It is such a typical question that almost every traveler who visits Vietnam may ask. Arriving at the international airport in Vietnam southern city, you may get confused when half of the population call it “Ho Chi Minh City” and the other half are familiar with the name “Saigon”. And the answer is: Vietnam’s biggest city by population has not only one but two names, both Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon.
According to the Khmer Chronicle, Saigon was initially a small fishing harbor known as Preah Reach Nokor, which meant "Royal City" of Cambodia in the early 17th century. Due to the settlement of the Nguyen Dynasty at the end of the 1600s, this well-off land, sooner or later, became Vietnam’s territory.
During the French colonial occupation since 1859, Saigon was regarded as The Pearl of The Far East because of its wealth and many Western-style buildings. In 1679, communities of traders from China first arrived and established a new town called Cholon where trade flourished, beside Saigon until 1931. These two cities remained separate as far as South Vietnam’s independence from France in 1955 and they were united right after that under the name Saigon.
The word “Saigon” first appeared in 1776 in a document of Le Quy Don, a scholar in Vietnam, and in that of the French government in 1784, but the name might have appeared long before that. There are many ways to explain the meaning of the word Saigon. One of the theories was based on the book entitled Dai Nam Quoc Am Tu Vi of Huynh Tinh Cua. In this book, they mentioned that “Sai” means firewood, “Gon” is the name of the kapokier (a type of plant) which were very popular in the area back then, and thus the term "Saigon" was chosen to name this city.
Ho Chi Minh was the name of the first leader of North Vietnam, Socialist Republic of Vietnam. His name can be understood as the enlightening one, but it also refers to his patriotism. From 1965 to 1975, Saigon was functioned as the capital of The Republic of Vietnam. When the Northern Vietnamese Army gained control on April 30th, 1975, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City to honor Uncle Ho’s sacrifice and leadership in the revolution. This country's north and the south region could finally reunite, which brought an end to the Vietnam War.
People in Vietnam usually call Ho Chi Minh City “Saigon” as a habit because it is a shorter way to address the city. Another reason for the popularity of the name “Saigon” is because many foreign visitors find it easier to remember than “Ho Chi Minh City”, and the “SGN” abbreviation is also used for flights from or to Ho Chi Minh City.
As if it was not confusing enough, the use of “Saigon” is also different for many locals. If the locals are living in the city, they will interpret “Saigon” as “District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City”. But if the locals come from other regions and not living in the city, they will associate “Saigon” as “Ho Chi Minh City”.
Even though time flies, name changed, there are some things still stay the same in this metropolis. And the most easy-to-see is scooter - the main transportation of the citizen through decades. If you want to gain new experience in Ho Chi Minh City, traveling on a scooter with a local guide is worth considering.
Most of the famous tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh City are from the 19th century when the city is still called Saigon, so even now you will be likely to hear the terms Saigon attractions more often on your trip.
The city is also famous for its food not only the original one but also the one coming from many different regions and cultures in Vietnam. Many of them have come to the city since the colonization, adapting to Saigonese taste, and became traditional dishes in Ho Chi Minh City.
The city's name of Saigon was adjusted to Ho Chi Minh City to mark a significant milestone of the nation from 1975, which may still cause some confusion for visitors. But either Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, both names are still used interchangeably, you will still bring good memories back home when traveling to this city because of its cultural diversity and its friendly locals.
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when I asked your tour guide about the city's name, he gave a really thorough answer, then I went online to check and came across your article love how you guys are dedicated to promoting the traditions and culture of Vietnam in the most insightful and authentic way possible
this is interesting and i enjoyed reading it