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BRIDGET MARCH

sensational

SAIGON

VIET NAM NEWS AGENCY PUBLISHING HOUSE


Bridget March has become fascinated by the country’s history, landscapes, culture and commerce and tells the stories of the places she visits in her paintings, drawings and sketches. Bridget came to Vietnam in 2012 after a career as a free-lance product designer and nine years as a lecturer at a specialist college of art in the UK. She now has her own gallery in the old French Quarter of Hoi An, Vietnam where you can see the full range of her work and get signed copies of her books. March Gallery 25 Phan Boi Chau Hoi An www.marchgallery-hoian.com

Other books by Bridget March ‘A Week in Hoi An’ ‘A Summer in Sapa’ ‘Yellow City’ Photography by Venture Studios www.venturephotography.com/hk/ www.bridgetmarch.co.uk www.marchgallery-hoian.com Bridgetinvietnam Marchgallery March Gallery 25 Copyright Bridget March 2017


BRIDGET MARCH

sensational

SAIGON


This city of wide avenues and tall trees is wide open like a glossy magazine. It is dynamic, exciting, eclectic and fast but it has a lingering perfume of a much more elegant, exotic and enigmatic past.This city of two names has two faces as well. Saigon has a legacy of wealthy rice merchants, opium and the memory of dimly lit bars and beautiful girls in silk cocktail dresses, gracious mansions and all the glamour that France bestowed upon it. Ho Chi Minh City is one of the most dynamic cities in Asia and is changing faster that you can say ‘skyscraper’! The new growth and wealth is choking the streets with more bikes and cars and the escalating rate of construction means the skyline changes daily as old neighbourhoods are cleared to make way for concrete and glass apartments and office towers. 60% of the population is under 30, the city is buzzing with their optimism and energy, traditional ways are giving way to modern, tailors are giving way to fashion designers, corner shop beer is being replaced by imported brews, and global brands are popping up in wealthy neighbourhoods. However, the best fresh food is still available in Ben Thanh market food hall, beautiful girls still wear national costume and the close knit family and neighbourhood networks are the backbone of this conservative, smiling town.

Xin Chao

Saigon!


In the 1877s, the French built their church a mid parkland and then positioned the grand post office next door. The seat of government was further alo ng the sa me street and so, the modern Saig on began to take shape.. This lo vely square is a hive of activ ity from dawn to dusk. Street vendors, taxis, the roaring motorcycles and busy office workers fil the air wit h their bustle and chatter. At the edge of the garden the devout of Saig on stop to pray at the Statue of the Virgin Mary and steal a few moments of silence a mid the bustle


The Ho Chi Minh City Post Office used to be the centre of everything in the city. Before anyone owned a phone, when calls back home had to be booked in advance, before the internet, this was the place to meet, to send news home, to swap gossip. News reporters phoning their stories home, money being telegraphed around the world and the rows of ceili ng fans keeping everyone cool. . Picture the forecourt ja mmed wit h cyclo s and bicycles, servants and secretaries laden wit h packages to be sent around the world. Don’t miss the huge old maps on the walls showing what a small town this was less than 100 years ago.

I always think this building looks more like a French provincial railway station than a post office.


Across the façade of the building as a line of decorative roundels commemorating some of the heroes of French science and culture including Pasteur, Voltaire, Calmette, Hugo and the Englishman Faraday. It is interesting that the Vietnamese still choose to revere Pasteur and Calmette in the streets names of Saigon even though all other French street names were to commemorate Vietnamese heroes after the French were ejected. The post office is a lovely meeting place where you can buy collectable stamps and old Vietnamese bank notes. Like all Vietnam’s post offices, there is a complete wrapping and packing service for sending packages all over the world.


