Ho Chi Minh City (also commonly known as Saigon) is the largest city and is the most important economic, cultural and educational center in Vietnam. Dubbed the “Pearl of the Far East”, this place attracts not only domestic but also foreign tourists. What characteristics does the city have? Before visiting the city, visitors need to know generally about them in order to adapt to the environment here and to have a trip interesting and helpful.
1698 – 1857
In 1698, Lord Nguyễn Phước Chu sent Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh to the South of Vietnam now and established Phủ Gia Định (Phủ is the name of an administrative unit in former East Asia), which marked the birth of the city. In the previous time, the South of Vietnam now had belonged to Funan, then Chenla, then Khmer Empire. However, this area was still dense forest, sparsely resident and had no administrative organization. Phủ Gia Định has been the first administrative organization in the South. Since its inception, Phủ Gia Định has been more and more expanded and developed. However, in the 1698 – 1857 period, the land far from the center of Phủ was still jungle and wild animals.
1858 – 1953
In 1858 French colonialists invaded Đà Nẵng. In 1859, they invaded Phủ Gia Định . After that, the French urgently planned to build it into a big city. Norodom Palace was established in 1868 as the residence and working place of the southern governor, then the governor-general of Indochina.
On January 8, 1877, French President Mac Mahon decreed on the organizing Phủ Gia Định to become Saigon City. The City was the capital of Indochinese Indochina (1887-1901). In 1898, the administrative building was established (the current City People’s Committee). Many big projects such as markets, post offices, churches, and pagodas were built. Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral was built in 1880, Saigon Central Post was built in 1886, Saigon Opera House was built 1898, Ben Thanh Market was built in 1912. The villas of rick French, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indians and so on were also built. Residential areas were also built. At the beginning of the 20th century, French colonialists used the phrase “Pearl of the Far East” to refer to Saigon City.
However, Transportation was still weak. Besides very few luxury cars, there are many oxcarts, horse carriages, bicycles, and handcarts pulled by humans. Street vendors are still so many. the areas far from the center still lived on agriculture, the working people’s lives were still very poor. The status of class discrimination in society at that time was very clear.
1954 – 1974
After the Geneva Conference (1954), the Republic of Vietnam government was established in the South (from the 17th parallel to Ca Mau cape). At that time, Saigon was the capital of the South. In 1962, the Independence Palace was built on the base of former Norodom Palace. It was the general headquarters of the Republic of Vietnam regime. Infrastructures such as roads, schools, hospitals were built more modernly than before. Many factories processing food such as fish sauce, soy sauce, beer, tobacco and many enterprises weaving cloth, sewing clothes were established, attracting many workers. Traffic means significantly changed. Chariots, oxcarts, rickshaws were no longer in the city (At that time, rickshaws were replaced by cyclo with motor or without motor). People from the countryside in neighboring provinces gathered to Saigon to live to avoid bullets bombs due to the war. Besides villas, high-rise townhouses, there were so many slums. The people in the suburb area still lived on agriculture.
1975 – 2019
On April 30, 1975, the Republic of Vietnam regime collapsed. On July 2 1976, the National Assembly changed the country’s name to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The capital was Hanoi. Saigon Capital City was changed into Ho Chi Minh City. The city order was gradually stabilized but the economy was stagnant for 15 years. In 1986, applying the open-door policy, Ho Chi Minh City and the whole country entered the development stage. Vietnam exchanged with all countries. Foreign investment is more and more. The face of the city has been remarkably renewed. The city today is modernized, many high-rise buildings, many 5-star hotels and restaurants, and high-class supermarkets were built. In addition to the roads full of cars and motorcycles, there was no more bicycle and cyclo. Because city land is easy to find jobs, many people all over the country came here to live, the population becomes overpopulated, traffic jams take place during the rush time. Drainage is limited, so some sections of the roads are flooded during heavy rains.
