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Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City
A City with Two Names
There are many stories regarding the origin of Saigon’s name. One theory is that Saigon ties back to a Khmer word which meant “Kapok Tree Forest”. In Khmer folklore, southern Vietnam was given to the Vietnamese government as a dowry for the marriage of a Vietnamese princess to a Khmer prince in order to stop invasions of Khmer villages. One thing is clear, history shows that this region was swampland before the 1700’s when a mayor decided to fill many of the canals in order to form streets. It then became a strategic location for trade and commerce and began to have military importance as well.
In the 1900’s the Spanish helped the French invade the city
and this began the long struggle between Vietnam and France. During
this time, Saigon underwent a huge building boom and it was often
referred to as the “Pearl of the Orient” and more than
10% of its citizens were French.
Once France was finally defeated in 1954, Vietnam was divided into two separate countries and Saigon became a central locale for people resettling from the north and central areas of Vietnam.
This also began a period of significant growth for Saigon in commerce and expansion. America later began another tumultuous chapter in Vietnam’s history with the Vietnam War. After America withdrew, then in 1976 Saigon officially became “Ho Chi Minh City”, though it is still referred to as Saigon, by both foreigners and Vietnamese.
The European cultural influence still shows prominently in architecture. The distinct blend is evident as one walks the city and encounters many coffee houses with a distinct French flavor.
Today, Saigon is a growing blend of Socialist government and a
controlled capitalist market. Signs of significant growth are everywhere
and business people plying their trade are an increasingly common
sight. Unlike other cities in Vietnam, Saigon is very active at
Local restaurants and music halls host sellout crowds and stay open late into the night.
Spots to see
Ben Thanh market has been one of Saigon's most famous landmarks which have been in existence since France invaded the fort city. The original market was on the shores of Ben Nghe river and was the spot for merchants and soldiers to land. In 1859, when the French invaded Saigon and overtook the fort and Ben Thanh Market was destroyed. It was rebuilt shortly thereafter and in 1899 the market was moved to the center of the city where it remains today.
Vinh Nghiem Temple
This majestic temple is located on Cong Ly boulevard and was completed in 1971 with a large parcel of land at its base. The ground floor has a library, the auditorium, and offices. On the upper court yard there is a seven-level “stupa”, which is a Buddhist commemorative monument. Next to the tower there is a large bell given to the temple by Japanese Buddhists.
Currently there are plenty of motorbike taxis or car taxis to take you wherever you want to go.
A ride on a “cyclo” (which is sort of akin to a reverse tricycle with the passenger sitting in a front seat) through downtown HCMC is a great way to see the city. You can experience the sights, sounds and smells from your open air vehicle with a relaxed pace in a cyclo. However, cyclos are harder to find these days because the government restricts cyclos on busy urban streets. If you do visit and decide on one of these classics for your ride, it is good to be careful with cameras and purses and wallets while cyclo riding as these items can be easily stolen by passing motorbike riders.
You will want to take a short trip outside the city to visit one of the best known floating markets. When you travel just a couple hours south of Saigon, along the Mekong Delta and it’s many rich sights, you can visit the Cai Be market. It is fun to search for souvenirs and interesting finds among the colorful floating markets where vendors hang up the merchandise while you drift through a tropical landscape. It is fun to shop while surrounded by water palms and small rowing boats. It’s a memorable way to spend the day. Families can enjoy this type of excursion during one of our Vietnam heritage tours, which are customized to your specifications. You can get a sample of visiting Ho Chi Minh City and other key sites in Vietnam in this tour: Tour 1B. Lotus Travel is always ready to make your visit to Vietnam trip of a lifetime!