Reunification Palace - ‘dinh Thống Nhất’


The former governor’s Palace damaged by bombs in 1962

The new palace completed in 1966 - ‘dinh Thống Nhất’


I have grown very fond of the dinh Thong Nhat buil ding. Some may regret the demolit ion of the former Baroque French buil ding that stood on the sa me sit e but I beli eve the new buil ding represents modern Saig on so much better. I admire the way the Vietna mese archit ect, Ngo Viet Thu, translated the very sa me proportions into contemporary 1960’s aesthetics in a brave and elegant statement about independence for a new, unif ied Vietna m for the 20th century.


The administrative heart of 19th century Saigon and the Earth Dragon

It is said that is the earth dragon lays its head at the seat of government, it endows the incumbent with influence and prosperity. However, if the dragon waves its tail around, the power and security will be lost. At Turtle Lake, the dragon’s tail is pinned to the earth by a giant sword. The turtle was destroyed in an explosion. The pond is the octagonal shape of the Buddhist Bagua which is the key to Fung Shui and has deep meaning in this quarter of the city.


Turtle Lake


The Opera House - ‘Nhà hát Lớn’ The Opera House is a perfect example of the way the French brought their culture with them when they occupied foreign lands.The grand entrance is said to be modelled on Le Petit Palais in Paris. The opera has had as colourful a history as the rest of Saigon. Between 1956 and 1975 it served at the assembly hall of South Vietnam but was soon restored to a theatre after reunification. Today it is a delightful theatre that seats 500. A favourite event is the annual performance of Tchakovsky’s Nutrcracker at Christmas. Everyone dresses up for the occasion.


On the other side of the opera is the Caravelle Hotel opened in 1959. During the 1960s it served as the Australian Embassy and a communication hub for the Australian ABC, the USA CBS and NBC television stations. It was one of the first hotels to have air conditioning and its own generator. The rooftop bar, ‘Saigon Saigon’, is mostly unchanged since those days.


is on e est hote l in Vietn a m, old e th is, th of T he int erior tic era wh en Grah a m an m ro at th of e v i at of th e m ost evoc wh en South Vietn a m n’, ica er m A iet Qu Gree ne wrot e ‘T he an d South erica n- style gl a m ou r m A h t wi d he uc to e forha d be en ic an d a pla ce wh er ot ex s, iou er st my s East A si a wa th eir wit s. eig ne rs ha d to live by


Wh en you ent er thi s cou rty ard wit h the three Fra ngi pan i tre es pla nted in 1880, the city see ms to stop and you drift into byg one era . Th e tra ffic is silenced and you are emb raced by an eleg ance ha rdly recogn ised in the 21st century. It is captivatin g.


Saigon 1795 The original, European style citadel built by the Nguyen Lords. You can see the canal leading from the river to the south west corner that is now Nguyen Hue Street.

The French took the citadel in 1859.


Saigon 1881


City Hall Saigon - Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee

This gorgeous exa mple of French colo nial archit ecture is adorned wit h all the usual symbols of occupation. There are representations of agricult ure and ta ming the wil d animals, justice and education. The whole edif ice is a wonderful confection of sculpture and plasterwork. It sit s at the top of the main boulevard - Nguyen Hue - wit h a view all the way to old docks. There is even a lookout tower on top , all the better to see who is coming and going on the Saig on river.


Nguyᝅn Huᝇ, D.1 Nguyen Hue has a fascinating history. It began as a broad canal leading from the river to the south west corner of the citadel. It was home to the first big church, the first covered market buildings and rows of merchant shop houses - some of which can still be seen today between the modern buildings and hidden up the alleyways. Now, it provides a quiet open space in the heart of the city free from traffic. During the evenings it is a place for young people to meet and for families to promenade.


The Rex is a Saigon icon. First developed as a car showroom with offices and a cinema, it was redeveloped as a hotel. During the American War it became the officer’s mess. The press briefings that took place in the rooftop bar were nicknamed the five o’clock follies because the information given was considered to be so false. One writer called this daily show …

‘the longest-playing tragicomedy in Southeast Asia’s theater of the absurd’


Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, D.1

A quiet Sunday morning by the mosque at nu mber 45 near Ha m Nghi street. There is a small Musli m community in the private lanes around the mosque. I lo ve the dense, Lacey canopy provided by the F la me trees wit h their sinuous trunks.


de s th e city ce nt re fa ca nd hi be ds ar ty ur co T he inn er aig on ers of a by go ne S re nt ce y t ci of ies te l th e st or sh op s an d a cin em a rk wo ed us ho ce on era. T hi s ya rd an d ont. Sewing fa ct ories fr op sh nt ga ele be hi nd alley s an d work in th es e e v i l to ed us s er sh oe m ak an d ya rd s.


