Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is famous for its diversity in a cultural combination of different ethnicities. Some areas have been established for a couple of centuries, and despite the developed modern world, they still keep their historical aspects reflected in many ways of life. And Cho Lon - the largest Chinatown in Vietnam - is one of the oldest, busiest, and most authentic towns for those who are looking for another side of Ho Chi Minh City in casual daily life.
The Chinese immigration to Saigon began a very long time ago. There are many sources recorded differently the time Chinese people first arrived in Saigon and established Cho Lon (or called Tai Ngon in Cantonese). It was believed that in 1679, some traders from China had already come and started their business in this area. However, it was not until the early 1770s when a small community of Chinese ran away from a Vietnam civil war in Pho Islet (Cu Lao Pho) to this place that the area was officially formed and became crowded.
Many men at that time were rich from their business at Cho Lon. They did many types of business mostly trading and built many architectures which have become famous attractions of the city today like the Fine Arts Museum and Binh Tay Market. Another interesting fact not very well-known to many people is that Cho Lon used to be a separate city from Saigon. It was due to the urbanization from 1930 to 1950 that a part of the old Cho Lon and Saigon were gradually merged.
The area of Cho Lon town covers District 5, District 10, District 11, and District 6. Cho Lon today is not only famous for its flourished trade but also a huge tourist spot thanks to many historical and cultural attractions. Even though having been residing in Vietnam for several centuries, the culture of Chinese people ("nguoi Hoa" in Vietnamese) in Cho Lon still lasts after many generations, and there is no sign of diminishing. The Chinese community built schools, pagodas, and markets which created huge impacts on Saigon’s economy and culture.
Cho Lon is well-known for many old temples in District 5 and District 10 which are typical of Chinese-style architecture, such as Thien Hau Temple on Nguyen Trai Street, Nhi Phu Temple on Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street, and Quan Am Pagoda on Lao Tu Street. Cho Lon is also home to other religions like Islam and Catholicism that are still practiced in worship places such as Cho Lon Mosque on Nguyen Trai Street and Jean d’Arc Church on Hung Vuong Street. Besides, another place you must see in Cho Lon is the Fito Museum on Hoang Du Khuong Street. It is a museum displaying several kinds of old Chinese and Vietnamese medicine.
The Chinese are famous for their cooking skills which make beautiful, savory, and delectable dishes. There are plenty of restaurants in Chinatown that last through the decades and still reserve their own secret recipes. You can easily find these dishes both in local restaurants and on the streets like roasted ducks, noodles, dumplings, and many kinds of desserts, especially in District 5.
It is not hard to notice that the cuisines of Chinese people are always full of colors and nutritious at the same time. Even though they also prefer rice as their main staple like Vietnamese, they cannot go without soup and noodles in every meal. The noodle that you find in Cho Lon has many different types other than just Pho. You can try the spicy noodle at Quang Ky on Trieu Quang Phuc Street or Phieu Ky on Nguyen An Street.
There are also several local restaurants with a wonderful combination of traditional Chinese and Vietnamese food, such as Pho Le (noodles with beef) in District 5, Com Tam Tu Map (Broken rice) in District 10, and Bun Cha Ho Guom (District 5). Besides, because the main population follows Buddhism, Chinese residents also have several vegetarian dishes using vegetables and tofu.
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With Binh Tay Market at its heart, Cho Lon is where you can find goods at low prices in many wholesale and retail shops. Common items are usually silk, lantern, clothes with woven textiles, and tropical fruits from Mekong Delta. You can have a walk around Chinatown while enjoying street foods and the sound of the surrounding crowd.
Cho Lon is also a trading center, besides the local wet markets, there are also wholesale markets of steel, chemical products as well as textiles, and sewing material (Dai Quang Minh and Dong Khanh Trading Centers) as well as shopping malls (Parkson Hung Vuong, Garden Mall, and An Dong Plaza). You can do some clothes shopping at these centers or go to the cinemas and arcades in the malls for leisure.
At night, there are also some exotic bars, and pubs with local beer for tourists that you may try like Lang nuong Nam Bo (BBQ) on To Hien Thanh Street, Quan Con Co (beer restaurant) on Tran Binh Trong Street, and Hongkong Kungfu Noodle Khai Ky on Ha Ton Quyen Street.
Cho Lon or Chinatown in Ho Chi Minh City is the harmonized mixture of Vietnamese and Chinese cultures. It is lit up by traditional values and long history.
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