Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh City

Located to the north of town on the road to the airport, Vinh Nghiem pagoda is distinct because of its constant activities at the attached school, as well as for the daily workings of the many monks and nuns housed here. I visited when the place was in preparation for a funeral, and it was like the set of a Hollywood movie, complete with egoistic flower coordinators and a bevy of fawning assistants. Housed under large, sloping Chinese-style roofs, with upturned cornices, the temple has two floors, with a grand sanctuary on the second floor (often closed to visitors) and a more utilitarian hall on the ground floor, as well as large block of classrooms and housing for monks and nuns, some of whom may come out and greet you in the hopes of practicing their English. A visit here is popular in conjunction with the Hoa Binh Noodle Shop .

Near Vinh Nghiem in District 3, you’ll also find the brash pink facade of the wedding cake that is Tan Dinh Cathedral, a busy working Catholic church with daily services that stands out like a sore thumb (or a pink elephant) in the busy Saigon streetscape of the Tan Dinh area. The nearby Tan Dinh Market is notable for the absence of foreign visitors and the pushy hard sell going on in the popular Ben Thanh Market; Tan Dinh is a good glimpse at the workings of an average city market, with cloth sellers at the front, dry-goods vendors in the center, and meats, vegetables, and fish sold in the back.

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