Travel blog: The city with two names – Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City

We have many names for the things we love. But that’s not quite the reason behind Vietnam’s largest city whose two names made us slightly confused. Is it called Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City? Or both?

Written by Mette / Photo by Martin
Translated from Danish

“Why do some people write Saigon and others Ho Chi Minh City?” I looked questioningly at Martin who was in the process of researching for the best place to stay in the city. I felt slightly embarrassed not knowing this after 20 years of education. Fortunately, it’s not at all stupid to be confused. The Vietnamese people are also divided when naming this modern metropolis.

If you ask the people

If you ask the Communists and people from North Vietnam the city is called Ho Chi Minh City. Or the popular abbreviation ‘HCMC’. If you ask the anti-communists and the people of South Vietnam the city is called Saigon. Adding to the confusion the 10 million inhabitants of the city will tell you that the official name is Ho Chi Minh City. But the old center, District 1, is called Saigon.

Why? I wish the explanation was related to simple admiration, as we often tend to give nicknames to lovely things and great places. Unfortunately it is not that simple. There is a conflict behind: The two names echo’s the turbulent history and partly political tension of the city. A tension which sadly still exist today 40 years after the Vietnam War ended.

The story behind the name change

Admitted! I am not a mastermind on political entanglements. But I love history. And a few Google-threads later I found the historical reason behind the name change from Saigon to HCMC. To get the full picture we have to rewind time back to 1975 when the Vietnam War was at its end. At that time the city was solely called Saigon which was officially decided in 1859 during the French occupation.

In the colonial era the French tore everything down, drained the swampy land, filled the channels up and founded a new city with beautiful French colonial buildings, wide boulevards and an overall street system. Pardon, I am cruising a bit off track here. The story of the name change has nothing to do with the ambitions of the French imperialist, though it does explain the colonial architecture in District 1. 

So, back in 1975 it was years ago since the French had bid Saigon Au revoir. The Vietnam War had a 20 years timestamp and the country was divided in two: North and South Vietnam. Everything indicated that the North Vietnamese army was strong enough to end the war within two years. But it only took an additional two months. 

On April 30th 1975 they conquered Saigon and manifested their victory to the world as they unopposed ran a tank through the gates of the presidential palace. They immediately renamed the city Ho Chi Minh City in memory of their revolutionary hero. The man who the Communists considered to be the Father of the socialist republic: Uncle Ho. And that’s why the city has two names.

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