As cyclo drivers rest easy below vast neon billboards, the emerging Vietnamese middle class -- mobile phones in hand -- cruise past draped in haute couture on their imported motorcycles. Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City -- Vietnam's largest and most exciting city.
How things have changed from the sleepy days pre-16th century, when the Khmer fishing village of Prey Nokor was established on a vast swampland. Saigon's origins date back to the early 17th century when the area became home for refugees fleeing war in the north. Towards the end of the century, once the population was more Vietnamese and Cambodia’s kingdom waning in influence, Vietnam annexed the territory. Over the following decades Prey Nokor developed into the Saigon the French found when they conquered the region in the mid 19th century.
Within a very short time the French began to leave their mark on the city. Some of the best hotels in Saigon are within grandiose colonial buildings overlooking gorgeous boulevards dating back to Saigon's heyday as the so-called Paris of the Orient. For the French, Saigon became the capital of Cochinchina, an expansive region encompassing parts of modern-day Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Through the next 100 years, they extracted as much as they could from the region -- much of it passing through Saigon's ports. Often cruel and thoughtless, French rule remained over the city and Cochinchina until their exit from Vietnam following their defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
When the French opted out of Vietnam to avoid recognising the Communist victors, they left the south under the care of Emperor Bao Dai who had made his capital there in 1950. Subsequently, when Vietnam was officially partitioned, the southern government, led by Ngo Dinh Diem, kept the capital at Saigon. And there the southern capital remained, throughout the topsy-turvy period of the American war. Then, as America's role in Vietnam's pains drew to an end, Saigon swelled to the eyeballs with refugees fleeing troubles to the north -- just as Prey Nokor once did.
Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Ho Chi Minh City or check hotel reviews on Agoda and Booking . Hungry? Read up on where to eat on Ho Chi Minh City. Want to know what to do once you're there? Check out our listings of things to do in and around Ho Chi Minh City. If you're still figuring out how to get there, you need to read up on how to get to Ho Chi Minh City, or book your transport online with Baolau.
By Vinh Dao.
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