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Saigon, A City Of Mystery and Excitement

Posted by on July 25, 2011

We often think of Saigon based on old movies we've seen "Good Morning Vietnam!" or other TV shows. But modern day Saigon, or Ho Chi Mihn City, as it is now called, is really a giant megatropolis.

The metropolitan area, which consists of the Hồ Chí Minh City metropolitan area, Thủ Dầu Một, Dĩ An, Biên Hòa and surrounding towns, is populated by more than 9 million people,   making it the most populous metropolitan area in Vietnam and the countries of the former French Indochina.

Saigon is made up of a hodgepodge of old decaying French Colonial building, crudely constructed cement block homes and modern day skyscrapers, as illustrated in this picture.  Crowded (I use that term lightly) to the max with every spare inch turned into living, or work space, it is as much despotic as it is exotic.

The Greater Ho Chi Minh City Metropolitan Area, a metropolitan area covering most parts of Đông Nam Bộ plus Tiền Giang and Long An provinces under planning will have an area of 30,000 square kilometers with a population of 20 million inhabitants by 2020.

According to the Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Economist Intelligence Unit and ECA International, Ho Chi Minh City is ranked 132 on the list of world's most expensive cities. (

History of Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City began as a small fishing village known as Prey Nokor. The area that the city now occupies was originally swampland, and was inhabited by Khmer people for centuries before the arrival of the Vietnamese.

In 1623, King Chey Chettha II of Cambodia (1618-1628) allowed Vietnamese refugees fleeing the Trinh-Nguyen civil war in Vietnam to settle in the area of Prey Nokor, and to set up a custom house at Prey Nokor. Increasing waves of Vietnamese settlers, which the Cambodian kingdom, weakened because of war with Thailand, could not impede, slowly Vietnamized the area. In time, Prey Nokor became known as Saigon.

In 1698, Nguyen Huu Canh, a Vietnamese noble, was sent by the Nguyen rulers of Hu to establish Vietnamese administrative structures in the area, thus detaching the area from Cambodia, which was not strong enough to intervene. He is often credited with the expansion of Saigon into a significant settlement.

A large Vauban citadel called Gia Dinh has been built, which was later destroyed by the French over the Battle of Chi Hoa. Conquered by France in 1859, the city was influenced by the French during their colonial occupation of Vietnam, and a number of classical Western-style buildings in the city reflect this, so much so that Saigon was called "the Pearl of the Far East" or "Paris in the Orient" .

In 1954, the French were defeated by the Communist Viet Minh in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, and withdrew from Vietnam. Rather than recognizing the Communists as the new government, they gave their backing to a government established by Emperor Bao Dai. Bao Dai had set up Saigon as his capital in 1950. At that time Saigon and the city of Cholon, which was inhabited primarily by Vietnamese Chinese, were combined into one administrative unit, called the Capital of Saigon.

When Vietnam was officially partitioned into North Vietnam (the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and South Vietnam (the Republic of Vietnam), the southern government, led by President Ngo Dinh Diem, retained Saigon as its capital. At the conclusion of the Vietnam War, on April 30, 1975, the city came under the control of the Vietnam People's Army. In the U.S. this event is commonly called the "Fall of Saigon," while the communist Socialist Republic of Vietnam call it the "Liberation of Saigon."

In 1976, upon the establishment of the unified communist Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the city of Saigon (including Cholon), the province of Gia Dinh and 2 suburban districts of two other nearby provinces were combined to create Ho Chi Minh City in honour of the late communist leader Ho Chi Minh. The former name Saigon is still widely used by many Vietnamese, especially in informal contexts. Generally, the term Saigon refers only to the urban districts of Ho Chi Minh City.

The word "Saigon" can also be found on shop signs all over the country, even in Hanoi. Today, the city's core is still adorned with wide elegant boulevards and historic French colonial buildings. The most prominent structures in the city center are Reunification Hall (Dinh Thong Nhat), City Hall (Uy ban Nhan dan Thanh pho), City Theater (Nha hat Thanh pho), City Post Office (Buu dien Thanh pho), Revolutionary Museum (Bao tang Cach mang), State Bank Office (Ngan hang Nha nuoc), City People's Court (Toa an Nhan dan Thanh pho) and Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Ho Chi Minh City is home to a well-established ethnic Chinese population. Cholon, now known as District 5 and the parts of Districts 6, 10 and 11, serves as its Chinatown. With a population now exceeding 9 million (registered residents plus migrant workers), Ho Chi Minh City is in need of vast increase in public infrastructure. To meet this need, the city and central governments have embarked on an effort to develop new urban centers. The two most prominent projects are the Thu Thiem city center in District 2 and the Phu My Hung New City Center in District 7 (as part of the Saigon South project) where various international schools such as Saigon South International (The American School), the Japanese school, Australia's Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, the Taiwan and Korea schools are located).

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