Ho Chi Minh City is located in South Vietnam and is the center of Southeast Asia. The North borders Binh Duong province, the Northwest borders Tay Ninh province, the East and Northeast borders with Dong Nai province, the Southeast borders with Ba Ria -Vung Tau province, the West and Southwest borders with Long An and Tien Giang provinces. Ho Chi Minh City is very large (2,095.6 km2), larger than Paris (105.4 km2), New York (1,213 km2) and London (1,570 km2). The city has 24 districts. The population is crowed (about 10 million in 2019) and the density of population is high (4,363 people/km2 in 2019). The population increases fast (170,000 people/1 year), every year it increases about 1 district. The city has about 93.52% Kinh, 5.78% Chinese, 0.7% other ethnic group.
The high population density leads to traffic congestion during peak hours. Ho Chi Minh City has 2 seasons. The rainy season is from May to November, the dry season is from December to April. In the rainy season, some sections of the road are flooded, making travel very difficult. However, the street scene became quieter when it rains. It is also interesting to watch Saigon rain.
In the dry season, the climate in Saigon gets hot, often over 30 degrees, sometimes up to 37 degrees. The visitors in countries with cold weather usually come to Saigon to avoid cold. It can be said that dry season is a tourist season in Saigon as well as in Vietnam. There are tourists who stay Saigon for months because the cost of living here is cheaper than in neighboring countries. Saigon people have many ways to avoid the sun such as going to air-conditioned cafes, garden coffee, supermarkets, bookstores, swimming pools, riverside, eating fruits, drinking coconut water, lemon water, sugarcane water, etc.
The historical and geographical conditions affect Saigon culture. In the process of development, the city has met many different cultures. The cuisine in Ho Chi Minh City is very plentiful. There are cuisines of three regions: South, Central and North in Vietnam and even of other countries such as China, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, China, Japan, Korea, India, France, the USA, Germany. There are many religions in Saigon such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Taoism, and Cao Dai. There are many churches, pagodas and temples for the religions. Besides the streets, the city has many alleys. The alleys include the main alleys and side alleys. If the streets are busy and noisy places, the alleys peaceful and quiet places. The main alleys usually have food stalls. The prices of food and drink are cheap but still good and delicious.
Saigon people are far away from their native land of the North, where there is a tradition of etiquette, and they have to work hard in a new land to earn living, so they have a very simple and open personality. Due to being frequently influenced by the western industry, Saigon people have an industrial lifestyle and are sensitive to new things. Saigon people like to build houses in French architecture, like to dress up in Europe and Korea styles, like to watch Chinese, Korean movies, like to eat Chinese dishes, like to use electric equipment made in Japan and work hard like Americans. Saigon is colorful at night. If the day is the working time of Saigon people, the evening is the time that they go out to eat and drink or go shopping. In the evening or Sunday, full moon, the thirty or holidays some people go to pagodas or churches to pray.
The city has many tourist destinations. The most famous tourist destinations are Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, Bà Ấn Pagoda, Saigon Central Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City’s People Committee, Reunification Palace, Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Bến Thành Market, Saigon Opera House, Vinhomes Landmark 81 – the highest building in Vietnam, Bitexco Tower Financial Tower – the highest building in Saigon, Bùi Viện Street – Backpacker Area, Jade Emperor Pagoda, Vĩnh Nghiêm Pagoda, Việt Nam Quốc Tự Pagoda, Bình Tây Market, Thiên Hậu Pagoda, Đầm Sen Park, Suối Tiên Tourist Area, Củ Chi Tunnel, Cần Giờ Ecotourism Area.
Things to keep in mind when traveling the city
In general, Vietnam including Ho Chi Minh City has good security. However, any country in the world also has robbery and theft, so you should care about your property. If staying in a hostel with many windows, you should not hang the hangers of clothes that have money, important papers inside near the window to avoid theft. Before going out, you should put the identification papers or the big amount of money into the safety cabinets (each room has a separate cabinet). You only need to bring photocopies of identification papers, enough money to spend, phones and put them inside clothes. As mentioned, Saigon has 2 rainy and sunny seasons. In the rainy season, when you go out, you should bring raincoats and umbrellas to prevent colds. In the dry season, you should wear hats or umbrellas to avoid sunstroke.