Sai Gon or Ho Chi Minh City – Which is the correct name?
This was one of the first questions that needed to be answered during a very short (1 day) tour of Vietnam’s second city.
According to the locals, the name Sai Gon is still commonly used for District 1 (the central area) of the city, despite the name of Ho Chi Minh City being officially applied following the re-unification of Vietnam is 1976. After all, it sometimes takes more that an edict to bring about change to a name that has been in place since the early 17th century.
Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city, with a population of over 9 million.
Amongst the things that struck us as we travelled from the port at Phu My into Sai Gon was the lack of apparent French influence in the buildings we passed and the young average age of the people.
In fact demographics shows that well over 50% of the total population of the region were born after the end of the Vietnam War in 1976 – indeed we estimate that this number is probably close to 70%. Hence only a small minority of the population has experienced an independent South Vietnam.
Upon arrival into Sai Gon, we alighted at the Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the remaining landmarks that display the colonial French influence that lasted from 1862 to 1954. The location of the cathedral is adjacent to the central bus station, the classic French styled central post office, designed and constructed by Gustav Eiffel, as well as some lovely green parkland (the Cultural Park) that allows a welcome break from the heat of the city sidewalks.
Dong Khoi is perhaps the main shopping street of Sai Gon. The street has a colourful history, and is always a lively place where it is possible to wander through some of the history of the city.
The Hotel Continental, opened in 1880, claims to be Vietnam’s first hotel, and it would be hard to deny that claim. This lovely building was developed as a way of offering the French traveler a French style of luxury accommodation in the colony of Cochinchina.
We loved haggling for bargains in Lucky Plaza, enjoying a traditional Vietnamese Pho lunch in a side street just off Dong Khoi and savouring a traditional tea and cake at the Hotel Continental to get the weight off our legs.
It appears that there are no apparent road rules in Ho Chi Minh City (or if they are, nobody seems to worry about obeying them). The sheer number of bikes and scooters becomes almost overwhelming, particularly when the riders are running through red lights and dodging around you while you’re attempting to get to the other side of the road.
In particular, we loved the friendliness and openness of the people of this bustling and chaotic metropolis.
This wonderful country is definitely back on our agenda for a longer and more detailed visit.