An absolute must-see for visitors to Ho Chi Minh city is the visually striking Jade Emperor Pagoda, often also called the Tortoise Pagoda. While not the oldest of temples, having been built at the turn of the last century by the local Cantonese community, it is certainly one of the most atmospheric and is the place of worship for both Taoist and Buddhist devotees.
The temple is full of spectacularly carved woodwork and figurines and ranges over several rooms, featuring some quite stunning and definitely unearthly deities. The Jade Emperor is the supreme Taoist god and the one who decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.
The temple is very busy, both with worshippers and with tourists, and is filled with the smoky , fragrant fug of joss sticks. It’s worth spending some time here, exploring the different halls and rooms, especially the Hall of Ten Hells. This room consists of a series of elaborately carved wooden panels depicting the ten layers of hell – a display which may cause you to contemplate the consequences of a life of wickedness and sin.
Outside of the temple doors is a large, grimy pond heaving with hundreds of tortoises – the source of the alternative name for the temple. Tiny little tortoises can be bought from vendors selling just outside the temple gates and many worshippers inscribe their shells with prayers before releasing them into this holy pond. Devotees feed these with bread and scraps and the water is a grey and unlovely soup. I was told that when the population of tortoises becomes overloaded the excess are removed and released elsewhere.
The Jade Emperor Temple is an active place of worship for the city and clearly an important site for the locals, many of whom can be found enjoying the peace of the outer courtyard once they have completed their devotions. If crowds aren’t your thing, I’d suggest visiting early in the day and if you have small children with you, be aware that some of the images in the temple might be a little frightening for them.
Maureen | Orgasmic Chef
I think I might be scared too. Just when I finally decided that Hell didn’t exist, you tell me it does. 🙂
Lizzy (Good Things)
Wow, so many tortoises! It does look very grimy indeed. Interesting place, Amanda.
Tania @My Kitchen stories
Ha I love Maureen s comment. i went to this temple and have to say the whole thing is very impressive. there are more tortoises than when I went, poor things. But a very incredible place
Fran @ G'day Souffle'
I went to Viet Name 7 years ago. While touring one of the temples there, I overheard a local tour guide telling a group of Westerners, “Your culture promotes human rights while our culture promotes that we should have ‘human responsibilities’, that is responsibility towards your family and government, etc.” I especially liked Halong Bay in the North.
Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
That tortoise pond looks incredible. They look quite small too-I always thought of tortoises as huge!
I suspect they grow to their conditions, Lorraine. They start off tiny – about the size of a 20c piece – and there’s no room in this pond for anything large.
Great photos, but I do feel sad for all the poor tortoises x
10 Layers of hell? One would be enough. I’m not sure about the welfare of those tortoises! The water looks foul and the tortoises have all that slime on their backs. You’d think from all the money that is raised from this tourism attraction they could spend a bit on keeping the tortoises in better conditions xx