Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnamese: Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh; IPA: [tʰan fo ho̞˧˩ t͡ɕɪj˧ mɪ̈n˧] ( listen)), formerly named and still also referred to as Saigon (Vietnamese: Sài Gòn; IPA: [sâj ɣɔ̂ŋ] ( listen)), is the largest city in Vietnam. It was once known as Prey Nokor (Khmer: ព្រៃនគរ), an important Khmer seaport prior to annexation by the Vietnamese in the 17th century. Under the name Saigon, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina and later of the independent republic of South Vietnam 1955–75. On 2 July 1976, Saigon merged with the surrounding Gia Định Province and was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City after revolutionary leader Hồ Chí Minh (although the name Sài Gòn is still unofficially widely used).
The metropolitan area, which consists of the Ho Chi Minh City metropolitan area, Thủ Dầu Một, Biên Hòa, Vũng Tàu, Dĩ An, Thuận An and surrounding towns, is populated by more than 10 million people,[nb 1] making it the most populous metropolitan area in Vietnam. The city’s population is expected to grow to 13.9 million by 2025.
The Ho Chi Minh City Metropolitan Area, a metropolitan area covering most parts of the south-east region plus Tiền Giang Province and Long An Province under planning, will have an area of 30,000 square kilometres (12,000 sq mi) with a population of 20 million inhabitants by 2020.
Ho Chi Minh City has gone by several different names during its history, reflecting settlement by different ethnic, cultural and political groups. In the 1690s, Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, a Vietnamese noble, was sent by the Nguyễn rulers of Huế to establish Vietnamese administrative structures in the Mekong Delta and its surroundings. Control of the city and the area passed to the Vietnamese, who gave the city the official name of Gia Định(嘉定). This name remained until the time of French conquest in the 1860s, when the occupying force adopted the name Saigon for the city, a westernized form of the traditional name, although the city was still indicated as 嘉 定 on Vietnamese maps written in Chữ Hán until at least 1891. Immediately after the communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975, a provisional government renamed the city after Hồ Chí Minh, the late North Vietnamese leader. Even today, however, the informal name of Sài Gòn/Saigon remains in daily speech both domestically and internationally, especially among the Vietnamese diaspora. In particular, Sài Gòn is still commonly used to refer to District 1.
An etymology of Saigon (or Sài Gòn in Vietnamese) is that Sài is a Sino-Vietnamese word (Hán tự: 柴) meaning “firewood, lops, twigs; palisade”, while Gòn is another Sino-Vietnamese word (Hán tự: 棍) meaning “stick, pole, bole”, and whose meaning evolved into “cotton” in Vietnamese (bông gòn, literally “cotton stick”, i.e., “cotton plant”, then shortened to gòn). This name may refer to the many kapok plants that the Khmer people had planted around Prey Nokor, and which can still be seen at Cây Mai temple and surrounding areas. It may also refer to the dense and tall forest that once existed around the city, a forest to which the Khmer name, Prey Nokor, already referred.
Other proposed etymologies draw parallels from Tai-Ngon (堤 岸), the Cantonese name of Cholon, which means “embankment” (French: quais),[nb 3] and Vietnamese Sai Côn, a translation of the Khmer Prey Nokor (Khmer: ព្រៃនគរ). Preymeans forest or jungle, and nokor is a Khmer word of Sanskrit origin meaning city or kingdom, and related to the English word ‘Nation’ — thus, “forest city” or “forest kingdom”.
Truong Mealy (former director of King Norodom Sihanouk’s royal Cabinet), says that, according to a Khmer Chronicle, The Collection of the Council of the Kingdom,Prey Nokor’s proper name was Preah Reach Nokor (Khmer: ព្រះរាជនគរ), “Royal City”; later locally corrupted to “Prey kor”, meaning “kapok forest”, from which “Saigon” was derived (“kor” meaning “kapok” in Khmer and Cham, going into Vietnamese as “gòn” ).
Today, the city’s core is still adorned with wide elegant boulevards and historic French colonial buildings. The majority of these tourist spots are located in District 1 and are a short leisurely distance from each other. The most prominent structures in the city centre are the Reunification Palace (Dinh Thống Nhất), City Hall (Ủy ban nhân dân Thành phố), Municipal Theatre (Nhà hát thành phố, also known as the Opera House), City Post Office (Bưu điện thành phố), State Bank Office (Ngân hàng nhà nước), City People’s Court (Tòa án nhân dân thành phố) and Notre-Dame Cathedral (Nhà thờ Đức Bà). Some of the historic hotels are the Hotel Majestic, dating from the French colonial era, and the Rex and Caravelle hotels are former hangouts for American officers and war correspondents in the 1960s & ’70s.
It was approximated that 4.3 million tourists visited Vietnam in 2007, of which 70 percent, approximately 3 million tourists, visited Ho Chi Minh City.
The city has various museums including the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Museum of Vietnamese History, the Revolutionary Museum, the Museum of south-eastern Armed Forces, the War Remnants Museum, the Museum of Southern Women, the Museum of Fine Art, the Nha Rong Memorial House, and the Ben Duoc Relic of Underground Tunnels. The Củ Chi tunnels are north-west of the city in Củ Chi District. The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens, in District 1, dates from 1865. The Đầm Sen Tourist and Cultural Park, Suối Tiên Amusement and Culture Park, and Cần Giờ’s Eco beach resort are three recreational sites inside the city which are popular with tourists.
Aside from the Municipal Theatre, there are other places of entertainment such as the Bến Thành theatre, Hòa Bình theatre, and the Lan Anh Music Stage. Ho Chi Minh City is home to hundreds of cinemas and theatres, with cinema and drama theatre revenue accounting for 60–70% of Vietnam’s total revenue in this industry. Unlike other theatrical organisations found in Vietnam’s provinces and municipalities, residents of Ho Chi Minh City keep their theatres active without the support of subsidies from the Vietnamese government. The city is also home to most of the private film companies in Vietnam.
Like many of Vietnam’s smaller cities, the city boasts a multitude of restaurants serving typical Vietnamese dishes such as phở or rice vermicelli. Backpacking travellers most often frequent the “Western Quarter” on Phạm Ngũ Lão Street and Bùi Viện Street, District 1.
|Citadel of Saigon||1790||Vietnamese|
|Phung Son Pagoda||1802–1820||Chinese architecture|
|Quan Âm Pagoda||1816||Chinese architecture|
|Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica (Notre Dame Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh City)||1877–1883||Neo-Romanesque|
|Hotel Continental||1901||French Colonial|
|Thiên Hậu Temple||19th century||Chinese architecture|
|Mariamman Temple||late 19th century||Hindu|
|Museum of Ho Chi Minh City – formerly Gia Long Palace||1885–1890||Neo-Classical|
|Saigon Central Post Office||1886–1891||French Colonial|
|Municipal Theatre, Ho Chi Minh City||1897||French Colonial|
|Bình Tây Market||early 20th century||Chinese architecture/Vietnamese]]|
|Giác Lâm Pagoda||1900||Vietnamese|
|Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda||1902||Chinese architecture|
|Ho Chi Minh City Hall||1902–1908||French Colonial|
|Bến Thành Market||1912||French Colonial|
|Hotel Majestic||1925||French Colonial and classical French Riviera|
|Saigon History Museum||1929||Vietnamese|
|Saigon Central Mosque||1935||Indo-Islamic architecture|
|Ấn Quang Pagoda||1948||Vietnamese|
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