Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – the city which survived the war

Ho Chi Minh City: the history of Saigon

Tourists coming to Ho Chi Minh City from Cambodia often have no idea that several centuries ago the territory of the megalopolis belonged to the builders of ancient Angkor. The first settlement in this area had the Khmer name Prei Nokor. The Viets first appeared in the Mekong Delta in the 16th century and by the beginning of the next century the number of immigrants from the North, torn by strife, had multiplied. Cambodia, which had just experienced a devastating war against Siam, could not do anything about the human tsunami.

In the mid-17th century, a new wave of emigrants came from China, fleeing the Manchurian invasion. The Chinese settled in the village of Cheolong and went into commerce, while the Viets in the nearby community of Benguet grew rice. The name Saigon, meaning “kapok forest” (kapok – tropical tree, also called seiba), first appears in Vietnamese sources in 1674.

In 1698, the Vietnamese presence was officially established and General Nguyen Huu Canh became the first ruler of the newly formed Zia Dinh Prefecture. This event is considered the starting point of the city’s history. At the end of the 18th century, this is where Nguyen Phuc Anh’s northern campaign took off, culminating in the defeat of the Taoiseach rebels and the ascension of a new dynasty. As the first emperor of the Nguyen dynasty ascended the throne, he did not forget what he owed to the South. On the threshold of the XIX century French engineers built a fortress in Saigon, which was located in the heart of the modern city, in the northeastern part of what is now Le Zuan Street. The appearance of the fortifications changed continuously for half a century. In 1859, the redoubts were attacked by a French squadron and were so badly damaged that Admiral Louis-Adolphe Bonar, who in August 1861 became the first governor of the colony of Cohinghin, had to start building the city virtually from scratch. The admiral, who had accumulated administrative experience as governor of French Polynesia, took up the task vigorously.

In 1862 Saigon was officially named the capital of the new possessions of Napoleon III.

At first the city grew slowly, especially since the “Annamites” did not intend to give the invaders an easy victory. In January 1863, a young midshipman of the Russian Navy, Konstantin Stanukovich, who was on a confidential assignment from the command arrived in Saigon. He was to find out the state of the new colony and its military forces. The city disappointed the future writer, seeming to him “just a big, sprawling village with 10-15 buildings, showing that a European lives here”. After staying in Saigon for a month and a half, Stanyukovich changed the tone of his notes to a more favorable one, praised the French for “the ability to live” and promised the city a great future. The author of “Maximka” was right: in a couple of decades, the former village began to be called nothing less than “the Paris of the Far East. Boulevards and streets were laid out in place of the drained swamps and backfilled river arms. The city received a beautiful embankment on the Saigon River and a well-appointed market, between which stretched a wide avenue – today’s Kham Ngi Street.

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The main thoroughfares of the city – Bonnar and Catin streets – were illuminated as early as 1866. A year earlier, Saigon’s first local newspaper, Ziadingbao, had been published. The port, which in 1877 received more than 400 ships, was the center of attraction of local life. The first multi-storey buildings in colonial style were built near the waterfront (current Districts I and III). The Botanical Garden and zoo (1865), Notre-Dame de Saigon Cathedral (1877-1880) and the Post Office building (1891) were also built here. In 1898 Saigon had its first movie screening, and two years later the luxurious Opera House was built. The relocation of the capital of the Union of Indochina to Hanoi in 1902, did not affect the development of the city. The 1920s were the “golden age” of colonial Saigon. Trade flourished: rice alone was exported up to one and a half million tons a year! Many famous people visited the city: the scientists Alexander Jersen and Albert Calmette, the future Emperor Nicholas II and the composer Camille Saint-Saëns.

In 1929, 300,000 people lived in Saigon. The Vietnamese made up the working class, the Chinese traded, the natives of India held the financial business. The French were in power, and the Vietnamese patriots were not happy with this. Throughout the 1920s, riots and anti-colonial demonstrations frequently erupted in the city streets. In October 1930, the First Plenum of the Communist Party of Indochina was secretly convened in Saigon, and ten years later an uprising broke out, which kept control of the city for several days. Only after the suppression of the uprising did the center of the anti-French struggle move to the north of the country. Immediately afterwards, Saigon was occupied by Japanese troops.