Sunday morning in Thị Nghè. Shucking Jack fruit


The alley at 13 Nguyễn Huệ, D.1


Whether Buddhist, Christian, Confucian, almost all Vietna mese practice ancestor worship. In their homes and in their place of work.. They thank the ancestors, whether fa mily or national hero, and ask for protection and prosperity. There are shrines on the street, in the ground floor rooms of small houses and on the top floor of suburban homes.. The small shrines outside a house or shop are dressed daily wit h a variety of it ems including fresh fruit s, drinks, paper and feather tokens and incense A Buddhist shrine must be above the head. Chinese shrines (whatever relig ion) must be on the floor. They are dedicated to deit ies, ancestors and domestic gods.


Shop houses beside Ben Thanh Market The oldest of Saigon’s shophouses are now around 150 years old. Some have been loved and maintained but many are suffering the ravages of time and crumbling or disappearing behind giant hoardings and modern concrete ‘embellishments’ and extensions. The three storey shop houses adjacent to Ben Thanh market are an example of this kind of treatment. If the property owners are allowed to continue defacing, disguising and disfiguring Saigon’s architectural heritage, these buildings will be lost and the character of this iconic area will be changed forever.


All the world comes to shop and to eat in the market


The whole world comes to Ben Thanh market.Tourists from every nation find their way in to the narrow passages of this temple of food, fashion, household goods, hardware, toys and accessories. The rich and poor, beautiful and crippled, hurried and tired, buying and selling everything and anything. The market has a reputation for high prices but you should never accept the first price asked in this central market. One thing you can be sure of in Vietnam is that the locals will make an extra buck out of you if you let them but they will like you better for haggling with them.


This fish vendor has been up since before dawn so by 10 a m it is time for a sleep. As I stood to draw this scene, one of her fish ju mped out of the bowl and started to fli p flop across the floor to be rescued by a neig hbouring stall holder and thrown back in it s bowl. The girl could not be disturbed.


1 Yersin, D.1

rn e r form o c e h t d Ju st rou n 1 Y e rs in, t a , n io t a st din g t h e bu s d e co b u i l t r a ld on e is a o e be e n c n o d a g t h at h st t ra din ie s u b ’s n o f Sa ig o n Hoa ’s a V n e y u g s o ld po st s. N ig o n n a is a S ir o ca rs Co m pt s wh e n e r a p s n ’s m ot or o n Sa ig o d e r a e p f irst a p st re et s.


The Commercial heart of Saigon Antique street can be found near the Fine Arts Museum. There is shopping and cafes on Nguyen Hue, gifts and silk on Dong Khoi and fashion on Ly Tu Trong, cameras on Ton That Thiep. This is also the district of museums, government offices and banks.


In the streets around Ben Thanh market you can clearly see the way Saig on looked 100 years ago. Rows of shop houses wit h their arched windows and balconies once surrounded the market buil ding. Now, these colourful terraces are disappearing behind huge advertising hoardings.


Saigon is one big construction site and is building its way to a prosperous new future. The optimism and energy of Saigon is almost tangible. A new metro transport system is marching its way under the city centre and its pillars are striding out across the suburbs towards the site of a new, Long Thanh international airport.The Hanoi highway already goes out there and construction of the new airport is due to start in 2019. New apartment buildings and hotels seem to appear every month. The universities are expanding and medical facilities are meeting world standard. Vietnam shed its 3rd world status in 2010 and has come out fighting towards a great new future. Inward investment is high, many international companies have headquarters here and higher education provision is improving and diversifying. Saigon is now one of the top 5 most dynamic cities in the world.


