ATTRACTIONS - North of the Center

These two worthwhile attractions are in District 3 north of Dien Bien Phu St. It’s easiest to reach by taxi, but you could easily reach by foot in a long walk from the center.

You can’t take a side alley in Saigon without bumping into a pagoda, but – no offense to Cholon’s many historic ones – the Jade Emperor (Chua Phuoc Hai, or Phuoc Hai Tu) is Saigon’s most impressive. Colorful outside, with a turtle pond to the right side of the red building, inside is where it’s most atmospheric. Joss sticks smoke have blackened the walls – and the Chinese tablets and ceiling fans that hang motionless above. Built around 1900, the pagoda combines Tao and Buddhist elements, evident in moustached dragon-killing figures in altars inside. Most notably the Jade Emperor – who is responsible for monitoring the entry to heaven – is in back of the main building, with a moustache for the ages. Follow the direction he looks – to a side ride, down a betel juice–colored hall – to the ‘Hall of Ten Hells,’ where you can see ten woodcarved panels representing the fiery ten.
73 Mai Thi Luu St, half a block north of Dien Bien Phu St; open 7am-6pm daily

Of all things, this – a free, well-arranged museum devoted to women of the south, which is almost always overlooked by visitors to Saigon (and most guidebooks). Occupying the top two floors of a stodgy old official building, the first floor is about traditions, with ao dai (traditional dress) displays and crafts. The ao dai began in 1744, mixing Cham-style long dresses with Shanghai styles. An English placard describes how the ‘flap’ has changed over the years, including the ‘mini’ ao dai during the pre-communist 1970s. Best is upstairs exhibit, which highlights women revolutionaries. Photos include foreign women who supposedly supported the northern cause – including Jane Fonda, who famously visited Hanoi during the war. More interesting are the photos of Vietnamese women, pointing guns at captured US GIs or carrying artillery shells cheerfully to work. Less staged are photos of teenage women (including Vo Thi Sau, who the street outside is named for), who would meet their deaths by torture in prison camps. Look for the 1968 photo of a student-protestor Vo Thi Thang, who left a Saigon court with a 20-year jail sentence and guarded by two grimacing police goons with a giant defiant smile – something that made quite an impact on front pages here and abroad.
202 Vo Thi Sau St, D3; admission free; open 7.30-11.30am, 1-5pm daily

Return to ATTRACTIONS home