Ho Chi Minh City

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

(Redirected from Saigon)
Jump to: navigation, search
Name: Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh
Former Name: Saigon (Vietnamese: Sài Gòn)
Meaning: Named after Hồ Chí Minh
Region: Southeast
Area: 2,095km²
Population: 5,387,100
Ethnicities: Viet, Hoa

Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnamese: Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh) is the largest city in Vietnam, located near the delta of the Mekong River. Under the name Prey Nokor (Khmer: ), it was the main port of Cambodia, before being conquered by the Vietnamese in the 16th century. Under the name Saigon (Vietnamese: Sài Gòn), it was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina, and later of the independent state of South Vietnam from 1954 to 1975. It is situated on the western bank of the Saigon River. Hồ Chí Minh City is located at 10°45' North, 106°40' East (10.75, 106.667). [1]


Origin of the name

Original Khmer name

The city was known by its original Khmer inhabitants as Prey Nokor (). Prey Nokor means "forest city", or "forest land" in Khmer (Prey = "forest"; Nokor = "city, land", from Sanskrit nagara). The name Prey Nokor is still the name used in Cambodia today, as well as the name used by the Khmer Krom minority living in the delta of the Mekong.

Traditional Vietnamese name

After Prey Nokor was settled by Vietnamese refugees from the north, in time it became known as Sài Gòn. There is much debate about the origins of the Vietnamese name Sài Gòn, whose etymology is analyzed below.

Before the French colonization, the official Vietnamese name of Saigon was Gia Định (chu nom: 嘉定). In 1862, the French discarded this official name and adopted the name "Saigon", which had always been the popular name.

From an orthographic point of view, the Vietnamese name Sài Gòn is written in two syllables, which is the traditional convention in Vietnamese spelling. Some people, however, write the name of the city as SàiGòn or Sàigòn in order to save space or give it a more westernized look.

Sino-Vietnamese etymology

A frequently heard etymology is that Sài is a Chinese loan word (Chinese: 柴, pronounced chái in Mandarin) meaning "firewood, lops, twigs; palisade", while Gòn is another Chinese loan word (Chinese: 棍, pronounced gùn in Mandarin) 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).

Some people say that this name originated from the many cotton plants that the Khmers had planted around Prey Nokor, and which can still be seen at Cây Mai temple and surrounding areas. …

Trương Vĩnh Ký, "Souvenirs historiques sur Saigon et ses environs", in Excursions et Reconnaissances, Imprimerie Coloniale, Saigon, 1885.

Another explanation is that the etymological meaning "twigs" (Sài) & "boles" (Gòn) refers to the dense and tall forest once existing around Saigon, a forest to which the Khmer name Prey Nokor already referred.

Chinese people both in Vietnam and in China do not use the name 柴棍 (pronounced Chaai-Gwan in Cantonese and Cháigùn in Mandarin), although etymologically speaking it is the Chinese name from which the Vietnamese name Sài Gòn is derived (if the theory here is correct). Instead, they call the city 西貢 (pronounced Sai-Gung in Cantonese and Xīgòng in Mandarin), which is a mere phonetic transliteration of the name "Saigon".

Khmer etymology

Another etymology often proposed is that "Saigon" comes from "Sai Con", which would be the transliteration of the Khmer words prey kor () meaning "forest of kapok trees" (prey = forest; kor = kapok tree). The Khmer word prey kor should not be confused with the Khmer name "Prey Nokor" discussed above (kor is a Khmer word meaning "kapok tree", while nokor is a Khmer word of Sanskrit origin meaning "city, land").

This Khmer etymology theory is quite interesting given the Khmer context that existed when the first Vietnamese settlers arrived in the region. However, it fails to completely explain how Khmer "prey" led to Vietnamese "Sài", since these two syllables appear phonetically quite distinct.

Cantonese etymology

A less likely etymology was offered by Vuong Hong Sen, a Vietnamese scholar in the early 20th century, who asserted that Sài Gòn had its origins in the Cantonese name of Cholon (Vietnamese: quoc ngu Chợ Lớn; chu nom ), the Chinese district of Saigon. The Cantonese (and original) name of Cholon is "Tai-Ngon" (堤岸), which means "embankment" (French: quais). The theory posits that "Sài Gòn" derives from "Tai-Ngon".

