Ho Chi Minh’s Chinatown, Cholon, is the largest and most historic in the entire country as well as the largest in the world by area. Located 11km west of the city center in District 5, Cholon’s origins can be traced as far back as 1778. Constructed with wealth, the neighborhood is now a popular tourist destination in HCMC.
At the center of Cholon is the Bình Tây Market, which is a business hub for local Vietnamese and Chinese people. Tourists have fallen in love with the neighborhood because of its ornate architecture and lively atmosphere.
Chinatown in Ho Chi Minh City
Grand in scale, Cholon is spread throughout parts of Districts 5, 6, and 11 in HCMC (formerly Saigon). Cholon sits on the West Bank of the Saigon River and its name “Cho Lón” has two different meanings. In Vietnamese, it means “Big Market”, while in Chinese it translates to “embankment”. International tourists might also see Cho Lón spelled as one word “Cholon”.
No matter what you call it, Cholon has become a world-famous tourist attraction and many visitors come from outside of Vietnam to explore the neighborhood. The Cholon neighborhood is located just outside of HCMC’s District 1. From HCMC’s city center, Cholon is 8.6 km (5.3 mi) away.
A short journey that lasts only about 15 minutes, tourists can either take a public bus from the Ben Thanh Bus Station or hire a private taxi to Cholon. Tran Hung Dao is the main street that links HCMC and Choln. Once tourists have arrived, walking is the best way to explore and see the neighborhood.
The beginning of Cholon can be traced back to 1778 when it was established by the Hoa community, an ethnic minority descended from the Han Chinese. The Hoa people used Cholon as a place of refuge to hide from Tây Son soldiers. A dynasty that ruled at a time of rebellion, Tây Son forces persecuted the Hoa people for supporting the Nguyên lords.
After the initial creation of Cholon, the city was attacked by Tây Son soldiers in 1782. This was the largest attack and it led to a massacre of more than 10,000 Hoa people. Not accepting defeat, the Hoa people rebuilt the city using high embankments. By 1879, Cholon became incorporated as a city and at the time, it was 11 km (6.8 mi) outside of Saigon.
Further growth throughout the next 50 years led Cholon to expand and eventually the city stretched all the way to Saigon. In 1931, it was decided that Cholon would merge with Saigon to form a single city, “Saigon-Cholon”, though the name didn’t stick and most just referred to both areas as Saigon. Ever since the beginning, Cholon has been famous for its large market.
While the Bình Tây Market is famous today, Cholon used to have a black market. Established during the Vietnam War and run by soldiers or deserters from the US Army, the black market traded in American goods and US-Army issued products. During the war, the market was located close to the Quan Âm Pagoda.
Although the black market no longer exists in Cholon today, the city has worked hard to preserve other historical sites and relics. From Chinese architecture to the pagodas and markets, Cholon and its history have become an important part of HCMC’s identity. Today, visitors can walk the streets and peruse the markets as they learn more about Cholon’s unique past.
- Originally, the Chinese name for Cholon was translated as “Dê Ngan” by the Vietnamese.
- The iconic photograph depicting the assassination of Nguyễn Văn Lém was also taken at Cholon.
- The Bình Tây Market in Cholon was mostly financed by Guoyan, a Chinese businessman from Guangdong.
- Notable Cholon residents are Yvon Petra, a French tennis player, and Gontran de Poncins, a French author and aristocrat.
Cholon is just one area in HCMC but it certainly packs a lot into a little. There are plenty of activities in the area and most are focused on touring the neighborhood’s markets and temples. Travelers should plan to spend at least one day exploring the area, especially at night when many markets come to life.
Some top attractions are Binh Tay Market, Thien Hau Temple, Quan Âm Pagoda, and the St. Francis Xavier Parish Church.
Bình Tây Market
For over 140 years, the Bình Tây Market has continued to be the main attraction. Established when Cholon was its own city and located on Thap Muoi Street, the market was rebuilt after a significant portion of it was lost in a fire. It’s housed in a large structure with traditional Chinese architecture, and it has two stories.
Inside, vendors sell a variety of wholesale goods from food to handcrafted textiles and fresh produce. Tourists can visit the market at any time and a few stalls are frequently open into the late-night hours. The market is safe to navigate without a guide, but local guides are available for hire.
Thien Hau Temple
Constructed in 1790, Thien Hau Temple is dedicated to Mazu, the Buddhist goddess of the sea. Featuring traditional Chinese architecture, this stunning temple is a must-see for anyone visiting Cholon. The temple is located on Nguyen Trai Street and is open daily to visitors.
While the exterior is impressive, inside, tourists will see ceramic figurines and gold inscriptions of ancient legends. The regal construction and grand interior are quintessentially Chinese, while its Zen-like atmosphere is unmistakably Buddhist. Reflecting Cholon’s diverse background, there’s also a mosque and a catholic church can also be found in the area.
Quan Âm Pagoda
Founded during the 19th century, the Quan Âm Pagoda is a Buddhist temple dedicated to the Chinese goddess of mercy, Guanyin. Large in size, the entrance to the pagoda features a traditional red hue Chinese roof. Inside, there is a garden, two courtyards, and multiple hallways. Throughout the temple, visitors can view the ornate inscriptions, statues, and tributes.
St. Francis Xavier Parish Church
Built to serve Chinese Catholics, the St. Francis Xavier Parish Church, or Nha Tho Cha Tam, is a landmark in Cholon. Open daily and featuring a distinct architectural style, the church towers over the street. Less touristy than some of the temples, the church has become a peaceful oasis amongst the busy streets of Cholon.
Amongst the markets and temples, there are a few boutique hotels and hostels in Cholon. Providing excellent service to their guests, these accommodations are a great choice for travelers who want to stay overnight in this historic neighborhood. Cholon’s top accommodations are the Trung Mai Hotel, Tan Cuu Long Hotel, Hostel Cam Cam Kafe, and the Sao Mai 896 Hotel.
Trung Mai Hotel – Just down the road from the Quan Âm Pagoda is the Trung Mai Hotel. A modern hotel that is designed for both business and leisure, the Trung Mai is one of the most popular places to stay in Cholon. Amenities at the hotel include a 24-hour desk, free Wi-Fi, a car park, and room service. While room sizes vary, all of them come with a private bathroom and TV.
Tan Cuu Long Hotel – For travelers who want to stay close to the heart of the action, the Tan Cuu Long Hotel is just a few blocks away from Bình Tây Market. There are 38 rooms in total on the property and each comes with a TV, desk, AC, and internet access. Previous guests have given the Tan Cuu Long Hotel high ratings for its affordability and friendly staff.
Hostel Cam Cam Kafe – A rarity in the world of traveling, the Hostel Cam Cam Kafe is a haven for female travelers. Only hosting women, the hostel is arranged in a 2-bedroom apartment, which can be completely rented out for privacy. There is a kitchen, free daily breakfast, and the hostel is within walking distance of some of the area’s top attractions.
Sao Mai 896 Hotel – Affordable and in a great location, the Sao Mai 896 Hotel has private rooms, dormitories, and male-only capsules. Rooms come with Wi-Fi, a desk, a TV, and a refrigerator, meanwhile, the men-only capsules, are simply small pods with a bed. Guests staying in a capsule have access to shared spaces, like the open lounge. Family rooms are available.
In Cholon, there are dozens upon dozens of dining establishments. From restaurants to food stalls and carts, the neighborhood is known for its good food and authentic flavors. Many of the local restaurants are affordable and they serve a variety of Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. Aside from the stalls, Tan Nguyen Thai and Tien Phat Dim Sum are two popular restaurants in the area.
Food Stalls – Sometimes the best food in Cholon is not located at a typical restaurant. Throughout the Bình Tây Market and on the streets, there are numerous stalls selling fresh food. From noodles to dumplings, the area’s food stalls are quick, easy, and affordable. The best part is that the market tends to come to life at night, so dinnertime is a big deal for local vendors.
Tan Nguyen Thai – Rated amongst locals and foreigners as the “best dumplings” in Cholon, Tan Nguyen Thai is a small restaurant with a full menu. Featuring every kind of dumpling that one could ever imagine, the restaurant serves these delicacies steamed or pan-fried. Patrons at Tan Nguyen Thai will be able to try a variety of dumplings without breaking the bank.
Tien Phat Dim Sum – Larger than Tan Nguyen Thai, the Tien Phat Dim Sum Restaurant is nestled into the heart of Cholon. Serving dumplings, the two best fillings on the menu are pork and crab. The restaurant has been in operation for over 20 years and word has spread amongst international travelers that Tien Phat Dim Sum is one place you won’t want to miss.
Called Têt Nguyên Tiêu by the locals, the Lantern Festival is Cholon’s biggest celebration of the year. The festival is held on the 15th day of the first lunar month, and it is a time for the neighborhood to rejoice and honor its unique culture. Normally, the festival gets quite crowded as many locals and foreigners head to Cholon.
Common activities during the Lantern Festival are parades, lion dances, and musicals. Additionally, a special dessert, che troi nuoc, is only served during this time of year. All are welcome to join the celebrations and observe the holiday.
The best way for tourists to get around in Cholon is by walking because it allows you to see and experience more. While occasionally chaotic due to its narrow alleys and busy roads, it’s still easy to navigate. Most of Cholon’s attractions are within a small radius, many less than 10 minutes from each other, however, cyclos and taxis are available.
The best and most popular time for tourists to visit Cholon is during the dry season. In Southern Vietnam, the monsoon season, or wet season, tends to ease up after the summer and autumn months. So, winter and spring have become the peak tourist seasons.
Visitors in Cholon should plan to visit from December through March. During these months, there will be less rain and humidity to interfere with your daily activities. HCMC experiences a range of weather patterns, so being prepared before your trip will ensure that you can visit every attraction on your itinerary.
Few travelers know about the world’s largest Chinatown, but as Vietnam’s popularity grows, it is likely to become one of the country’s top destinations. Teeming with historic buildings and rich with culture, Cholon is a fun place to explore on a day or night time excursion.
Tourists can easily travel from HCMC to this tight-knit community, or they can spend the night in a local hotel. No matter how you plan your trip, you won’t want to miss out on seeing the marvelous Cholon.
Address: phường 11, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam