Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, is the largest city in Vietnam and only 50 miles north of the South China Sea. While many current residents may still call the city Saigon, it is officially named Ho Chi Minh City.
Located along the Saigon River and north of the Mekong River delta, it is no wonder that the city flourished with commerce and growth along these waters.
A City of Many Names
For many years, the area where Ho Chi Minh City exists was ruled by Cambodia and known as Prey Nôkôr. When the Vietnamese started taking control of the city in the 17th century it was informally called Sài Gòn. Once the Vietnamese had a stronghold, they named it Gia Ɖinh.
By the 18th century, many French missionaries and settlers began to make moves in that region. Eventually, the French took power and Emperor Tu Duc gave up the city to France. The French occupied area was called Cochinchina and decided to westernize the traditional name of the city by naming it Saigon.
Saigon to Ho Chi Minh
After Saigon fell in 1975, during the Vietnam War (Second Indochina War), it was renamed Ho Chi Minh after one of the first leaders of North Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh led the Viet Minh in fighting against both the Japanese and French occupiers, during World War II, in pursuit of communist ideology and reunification for Vietnam.
Today, the locals use a mix of Ho Chi Minh and Saigon in written and spoken communication about their beloved city. Only Ho Chi Minh City is used for official purposes.
Who was Ho Chi Minh?
Ho Chi Minh, whose birth name was Nguyen Sinh Cung, was born in a small village in central Vietnam. While attending the National Academy in Hue, he was expelled over protesting the French occupation and leader Bao Dai. Inspired by the Russian Bolshevik Revolution and communism, he soon worked for the Communist International organization.
After Vietnam was divided into a northern Communist region and the south anti-Communism, Communist guerrillas (the Viet Cong) attacked the south. The Viet Cong took over the south’s capital of Saigon with the help of the north. It was when Saigon fell on April 30, 1975, that it was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the communist leader who desired reunification of Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh, the leader, is embedded throughout the city (and country) in everything from murals and statues to being the sole figure printed on the currency, the dong.
Due to the history of Ho Chi Minh City, it’s an interesting and unique place to visit. As a hub of finance and business, visitors will be surrounded by modern skyscrapers. However, as one looks a bit closer, the remains of French architecture are woven within older buildings, and ancient temples are sprinkled around the town.
Saigon’s name may have been changed, but the heart of the city is still thriving.