Current Vietnamese name

On May 1, 1975, after the fall of South Vietnam, the now ruling communist government named the city after the pseudonym of their leader Hồ Chí Minh. The official name is now Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, often abbreviated TPHCM. In English this is translated as Hồ Chí Minh City, abbreviated HCMC, and in French it is translated as Hô Chi Minh Ville (the circumflex is sometimes omitted), abbreviated HCMV. Still, the old name Sài Gòn/Saigon is widely used by Vietnamese and is found in company names or on book titles.


Hồ Chí Minh City began as a small fishing village known as Prey Nokor. The area that the city now occupies was originally swampland, and was inhabited by Khmer people for centuries before the arrival of the Vietnamese. It grew to become a trading post and the main port of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

In 1623, King Chey Chettha II of Cambodia (1618-1628) allowed Vietnamese refugees fleeing the Trinh-Nguyen civil war in Vietnam to settle in the area of Prey Nokor, and to set up a custom house at Prey Nokor. Increasing waves of Vietnamese settlers, which the weakened Cambodian kingdom could not impede, slowly vietnamized the area. In time, Prey Nokor became known as Saigon.

In 1698, Nguyen Huu Canh, a Vietnamese noble, was sent by the Nguyen rulers of Huế to establish Vietnamese administrative structures in the area, thus detaching the area from Cambodia, which was not strong enough to intervene. He is often credited with the expansion of Saigon into a significant settlement.

Conquered by France in 1859, the city was influenced by the French during their colonial occupation of Vietnam, and a number of prominent buildings in the city reflect this.

In 1954, the French were defeated by the Communist Viet Minh in the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ, and withdrew from Vietnam. Rather than recognise the Communists as the new government, however, they gave their backing to a government established by Emperor Bảo Đại. Bảo Đại had set up Saigon as his capital in 1950. When Vietnam was officially partitioned into North Vietnam (the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and South Vietnam (the Republic of Vietnam), the southern government, led by President Ngô Đình Diệm, retained Saigon as its capital.

At the conclusion of the Vietnam War in 1975, the city came under the control of the North Vietnamese Army and its allies. In the U.S. this event is commonly called the "Fall of Saigon," while in Vietnam it is called the "Liberation of Saigon."

In 1976, upon establishment of the unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the victorious Communists renamed the city after socialist Vietnam's founding father, Hồ Chí Minh. The former name Saigon is still used by most Vietnamese, especially in informal contexts. Officially, the term Saigon refers only to District One of Hồ Chí Minh City.

Saigon and the city of Cholon (primarily Vietnamese Chinese) and 3 former districts were combined to create a new city and named in honour of their leader Hồ Chí Minh. There are two seperate parts to this, HCMC is actually a province and covers a very large area up to Cu Chi, and the city itself is known as TP(Thành ph&#7889)HCM, many people of southern origin still call it Saigon. However it is slowly just being known by all as Hồ Chí Minh City.

Hồ Chí Minh City is home to a well-established ethnic Chinese population. The Cholon, now known as district 5 serves as its Chinatown.


City center of Hồ Chí Minh City
City center of Hồ Chí Minh City
Municipal theatre
Municipal theatre

Hồ Chí Minh City is a municipality that exists at the same level as Vietnam's provinces. As such, it has a similar political structure to provinces, with a People's Council and a People's Committee being the principle administrative entities.

The municipality is divided into twenty-two districts. Five of these are designated as rural districts, covering the farmland around the city which is included in the municipality's official boundaries. These districts are named Nha Be, Can Gio, Hoc Mon, Cu Chi, and Binh Chanh. The remaining seventeen districts are found in the city itself. Only five of the urban districts have names (Tan Binh, Binh Thanh, Phu Nhuan, Thu Duc, and Go Vap) - the remainder are simply numbered from one to twelve.


