The Demon’s Triangle Tree

There is an ancient saying in Vietnamese: Thần cây đa, ma cây gạo, cú cáo cây đề.

This is literally translated as: (There are) gods in the banyan trees, ghosts in the cotton trees, (and spirits of) owls and foxes in the fig trees.

Obviously, the commonalities within this ancient saying are (1) otherworldly beings, and (2) trees, but why are gods, demons, and ghosts tied to trees?

Well…there are many, many stories about haunted trees all over the world. Let me tell you about one of the more famous ones from the southern region of Vietnam, not too far from where I was born.

Its name is Da Sà and it is located within what is known as the Demon’s Triangle.

Demon’s Triangle

The Demon’s Triangle Banyan Tree, Sài Gòn, VN

Deep in the heart of noisy, bustling Sài Gòn, There is an ancient banyan tree called Da Sà. It is over 300-years-old (actually, we don’t know its exact age, but it was already a full-grown tree over 300-years ago). It has five massive trunk roots that stick out like trunks on a hulking body covered with gnarled twisted roots that resembled limbs.

During the day, Da Sà looks a tad bit spooky. At night, it is downright terrifying.

This tree takes root in the middle of a small park and wedges itself into an area that is roughly triangular in shape. The area is called the Demon’s Triangle.

The Demon’s Triangle is part of a park that has had many names, but its most recent name is Bách Tùng Diệp. It is anchored by the People’s Court of HCM City, the Sài Gòn Grand Library, and directly faces the Governor’s Palace (now the Revolutionary Museum).

Now, I’m not saying that all Banyan trees are haunted (they are), but this one has a special history.

Da Sà is the sole banyan tree still alive from the grove of banyans that used to grow in profusion in and around this area which was once called ‘đất của đa’, meaning Banyan Territory. [4]

In the years between 1885 and 1886, the French took over Sài Gòn and cleared the area by cutting down the entire banyan forest to build the Palace of the Governor.

Since this banyan forest was, in reality, a single tree with many prop roots, in an attempt to save Da Sà, the people of Sài Gòn began to spread rumors (whether truth or not, I don’t know) that this one particular tree was a sacred banyan tree.

They told the French authorities that this banyan tree was the home of many souls of the dead, and it would be these very souls who would protect the tree. Many attested that there were hundreds of thousands of wandering and helpless spirits who were attracted to this very tree, making it one of the most haunted spots in the city.

Something disturbing must have happened, because the French never touched the sacred tree. Nevertheless, all other trees surrounding it were cut down to make room for development, leaving a single banyan remaining in place. 

Sài Gòn 1953. The banyan tree can be seen here, directly across the street from the Governor’s Mansion.

It was at this point, circa 1885 to 1890, that the Governor’s Palace, the Court House, and the Library was built. And right dab smack in the middle of these three buildings was the single lone banyan tree Da Sà that could not be touched.


Imagine, if you will, an open courtyard which faces this ancient banyan tree, where executions are carried out on a regular basis.

You actually don’t even have to imagine it because I’ve posted a picture of this very courtyard for your viewing pleasure. This is the People’s Court of Sài Gòn. [1]

The People’s Court, Sài Gòn, VN

Since the court was a place that handed down decisions of executions, once the Court opened its doors, the executions began. During its long existence spanning many centuries, there were hundreds of thousands of criminals and POWs who were judged guilty.

Those who had been judged guilty and sentenced to death would be sent outside and summarily executed in the middle of the street.

Once the executions began, so did the sightings.

It is said that on dark murky nights, dozens and dozens of white shadows would appear around the root of the banyan tree crying and wailing. It would scare the locals living around the area, as well as the judges themselves.

Things got so bad that before each trial, the judges, in their red Việt phục (ancient Viet robes) would sneak across the street before the trials, lit incense and prayed for a smooth trial in front of the sacred banyan tree.

Day after day, for hundreds of years, blood literally spilled on the street in front of the People’s Court House. And during all those executions, this tree stood as a living witness to all the hapless souls who died right outside in front of the court house.

When one of the eight judges at the Supreme Court was assassinated with a hand grenade, the sacred story of the ancient banyan tree became even more elaborate.

The mysterious death of Judge Nguyễn Văn Bông (a professor at Saigon Law School, now the University of Economics) has not yet been solved. 

However, it is rumored that Mr. Bông had been vehemently opposed to the idea of all the judges burning incense and praying to the banyan tree before the trial. It was, he argued, proof that the law was not based on law and justice but rather on superstition.

After Mr. Bông’s assassination, those who were previously affected by his opposition to the sanctity of the old banyan tree had the opportunity to fabricate that Mr. Bong had been justly punished by the banyan tree.

