The Burning Monk Memorial in Saigon
The burning monk memorial is the most powerful monument in all of Saigon. It commemorates the moment when a Vietnamese monk shocked the world with a single match.
On June 11, 1963, Thich Quang Duc set himself on fire – in protest to brutal government oppression.
Today, the monument stands on the very spot of his self-immolation.
We highly recommend visiting this site for its beauty, historical importance, and personal impact. But be warned, it’s also very moving and quite sad too.
The memorial honors the noble sacrifice of a genuine martyr, but that sacrifice was gruesome and haunting. And you’ll be standing exactly where it happened.
Visit with care. This may affect your mood far more than typical sightseeing.The burning monk memorial is the most powerful monument in all of SaigonClick To Tweet
Background of the Burning Monk’s Sacrifice
From 1954-1963, Vietnam was led by Ngo Dinh Diem, a staunch Catholic. Although 70-90% of the country was Buddhist, Catholics controlled the government, military, and most of the wealth.
Buddhists were savagely oppressed in many ways. Property was seized, villages were ransacked, people starved, and some were shot in the streets.
After other forms of protest had failed, Thich Quang Duc decided to make the ultimate sacrifice. He wanted the world to know of the horrors faced by Vietnamese Buddhists and bring them to an end.
Malcome Browne captured the moment in perhaps the most famous photo of the period – titled simply “burning monk.”
Pictures of the sacrifice were published by the AP. The tragic self-immolation quickly became world news and led to the fall of the oppressive regime a few months later.
Shrine of The Burning Monk Memorial
Thich Quang Duc’s super-human calm is even more legendary than his selfless sacrifice. This is beautifully portrayed in the sculpture. The flames engulf him. The agony must have been intense, but his expression is the essence of serenity.
Amazingly, this is true, not just the creative license of the sculptor. You can see his calm face in the photo. And eyewitness accounts say the same.
American journalist, David Halberstam was there on that fateful day. In his book The Making of a Quagmire, he gave this description of the scene.
“Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think … As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.”
The Burning Monk Video
We’ve seen the video on YouTube, and that’s exactly what happened.
He just sat in the lotus position and burned for several minutes. He was silent and motionless as he died and his body fell over.
(Another word of caution: It is an extraordinary video, but it’s the real thing. It shows his death. You can’t un-see something like that.)
The Relief Sculpture
The relief sculpture behind the shrine visually depicts the context for the event.
On the left, it shows scenes of brutality and the oppression of Buddhists.
In the middle, it shows Thich Quang Duc enveloped by flames. The sculpted image is almost a perfect copy of the photo.
On the right, it shows the positive effects of his sacrifice. People are liberated and freed from oppression.
The Burning Monk Memorial is open all day, but we suggest visiting at night. It’s much more beautiful and poignant in the dark.
Also, our mood after visiting is pretty reflective and somber. We prefer this to be the last activity of the day.
It’s a public monument. There is no entrance fee.
The monument is at the intersection “Cach Mang Thang Tam” Street and “Nguyen Dinh Chieu” Street. That’s in District 3 of Ho Chi Minh City, about a 20-minute walk from the tourist area of District 1.
Samantha SparrowPosted at 04:25h, 23 March
This was such an amazing history lesson for me, I don’t know too much about this part of the world. It’s good to hear the context of famous monuments, and it sounds like Thich Quang Duc made the ultimate sacrifice. I do believe visiting would affect your mood, but it is a beautiful statue.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 04:33h, 23 March
Hi Samantha. That’s true. He’s been an inspiration to many.
GenevaPosted at 08:11h, 23 March
This is such a powerful sculpture after having read the history behind it! What a noble and heart wrenching thing to do for your people. Amazing.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 08:22h, 23 March
Hi Geneva. Youre right it is heart wrenching.
SaharPosted at 09:18h, 23 March
That was a sad incident and heartbreaking to know he had to sacrifice his life for the rights. Governments ignore many rights of people to remain in power and become wealthy.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 09:22h, 23 March
Hey Sahar. Yes it’s sad that it still happens.
