Get lost in Cholon - The Chinatown of Ho Chi Minh City

12 Jan, 2024 | Featured Stories

Go sightseeing in Ho Chi Minh City’s most distinct neighborhood. Explore Cholon’s fascinating history and prominent landmarks.

Leaving all the contemporary buildings behind, you’ll find your nostalgic dreams come true at Cholon - the centuries-old Chinatown of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the largest in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City is currently home to over 500,000 Vietnamese of Chinese descent (referred to as Hoa people). Most of them concentrate in Cholon, a cultural area sprawling across half of District 5 and parts of the adjacent District 6 and District 11.

Old residential buildings in Cholon nowadays

Old residential buildings in Cholon nowadays 

Despite the rapid modernization of the city, the old-town allure of this enclave still stands the test of time. Stepping into Cholon, you’ll be surrounded by ancient temples, late 19th-century and 1920s residential houses, traditional markets, and mazes of alleys; where signs are displayed in both Vietnamese and Chinese. As you would expect from a Chinatown, Cho Lon is a bustling commercial hub lined with business establishments selling things from lanterns to traditional herbal medicine. All these make it a must-see place in Ho Chi Minh City.  


Chinese immigrants first marked their presence in Southern Vietnam, once a sparsely inhabited region, in the 17th century due to conflict with the new Qing dynasty at that time. In 1778, Hoa people from Bien Hoa started crowding into the area which is now Cholon. The reason it has such a name, literally translating to ‘Big Market’, is because of the scale of Chinese markets compared to Vietnamese ones. In fact, it was designated as an independent city in 1865 along with the neighboring Saigon and not until 1931 were the two unified into a single political unit.

Aerial view of Cholon in 1956

Aerial view of Cholon in 1956

Cholon’s thriving economy attracted many more from China, especially in the late 19th and early 20th century, plus the favor of the French colonists towards them; with immigration peaking in the 1920s and late 1940s during the Chinese Civil War. The Hoa quickly gained dominance in commerce and manufacturing; controlling 100 percent of wholesale trade, over 50 percent of retail trade, and 90 percent of export-import trade in the South by the end of 1974. 

Prominent landmarks

1. Binh Tay Market

Binh Tay is Cholon’s central market as well as a major distribution hub for agricultural products from all over Southern Vietnam. Built by a Chinese trader named Quach Dam in 1928, it is one of the oldest in Ho Chi Minh City, infused with Chinese architecture but employing Western techniques. There used to be a statue of the founder right in the center of the market, which has now been relocated to the Fine Arts Museum.

Binh Tay Market offers a more authentic shopping experience than the tourist-oriented Ben Thanh since it primarily serves locals and wholesale purposes, where you’ll find fewer souvenirs and more local products at a bargain. With an area of 25,000 m² (or 269,098 ft²), the market boasts 2,300 stalls organized into five distinct sections and over 30 different product categories. 

Address: 57A Thap Muoi, Ward 2, District 6
Hours: 5 AM - 7:30 PM

2. Thien Hau Temple

In general, Chinese temples are distinguished from their Vietnamese counterparts for their vibrant colors and intricate details, which you can observe at Thien Hau Temple. Having been restored several times yet maintained its original style since 1760, it is dedicated to the Goddess of Sea, who protects fishermen and sailors. Legends has it that she lived during the 10th century in Fujian province and acquired supernatural abilities through spiritual practice from a young age. This enabled her to sense her father and two brothers in danger at sea and rescue one or some of them. 

Visiting Thien Hau Temple, you’ll not only be captivated by its sophistication but also the mesmerizing incense coils dangling overhead, complemented by colorful ribbons. Notably, the temple used exclusively materials imported from China, implying the significance of Thien Hau in the lives of the local community.  

Address:  710 Nguyen Trai, Ward 11, District 5
Hours: 6 AM - 11:30 AM, 1 PM - 4:30 PM

3. Cha Tam Church

Cha Tam Church, or Saint Francis Xavier Parish Church, holds a special place in the volatility of Vietnam's recent history. It bore witness to the assassination of the President of the Republic of Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem and his political adviser Ngo Dinh Nhu on November 2nd 1963, after they came there to pray.

