Across from the City Museum, a grandmother sits at the base of ancient banyan trees, quietly contemplating the city.
I came to Ho Chi Minh City expecting to find the essence of Saigon in all the noise and the pollution. I came away from Ho Chi Minh City thinking I had seen nothing but Ho Chi Minh City – a city defined by the Vietnam War and by decades of Communist control; and that Saigon – the old French and South Vietnamese colonial city – remained distant and elusive, possibly lost.
Afterwards, looking through my folder of photographs of the trip, I came across dozens of photos that seem to me to have captured this elusive sense of Saigon, however fleeting. I came to the understanding that the name “Ho Chi Minh City” was quite possibly just a sort of a cover, in the sense of a disguise or a veil; an adhesive bandage, if you will, placed over an open wound to help it heal and removed when the wound is finally healed and the skin is good as new.
From what I gather on this trip to Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon, this wound is healing fast. Soon, the bandage will be removed and Saigon will re-emerge again from behind its cover, resplendent and brazen as before. In the meantime, Saigon’s heritage is still there, infused in everyday life, which is surprisingly multi-cultural and multi-religious. From the food, to the way people interact with each other, to the lovely sing-song quality of the language – Tiếng Việt – the spirit of Saigon still lives on and will come to bear upon decisions of how, really, to develop or preserve their city, later on.
This gallery presents over a dozen snapshots of Saigon, irrepressibly peeking through the façade of Ho Chi Minh City, and ensuring that the modern city never quite overwhelms the older metropolis. All of these views are contained within the historic quarter roughly bordered by Lê Duẩn, Hai Bà Trưng, Tôn Đức Thắng, Hàm Nghi and Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa Streets.
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Young Vietnamese touring the interior of Notre-Dame Cathedral, with its beautiful but woefully out of place stained glass windows.
Locals enjoying crepes and coffee at a popular café, housed in a lovely French colonial villa near the Reunification Palace.
A row of colonial-era shophouses on the same street as Crepes et Café.
The tranquil corridors of the City Museum, once the Governor of Cochinchina’s Palace. It was built in 1885 in a neo-classical style.
The Saigon Central Mosque, circa 1935. Built initially for Indian Muslims from Southern India.
The Subramaniam Swamy Temple, one of three hindu temples in the city, built to cater to the religious needs of Tamils from Pondicherry (French India) and later on, chettiars.
Glimpse of an ao dai on Dong Khoi Street. The building to the left is part of the original French infantry barracks.
A streetfood vendor in traditional garb sits on Dong Khoi Street, contemplating what Saigon has become. To the left are the Vincom Towers.
Trung Nguyen Coffee – quite literally No. 1, in my opinion.
Another popular local coffee chain, occupying a French colonial villa.
Beautiful shuttered windows of French era apartment buildings, on Dong Khoi Street.
A row of traditional shophouses now housing boutiques and restaurants.
A beautiful colonial villa, now housing the offices of a municipal department.
Another beautiful colonial villa, probably a private residence.
Motorcycles zooming past the Phuong Mai Art Gallery.
My one concession to Ho Chi Minh City. This appears to be some kind of commemoratory message for the 82nd anniversary of (North) Vietnam.
Quan An Ngon, the best and most popular Vietnamese restaurant in Saigon, housed in a colonial villa.
PDF: Gallery IIIA – Postcards from Saigon (2.8 Mbs)