SuzannePosted at 09:31h, 23 March
Self-immolation is not for the faint hearted, that’s for sure. Halberstam’s description of the event also rests heavily on the mind. The history behind the sculpture is very powerful. I am glad you took the time to understand it and so understand Vietnam better.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 09:33h, 23 March
Hi Suzanne. The history is quite moving and heavy for sure.
Kristen MorrisPosted at 10:58h, 23 March
Incredible- I got chills just looking at the pictures of the memorial, seeing it in person must be so intense and powerful. I remember seeing pictures of the burning monk in my school history books, it’s an important act that must not be forgotten
The Travel NinjasPosted at 10:59h, 23 March
Hi Kristen. Yes, in person, its very touching, especially standing at the very spot.
MaggiePosted at 11:10h, 23 March
Wow! What an honor it must have been to see this in person. The history here is just amazing. He made the ultimate sacrifice!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 11:11h, 23 March
Hey Maggie. It does boggle the mind how he managed it.
AbbyPosted at 11:38h, 23 March
Oppression is a part of history. Have read so much about it since it’s happened in so many places, even my country. But I haven’t heard of Thich Quang Duc before. He looked so serene while burning. That image will be difficult to ever replace.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 11:44h, 23 March
Hey Abby. Yes, once you see it. It stays with you.
Andrea BroomPosted at 12:02h, 23 March
There is a large part of oppression in history and have read a lot. I have heard about this. It must have been an incredible, honoring experience.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 12:11h, 23 March
Hi Andrea. Youre right it was.
SavannahPosted at 12:24h, 23 March
I’m in awe! What a truly amazing yet very sad story. Thank you for sharing this part of history I’m sure so many people have yet to learn. Hopefully one day I could visit this monument. I’m sure it will be breathtaking.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 12:33h, 23 March
Hi Savannah. This monument inspired awe in us too.
Doreen PendgracsPosted at 14:19h, 23 March
I have learned so much about Saigon from your posts! I will not watch the video, as I’m sure I will find it too disturbing. But I would be interested in seeing the Burning Monk Memorial.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 14:22h, 23 March
Hi Doreen. That’s a good choice. It is, but the memorial is quite inspiring.
UrviPosted at 15:26h, 23 March
I have heard a lot about burning monk but never read such detail about it. The video which you have attached in the post is breathtaking. I know he did sacrifice for his people but I really feel sad. But I will still be interested to visit this memorial and learn about it more.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 15:33h, 23 March
Hi Urvi. We feel the same. He’s heroic, but the situation is tragic.
SushmitaPosted at 16:27h, 23 March
Wasn’t aware of it, you have introduced us to the history of the incident and the place well. Thank you for the information.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 16:33h, 23 March
Hi Sushmita. You’re welcome. This memorial was very meaningful for us.
EmmaPosted at 18:39h, 23 March
How horrific – I just watched the video and was amazed my his calmness and composure throughout his death – what a brave and courageous way to stand up for oppression. I bet the experience to the shrine was very moving and thought provoking
The Travel NinjasPosted at 18:44h, 23 March
Hi Emma. It is very thought provoking. There are also some benches nearby to sit on.
Esse DPosted at 19:15h, 23 March
I was actually moved by just reading the background here. I would be interested in visiting, but I’ll definitely be affected being in the place where it happened.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 19:22h, 23 March
Hi Esse. True it requires some preparation.
Amber MyersPosted at 19:56h, 23 March
Oh wow, how powerful. I remember hearing about this story. I can’t watch the video though, it would squeeze my heart.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 20:00h, 23 March
Hey Amber. Good choice. It’s a tough one to watch.
JeanPosted at 20:26h, 23 March
I remember learning about this in history classes. The video is haunting. I had no idea that there was a memorial in Saigon for this. Thank you for the wonderful article.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 20:27h, 23 March
Hey Jean. Yes the memorial is not that well known.
