Ho Chi Minh City

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The Nguyen dynasty's Saigon was captured by the French in 1859, becoming the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina a few years later. The city served as the capital of the Republic of Vielnam from 1956 until 1975, when it fell to advancing North Vietnamese forces and was renamed Ho Chi Minh City by the Hanoi government. Nowadays, the official government census counts only those who have official residence permits, and probably a third of the population lives here illegally. Many of these illegal residents actually lived in the city before 1975, but their residence permits were transferred to rural re-education camps after reunification. Not surprisingly, they and their families have simply sneaked back into the city, although without a residence permit they cannot own property or a business. Explosive growth, part of the effect of doi moi (economic reform) in 1986, is evident in new high-rise buildings, joint-venture hotels and colourful shops. Downsides include the sharp increase in traffic, pollution and other urban ills, but a more open-minded new gen-eration may infuse HCMC's chaotic growth with a more globally conscious attitude.