Many people make the mistake of thinking that Ho Chi Minh City is the capital of Vietnam but it is not, Hanoi is the capital city. What the world is remembering is the almost 100 years of French colonial rule over the country that used Ho Chi Minh City as the capital of the Indochina colony. Under French rule, this city became famous as “Saigon.”
The residents of Ho Chi Minh City are still referred to as the “Saigonese.” Indochina was made up of parts of what is now known as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The French influence is still visible in these areas and found in the blending of colonial architecture and traditional style.
The Saigon That Was
Saigon was a much smaller city that was comprised of colonial villas and government outposts. It took its name from the Saigon River and slowly became influenced not just by the French, but by many countries that established relations with the colony. During the French colonization, Saigon’s population remained around 120,000 people.
After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam combined the city of Saigon with nearby districts and the province of Gia Dinh to create one city, which was then named Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the communist leader of the same name. Ho Chi Minh City has since grown to be the most populous of the Vietnamese cities, even becoming larger than the capital with an estimated 15 million people living within the city proper and outlying districts.
Ho Chi Minh City – Language and People
Modern day Ho Chi Minh City is populated by a mix of native Vietnamese and Foreign immigrants and visitors. It remains a popular choice among expats looking to remain in Vietnam but not necessarily wanting to tangle as directly with the politics of the country as can happen in Hanoi. The colonial flair of the city also makes it more familiar to the Western visitor. Not surprisingly, the language of Ho Chi Minh City is mostly Vietnamese with a large variety of Chinese dialects but little Mandarin. English is spoken here more reliably than in Hanoi but not to such a great degree as should be relied upon by the traveler. Having the services of a good translator is highly recommended.
The Busy City
Ho Chi Minh City is the economic hub of Vietnam. While Hanoi is the seat of government, culture and education; Ho Chi Minh City lays claim to industry and economy. Over 20% of the entire countries GDP comes from business located here. While tourism is important – finance, industry and trade have a much greater impact on the economy.
One of the strongest of the industries found here is in the Quang Trung Software Park. Vietnam has become a world leader in robotics and software innovation. The park houses a software training school as well as the headquarters of some major Internet companies. Ho Chi Minh City directs a large share of its resources and efforts into supporting and growing the hi-tech industries within its city limits.