The People's Republic of Vietnam

Tour 3: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Cholon

Thin Red Line tour, so obviously readers should start there for more about the area. In general, I enjoyed the south but not as much as Danang.

Southern Vietnam

The Vietnamese conquered some areas of present day Vietnam as recently as two hundred years ago. Further, since those later conquests, the South has effectively had its effective independence perhaps half the time. So the story that the North sold, of one country united always, remains a fable.

Whereas the North had to contend with the Chinese, the South faced the threat of the Chams. That threat lessened 400 hundred years ago when the Vietnamese finally burned the capital of the Chams near Danang. After that, though the Chams periodically became a serious obstacle, generally the settlers marched southward in an inevitable progression. Thereafter, the South faced its greatest threats, not from outsiders such as the fading Khmer or Thais, but from the civil wars involving the north. So Southern society arose without the constant fear of foreign invasion.

The South also had less fear of simple starvation. The Mekong Delta, in particular, offered a much richer environment than the Red River, meaning the spectre of famine didn't argue for a strong central government.

Southern society then lacks the pressures that lead to a tight centralized whole and more towards an open, tolerating society. Racially, the Southerners form a cross between the ethnic Vietnamese, hill tribes, and the aforementioned Chams. Culturally, as well, the South draws on a number of sources for its culture, including the large ethnic Chinese community. Also, as mentioned in other tours, the Vietnamese who moved south often did so for the same reasons as Americans who moved West, a desire to escape the tigher bounds of the society they left.

Far more than the North, the South orients itself towards making money. If the Northerners could adopt from the French an ideology about socialism, the southerners could adopt American and French ideas about capitalism if not democracy. It says something about the south that during the last days of the Republic, not only did the usual corruption remain, but southernerns remained the primary sources for supplying arms to the Viet Cong, not for patriotic reasons but simply to turn a profit. If indeed Vietnam becomes an economic dragon, the impetus will come from Saigon.

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

No one, except the most ardent nationalist, calls it "Ho Chi Minh City." Saigon boasts a bustling business culture, seemingly hampered only by the government. In Saigon, you see real businessmen and the profits of real business, such as cars and motorcycles. In contrast, no one seems to pay much attention to religion or to Communism.


Saigon boasts one of the largest Chinatown's in Southeast Asia, so big, in fact, that it merits its own name. It tells something about the south that, unlike the North, it doesn't regard the Chinese as suspicious aliens and a potential "5th Column," but as simply part of the city.

Saigon ("Ho Chi Minh City")


This shows the center of Downtown Saigon.

Notice how much attention the author's posing
with "Uncle Ho" draws from irate by-standers.

This French "Notre Dame" of Vietnam now
forms a hang-out for toughs and beggars.

I don't remember what this is.

This claims status as the former headquarters of
Catholic missions and shows obvious neglect.

The Chua Vinh Nghiem appeared to most attractive of the city's Buddhist temples, but again few showed much interest. Here a little Vietnamese beggar girl attacked me saying "You! You! You!" and demanding money. By her age, should could not have been half-American.

Marxism and motorcyles: the new Revolution.

A warlike statue of, I think, the leader who
conquered the area from the Khmers.

This may be the famous "Liberty Hotel" of the war lore, or it may be simply
a Liberty Hotel. The clerks couldn't tell me

I took this picture of Chua Xa Loi at the wrong time.

Another inside Buddha shot.

Note scooters, motorcycles, and even cars but far fewer samlors and bicycles and the ugly statue.

They built this presidential mansion, now a museum, after an irate student burned the French designed structure built in the 1950s. President Diem ruled here as did the various coup sucessors who had him killed.

This guide wears the aoi dai, the national dress.

This honors a bomb that hit the capital in 1975.


One of Cholon's many Chinese temples fronts the street.

A De Soto bus?

Only in Cholon can you see a Cathoic church
with a name like Cho Binh Tay and archway.

In these Cholon markets you can buy everything or, at
least, a lot more than you can find further north.

As one might expect, a Confucius statue.

Note the traffic in front of this Chinese
temple and the age of the vendors.

The joss sticks burn.

This last arch displays yet another style.


The former US Embassy looks strangely ready to open.

Appropriately, the police arrest someone.

This shows where the smartest Vietnamese went.

Related Vietnamese Tours:
Back to Tour 2: Danang and Hue
On to Tour 1: Hanoi

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Read The Thin Red Line.
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