A few blocks northwest of the Botanical Gardens, the Jade Emperor Pagoda, or Chua Phuoc Hai, was built by the city’s Cantonese community at the beginning of the twentieth century. If you visit just one temple in town, make it this one, with its exquisite panels of carved gilt woodwork, and its panoply of weird and wonderful deities, both Taoist and Buddhist, beneath a roof that groans under the weight of dragons, birds and animals.

To the right of the tree-lined courtyard out front is a grubby pond whose occupants have earned the temple its alternative moniker of Tortoise Pagoda. Once over the threshold, look up and you’ll see Chinese characters announcing: “the only enlightenment is in Heaven” – though only after your eyes have adjusted to the fug of joss-stick smoke. A statue of the Jade Emperor lords it over the main hall’s central altar, sporting an impressive moustache, and he’s surrounded by a retinue of similarly moustached followers.

A rickety flight of steps in the chamber to the right of the main hall runs up to a balcony looking out over the pagoda’s elaborate roof. Set behind the balcony, a neon-haloed statue of Quan Am stands on an altar. Left out of the main hall, meanwhile, you’re confronted by Kim Hua, to whom women pray for fertility; judging by the number of babies weighing down the female statues around her, her success rate is high. The Chief of Hell resides in the larger chamber behind Kim Hua’s niche. Given his job description, he doesn’t look particularly demonic, though his attendants, in sinister black garb, are certainly equipped to administer the sorts of punishments depicted in the ten dark-wood reliefs on the walls before them.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Vietnam features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

That ever-growing travel wish list might be putting some pressure on your pocket – but there are plenty of destinations where you'll get more bang for your b…

11 Oct 2017 • Emma Gibbs camera_alt Gallery
Why Da Nang is Vietnam's new foodie hotspot

Why Da Nang is Vietnam's new foodie hotspot

Da Nang has long been missed off Vietnam’s well-trodden tourist trail. Those that do visit tend only to stop by for a day, spending their time basking on the…

10 Oct 2017 • Freya Godfrey insert_drive_file Article
The 20 best beaches in Vietnam

The 20 best beaches in Vietnam

With more than 2000 miles of coastline, Vietnam brims with secluded coves, white sands and waters fit for snorkelling. For days spent basking on sun-baked str…

22 Sep 2017 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook