Ho Chi Minh or Saigon: Two Names, One Amazing City

Updated on January 29, 2018
Anne Harrison profile image

I fell in love with Florence at the age of 10 and have travelled widely since, but there are always more places to discover!

Traffic in Ho Chi Minh (c) A. Harrison
Traffic in Ho Chi Minh (c) A. Harrison

A Balcony in Saigon

I sat on the rooftop of the Majestic Hotel, sipping bubbles as the evening embraced Saigon. A soft breeze blew in from the river, brushing away both the heat and the noises of the traffic. In The Quiet American this place overflowed at all hours of the day with journalists covering the Franco-Viet Minh (or First Indochina) war. With its colonial charm and retro features the hotel remains a landmark in the city, its rooftop bar providing a quiet corner from which to look out over the Saigon River.

The Majestic stands on the corner of Duong Dong Khoi, formally the Rue Catinat brought so vividly brought to life by Graeme Greene. Especially in the blocks near the Saigon River, Duong Dong Khoi is a perfect place for an aimless stroll, whether browsing through local art works or losing oneself in some of the best shopping in Saigon. Tailors offer outfits in 24 hours, while shoe repairs happen on the sidewalk near high-fashion boutiques. Cables and extension wires stretch everywhere. There are internet cafes, trinkets for tourists, clothing shops, foreign exchange stalls, restaurants, cafes, and mobile vendors offering cold drinks and baguettes. Everything is negotiable.

I call this beautiful city Saigon when I think of the past. I use her modern name, Ho Chi Minh, when walking in the present.

The balcony of the Rex Hotel, Saigon (c) A. Harrison
The balcony of the Rex Hotel, Saigon (c) A. Harrison

Ho Chi Minh or Saigon?

Ho Chi Minh City sprawls graciously along the Saigon River. Her tree-lined avenues and spacious squares are graced with Parisian buildings. Reclusive buildings hide behind wrought-iron fences while forgotten cobbled alleys beckon from the past. Motorbikes fill her vast boulevards and spill across her footpaths, competing with the bustling shops and their wares. Ho Chi Minh is a vibrant Asian city, but Saigon is the name which captures her character and charm.

Transport, Vietnamese style (c) A. Harrison
Transport, Vietnamese style (c) A. Harrison

The Rex Hotel

Further along Duong Dong Khoi stands the Rex Hotel. Here the rooftop bar (complete with elephants) overlooks the heart of Saigon; perhaps this is why a bottle of champagne here comes with six waiters. The heavens of the wet season opened just as we sat down, so for an hour or so we had the place to ourselves. After beginning life as a French garage, during the Vietnam War the Rex Hotel became home to the Press Corps – and quite possibly the CIA. Now it is owned by the Communists.

The balcony here is the perfect place for planning a day in Saigon. Within the radius of the panoramic view are parks, cafes, high-end shopping and markets, and streets of art galleries and antiques. A canal once ran through this area. Despite the bustle of modernity, the ghosts of the past remain. The North Vietnamese tanks which crashed through the gates of the Reunification Palace in 1975 now serve as props in endless tourist photos.

The balcony overlooks the junction of two main roads, Le Loi St and Nguyen Hue Boulevard. Nguyen Plaza remains an oasis of green, a place for tourists and locals alike to escape the heat. On one side stands City Hall, an elegant creation of white Parisian stone arches peeping artistically through the greenery. On the far side of the park stands the Opera House, which would be equally at home in Paris.

show route and directions
A markerThe Majestic Hotel, Saigon -
get directions

B markerThe Rex Hotel, Saigon -
get directions

C markerNotre Dame Cathedral, Saigon -
get directions

D markerBen Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh -
get directions

E markerReunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh -
get directions

Some Dining Suggestions...

  • Temple Club (29-31 Ton That Thiep St) Once a home to pilgrims, it serves specialties from all over Vietnam
  • Xu (75 Hai Ba Trung S)t An elegant restaurant near the river, perfect for a glass of scorpion liqueur
  • Ciao Bella (11 Dong Khoi St) Perfect a glass of prosecco, and fresh pasta with crab meat and sea-urchin.
  • Ngon Restaurant, (138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, opp Reunification Palace) Another perfect balcony upstairs

Shopping in Saigon

Just up from the Rex Hotel on Le Loi St is the Hotel Continental, where Graham Greene lived for two years (in room 210). The arcades now boast the likes of Prada and Cartier, but nearby is the Tax Department Store. The upper floors here house a treasure trove of shops, all of local produce, and even a small supermarket.

