Ho Chi Minh City, Pearl of the Orient, is the largest city in Vietnam. It is also the nation’s foremost commercial and industrial centre. It is frenetic, exciting, riddled with traffic and enlivened by great shops, bars and restaurants.
Founded as a Khmer trading and fishing port on the west bank of the Dong Nai River, it fell into Vietnamese hands in the late 17th century. Early in the 18th century the Nguyen emperors established Gia Dinh Citadel, which was destroyed by French naval forces in 1859. Rebuilt as a French colonial city it was named Saigon (Soai-gon, meaning ‘wood of the kapok tree’) and became capital of French Cochin China.
During the 1960s and early 1970s Saigon boomed and flourished under the American occupation (it was the seat of the South Vietnam government) until the fall or liberation – depending upon your point of view. Officially Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) since 1975, it remains to most the bi-syllabic, familiar, old ‘Saigon’.
The most dynamic city in one of the most rapidly growing economies in the world, Ho Chi Minh City today is a place of remorseless and relentless activity. Despite government restrictions thousands of young men and women make their way here every week in search of a better life. They come in droves to work, study, meet, marry and live. The city is growing at a prodigious rate: 25 years ago Tan Son Nhat, the airport, was right out at the edge of the city; it has been an inner suburb for years, long ago leapfrogged by the sprawl that is pushing outwards into former paddy fields with astonishing speed. The former swamps of District 2 across the river are developing at the fastest rate. The Thu Thiem bridge now links District 1 and District 2 under the Saigon River and the east-west highway linking HCMC to District 2. The brand new tarmac tongue to My Tho, making access to the Delta quicker and more comfortable, opened in early 2009.
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