Named after the priest in charge of its construction, Cha Tam Church is the first church for the Chinese Catholic Community in HCMC. Perhaps the most unique one you’ll find in the city, it embodies a blend of Gothic architecture and traditional Chinese elements. The entry gate is built in Tam Quan style; the name of the church is written in Chinese; and carved carps accompany crosses; to name a few. In the front yard, there is a statue of Mary Mother nestled within a traditional Chinese house. 

Address: 25 Hoc Lac, Phuong 14, District 5
Hours: 5 AM - 11 PM

4. Hao Si Phuong Alley

Appealing for its colorful houses, Hao Si Phuong Alley features parallel two-story apartments with narrow staircases and interconnecting corridors and balconies, whose style can not be found in other old apartments across HCMC. Time has left its traces heavily on the facades since the alley has remained largely unchanged for the last 100 years.

Secluded from the hustle and bustle of the main streets, Hao Si Phuong offers a different glimpse into the local lives, where time passes slowly. Though the Hoa have pretty much assimilated with Vietnamese culture through the years, certain traditions are still well-kept. You’ll see most of the households here have Wufu (the Five Blessings) panels or papers above entrances, papers with Chinese characters, and altars attached to the walls. Most importantly, Hao Si Phuong reflects the enduring bond of the local residents; where everyone knows everyone else, and families have lived for generations. 

Address: 206 Tran Hung Dao Street, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 5

5. Ong Bon Temple

Ong Bon or Nhi Phu Temple was built by immigrants from two palaces of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou in Fujian Province at around 1730. They appreciated their new home and hence set up a place to worship the God of Land. Unlike Thien Hau, Ong Bon is not a specific historical figure but generally perceived as ‘Phuc Duc Chan Thanh’, who brings luck and happiness.

From the outside, you can see that Ong Bon Temple is considerably larger than Thien Hau Temple since besides being a religious site, it also serves as an assembly hall for the local community. With an area of about 2,500 m² (or 26,910 ft²), the temple consists of a spacious front yard and rooms for meetings as well as other events. This plays a crucial role in preserving the Hoa’s original customs and traditions, contributing to the cultural diversity of HCMC. 

Address: 264 Hai Thuong Lan Ong, Ward 14, District 5
Hours: 6 AM – 5 PM

6. Cholon Mosque

Amidst an ambiance steeped in Buddhism and Taoism, Cholon Mosque stands out for its minimal yet elegant architecture and blue paint. Since Islam is not a common religion in Vietnam, accounting for less than 0.1% of the population; there are only about 40 masjids (mosques) and 25 suraos (smaller than mosques) across the country, with the major ones being predominantly located in Ho Chi Minh City and An Giang Province. 

Built by Vietnam’s Tamil Muslims in 1932, Cholon Mosque originally intended to serve Muslims who immigrated from India. Since 1975, it has opened for all followers and now receives mainly Malaysian and Indonesian Muslims living in the area. 

Address: 641 Nguyen Trai Street, Ward 11, District 5
Hours: Noon


It would be a huge mistake to skip the cuisine part when mentioning Cholon. Chinese food, for being very tasty and diverse, has long become popular among Saigonese.

There are seemingly countless dishes in the area to indulge in, some of which include Fish noodle soup (hu tieu ca), Roasted duck (vit quay), Salted egg custard buns (banh bao Kim Sa), Charsiew wanton noodles (mi hoanh thanh), Har gow (ha cao), and Teochew porridge (chao Tieu). You’ll find a wide array of eatery options just by wandering the streets, from food stalls to small restaurants. Not to mention, desserts are another highlight here with several types of sweet soup (che); such as Black sesame (me den), Boiled chicken egg and black tea (hot ga), and Buddha Jumps Over The Wall (phat nhay tuong).

Sometimes tourists are too drawn to District 1 that they miss out on hidden gems like Cholon, where rich heritage and authentic local lives truly unfold. To experience Ho Chi Minh City as well as other parts Vietnam from a local perspective, design your trip with Exotic Voyages. 

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