But it wasn’t just the Court House that was deeply affected. Remember, Da Sà faces three different buildings.

It is also said that the Governor’s Palace is haunted.

Banyan Open-Air Mortuary

As the series of arrests and upheavals continued within the Governor’s Palace and the Court House, the deaths continued to mount.

Sightings began to occur and the locals started making nightly visits to Da Sà tree to burn incense, offer food to the hungry ghosts, and pay their respects to the dead.

Some of the more entrepreneurial ones also began asking the spirits and demons to give them lucky numbers which would then be used to make bets on lotteries.

Alongside being front and center of the frequent executions of criminals, the locals began to use the tree as a temporary depository of dead bodies––an open-air mortuary of sorts. All the corpses that were found in and around the surrounding areas that had no one to claim them, would be dragged to the base of the tree and left there for the authorities to deal with.

This is not as uncommon as you think.

There are places, such as Bali, where the dead are left under the protection of a banyan tree and allowed to decompose in the open due to the fact that, for some reason, the bodies do not give off the stench of death when placed there. [3]

Since Da Sà faced both the very dignified front gates of the Court House and the stately Governor’s Palace, the bodies could not be allowed to stay there for long. The authorities would haul them away and then either some kind-hearted samaritan would spend the money to have them decently buried, or they would be summarily thrown into a large mass grave and covered up.

Haunted Palace

Dome of the Governor’s Palace

The locals say the Palace is haunted. They say Da Sà has cursed the place, making it impossible for any governor to stay at the palace for very long.  This seems to hold some truth since the Governor’s Palace has constantly changed hands since it was open.

Between 1892 to 1911, a total of 14 French governors tried to make their home there. [1] That’s 14 governors in 19 years!

On March 9, 1945, Then-French Governor Ernest Thimothée Hoeffel was arrested by the Japanese, who gave the building to then-Japanese Governor Yoshio Minoda.

Governor Yoshio Minoda moved into the mansion and used it as his residence, but only a few months later, he had to hand it over to Mr. Nguyễn Văn Sâm who was the Ambassador to the South.

Ambassador Sâm stayed for exactly 11 days, when the Việt Minh robbed the then-government of Trần Trọng Kim on August 25, 1945. Nguyễn Văn Sâm was arrested along with his associate Hồ Văn Ngà and placed on house-arrest within the palace.

The Governor’s Palace circa 1930.

Following all this upheaval, it was used by General Paul Ely as his headquarters until 1955, when the former South Vietnam President Ngô Đình Diệm turned it into a Vietnamese White House, where government officials worked and visiting dignitaries and ambassadors met.

On February 27, 1962, President Ngô Đình Diệm’s residence was bombed so he moved himself and his family into the Vietnamese White House while his residence was being rebuilt.

His stay was brief, as he and his brother were assassinated in 1963.

After that, between 1964 – 1965, the palace was used as the Palace of the Vice President, but even he did not last long, as ancient ghosts continued to harass him.

Once the VP moved out, it turned into the HQ for the Supreme Court of the Republic of Vietnam and used as office space until April 30, 1975 when regime changed hands.

It then languished, unused and empty for 3 years until it was finally turned into a Museum in 1978.

To this day, no one lives there. It is now called the Museum of the City of Ho Chi Minh and continues to be a museum (more like a house for the ghosts and spirits to reside, if you ask me). [2]

Hauntings Today

To this day, the hauntings continue.

All the locals know both the museum and the court house are haunted. During the day, when the hustle and bustle of daily life commences, things appear normal. But once the sun slips below the Sài Gòn skyline, the hungry ghosts come out to play.

People still talk about the numerous white shadows that would appear around the root of the banyan tree, especially around the witching hours of midnight to 3 AM. They also talk about the red-robed spectres.

Judges nowadays wear black robes. The red-robed judges of the superior court existed hundreds of years ago. And yet, the shadows of long-dead red-robed judges kneeling under the old banyan tree praying to the deceased can often be seen, even to this very day.

  1. People’s Court of Sài Gòn
  2. Museum of the City of HCM
  3. Bali’s open-air burials endure despite COVID-19 crisis
  4. đất của đa


2 thoughts on “The Demon’s Triangle Tree

Add yours

  1. This comes as a great article you have put out here.

    Allow me to see if I understand the important points of your post here.

    This article is a fascinating and spooky read! It’s interesting to learn about the history and legends surrounding the ancient banyan tree in Sài Gòn.

    Thank you very much,


  2. Hi Debbie. Thank you. I’m happy that you enjoyed my article. I just put out another one about another banyan tree in the town of Ba Chúc. Please check it out.


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