Ho Chi Minh City

History - Orientation - Information - Dangers Annoyances - Sights - Activities Walking Tour - Courses - HCMC For Children - Tour - Festivals Events - Sleeping Eating - Drinking - Entertainment - Shopping - Getting There Away - Getting Around.


In actuality, HCMC is not so much a city as small province stretching from the South China Sea almost to the Cambodian border. Rural regions make up about 90% of the land area of HCMC and hold around 25% of the municipality's population; the other 75% is crammed into the remaining 10% of land, which constitutes the urban centre. HCMC is divided into 16 urban districts (quan, derived from the French quartier) ami five rural districts (huyen). To the west of Saigon and the city centre is District 5, the huge Chinese neighbourhood called Cholon, which means 'Big Market'. However, it is decidedly less Chinese than it used to be, largely thanks to the anticapi-talist and anti-Chinese campaign from 1978 to 1979, when many ethnic Chinese fled the country - taking with them their money and entrepreneurial skills. Many of these refugees have since returned (with foreign passports) to explore investment possibilities, and 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-Cholon's hotels are once again packed with Chinese-speaking businesspeople.The city's neoclassical and international style buildings, along with its tree-lined streets set with shops, cafes and restaurants give neighbourhoods such as District 3 an attractive, vaguely French atmosphere. The majority of places and sights described in this chapter are located in District 1, which includes the backpacker district of Pham Ngu Lao, and the tonier area of Dong Khoi, which hosts the city's best assortment of restaurants, bars and boutiques. The 7km trip into town from the airport should cost around 70,000d in a metercd taxi, or about 50.000d by motorbike taxi (xe om). You could also try the airport bus (1000d) that drops you right in central HCMC. From the train station (Ga Sai Gon;, a xe om to Pham Ngu Lao costs about 15,000d. Most xe om rides from Saigon's intercity bus stations will run between 10,000d to 20,000d; public buses also pass by the central Ben Thanh Market (3000d), but these usually stop running midafternoon. Open-tour buses will unload you directly into Pham Ngu Lao.
Good, up-to-date maps of HCMC are available at bookstores in Districts 1 and 3; a reliable, central source is Fahasa Bookshop.