Ho Chi Minh’s Chinatown is the largest and most historic in the entire country. Located 11km west of the city center in District 5, Cholon’s origins can be traced as far back as 1778.
During the 18th century, Vietnam’s Chinese population took refuge in Cholon after the ruling Tay Son Dynasty deemed them a threat to the nation’s security. In 1782, a massacre resulted in over 10,000 Chinese Vietnamese (known as the Hoa people) brutally losing their lives. After the bloodshed, their sanctuary, now known as Cholon, had to be rebuilt from smoking ruins.
The following decades marked a period of sustained growth for Cholon. Shops were built, apartment blocks rose from the ground, and its streets quickly became crowded and bustling. Living up to its name, which translates to ‘Big Market’, hopeful vendors made their living in Cholon’s cramped corners, much like they do today.
During the Vietnam War, American soldiers established a black market in Cholon where they dealt various military memorabilia and supplies. The iconic photograph depicting the assassination of Nguyễn Văn Lém was also taken at Cholon. Influences from Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines are also apparent.
For over 140 years, the Binh Tay Market has helped feed and entertain its local population. Its array of fresh produce, street food, and unique handicrafts also pulls in thousands of tourists every year. For a candid look into the lives of Cholon’s locals, head down to the Chinese market and immerse yourself in a different side of Saigon.
For another slice of Chinese culture, head down to the Ba Thien Temple on Nguyen Trai Street. This stunning Chinese temple was built in honor of the sea goddess Mazu. Constructed way back in 1790, the Thein Hua Temple is one of Cholon’s most enduring landmarks.
The regal construction and grand interior are quintessentially Chinese, and its Zen-like atmosphere is unmistakably Buddhist. Reflecting Cholon’s diverse background, there’s also a mosque and a catholic church can also be found in the area.
Food-lovers will relish exploring the abundance of illustrious, authentic Chinese restaurants and food outlets in Cholon. Not only is the food here remarkably cheap but also delicious and packed with flavor. As you would expect, the area boasts some of the finest Chinese food the country has to offer.
In addition to the laundry list of authentic Chinese restaurants, Cholon also offers a host of unique bars, cafes, and pubs. Whilst the nightlife here isn’t as vibrant compared to other areas of Ho Chi Minh City, there’s still plenty of variety in Cholon’s evening life and you certainly won’t be bored visiting there.
Cholon is a relatively straightforward area to get to, located just 6 miles (11km) from central Ho Chi Minh, the area rests on the banks of the Ho Chi Minh River. There are numerous tours which will transport you through Cholon, and getting there by taxi will not cost you a lot of money.
Cholon is one of Ho Chi Minh City’s true gems. During its 300-year history, it has reinvented itself from a tragic arena of bloodshed and massacre into a bustling, thriving microcosm that is, fittingly, now full of life.
Address: phường 11, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam