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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Chinatown

 Saigon, Vietnam

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

Steve, our English speaking guide from Compass Living 

We heard about Saigon's Chinatown and wanted to make a visit. We asked Steve, the tour guide at Compass Living Parkview, if he could arrange a trip there for us.

The Vietnamese call their Chinatown "Cholon" which basically means "Big Market." Cholon became a city in 1879, and by the 1930s it pressed against the city limit of Saigon proper. In 1931 the two cities were merged and by 1956 the name "Cholon" was dropped from the maps, but people still refer to the area by that name.

There is a mystique about Chinatown

Cholon is Vietnam's largest Chinatown and during the Vietnam War, soldiers and deserters from the US Army maintained a booming black market here. They traded in various American products especially US Army issue items and supplies.

Chinese fruit vendors in non la cone hats

Not only is Cholon Vietnam's largest Chinatown, it's probably the largest Chinatown in the world.

The Chinese began to settle the area in the early 1900s and they have never quite assimilated with the rest of Saigon which causes a bit of resentment among the Vietnamese community.  

 

A Chinese herb shop

This man is making identical herb packets. When we took a closer look, there were bits of this, that and all the other. Orange rinds, tree bark, bird's nests, seeds, dried oddities and more.

Not only is Cholon a bustling commercial center, it is a maze of temples, restaurants, jade jewelry and medicine shops like the one above.

Chinese writing on pillars inside pagoda

During the French Colonial period, Cholon was filled with brothels and dark, exotic opium dens. These were the same opium dens and houses of ill repute that greeted American troops during the Vietnam war. A huge number of US troops went AWOL in Cholon during the war, and when the fall of Saigon was imminent, US expeditionary forces advertised a period of amnesty for these US citizens.

Apparently only one dazed soldier came stumbling out of the clutches of this lifestyle.

Prayer sheets in pagoda

These days the dens are gone, even if there are still brothels in the underground world.

We decided to visit the pagodas instead.

Incense urn

In the front of the pagodas in Chinatown you can purchase oversized bundles of incense the size of a large flashlight. This gives you plenty of incense sticks to place in front of the various altars and in the incense urns. This particular pagoda is Thien Hau. It's considered a "working temple" which means that the place is busy day and night with visitors making offerings.

Lighting my incense

Here I am lighting my incense sticks using one of the candles on the altar. Notice the red prayer sheets on the left in the photo.

Thien Hau pagoda is named after the Goddess of the Sea, and was established in the mid 18th century. The Chinese community tended to be made up of merchants and seafarers who were grateful for her protection on their ocean voyages.

In the late 1970s many of the Chinese community fled Vietnam in small boats following China's invasion of Northern Vietnam. This temple's significance was reinforced during this time.

Conical shaped incense

This man lights the end of a cone shaped incense which burns for hours and hours. The pagoda is filled with them.

Incense, incense everywhere

If this were outside on the streets it might be considered pollution, but inside the pagoda, incense burns everywhere, carrying wishes and prayers to the heavens.

This young woman is wearing the traditional au dai dress of Vietnam. This dress is called au yai or au dai, depending on if you are from northern or southern Vietnam.

Traditional beauty

Posing in their native costumes with a row of incense nearby.

One of the many altars inside Thien Hau pagoda

This is a typical altar with offerings of fruit, lit candles, flowers and prayer strips. The bowl on the lower left is filled with oil. One can purchase all sorts of devotional supplies at the front of the pagoda including a bottle of this oil. Then one can "donate" to various altars inside the pagoda, dribbling oil in assorted containers.

 

Another side of Chinatown

Some lively paper mache dragon heads including mine! In Chinese astrology, I'm a dragon, so I fit right in with my relatives here.

Luscious fabrics

Chinatown also had a great assortment of fabric shops that sold the specialty fabric used for au dais. They are hand painted, embroidered, beaded and/or laced. Luscious stuff. 

Cha Tam Church

Cha Tam is Chinatown's Catholic church. Its main significance lies in the fact that in December, 1963, the devoutly Catholic South Vietnamese President, Ngo Dinh Diem, took refuge here after having fled from Gia Long Palace through a series of underground tunnels. He was captured and murdered by members of his own military in an event considered crucial in the unraveling of South Vietnam. It was after this murder that there was an increased US involvement in the war.

The tunnels that Diem and his brother used to flee the palace are an elaborate network complete with bunkers and reach as far as the Reunification Palace. They made their way to the perceived safety of Cha Tam Church but to no avail and they met their deaths.

Diem was buried in an unmarked grave not far from the US ambassador's residence.

Binh Tay market

The Binh Tay market at the centre of Chinatown and is busy, crowded and messy. Small aisles offer all manner of goods. Its size, which is much larger than that of Ben Thanh, makes it the largest market in the city. Inside, instead of shops for single purchases, stalls cater to those looking to buy in bulk. In fact, many Vietnamese who operate stalls at markets in other parts of the city come here to buy their supplies.

Dragon in a pond

The origin of the Chinese dragon is not certain. The presence of dragons within Chinese culture dates back several thousands of years and these dragons traditionally symbolize potent and promising powers, particularly control over water, rainfall, hurricane, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for people who are worthy of it.

In Chinese daily language, excellent and outstanding people are compared to a dragon, while people with no achievements are compared with other, lowly creatures such as a worm.

In today's culture, the dragon is mostly used for decorative purposes, but it is still forbidden to disfigure a depiction of a dragon.

For more stories and photos of Vietnam, click here

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About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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