Friday, December 2, 2011
Vinh Nghiem Temple at Night
If you travel to Vietnam your itinerary will almost certainly include a visit to Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, still Ho Chi Minh City's largest Buddhist temple (though probably not for much longer, as there are some mammoth building projects going on at various temples around the city).
Travelling in Vietnam, you will soon realise that Buddhism is still the dominant religion, and on the nights of the Buddhist sabbath (Ram in Vietnamese), people come in their hundreds to visit the temples.
This means that places like Vinh Nghiem fairly throng with families, office workers and romantic couples offering incense, making prayers and vows to the Buddha, and striking the big temple bell in the courtyard for good luck. For really authentic travel experiences, it is great to witness the lived religious lives of the people of Vietnam.
The best time to visit temples in Vietnam is on these sabbath days (the 1st and 15th of the lunar month - find out these dates and make sure you schedule temple visits then). Most holidays to Vietnam will incorporate at least one of these holy days - try to work out which day it will be, and plan accordingly. One of the downsides is that beggars and panhandlers are also aware that the temples are pumping on these days, so they come out in force.
The forecourt of Vinh Nghiem on a Ram evening was quite busy with beggars, lottery ticket sellers and people selling books of fortune-telling and astrological almanacs. Tour operators almost always include Vinh Nghiem Pagoda on their Ho Chi Minh City schedule, but they will rarely take you there at night. It really isn't far from downtown Saigon, so sneak away there in a taxi, if you can, and spend a half-hour or so wandering around and taking in the atmosphere.