Five years later, the capital, subjected to several Allied air raids during the war and left without hosts, fell at the feet of Vietminh fighters. The first communist rule lasted only a few days in South Vietnam: already on September 13, a Franco-British airborne landing in Saigon. During the First Indochina War, the city served as the residence of several pro-French governments. The death of the French commander-in-chief, the talented Jean de Lattre de Tassigny (who, along with Georgy Zhukov, had once signed the surrender to Hitler’s Germany), decided the campaign in favor of Saigon, but the “red” forces’ campaign to Saigon was delayed for several decades. In June 1954, with U.S. support, the first president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Ziem, came to power.

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The new leader was a much brighter and more independent figure than is commonly believed. He began his rule by replacing all French names on the map of Saigon with Vietnamese names. Exceptions were made only for four names – Pasteur, Jersen, Calmette and Alexandre de Rhoda. Numerous monuments appeared in the squares commemorating figures of Vietnamese history. After the assassination of Ziem in 1963, Saigon once again became an arena of political struggle. Thirteen government coups took place in 10 years.

Each new “caliph for an hour” began his reign by pledging allegiance to his friends in Washington, and the city rapidly acquired many American features, from Coca-Cola ads to Kennedy Square. Ironically, despite the political instability of the early 1970s, Saigon outpaced the capitals of neighboring Thailand and Malaysia. By 1975, the city had 2.5 million people, 400,000 streets and alleys, 80,000 cars and 600,000 motorcycles. Tanshonnyat Airport served flights of two dozen foreign airlines.

Having unified the country, the Communists conducted a new renaming campaign in Saigon that surpassed all the achievements of Ngo Dinh Ziem. The very name of the city, which had become almost a swear word in the North, was ceremonially erased from the map of Vietnam. The city changed – the businessmen fled, the disgruntled lurked, and the center of Southeast Asia’s riotous nightlife finally shifted to Bangkok. The new city grew rapidly and soon absorbed many surrounding settlements – Tholon, Zyadin, Govap, Tan Binh and others. The population exceeded 3 million, reaching 4.8 million in 1995.

Since the early 1990s, the government of the SRV set out to revive the attractiveness of the “Paris of the Far East. In 1994, the Communist Party urged Chinese businessmen who had once left South Vietnam to return their capital to the country’s economy. The call was heard – already in 1997, foreign investments “worked” in Saigon for more than 600 projects.

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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – the city which survived the war

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Ho Chi Minh City (Prey Nocor)

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The city was founded in the late 17th century. It got its present name in 1976 after its first president, the communist leader Ho Chi Minh. It used to be a part of Cambodia and was then called Prey-Nokor. Later, when the Vietnamese entered it, it was called Saigon. This name the Vietnamese like it best and use it colloquially among themselves, while the modern name is used on official occasions. The city was both the capital of French Indochina and the capital of South Vietnam. In the XX century, Ho Chi Minh City survived a long war, revived almost from the ashes and became even more beautiful than it was.

Ho Chi Minh City is located on the banks of the Saigon River, in the south of the country. Nearby is the delta of another river – the Mekong, in the east flows the river Nabe. To the capital of the country – more than 1 700 kilometers. It is located 20 meters above sea level, on a fairly flat area. The area of the city is about 2 thousand square kilometers.

Climate of Ho Chi Minh City is subequatorial. There is a distinct wet season (from May to November) and a dry season (from December to April). The average annual temperature is quite high at 28 ° C, the average monthly temperature ranges from 26 ° C in December to 30 ° C in April. The warmest month in Ho Chi Minh City is March. Average humidity: 75%. Average annual precipitation: 1931 mm. The least rainfall in Ho Chi Minh City is in February . The average for this month is 13.0 mm. Most rainfall occurs in September.