97 Phó Đức Chính, D.1

Built around 1930 as the fa mily home and headquarters of the company founded by one of the four wealt hiest men in Vietna m. It was converted into the second largest Art Museu m in the country in 1987. It is said to be inhabit ed by the ghost of his daughter!. It is a beautif ul buil ding and houses the one of first elevators in Saig on!


I love spending an hour in the Fine Arts Museum to escape the heat and the traffic and to connect with Vietnam’s history which is told in pictures. In the Fine Arts Museum


The French led the world in the production encaustic tiles which were made from coloured clay so the colour goes all the way through the tile and is not just on the surface. This makes them very hard wearing for use in public spaces. When they ca me to Vietna m, the production was changed to coloured cement which meant that the tile didn’t have to be fired. They taught local people how to make them and the industry stil exists today. Before Saig on streets were re-paved wit h the plain coloured tiles that now form the pavements, some house and shop fronts were tiled wit h the brig htly coloured concrete French tiles. The streets must have looked li ke a patchwork quilt. Encaustic tiles


Young entrepreneurs of Saig on take advantage of the rock bottom rents in apartment buil dings li ke this one at 42 Nguyen Hue and move in to start coffee shops, restaurants, lifestyle boutiques and new fashion labels. All around the city, the older apartment blocks that are earmarked for demolit ion have become home to Saig on’s most excit ing new businesses.


There is a new ‘cool’ rising up in Saigon. In this city where 60% of the population is under 30, the young are shaping a new future and laying the foundations of a fresh era. As the city is being reshaped by international investment the young blood is rising with a vigour and a confidence that is thrilling! All around the city, new buildings are fast replacing the old. In the older buildings that remain, the young entrepreneurs of Saigon are starting new businesses and bringing their energy into the changing face of Saigon. This new ‘cool’ is developing hand in hand with a trend for all things retro and a new interest in everything that granny used to own. Vinyl records, gramophones, art deco chairs, upcycled clothing, recycled furniture and utility lighting are all elements in this scene.


Trần Hưng Đạo – 1228-1300, a statesman and military commander of Ðai Viet.

Đồng Khởi – 1959-1960, This name means ‘Total revolution’.

Nguyễn Huệ – 1753-1792, a great military commander. Became emperor Quang Trung 1788-1792. Lê Lợi – 1384-1433,

rescued the country from Ming domination in 1428. He became king Le Thai To.

Lê Thánh Tôn – 1442-1497,

grandson of Le Loi. He was a great diplomat and reformed laws and taxes.

Pasteur – 1822-1895, the French chemist who discovered vaccination and pasteurisation.

Trần Hưng Đạo, Mê Linh Square, D.1

The streets of Vietna m are often na med after national milit ary, lit erary and polit ical heroes. Here are a few popular ones you wil find in every town and city.

Hai Bà Trưng – AD12- AD12, (approx).This translates as ‘The two great Trung sisters’. They reigned for 3 years after defeating the Eastern Han. Bạch Đằng

This river, near Ha Long Bay, is where the Vietnamese defeated invading forces of the Southern Han.

Find more at the back of this book.


Dotted around district one and Cho L on are a series of historical statues, erected in the 1960s, which represent the army (armoured division), the navy, the sig nal corps and the engineering corps. Tran Hung Dao (le ft) is for the Nave and stands on the riverfront pointing out to the waters. My favourit e is the statue of Phu Dong Thien Vuong who grew to be a giant and rode his ‘i ron’ horse into victorious battle against the invaders (hence the clouds he is born on).


These little trucks were manufactured at the Innocenti factory in Italy and nearly half the production went abroad to Turkey and Vietna m. They have 198cc engine and a top speed of 38mph and were only avail able in grey. Many can stil be seen around the city. I found this one in District 8 and it has been in the sa me fa mily for 50 years!


