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Ho Chi Minh City Introduction
Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is the pulsating heart of Vietnam. With a palpable energy, the largest city of the country can appear a sensory overload at first, all industry, chaos and motorbikes. However despite a noisy, modernising veneer the city has not forgotten its ancient traditions. There are churches, temples, Graham Greene era hotels, government buildings and colonial architecture dotted around the city that speak much of the past too.
The streets are where much of the city life takes place and the sidewalks feature busy markets, centuries-old shops, trendy cafes and vendors selling anything from silk to electronics. The jumble of produce and life is enticing and exhilarating and most visitors are easily swept up and smitten by it.
HCMC is considered the national cultural trendsetter and commercial headquarters. Its port and industry have helped Vietnam claim its place as one of Asia’s emerging economies. This is no mean feat, considering its war torn history.
Saigon, as it was once known, was founded in the 18th century by Chinese merchants and civil-war refugees from north Vietnam. It became a major commercial centre and a confluence in Indochina for goods passing from China and India to Europe. The French took over the region in the 1880s and made Saigon the capital, building wide boulevards and grand colonial facades. After they left in 1954, Saigon remained the capital of South Vietnam until national reunification in 1975 after the Vietnam War.
Once the communist government had settled in they immediately changed the name of the city to honour the nation’s great nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh. However the name Saigon is still given to the main commercial centre (districts 1, 3 and 5). Many locals and those foreigners who came to know the city during the Vietnam War find it hard to make the name change.