Visiting a temple in a new city is always a source of fascination for me. Though, they may look completely the same as the previous one seen, but there are always some features that makes one temple distinctive than the other, maybe it is the color of the wall, the appearance of the divinities or the rituals perform.
For the case of Jade Emperor Pagoda (Ngoc Hoang Dien) at Ho Chi Minh City, there are two things that one will not fail to notice upon stepping inside this pink painted temple- giant statues and the high-ceiling rooms filled with the smell and haze of burning incense.
In honor of the supreme Taoist God- the Jade Emperor or King of Heaven, the temple was said to be built in 1909 by the Cantonese Congregation (Quang Dong). On every corner and walls of the temple is a depiction of combined Buddhist and Taoist faith.
Upon entering the main temple, first thing to notice are the giant statues, with the Jade Emperor draped in golden robe in the middle surrounded by scary looking guards called the Four Big Diamonds (Tu dai Kim Cuong).
There are many small alleyways inside the temple that visitors are free to explore. Every statue on these small rooms depicts an important part on the philosophical, ethical and religious tradition of the Chinese culture. The statue holding a horse is said to be the Chief of Hell (Thanh Hoang) while the carved wooden panels at Hall of Ten Hells shows the agonizing faith awaiting evil people at each ten regions of hell.
On pure aesthetics side, I love how the temple is not brightly decorated, how the fluorescent light mixed with the incense smoke filling up the high ceiling rooms plus the combination of pink colored walls and black-painted ceilings resulted into an interesting mysterious ambiance and further making those giant 4 meters tall guards more menacing in appearance.
Located at 73 Mai Thi Luu Street, a bit far from the touristy haven of Pham Ngu Lao or Duong Dong Khoi, to reach Jade Emperor Pagoda, either one must hire a taxi or do the option that I have chosen, same as what locals do- back ride on one of the motorcycle for hire for a faster and cheaper approach.
The Jade Emperor Pagoda is also known as the Tortoise Pagoda due to the abundance of the said animal on the outside pond. However, it can be misleading particularly for tourists made to believe that the best way to experience the temple is to buy a tortoise as an offering.