It is said that the big difference between Asian and western cultures is in the way ordinary people conduct their neighbourhood lives. In the West, everything is private and nothing is sacred. In the East, nothing is private and everything is sacred! This is neighbourhood Vietnam. Everything is done on the streets from eating, playing chess with a friend, going to the gym, practicing your Tai Chai, tailoring, mending shoes, manicures, weddings and funerals, sharing a beer, hair cuts, shaves, ear cleaning and fashion shoots - even having a wee! The buildings are eclectic, colourful, ancient and modern and often have a shop on the ground floor. It seems like everyone has a shop or a cafĂŠ in Saigon!


In the western world everything is private and nothing is sacred. In Asia, nothing is private but everything is sacred! But step inside any Vietnamese home and you will find that the family altar has pride of place. Sometimes it is the only piece of wooden furniture in the room whether it is on the ground floor or the top. It is adorned with family photos and offerings - some symbolic, some more urbane. A 5 fruit tray is symbolic of the 5 oriental elements, but there might also be beer and cigarettes in memory of Uncle Minh.


Street barbers offer a full service of shave, haircut, clean out earwax and trim nose hairs.

Saigoners unashamedly live their lives on the street because they recognise that people are the same everywhere. What’s to hide? Not for them, the secrecy of watching others from behind the curtains - they simply ask what is going on. Not for them, any shyness about washing on the line, what’s for dinner, who has something to shout about, a wedding, a funeral, an unfaithful wife, a drunken, lazy husband.


The whole drama and all the joys of life are here to see. It is so natural, so unselfconscious, so human. The humanity of Saigon people is what draws you in and why so many find it hard to leave.


The natural city


One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Saigon urban landscape is the variety and beauty of the rainforest trees that line the streets and give such scale to the parks. The tall Apitong that grow to 40 and 50 metres, can be seen all over the city and especially in the park by Notre Dame church in the city centre. With the development of the underground train system, it is feared that many of these huge trees with equally huge root systems will have to be replaced with smaller species. Tamarind trees provide the shade along Ly Tu Trong and graceful flame trees grow all around Ham Nghi. Peltophorum, the yellow flame tree is often grown to shade smaller streets and has yellow flowers early spring. Frangipanis are being planted along the canal sides where urban regeneration has cleared away casual buildings to make way for parks and promenades. For a hundred years Saigon has been recognised as a green city and the large parks in every neighbourhood provide cool oases in which to exercise, relax and to be the lungs of the city. Armies of gardeners and watering trucks keep Saigon looking green all year round.


The river and canal banks are changing as fast as everything els e. L ong the location of tin shacks casually constructed to extend warehousing and workshops, the banks are now being cleared and set out wit h trees, parks and benches.


The average Vietnamese is very health conscious and the government makes it easy for people to keep in shape at the open air gyms that are in every neighbourhood. In addition, early morning walkers pound the streets from just before dawn. Tai Chi and aerobic classes take place in small parks and cycling is a popular Saigon sport.


The Saigon River seen from the Thu Thiem bridge in 2014. This view has already changed a lot as a new city is being constructed on this green peninsula.


The view from Thu Thiem bridge is one I have stopped to admire many times. I have celebrated the International New Year and the Vietnamese Lunar New Year surrounded by tens of thousands gathered here to watch the fireworks. I have watched the weather move across this massive city with sunshine and rain visti ing the different districts. Huge barges move up and down this stretch of river as the tide comes in and out. Courting couples meet here to watch the sunset and hold hands as they dream.


Watching the boats coming and going on the busy Saig on River is everyone’s favourit e pastime. These days most river traffic is supply ing the construction industry wit h sand and delivering goods and components from the Port of Saig on to factories upstrea m. Tradit ional wooden boats are mainly used to transport fruit, vegetables and grain from the growers in the Mekong to local markets.