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As of 2012, Ho Chi Minh City had 7,681,700 people (including 4.034 million women and 3.647 million men) with a population density of 3,666 people per square kilometer. Ho Chi Minh City had an urban population of 6,384,500 and a rural population of 1,297,200. The natural population growth rate in Ho Chi Minh City decreased from 11.9 ‰ in 2005 to 6.9 ‰ in 2012.

Ho Chi Minh City is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, with a population density of 9,450 people per square kilometer in the central areas. About 93.52% of the population is Viets, 5.78% are Chinese (Hoa), 0.34% are Khmer, and 0.1% are Tuam.

Buddhism (including elements of Taoism, Confucianism and other schools) is practiced by over 80% of the city’s residents, Catholicism is practiced by about 10%, and about 7% of the city’s population are atheists. There are also small communities of Hoa Hao, Kaodai, Protestantism, Islam, Hinduism, and Bahaism followers.


Ho Chi Minh City is the most important economic and transportation center in South Vietnam and attracts a significant portion of the foreign investment flowing into the country. Over 60% of capital investment in the economy comes from foreign investment, about one-third from the public sector, and the rest from private Vietnamese capital. The service sector makes up 51.1 percent of Ho Chi Minh City’s economy, industry and construction 47.7 percent, agriculture, fishing and forestry 1.2 percent.

Despite the crisis of the real estate market that occurred in 2011-2012, the construction industry in Ho Chi Minh City plays an important role in the city’s economy. Large residential and office complexes, hotels, shopping malls, industrial areas, transport and energy infrastructure are being built here.

In recent years, the electronic industry, telecommunications, information and computer technology, and research have been actively developing in the city.


Textile, clothing, leather and footwear, food (including seafood processing and beverage production), auto assembly, electronics, metal, metallurgical, chemical, pharmaceutical, building, glass, ceramic, wood and furniture industries, as well as the production of electricity, building materials, various industrial and office equipment, plastic and rubber products and jewelry are developed in the city. About 60% of the industrial output falls into four key segments: machinery and industrial equipment; chemical products, plastic and rubber; electronics and information technology; food and beverages. There are about 300,000 small, medium and large enterprises.

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Because of cheaper labor costs, rents and less stringent environmental standards, many foreign companies choose to locate their businesses in the provinces adjacent to Ho Chi Minh City.

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In 2007, Ho Chi Minh City was visited by about 3 million foreign tourists (about 70% of all foreign tourists who visited Vietnam), in 2010 – 3.1 million, in 2011 – 3.5 million. As of 2010, Ho Chi Minh City’s revenue from tourism and entertainment industry was about $2.1 billion, up 17% from the previous year.


Reunification Palace

Built by the French in 1868 and subsequently remodeled and reconstructed, the building in the center of the city sits in a large beautiful park on about 12 hectares. It was originally erected as the residence of the Governor General of Indochina (Cochinchina).

The Reunification Palace, which has witnessed political and military events and frequent changes of political regimes, is a historic place, a symbol of Vietnam’s unity.

The Palace of Independence was given another name, Reunification Palace, on April 30, 1975, when the Saigon regime was overthrown and the Communists took power. This was the official end of the American war and the unification of South and North Vietnam.

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Notre Dame de Saigon

The temple of Our Lady of Saigon was built in 1880 . This temple is one of the symbols of Saigon and the little brother of Notre Dame de Paris, a famous landmark in France. The temple is a good example of French colonial architecture.

Quti Tunnels

The Couti Tunnels or Couti Tunnels were a system of underground tunnels in the suburb of Saigon of the same name (now part of Ho Chi Minh City) used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.

The network of tunnels allowed the guerrillas to conduct covert attacks on U.S. troops. The tunnels, located at several levels of depth, included secret entrances, living quarters, warehouses, and hospitals. The total length was about 150 km.

Nowadays a tourist attraction is organized on the basis of two elements of the complex. A visit to the Kuti Tunnels is one of the main tourist excursions in Ho Chi Minh City.


Ho Chi Minh City has been twinned with St. Petersburg since 1977. Since then they have been actively developing cooperation in industry, transportation, science, education, training, culture, tourism, sports, and other areas of mutual interest.

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