Le Phat Dan is one of the most important celebrations for Buddhists. The wonderful Thanh Dinh Ward of Saigon’s District 1 is one of my favourite parts of one of my favourite cities.
The banks of the Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal has to be one of the most picturesque areas of the city. Normally it is an oasis of green and almost calm, in the manic concrete jungle that we call home. But every year at the start of May, it bursts into colour as the Buddhist temples along both banks of the canal decorate the streets for a two kilometre stretch. This is Le Phat Dan, the most holy of Buddhist festivals. This is Buddha’s Birthday, the equivalent of Christmas in the Buddhist calendar.
The temples like Chua Hai Duc on Truong Sa and Chua Van Tho on the opposite bank, Hoang Sa, are resplendent with bunting and flags. The colours are amazing and compliment the greenery of the area magnificently. Le Phat Dan is a very happy the for Buddhists but also a solemn time for reflection. Banners adorn the local temples, exclaiming Kinh Mung Phat Dan, roughly translated as Hail Buddha’s Birthday.
Le Phat Dan certainly brings out the colour in this area
The canal front is always buzzing, but Le Phat Dan brings a whole new vibrancy to the area. I love this part of town. I am staying here for a couple of months flat sitting for a friend who has gone to Australia. It is a great place to live. The bars, restaurants, street side barbecues and coffee shops are among the best in the city. The local Banh Mi are the best I have ever eaten and the place has a great “buzz” about it.
Only a decade ago this area was a real mess. Human effluent, pouring directly in from the houses on ether side poisoned the canal for years. The whole area was improved beyond belief by a huge government clean-up These days, the canal is packed with fish.
Along the Canal-front the loc,al government have provided plenty of exercise equipment for use by the locals. At any time the day or evening many people avail themselves of the exercise machines. It all makes for a uniquely “Asian” experience. The sights, sounds and smells here are unlike anything in the West. Le Phat Dan is a special time, this is Saigon, this is Vietnam.