An old jetty on the Thᝧ Thiêm peninsula 2014


The Lion dance The Lion dance is known in Vietnam as the Unicorn dance. It is mainly performed at Lunar New Year and the Mid Autumn Festival as well as other celebrations such as the opening of a new business. Sometimes, the dance includes a troop of acrobats. The unicorn is always accompanied by the grinning, large-bellied Ông Địa who is the spirit of the earth. This jolly spirit summons the unicorn and clears a path for its performance. Wherever the unicorn goes, people will have peace, happiness and prosperity. During Tet, you can see troops of boys wandering the neighbourhoods looking for invitations into houses, shops and offices to perform short dances in return for pocket money. More spectacular dances are performed by acrobatic troops in the city centre outside the big hotels and public buildings like the Opera and City Hall. If you hear the sound of drums winding through the streets, there is sure to be a Unicorn dance near by.

The Ky Lan is sometimes described as a musk deer with huge horns, a tiger’s mouth, a catfish’s moustache, fishlike fins on its body, and a bull’s rail and hooves, the head of a dragon and the body of horse. This creature is believed to be an auspicious animal that brings lu ck, joy and longevity. It also represents compassion, benevolence and righteousness. The Ky Lan never steps on grass or on insects and never drinks dirty water. It visits at Tet to bestow its new year blessings.


One of the most excit ing events on the river each year is the arrival of the flower boats in the weeks leading up to Tet the Lunar New Y ear celebration. The boats come up from the Mekong wit h their loads of yellow blo ssom trees, orange trees, bougainvil ea, celo sia and bonsai which are all tradit ional decorations in Vietna m.


Bến Bình Đông, D.8 The wharf along Ben Binh Dong is crammed with the huge wooden boats, their huge prows looming over the river wall and their fierce red eyes peeking through the plants and trees just like nosey cows looking over a garden wall! The narrow street is jammed with shoppers all trying to get the perfect tree at a bargain price and everyone leaves with a beautiful plant to grace their home or workplace. It is a shopping frenzy!!


Noodles, barbecued pork and salad

Green Oranges

If ever you are feeli ng down, buying produce from one of Saig on’s street sellers wil lift your spirit s in an instant! I li ke to buy green oranges and ripe mangoes from street sellers – they are always sweet and juicy.

Dried squid is a favourite snack with beer

Noodles and fish stew


There are a number of regional lotteries in Vietnam. The tickets are often sold by roadside vendors. The prodceeds go to ‘health education and public works’. Tickets are drawn each week. Lottery ticket seller


These guys set up their ‘bánh xèo’ kitchen on the pavement in Thao Dien every afternoon just when school is coming out. The little sidewalk café soon fills up with workers on their way home and kids having a snack. Banh Xeo is a delicious crispy pancake filled with a sprinkling of pork, shrimp and some bean sprouts. Look at the huge trays of eggs these treats are cooked fresh to order!


At the park entrance opposite 243 Hai BĂ TrĆ°ng, D.3 The introduction of socialism brought Socialist Realism into the art of Vietnam and free expression was supressed in exchange for collective art. This concrete and mosaic relief is one of many at the entrance to one of the city parks. The message here seems to be about the value of education for a bright future with young people heading for the stars.


This huge, modernist clock is at the junction of Ðiện Biên Phủ and Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm.


This amazingly modern and stylish building was constructed in 1926 to replace the old Phu Hoa market which was one of the most important in north Saigon. It became known as Tan Dinh market because of its proximity to Tan Dinh Church.


333 Hai Bà Trưng, D.3

This is well know for textiles – I buy li nen and fresh cotton here! It is less touristy and is a great place to stop for pressed sugar cane juice as well!


Lương Định Của, Bình An, D.2

Small temple gates like this are a sig n that a neig hbourhood temple is in the lane behind. You can see the na me of the temple written in stylis ed lettering in the roundels that run down the pil ars. Bats are a common motif on temple decorations; they represent happiness.


260 Hai Bà Trưng, D.3


In 1861 two Frenchmen acquired a license to manufacture opium in Saigon and opened their factory in 1881. Most of the opium was actually imported from India and was not locally grown. The trade was so profitable that the governor took control of the refining and sale of opium and built the Regie de L’Opium at the end of Ham Nghi where it can still be seen today. By 1915 the sales revenue from Opium constituted nearly 40% of Indochina’s income.

