A Walk Down Rue Catinat, Saigon

This used to be the famous Le Pagode Bar and Café, which was the rendezvous for French Military Personnel.  It is currently a Vietnamese restaurant, targeted at tourists.

This used to be the famous Le Pagode Bar and Café, which was the rendezvous for French Military Personnel. It is currently a Vietnamese restaurant, targeted at tourists.

Rue Catinat is the most historic street in Saigon, the Champs Élysées of the city in its heyday, housing the city’s most famous hotels, restaurants, bars, boutiques and retail establishments.  It was named for Nicolas Catinat, a maréchal of France between the 17th and 18th century.  In the course of the late 20th century, the street has undergone two name changes.  Between 1955 and 1975, in the thick of the War and the American Occupation, it was known as Tu Do, or Freedom Street.  Subsequently, once North Vietnam conquered the South, its name was changed once again to the present Đồng Khởi, or Total Uprising Street.

Today, the street has lost much of its glamour and elegance, with many of its colonial-era buildings, and even the sidewalks, in dire need of repair.  That notwithstanding, it is still the premiere street in Ho Chi Minh City for luxury hotels, luxury goods, antiques and art galleries, much like it was before the War.  Quite miraculously, a majority of its famous establishments – in particular, all of its famous hotels – continue to exist, albeit in a restored and revised form.  They sit alongside spanking new mall and hotel towers that have increasingly become the new visual norm on the street, threatening to overwhelm the quaint colonial atmosphere that clings on.

This gallery presents some of the key landmarks on this most chameleonic of streets, which continues to remain at the heart of the city on the Saigon River.

*  *  *  *  *

The Majestic Hotel (1925), sitting at 1 Đồng Khởi Street. Beside it is the building that used to house La Croix du Sud (The Southern Cross), a nightclub run by Corsicans. The area was the Corsican quarter prior to 1955. After 1955, the building became the Tu Do Cabaret.  It is now occupied by Wuttisak, a Thai clinic chain.

The Majestic Hotel (1925), sitting at 1 Đồng Khởi Street. Beside it is the building that used to house La Croix du Sud (The Southern Cross), a nightclub run by Corsicans. The area was the Corsican quarter prior to 1955. After 1955, the building became the Tu Do Cabaret. It is now occupied by Wuttisak, a Thai clinic chain.

There’s been a Maxim Theatre-Restaurant on this site since the ‘50s.  Maxim’s Nam An is now a high-end Vietnamese restaurant.

There’s been a Maxim Theatre-Restaurant on this site since the ‘50s. Maxim’s Nam An is now a high-end Vietnamese restaurant.

Jaspas’s – a restaurant serving Western Food.  This spot was likely occupied by a former grocerie store, Thai Thach in the 50s.

Jaspas’s – a restaurant serving Western Food. This spot was likely occupied by a former grocerie store, Thai Thach in the 50s.

There has been store run by the Nguyen Brothers on this site since the ‘50s.  It was previously a cotton and silk store called Nguyen Chi Hoa.  Now its an antiques and novelties store.

There has been store run by the Nguyen Brothers on this site since the ‘50s. It was previously a cotton and silk store called Nguyen Chi Hoa. Now its an antiques and novelties store.

Evidence of restoration work along the street, which is populated today – as it used to be – by salons, boutiques, art galleries, book stores, novelty stores and the like.

Evidence of restoration work along the street, which is populated today – as it used to be – by salons, boutiques, art galleries, book stores, novelty stores and the like.

The Grand Hotel (1930), the third most famous hotel on the street, after the Continental and the Majestic.  It was once known as the Saigon Palace Hotel.  The art deco façade has been retained, but the building is now topped by a multi-storey tower.

The Grand Hotel (1930), the third most famous hotel on the street, after the Continental and the Majestic. It was once known as the Saigon Palace Hotel. The art deco façade has been retained, but the building is now topped by a multi-storey tower.

No. 58: Another building from the ‘50s, beautifully preserved, now housing Esprit.

No. 58: Another building from the ‘50s, beautifully preserved, now housing Esprit.

This is where the famous Brodard Cafe, famous for its Viennese pastries, used to sit in the 50s.  Up until very recently, it was still here, albeit run by the Gloria Jean Coffee company. It has now become a Sony store.

This is where the famous Brodard Cafe, famous for its Viennese pastries, used to sit in the 50s. Up until very recently, it was still here, albeit run by the Gloria Jean Coffee company. It has now become a Sony store.

There used to be a Catinat Hotel on this street in the ‘50s. However, this modern incarnation sits in the original Miramar Hotel.

There used to be a Catinat Hotel on this street in the ‘50s. However, this modern incarnation sits in the original Miramar Hotel.

The Sheraton Saigon, one of the first spanking new towers on the street. Mojo is a bar and café hugely popular with the younger set and tourists, of course.

The Sheraton Saigon, one of the first spanking new towers on the street. Mojo is a bar and café hugely popular with the younger set and tourists, of course.

The former Eden Center, currently being redeveloped into a mall. Thankfully, the developers seemed to have chosen a design that is in keeping with the colonial architecture of its surroundings.  On the ground floor sat the famous Givral Café, serving French patisseries, cheeses and delicatessen.

The former Eden Center, currently being redeveloped into a mall. Thankfully, the developers seemed to have chosen a design that is in keeping with the colonial architecture of its surroundings. On the ground floor sat the famous Givral Café, serving French patisseries, cheeses and delicatessen.