Author Brandi KennedyPosted at 20:29h, 23 March
I’ve heard his story before – it breaks my heart. But his strength of will must have been astonishing – he looked almost peaceful despite how terribly painful it must have been.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 20:33h, 23 March
Hi Brandi. It is an incredible feat of human will. His internal strength is unimaginable.
PayastylePosted at 20:50h, 23 March
You are so lucky you got the chance to see it in person!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 20:55h, 23 March
Hi Payastyle. We do feel lucky for sure.
Elizabeth O.Posted at 22:38h, 23 March
It’s such a stunning video, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I watched. It’s also enlightening. A man can do that for the love of his country. Amazing! And yet here we are abusing the kind of freedom these people have sacrificed for.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 22:39h, 23 March
Hi Elizabeth. He is an amazing example of devotion.
Carol CassaraPosted at 22:40h, 23 March
That’s really amazing, it’s so powerful and moving as well. I never saw anyone that calm, his face was definitely filled with peace at that time. I would love to visit the place where it all happened.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 22:41h, 23 March
Hi Carol. His self control was incredible.
yvettePosted at 23:19h, 23 March
Oh wow! This article is so amazing. Thank your for giving all that historical context to the location, and that image and quote by the journalist is just unbelievable. I can not imagine. I love reading about historical travel destinations like this.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 23:22h, 23 March
Hey Yvette. Us too. Knowing the historical background really improves travel.
RebeccaPosted at 23:43h, 23 March
Wow, such a powerful sculpture. I’ve read about Thigh Quang Duc but had forgotten the full story so thank you for sharing. I also didn’t realize this sculpture existed.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 23:44h, 23 March
Hey Rebecca. Yes, many aren’t aware of it. It doesn’t get much attention.
blair villanuevaPosted at 02:28h, 24 March
Wow your story creates some goosebumps on me. I hope that the latest generation will value this sacrifice and not to turn to waste.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 02:33h, 24 March
Hi Blair. He is very highly revered today in Vietnam.
Anmaria Djong I OnelazychicPosted at 03:23h, 24 March
I can’t even bring myself to look at the video as I think I would be too sad and disturbed. What a great sacrifice he made and I hope the history will teach many people the lesson.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 03:33h, 24 March
Hi Anmaria. His sacrifice was very great. We too hope the lesson is well learned.
SarahPosted at 05:30h, 24 March
Skipped the video; my heart is too weak to take it. Not that I wouldn’t want to visit the Burning Monk monument next time, but visiting the war museum when I was there already sucked the energy and cheerfulness in me. It was that sad and depressing that someone and people in that time had to go through all that loss and pain.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 05:33h, 24 March
Hi Sarah. That’s a good point. The other war related site can be difficult to process too.
OtiliaPosted at 06:39h, 24 March
It must’ve been such an honor to see them in person.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 06:42h, 24 March
Hi Otilia. It was definitely an inspiration.
SisterChronixPosted at 09:10h, 24 March
Wow… Words fall short, but thank you for this post. Very touched, and very inspired. The burning monk offering himself for the people, reminds us of one of our favourite sayings, “we are all in this together”.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 09:11h, 24 March
Hi SisterChronix. We felt the same way. We are all in this together.
nehaPosted at 10:08h, 24 March
I don’t know how exactly to react to this. My intension is not to hurt anyone’s sentiments. But these kind of things should be put to a stop is what I feel. There are many other ways a monk can contribute to the well being of fellow human beings. Burning himself just doesn’t seem right to me
The Travel NinjasPosted at 10:11h, 24 March
Hey Neha. Yes, I wouldn’t want anyone do this.
Heather @TravelationshipPosted at 11:33h, 24 March
Important post! Great job on relaying the history and stressing the importance to visit this memorial.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 11:34h, 24 March
Hi Heather. We think the history is important.
