On the maps, it's Ho Chi Minh City, but everyone still calls it Saigon. Lying along the Saigon River to the north of the Mekong River delta, about 50 miles (80 km) from the South China Sea, it is Vietnam's largest and most famous city and is surrounded by rivers and canals. Its broad, colonial boulevards leading to the Saigon River bear testimony to the French colonial influence. Cholon, the city's "Chinatown," reflects the Chinese influence in Vietnam. Reunification Hall (the former Presidential Palace) is one of the more fascinating sites in the city, both because of its striking architecture and the history it tells. The History Museum houses and excellent collection of artifacts from the Bronze Age Don Son civilization to the Chams, Khmers, and Vietnamese.
Other sights include Notre Dame Cathedral and the Thien Hau Temple - dedicated to the Goddess Protector of Sailors. This structure dates back to the late 18th century and features large burning spirals suspended from the ceiling. About 1 1/2 hours outside the city are the tunnels of Cu Chi, an intricate subterranean network built during the Vietnam War where you can see underground meeting rooms, kitchens, hospitals, and sleeping areas and examine some of the tools and weapons utilized by guerillas. From Ho Chi Minh City you can also visit the Mekong Delta, Yagon and the Temples of Bagan.
During the 14th century Ho Chi Minh City was a trading post known as Prey Nokor that grew into a small town, similar to the nearby traditional Cambodian villages. Renamed Saigon in the 18th century by the controlling Nguyens, local uprisings led to French intervention in 1859. During the Vietnam War, Saigon's population nearly tripled and the city grew uncontrollably. In 1975, at the end of the war, North Vietnam had defeated South Vietnam after 30 years of battle and the new communist regime changed the official name of the city of Saigon to Ho Chi Minh.
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