A few blocks further down Le Loi St is the Ben Thanh Market - the French called it Les Halles Central. Like the original Les Halles, the stalls are jammed so closely together there is barely enough room to walk, and I quickly became lost in a chaos of delicate silks and kitchenware. One end is filled with fly-covered meat and unrecognizable seafood, with nearby cooking stalls; in the heat and humidity of midday the stench proved unique.

Uncle Ho watches all who enter the Post Office © A Harrison
Uncle Ho watches all who enter the Post Office © A Harrison

French Architecture, Saigon

A different style of balcony is to be found a few tree-lined blocks to the north of the Rex Hotel. Here the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office face one another across a small square. Designed by Gustave Eiffel, the façade of the Central Post Office is of neo-classical pale pink and white. A group of school children spoke to us on the stairs, practicing their English and, in thanks, giving us trinkets of little pigs made from buttons.

One enters through the wooden doors to a past time. The Post Office is a large, graceful arch, quiet and full of light. Opposite the entrance an enormous mosaic of Ho Chi Minh looks benignly down over all within. Under maps of Old Saigon and Cochinchina, a row of teak telephone booths now house ATMs.

Don't Miss...

Cholon - the world's largest Chinatown, and features in The Quiet American

Peace Noodles at 7 Lo Chinh Thang St - served pho to US soldiers while the Viet Cong planned the Tet Offensive upstairs

Reunification Palace - The Fall of Saigon was cemented by tanks crashing through the gates; they are still on display. Within, little has changed since April 30, 1975

A Byzantine in Saigon © A Harrison
A Byzantine in Saigon © A Harrison

Bishops and Balloons

Braving the motorbikes, (I always cross the street behind a spritely old lady) we crossed from the Post Office to the Notre Dame Cathedral. With stained glass windows from Chartres and each stone shipped from Marseilles, the French influence is palpable. By sheer chance we reached the square just as some 100 bishops and priests walked in procession to the cathedral surrounded by school children: a remarkable sight in a communist country. Most of the clergy were clothed in white, complete with miter hats; one wore a Byzantine cap and stole of red and gold. Thousands of balloons were set loose in celebration, their colors floating vividly against the impossibly blue sky.

As the bishops continued into the cathedral, we crossed to a café on the far side of the square. A waitress ushered up some rickety back stairs to a spacious wooden balcony which overlooked the cathedral square. Ceiling fans turned lazily above us. The Vietnamese rolls and papaya salad proved perfect in the heat.

A place for writing novels © A Harrison
A place for writing novels © A Harrison

On Writing a Novel

Saigon is full of balconies such as this; Ho Chi Minh beckons be explored, but there is always a quiet place to sit, and ponder the past while time barely moves, drinking strong coffee from tiny cups while dreaming of writing a novel.

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Anne Harrison

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 2 years ago from Australia

        Graham Greene wrote so lovingly of Saigon just before the war in The Quiet American - I hope you get to visit some day. Although the war is not forgotten, it is just one of the many which has swept through this city, and Saigon is very much living in the present. Thanks for reading my hub

      • ladyguitarpicker profile image

        stella vadakin 2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

        I did not realize how beautiful Ho Chi Min is. I had many friends in Vietnam during the war.

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 4 years ago from Australia

        Put sitting on that balcony on your wish-list, BNadyn! I'm glad you enjoyed my hub

      • BNadyn profile image

        Bernadyn 4 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida

        Looks like a beautiful city and you make it sound peaceful. I'd love to sit on the balcony, too. Thanks for sharing this. :)

      • Jonn Christie 90 profile image

        Jonn Ross Christie 4 years ago from Australia

        Wow how amazing a city of contrasts of french and Asian not many cities would have that you are welcome Anne have a sensational day

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 4 years ago from Australia

        There is such a strong French influence, yet the local culture still dominates, to make an amazing city. Thanks for your comments John

      • Jonn Christie 90 profile image

        Jonn Ross Christie 4 years ago from Australia

        I never knew Ho Chi Min City had such beautiful architecture the Rex Hotel is so beautiful thank you Anne for sharing

      • LCaverson profile image

        Leslie Caverson 4 years ago from Virginia Beach, VA.

        I hope to visit there as well, thank you for your post!

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 4 years ago from Australia

        Thank you, it's an amazing place to visit, hope you make it there one day

      • LCaverson profile image

        Leslie Caverson 4 years ago from Virginia Beach, VA.

        Love learning about new places.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wanderwisdom.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://wanderwisdom.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)