Thien Hau temple was built in 1760 by Chinese immigrants from Guangzhou. It has undergone several restorations. The pagoda is located in the Cho Lon Chinatown district in central Ho Chi Minh City. The main god worshiped in this temple is Thien Hau Thanh Mau, the Lady of the Sea.
Thien Hau is an important deity in China’s southern provinces and some overseas Chinese communities. This temple has a tenuous connection to the story of Jumbo Floating Restaurant and its presumed demise.
The Legend of Thien Hau Thanh Mau (Mazu)
The legend arises from Lam Mac Nuong who was born in China’s Fujian Province on March 23, 1044. She became a Taoist nun when she was eleven years old and attained the highest level in Taoism at a very young age.
One day, her father and two older brothers were transporting salt to Giang Tay by boat. On the way, the boat encountered a storm. Lam Mac Nuong was at home weaving with her mother, but she had a vision of the calamity and her soul went out to save her father and brothers. She used her teeth to hold onto her father’s coat and her hands held her brothers. Unfortunately, the story goes, when her mother called her, she opened her mouth to answer and her father was swept away. The brothers were saved.
Thereafter, every time a boat was in distress at sea people in the region called upon Lam Mac Nuong. She must have had other successes because in 1110, the Song Dynasty ordained Lam Mac Nuong as Thien Hau Thanh Mau.
When Chinese from the southern provinces emigrated to Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries, most came by sea. They prayed to Thien Hau Thanh Mau to keep them safe on their voyages. Upon reaching their destinations, they set up temples to thank Mazu for protecting them on their voyages.
Thien Hau Thanh Mau Temple
The temple is a complex of four houses that are said to form the Chinese character khau (口). There are three main halls. The halls face a courtyard called “thien tinh” (the heaven well or sky well), which supplies light and ventilation for the entire pagoda.
A big incense burner and a big incense holder are located in the heaven well.
Three statues of Lady Thien Hau are located in the main hall which is called Thien Hau Cung.
Dozens of coiled incense cones are suspended over the main worship area in front of the altar of Thien Hau. Worshippers and visitors can purchase these cones, attach their names, and have them hung from the ceiling of the temple. The rising smoke carries their prayers to Mazu.
The festival of Thien Hau is celebrated at the temple on the 23rd day of the 3rd month of Lunar year. It is reputed to be one of the most popular Chinese festivals in Vietnam.
Thien Hau Temple
Location: 710 Đ. Nguyễn Trãi, Phường 11, Quận 5, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh
Open: 6 AM – 11:30AM, 1PM – 4:30PM
Entrance fee: Free
Dress code: simple and respectful (jeans and a T-shirt are appropriate attire for men and women)
This temple is well worth seeing if you are in Ho Chi Minh City. But you don’t have to go to Vietnam to seek the assistance of Mazu. There are Thien Hau temples in Los Angeles, CA and Austin, TX and maybe other U.S. cities and locations in other countries as well.
Mazu is well known in Hong Kong. She should have been appealed to for protection prior to the doomed attempt to tow Jumbo Floating Restaurant from Hong Kong to Cambodia. Despite several internet searches, I have not been able to find any information about Jumbo’s ultimate fate. If somehow Jumbo survived capsizing, Mazu does indeed work miracles.