Riverside Hotel Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | C.1887

Photo Credit: Alex Huynh

It’s a tale of two cities. Well, two names for the same city. Throughout Ho Chi Minh City, many sumptuous spots, like the Riverside Hotel on the banks of the Saigon River, have “Saigon” in their name—but looking Saigon up on a map, you’ll discover there’s no city by that name to be found…anymore. Turns out that in this Vietnamese city, citizens don’t use just Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City for their metropolis, they use both. 

Like Istanbul was once known as Constantinople, a change in a city’s name can represent a change in power. Even Saigon, the name given to this urban center for only a little over 100 years, was instituted when the French created their colony of Indochina. Before the French takeover, Gia Định was the city’s given name–with “Saigon” possibly being a French misinterpretation of what locals claimed was the city’s name. 

Under Western influence for more than a century, which can still be observed today in the French architectural styles around the old city, the area’s official given name would again change with the conclusion of the Vietnam War in 1975. Named after the leader of the North Vietnamese forces, Ho Chi Minh, the new moniker symbolized a new era in the city’s history, and has remained unchanged ever since. 

Especially when perusing the shops and streets of the old city center, one will find Saigon is used interchangeably with Ho Chi Minh City. Locals use both names proudly to describe their municipality, even though one may no longer be official. Within these two names lies an interesting history, and from their roots sheds a light on the bustling Vietnamese city we know today.

Written By: Seamus McMahon

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