to start a conversation with him, you should sit down also. And don’t point your feet when sitting in front of him. If you want to give or receive anything to or from the monks, remember to use your right hand only.
More importantly, if you are females, don’t touch the monk, even if it is accidental, because it would make them feel uncomfortable.
2. Things you should avoid
Wear revealing clothes
As said above, do not reveal your body too much when visiting Giac Lam Pagoda. It might be much more comfortable to wear short clothes, without bras, or so, but to be respectful to the religion and the culture of the place you are traveling to, try to be modest.
Touch or face your back to the Buddha statues
Everything inside the pagoda is sacred, so be respectful at any time. You should never touch, sit near, or climb any statues to take photos or the like. When you want to exit the hall, you should walk backward to avoid facing your back to the Buddha, which is considered rude.
If you see the locals keep touching the statues when praying, don’t copy them. The locals believe they could take away some lucks, but that act would gradually damage these valuable statues.
Moreover, if you sit in front of any statues, don’t face your feet toward it. It would be better if your clothes can cover the feet, also.
Pagoda is a place of worship, so all kinds of sexual affections are considered rude. Don’t hold hands, hug, or kiss the other while being in this sacred place. There are several places outside where you can freely do these things.
V. Lux Travel DMC Tours to Giac Lam Pagoda
Wanting to visit Giac Lam Pagoda but not knowing where to start? You can book a culture tour with Lux Travel DMC to get your schedule planned. We specialize in offering tailor-made tours to Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries up to clients’ requests; therefore, whenever you want to go, we can add it to your program. Coming with Lux Travel DMC, not only will you get the superb transferring service to the pagoda but there will also be a guide accompanying you during your trip. You will then be able to get to know more about Giac Lam Pagoda and its history as well as architecture with an experienced local tour guide who speaks your language.
You can also think about combining other cultural heritages into the trip to Giac Lam Pagoda. Some famous destinations to consider are Vinh Nghiem Pagoda in District 3, Pho Quang Pagoda in Tan Binh District, and Hoang Phap Pagoda in Hoc Mon District. There are also several sacred temples and pagodas in Saigon that await your visit, so don’t hesitate to go.
Hence, if you feel interested in visiting Giac Lam Pagoda, contact Lux Travel DMC now to get our instant support. It has always been our honor to be of service!