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Cholon, Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City Overview

Chợ Lớn, popularly known by its anglicised name of Cholon is described as the Chinatown of Ho Chi Minh City and the largest one across Vietnam. Situated on the west bank of the Saigon River and spread over Districts 5 & 6, it is a thriving neighborhood with a huge Chinese population having settled here since 1778. The central market of Cholon is dominated by the Chinese traders who enjoy selling authentic Chinese goods and produces. Of particular interest in Cholon are the pagodas and buildings of other religious faith that showcase classic Chinese architecture and culture.

Cholon is quite unlike the other parts of the city as it is intrinsically Chinese in nature. Visitors in the area can easily get lost amongst the lanes and by lanes with most of the shop fronts displaying their wares and the address in Chinese characters. The old Mandarin dialect is also spoken by the residents of Cholon today but it is a diminishing trait. Tourists can choose to eat the most authentic Chinese fare in the bustling area with many of them eagerly searching for old drug stores selling the ancient medicinal herbs of Chinese origin.

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Binh Tay Market of Cholon

This market occupies the central part of Cholon and is regarded to be the biggest one serving Vietnam’s Chinatown. The local population, mainly the Chinese residents, flock here every morning to source fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, poultry and herbs from here. Visitors to the market are surprised to find beautiful Chinese handicrafts especially lacquer work and textiles of all hues and materials sold here in bulk. It is the mainstay of businessmen operating their own stores in diverse parts of Ho Chi Minh City. Binh Tay Maret is an excellent spot for experiencing the local life and sampling the delicious eats of Chinatown.

Open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily, Binh Tay Market is one of the prominent breakfast spots of the city. Banh Bao, a Chinese delicacy of stuffed buns is considered to be the best here although the shoppers can look for common Vietnamese ingredients such as broken rice and Pho noodles at this market as well. Morning hours see a rush of local residents as well as visitors from down town Saigon come to the market for enjoying a hot breakfast before shopping for fresh produces and household items.

Binh Tay Mayket, Cholon
A seller at Binh Tay Market
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Places to Visit in Cholon

One cannot avoid the huge Binh Tay Market while touring District 5 of Ho Chi Minh City and Cholon.  However, there are a few other attractions here too:-

Thien Hau Pagoda: Also known as Ba Thien Hau Pagoda, this Chinese temple is dedicated to the Chinese Goddess Mazu who protects the sailors. Thien Hau is one of the primary temples in Cholon with hundreds of locals and visitors paying a visit to the temple. The two turtles present within the premises are believed to be protectors of the deity with the goddess being paraded through the streets on the 23rd day of the third lunar month each year.

Thien Hau Pagoda, Cholon
Thien Hau Pagoda
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Quan Am Pagoda: This yet another pagoda showcasing Chinese architecture that is revered by both the Chinese and Vietnamese population. Guanyin, the Chinese form of Lord Buddha is worshipped here.

Quan Am Pagoda, Cholon
Quan Am Pagoda
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Jamail Mosque: This is in stark contrast to the ornate and elaborate pagodas found in Cholon. Built by South Indian Muslims in 1935, this mosque is the primary place of worship for the Malasian and Indonesian communities of Saigon now.

St Francois Xavier Church: This church is on the sightseeing map of every tourist visiting Cholon as it was the place where President Diem had been captured by the military during the 1963 coup d etat.

Roman Catholic Church, Cholon
Roman Catholic Church in CholonSource

Activities & Things to Do

Visitors usually head to the Binh Tay Market of Cholon just after visiting the colorful Pagodas situated in the heart of District 5. The other activities worth participation include:-

Water Buffalo Tour- Riding a water buffalo is a thrilling experience with several tour operators offering it around the vicinity of Chinatown (Cholon).

Soai Kinh Lam Fabric Market- This wholesale market is a brisk trading center with shopkeepers and local businessmen sourcing lengths of fabrics here. It is also well-known for housing skilled tailors who are ready to customize the garments bought elsewhere.

Phuc Hung Massage- Many visitors are pleased to avail of the therapeutic massage services offered by a number of Cholon establishments

Urban Tales- This is an interesting activity that combines a walking tour and treasure hunt admirably so that the tourists can take part in solving a mystery with the aid of clues provided by the local inhabitants of Chinatown while embarking on a tour of Cholon.

Cholon, Ho Chi Minh City
Exploring Cholon
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Cholon Restaurants

Cholon is a chaotic yet interesting place for the visitors to explore. Food is plentiful with numerous quaint eateries and big restaurants dotting the entire area. Tourists are overwhelmed to find dishes of every ethnicity being represented here with Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine being highly popular. Some of the restaurants that warrant a try include:-

Baoz Dimsum- This is a family friendly joint offering some of the best Chinese dumplings in the city. Tourists are pleased to find that food is prepared hygienically with the seating area remaining clean and comfortable as well.

Pho Le- This restaurant is renowned for serving piping hot Vietnamese soup known as Pho. The red plastic stools offered as seats with plenty of Saigon Beer to wash down the food reminds one of the Vietnamese culture and heritage.

Đông Nguyên Cơm Gà- A dish of Chinese Chicken and rice welcomes the guests in this restaurant that is not done up elaborately. However, the quality of food is definitely the best in the area with both locals and foreigners making a beeline for the reasonably priced authentic Chinese fare.

Hue Ky My Gia- This is deemed to be fun food joint with huge amount of Chinese noodles served to the guests. The varieties are mind boggling with chicken wings being in great demand here.

Vuong Coffee and Ice Cream- A café par excellence is how one sums up this place that offers the best Vietnamese coffee along with ice creams in different flavors.

Best Time to Visit

Tourists are advised to visit Cholon during the dry season that continues from October to May.

How to Reach Cholon

Cholon is situated on the West bank of the Saigon River and encompasses District 5 & District 6 at present. The locals usually take Bus No. 1 to the bus terminus at Cholon. Bus No 147 also goes via the Cholon Bus Station. Taxis are available on hire too with Xe-Om being the preferred form of transportation for single travelers. Motocycles and Bicycles can also be rented for VND 20,000 to VND 120,000.

History of Cholon

This area, popularly known as the Chinatown served as a refuge for hundreds of Chinese immigrants who escaped the terror unleashed by the forces of Tay Son in 1778. Cholon was finally established as a city in 1819 that was located about 11 kilometres away from Saigon.

The Chinese began to sell goods to sustain themselves here, and Cholon became a huge black market during the Vietnamese War with America with the soldiers trading their supplies for a profit. The present-day Cholon finds a prominent place on the tourist map of Vietnam with many of the visitors attracted by the Chinese influence retained in this part of Vietnam that is now a part of Ho Chi Minh City.

Cholon in 1961
Cholon in 1961
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Tips

1. Foreign tourists find it convenient to seek a local guide for walking along the streets Cholon
2. Single visitors usually avail of a cyclo for sightseeing the pagodas and other attractions here
3. Carrying drinking water is a must as the touring is sure to involve walking
4. It is advisable to wear light and comfortable clothes along with sturdy footwear
5. Bargaining is the norm in Cholon in order to get the best deal
6. Keeping cash and important documents safe is essential

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