Across from the Eden Center sits the Hotel Continental (1880).  This is the view from its famous terrace (in the foreground), where countless writers and journalists have installed themselves, in order to observe the city’s comings and goings. In the background sits the restored Opera House, previously the Vietnam National Assembly, and now the Municipal Theatre.

Across from the Eden Center sits the Hotel Continental (1880). This is the view from its famous terrace (in the foreground), where countless writers and journalists have installed themselves, in order to observe the city’s comings and goings. In the background sits the restored Opera House, previously the Vietnam National Assembly, and now the Municipal Theatre.

The famous Rex Hotel (1966), with its roof-top bar. Not quite on Rue Catinat, but visible from it.  It was made famous by American G.I.s during the War as its conference room held a daily conference on the state of events.  While the façade remains, the interior is now plush, luxurious and contemporary.

The famous Rex Hotel (1966), with its roof-top bar. Not quite on Rue Catinat, but visible from it. It was made famous by American G.I.s during the War as its conference room held a daily conference on the state of events. While the façade remains, the interior is now plush, luxurious and contemporary.

Across from the Opera House: once departmental store. It now houses the luxurious Opera View apartments, and Louis Vuitton.

Across from the Opera House: once departmental store. It now houses the luxurious Opera View apartments, and Louis Vuitton.

Lovely French colonial era apartment building, with a row of art galleries and boutiques on the ground floor.

Lovely French colonial era apartment building, with a row of art galleries and boutiques on the ground floor.

The towers of Vincom, the largest mall in Vietnam.  Personally, contemporary architecture notwithstanding, I do think the architect made an effort to reflect Vietnam’s traditional architecture in the sloping glass roofs atop each tower.

The towers of Vincom, the largest mall in Vietnam. Personally, contemporary architecture notwithstanding, I do think the architect made an effort to reflect Vietnam’s traditional architecture in the sloping glass roofs atop each tower.

Another French colonial era apartment block.  The building to the right apparently features in the iconic photograph of the Fall of Saigon, with a helicopter at the top of the building, and hundreds of people clamouring to get on.

Another French colonial era apartment block. The building to the right apparently features in the iconic photograph of the Fall of Saigon, with a helicopter at the top of the building, and hundreds of people clamouring to get on.

To the right is the Catinat Post, which was variously used as a Secret Police headquarters and Office of National Defense, where revolutionaries were imprisoned and tortured. As of 1975, it has become the City Department of Culture and Information.

To the right is the Catinat Post, which was variously used as a Secret Police headquarters and Office of National Defense, where revolutionaries were imprisoned and tortured. As of 1975, it has become the City Department of Culture and Information.

The neo-classical wedding-cake architecture of the General Post Office (1886).

The neo-classical wedding-cake architecture of the General Post Office (1886).

Notre-Dame Cathedral (1880), sitting in Paris Square. In the background are the towers of Diamond Plaza.

Notre-Dame Cathedral (1880), sitting in Paris Square. In the background are the towers of Diamond Plaza.

Finally, another view of the Opera House on a rainy evening. Looming over it is the last famous hotel on Rue Catinat – the Caravelle (1959), housing numerous foreign embassies and the offices of the New York Times and the Washington Post during the War. The original building sits to the right of the high-rise tower.

Finally, another view of the Opera House on a rainy evening. Looming over it is the last famous hotel on Rue Catinat – the Caravelle (1959), housing numerous foreign embassies and the offices of the New York Times and the Washington Post during the War. The original building sits to the right of the high-rise tower.

 

PDF: Gallery IIIB – Rue Catinat or Dong Khoi Street (3.5 Mbs)

About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Art & Architecture, Cities & Regions, Landmarks & History, Photography, Travel & Mobility and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A Walk Down Rue Catinat, Saigon

  1. Roger says:

    Oh my, this brings back memories. I was there in ’58-59 and spent many an hour at the Tu Do bar!!! Then on to the Mayfair, which was quieter and more genteel 🙂

    • Malkhan says:

      Is there any one who could post me a picture of the Jewelry Store O.L.M.Ibrahim & Company which was at 117, Rue De Catinat, Saigon. As this was my Grand Fathers shop and he died there during the war.

  2. Quynh Nguyen says:

    Thank you very much for this informative post. This is a street all the Vietnamese of the past love, and we will soon miss it very much.

  3. Marc G.H. says:

    Spent time on Tu Do in 1970-71. Have been back twice since then. So much seems the same, so much is very different. Entire blocks being torn down and rebuilt. This area of the city will always have a place in my heart.

  4. Steven Tavss says:

    I spent many hours on Tu Do in 1966 and 1967. As a G.I. stationed at Tan Son Nhut I was downtown almost every night. The Saigon Tea girls were delightful and I did not mind paying for colored water as their company was what made the time there more pleasant. Fortunately, I never saw the war and so have pleasant memories of my time there.

  5. Roger Mills says:

    Steve– you were certainly lucky not to have “seen the war”! Rumor had it (I heard later) that a certain % of those girls at the Tu Do were actually boys in drag. Never had occasion to test that out….. I did endear myself to one of them when I told her she looked like Audrey Hepburn ha ha. It was certainly a happening place!!! Also spent many a weekend at the Hotel de la Piscine at Long Hai (Cap St. Jacques area), which I hear later become “officers only,” My year in Saigon was also a happy experience.

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