The population of Hồ Chí Minh City (as of 2003) is believed to be around 6 million, making it the highest population-concentrated city in the country. As an administrative unit, its population is also the largest at the province level. Ethnically, the majority of the population is either Vietnamese (Kinh) or Hoa (overseas Chinese), although people from other Vietnamese minorities have also moved to the city.


Medical care is limited and usually of poor quality. Medical facilities usually require cash payment for medical treatment.

The following medical facilities are located in Hồ Chí Minh City:

Medical care is improving:

French Vietnamese Hospital Hồ Chí Minh City (Regional Gateway) - This impressive, brand new(2004?), 277-bed hospital is located in south Hồ Chí Minh City. Hospital shuttles run from downtown, near Ben Thanh Market, every hour. Patients can be picked up from cities in the South of Vietnam, as well. All specialties are available except invasive cardiology and neurosurgery. Ground ambulances are equipped as mini-ICUs and are staffed with both an RN and MD.


Tan Son Nhat Airport is located 4 mi/7 km north of the center (District 1) of Hồ Chí Minh City (Saigon). Taxi and bus services are available for travel from and to the airport and within the city. Buses, however, are generally in poor condition, making them unsafe to ride. While most of the city's taxis are metered and usually in good condition, very few drivers speak English (although some older drivers may speak French). Some drivers refuse to use their meters in order to obtain a higher fare. In July 2000, reports emerged that armed men were stopping taxis in Hồ Chí Minh City and robbing passengers. There have not been any recent reports of such criminal activity. Visitors should not use motorcycle taxis (xe ôm) or three-wheeled cabs (cyclos) as they leave passengers vulnerable.

Street packed with motorbikes
Street packed with motorbikes

Hồ Chí Minh City's transportation system is in poor condition, and many of its streets are riddled with potholes. This is especially true in the city's numerous back streets and alleyways, which are sometimes little more than dirt paths. Visitors should consider the city's streets dangerous due to motorists' general disregard for pedestrians and the constant presence of thousands of motorbikes on the roads. In general most people follow traffic rules and enforcement of traffic law is increasing. However drivers can still be seen driving the wrong way on a one way street or ignoring red lights. Visitors should note that they must obtain a Vietnamese driver's license should they wish to drive in Vietnam as an International Driver's License is not accepted.

Vietnam Airlines is the national carrier of Vietnam. The airline currently operates a modern fleet of Western-built aircraft, but suffered several fatal mishaps prior to phasing out its aging Russian-built fleet. The airline has experienced numerous hijackings, all but one of which occurred during Vietnam's civil war (In VN, called The American War). The most recent occurred in 1992, and did not result in any injuries.

External links

Flag of Vietnam
Regions of Vietnam
Northwest | Northeast | Red River Delta | North Central Coast | South Central Coast | Central Highlands | Southeast | Mekong River Delta
Principal cities
Can Tho | Da Nang | Hai Phong | Hanoi | Ho Chi Minh City
An Giang | Bắc Giang | Bắc Cạn | Bạc Liêu | Bắc Ninh | Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu | Bến Tre | Bình Định | Bình Dương | Bình Phước | Bình Thuận | Cà Mau | Cao Bằng | Đắk Lắk | Đắk Nông | Điện Biên | Đồng Nai | Đồng Tháp | Gia Lai | Hà Giang | Hải Dương | Hà Nam | Hà Tây | Hà Tĩnh | Hòa Bình | Hậu Giang | Hưng Yên | Khánh Hòa | Kiên Giang | Kon Tum | Lai Châu | Lâm Đồng | Lạng Sơn | Lào Cai | Long An | Nam Định | Nghệ An | Ninh Bình | Ninh Thuận | Phú Thọ | Phú Yên | Quảng Bình | Quảng Nam | Quảng Ngãi | Quảng Ninh | Quảng Trị | Sóc Trăng | Sơn La | Tây Ninh | Thái Bình | Thái Nguyên | Thanh Hóa | Thừa Thiên-Huế | Tiền Giang | Trà Vinh | Tuyên Quang | Vĩnh Long, Vĩnh Phúc | Yên Bái

Personal tools