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Home Page> Attractions> The Southern Attraction> Saigon - Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon - Ho Chi Minh City

Like many cities in Vietnam, Saigon did not escape the wrath of war. Since the beginning, Saigon has had quite a traumatic history. There are many citations to the birth of Saigon and the origin of its name. In the 15th century, this area were swamps, marshes and thick forests. By the early 17th century, a small township was formed. According to one theory, Saigon or Sai Con has its root in a Khmer word Prei Kor (Kapok Tree Forest)....
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Like many cities in Vietnam, Saigon did not escape the wrath of war. Since the beginning, Saigon has had quite a traumatic history. There are many citations to the birth of Saigon and the origin of its name. In the 15th century, this area were swamps, marshes and thick forests. By the early 17th century, a small township was formed. According to one theory, Saigon or Sai Con has its root in a Khmer word Prei Kor (Kapok Tree Forest).

The name Saigon was used officially in 1698, when Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu sent Mr. Nguyen Huu Canh to this region to create various districts and to form a government for this southern outpost. Because of its strategic location for trade and commerce as well as military importance, Saigon continued to grow and became a bonafide city. By 1772, Mr. Nguyen Cuu Dam began to fill many of the canals to form streets.

In the mid 19th century, the French with the aid of the Spanish invaded this port city and destroyed the fort. This event was the precursor to the long struggle between the people of Vietnam and France leading to the historical defeat of the French in 1954. In the years after the defeat of the French, Vietnam was divided into two separate countries and Saigon became the hub of resettlement for many as people from north and central Vietnam immigrated south.

In the 60's and 70's, Saigon was bustling with commerce and business. It was the cultural center and the capital city of South Vietnam. Already heavily influenced by the French in terms of culture and style, the city had an air of a French provincial town with a Vietnamese twist. Saigon was dubbed the "Pearl of the Orient" by the foreign press. The city was alive with activities and cultural diversity that rivaled any Asian city at the time.

After the fall of South Vietnam to communism in 1975, the city and many of its inhabitants were in a state of chaos and turmoil. In 1976, the new government renamed the city Ho Chi Minh City and shut its door to the rest of the world. Although recognized world wide as Ho Chi Minh City, to the people of Vietnam, the city is still lovingly referred to as Saigon.
 
Saigon Map

Attractions

Reunification Palace

The Reunification Palace is beautiful in its ugliness, a 1960s monstrosity designed with the help of Soviet architects. Most people will remember the image of a North Vietnamese tank crashing through the gates on 30 April 1975 signifying the fall of Saigon. The tank still graces the front lawn. Rooms open to the public remain exactly as they were in 1975, showing where important meetings were held during the war, as well as some of the private quarters of the president and his family. Most fascinating are a series of underground tunnels housing a telecommunications centre.

Nam Ky Khoi Ngia, District 1
Tel: (08) 822 3652.
Opening hours: Daily 0730-1100 and 1300-1600.

War Remnants Museum

Formerly known as the Museum of American War Crimes, the name has been toned down so as not to offend its US visitors and is now the War Remnants Museum. This is not a museum for the sensitive as it houses instruments of torture and hundreds of photographs of atrocities committed during the 20th century and, in particular, the Vietnam War. Visitors cannot fail to be moved as the exhibits provide a context for a period of history many only know from old newsreels and Hollywood movies. At the front of the museum is a small collection of military hardware and, most interestingly, the mobile guillotine used by the French colonists to dispense justice throughout the country before World War II.

28 Vo Van Tan, District 3
Tel: (08) 930 5587.
Opening hours: Daily 0730-1145 and 1330-1715.
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Notre Dame Cathedral

The twin towers of Notre Dame Cathedral have been a familiar landmark in Ho Chi Minh City since the 1880s. In front of the cathedral in a small garden is a delicate statue of the Virgin Mary. The interior of the cathedral is rather plain, unlike most French cathedrals, with no stained glass but it is a cool escape from the heat outside.

Dong Khoi, District 1
Opening hours: No formal times.
 

Post Office

Across from the Notre Dame Cathedral, the vast Post Office was also built in the late 19th century in European style. The interior has hardly been touched since it was built and is dominated by a huge portrait of Ho Chi Minh. The building always seems busy but most people are just visitors rather than customers.

2 Cong Xa Paris, District 1
Tel: (08) 829 9615.
Opening hours: Daily 0630-2130.
 

Ho Chi Minh City Museum

Housed in the former building of the Government of Cochinchina, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum (formerly the Revolutionary Museum) contains artefacts, such as weapons, uniforms, medals and old photos, from the period of Communist struggle against the French and the Americans. Unfortunately, the exhibits are only labelled in Vietnamese but some are self-explanatory. Outside the museum is a collection of military hardware including a tank and a helicopter.

65 Ly Tu Trong, District 1
Tel: (08) 829 9743 or 829 9741.
Opening hours: Daily 0800-1600.

Historical Museum

Located just inside the entrance to the Botanical Gardens and Zoo, the Historical Museum houses a collection of artefacts covering the last 2000 years of Vietnamese history including items belonging to ancient cultures such as Dong Son, Oc Eo and Cham. The museum was built in 1929 and the collection assembled by the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient.

Nguyen Binh Khiem, District 1
Tel: (08) 829 8146.
Opening hours: Daily 0800-1120 and 1330-1620.

China town

Cholon is in District 5 and is a maze of narrow streets, bustling with people. Most of Vietnam’s ethnic Chinese live here and they are the largest single ethnic minority group in the country. Merchants began to settle in Cholon in the 1770s, although many ethnic Chinese fled the country in 1975.

The Thien Hau Pagoda is one of Cholon’s must-sees. It is dedicated to the goddess Thien Hau, protector of the sea. Photographers are spoilt for choice with the ornate decoration inside the pagoda and the statues of Thien Hau. It is popular with worshippers (the air is always heavy with the smell of incense) and there are regular festivals during the lunar calendar.

Binh Tay Market throngs with people from early morning and the gloomy, narrow walkways are crammed with consumer items and exotic foodstuffs. The sound of bargaining, quite often in Chinese rather than Vietnamese, and the calls of the vendors constantly fill the air. This is one of the best places to see the locals going about their daily lives.

Chua Ngoc Hoang (Jade Emperor Pagoda)

The Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of the most attractive pagodas in the city. Dedicated to various Chinese-Vietnamese divinities, in a mixture of Taoist and Buddhist styles, the pagoda houses numerous statues and delicate woodcarvings with intricate tiles on the roof.

Mai Thi Luu, District 3
Opening hours: No formal times.
Admission: Free; donations appreciated.

Giac Lam Pagoda

Located three kilometres (two miles) from Cholon, the Giac Lam Pagoda is believed to be the oldest pagoda in the city and is a calm place to visit. Families of the old and sick regularly go to the pagoda to pin supplications to the large bronze bell, in the belief that when it is rung the messages will be sent to the heavens above.

Lac Long Quan, District 11
Opening hours: No formal times.
Admission: Free; donations appreciated.

Thao Cam Vien (Zoo and Botanical Gardens)

The Botanical Gardens were established by the French in 1864 and once had the reputation of being some of the finest in Asia. Now, however, the area is just a pleasant one for a stroll in the heart of the city, among tropical plants and trees. The Zoo is not up to Western standards, with poor enclosures.

Nguyen Binh Khiem, District 1
Tel: (08) 829 3728.
Opening hours: Daily 0700-2000.

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