Ho Chi Minh City
Situated on the Dong Nai River about 73 kilometres from the South China Sea, Ho Chi Minh City lies on the eastern edge of the Mekong Delta, connecting to the Mekong River via a network of canals. Often still referred to by its former name Saigon, this city in southern Vietnam was made famous for the pivotal role it played in the Vietnam War.
This a boisterous, fast-paced and hedonistic city with a very short history. Unlike the relatively quiet and quaint Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh is a frenetic city rushing headlong into the future where everyone seems to be in a hurry day and night.
While the capital Hanoi can trace its roots back for a thousand years, Ho Chi Minh can only claim three centuries. However, it is now Vietnam's largest city and is home to 8.5 million people. The largest ethnic groups in the region are the Viet (Kinh, Vietnamese), Hoa, Khmer and Cham.
This is no longer the Saigon familiar to the West in films like 'Apocalypse Now'. It has a young spirit and is quick to grasp change, a forward-looking city, home to glistening skyscrapers, cutting-edge fashion and buzzing nightlife.
There is a popular saying that Ho Chi Minh is thirty years behind Bangkok and in turn, Taipei and Hanoi are thirty years behind Ho Chi Minh City. That may well be true regarding Hanoi but it still has a long way to go to catch up with Bangkok and Taipei.
Photographing Ho Chi Minh City
Although it has its fair share of glass-and-steel buildings and billboards advertising foreign brands, old neighbourhoods remain and goods enter the centre by way of dozens of canals slicing through the city.
It is renowned for its French colonial landmarks, including Notre-Dame Cathedral (made entirely of materials imported from France) and the 19th-century Central Post Office.
As Vietnam’s largest city, it has an energy and noise level that can be at once exhilarating and wearying. However, it's still possible to catch an occasional glimpse of picture-postcard Vietnam, such as an old woman in a conical-shaped hat pedalling a bicycle, but she’ll most likely be lost in a sea of motorbikes, rumbling toward the future.
Saigon is single-mindedly a commercial place. Food stalls line the city’s streets, especially around bustling Bến Thành Market. Pushcarts and vendors sell everything from soup to a good old fashioned ear cleaning. The streets are roaring rivers of Chinese two-stroke motorcycles. Consequently, the air is so thick with exhaust fumes that the city's famously beautiful women are now covering their faces with scarves.
Boring factual stuff about Ho Chi Minh City
- 750 new motorbikes are registered every day in the city
- In a survey of 46 Asia-Pacific cities by the Hong Kong-based 'Business Traveller', Ho Chi Minh was ranked at No. 6 on the list of the ten worst cities in the region. Only Dhaka, Guangzhou, Delhi, Bombay and Karachi ranked lower.
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