Nadine Smith (Scenes From Nadine)Posted at 14:18h, 24 March
This is a really great and powerful post. Even before you talked about how calm he is while he was being burned alive, I already noticed that and thought “Oh my god, how can he look this peaceful?!” I can imagine how extremely painful that is! I mean, I burn my finger with a curling iron, and I’m already swearing in pain! My husband and I watched the video together (I didn’t want to watch alone) and I was even more amazed. It happened so fast!!! And yet, I can only imagine how excruciating those few minutes were, and he was still so serene!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 14:22h, 24 March
Hi Nadine. Yes the thought is horrifying. His serenity is incredible.
Ree love30Posted at 14:46h, 24 March
Wow it has such history and how gorgeous to look at.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 14:55h, 24 March
Hi Ree. Yes, the artwork itself is beautiful.
Terri BeaversPosted at 18:24h, 24 March
I’ve never heard of this memorial before. I do love history so this would be something I’d be interested in visiting.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 18:33h, 24 March
Hi Terri. We found the history fascinating too.
Global Girl TravelsPosted at 21:27h, 24 March
What a powerful means of protest! And it’s good that his death was not in vain as it had something good out of it. The amount of resilience he had to not even move an inch given how much pain he must have been in was beyond words can describe. I’d be honest though, I didn’t watch the video because I’m sure I’ll be haunted by the image forever. But it was nice of you to open us up to this part of Vietnam’s history.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 21:30h, 24 March
Hi Global Girl. Yes, it was a very powerful protest. Unimaginably so.
Cynthia NicolettiPosted at 21:32h, 24 March
I haven’t heard of this story and could not watch the video. Malcome Browne was surely a brave man. His life lives on in the beautiful statues portrayed of him.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 21:33h, 24 March
Hi Cynthia. Thich Quang Duc’s story does live on at his memorial. He’s revered figure in Vietnam.
ChrisPosted at 09:22h, 25 March
Such an incredible moment in history (it truly is an iconic, if horrifying image) captured beautifully in that monument.
My big fear is of people these days taking ‘selfies’ of themselves at such a reflective location!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 09:23h, 25 March
Hi Chris. We agree that would be terrible.
Ruth I.Posted at 13:56h, 25 March
The story is really interesting. Thank you for writing it beautifully. I love history of things and people. great to know this and pick up lessons.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 13:59h, 25 March
Hey Ruth. Thanks Ruth glad you liked the post.
jenPosted at 15:03h, 25 March
Oh my goodness, what a lesson in history! What an amazing place to visit!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 15:11h, 25 March
Hi Jen. That’s how we feel too.
Ana De- JesusPosted at 07:59h, 26 March
Words cannot describe the pain I felt when I watched the video. Not just because this man had voluntarily burned himself but also because of what it represented. The brutality that the Buddhists faced was I am ashamed to admit not something I was aware of but what a brave , selfless gesture this man did to protect his people and to show the government that they would never be erased no matter how brutally they were treated x
The Travel NinjasPosted at 08:00h, 26 March
Hi Ana. So well said. It was so tragic.
Sandy N VyjayPosted at 10:46h, 26 March
The original picture and the video brought goosebumps on my body. The entire scene was shocking. The memorial is indeed an exact replica of the original incident.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 10:55h, 26 March
Hi Sandy N Vyjay. Yes the memorial is very tasteful and very well done.
Abhinav SinghPosted at 04:17h, 27 March
I have read so many articles on Vietnam but somehow I never came across this monument. The back story of this place is poignant. It makes me reflective and contemplative.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 04:22h, 27 March
Hey Abhinav. Thats true for us too. We just sat for a while to consider it all.
CourtneyLynnePosted at 22:52h, 27 March
Omg now that must of been awesome to see!!! So much history behind it!!!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 23:00h, 27 March
Hi Courtney. Yes it was really impressive.
Siddharth and ShrutiPosted at 02:59h, 30 March
Such a powerful sculpture. Haunting! Definitely an non-touristy thing to do. Not for the faint hearted.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 03:00h, 30 March
Hi Siddharth and Shruti. That’s true it is a very powerful sculpture.