At 74 Hai Ba Trung, the arched gateway to the old Opium refinery still stands amid all the new restaurants and hotels. On the gate is the monogram MO (Le Manufacture d’Opium) can still be seen and in the top of the arch is the original pierced metal screen depicting the opium poppy flowers. Inside, the courtyard has changed very little in 135 years. On the left is still the original building with its shuttered windows in the upper storey and you can still sense something of the original trade that used to thrive in this busy factory yard.


74 Hai Bà Trưng, D.1


Saigon has an energy never encountered before. Someone once said that you should ‘do something every day that scares you’; Saigon will provide that daily ‘scare’ without even trying! If you have driven, cycled or just walked its city centre streets, you will know exactly what I mean. This city has a distinct sound; sometimes like jazz, rap, occasionally a concerto. In the early morning an almost inaudible chanting and a sigh of resonant bells awakens the suburbs and city cloisters. The chatter of city birds and the echoing calls of rainforest species are pierced by the occasional buzz of an early moped. The next overtone is of warbling bus horns and the gentle ting-ting of neighbours clattering plates as they make breakfast. The volume gently builds as they shout goodbyes on their way to school and work. The hum of traffic builds in the distance and comes rumbling slowly towards you like a heard of buffalo until by 7am, it takes residence as the backbeat to another hot, busy day. At about the same hour the thunderous percussion of construction begins with its ringing of pneumatic drills, clanging of scaffold poles and the roaring engines of big machinery. And so it goes until the sun begins to go down. At sun set, the noise of the building sites subsides and we are left with the background hum of motorbikes until the last worker buzzes into the distance. Near home, the swifts crackle as they speed after flies just before dusk. The symphony closes with the last yowl of a distant cat being chased to bed by a neighbourhood dog. All that is left is rustling whisper of the bamboo on the last breath of breeze.


The city centre, of course, hardly takes pause for breath. Music winds its way out of city doorways and conversations continue in the alleyways and emerge from the echoey interiors of balconied rooms above the streets. This enigmatic, exotic, energetic city gets under your skin and its daily symphony is one of the most enduring memories you will carry with you always.

The spirit of enterprise is almost tangible in Saigon. Everyone is rushing around, carrying, collecting, delivering, selling, buying, building, demolishing, shouting, waving, making, mending, recycling, sweeping and, above all ... smiling and laughing


Chợ Lớn


Chợ Lớn’s pagodas of the Chinese community

184 Hồng Bàng Minh Huong Pagoda - also known as Phuoc An Assembly Hall. Est. late 1800s by Chinese immigrants from Fujian, Guangdong and Zheijiang provinces. The Cho Lon railway station used to right next door.

12 Lão Tử Quan Am Pagoda - also known as Chua Ong Lan - Est Late 1800s by Chinese merchants. Unusually, this campus is divided by the street.Temple on one side, garden and pond on the other.

802 Nguyễn Trãi Ha Chuong Hoi Quan – established in 1809 is also known as the Zhangzhou Assembly Hall was established by the Chinese commuity from Fujian province in SE China.

710 Nguyễn Trãi Also dedicated to Thien Hau, goddess of the sea. Built by Cantonese traders. Her statue is paraded around local streets on the 23rd of each month.

678 Nguyễn Trãi Nghia An Hoi Quan – est. Early 1800s. This guilded temple is actually a guildhall or assembly hall built by the merchants of Yian (Nghia An)

380 Trần Hưng Đạo B Minh Huong Gia Thanh Hoi Quan was established in 1808 to house their village deities and to honour the Nguyen Lords of Vietnam who gave them sanctuary.

118 Triệu Quang Phục Tam Son Hoi Quan - A Fujian assembly hall dedicated to the goddess of fertility. Est. late 1800s.

264 Hải Thượng Lãn Ông Ong Bon Pagoda - Built in the 1740s by the Fujianese and dedicated the god of wealth, happiness and virtue. It has a very distinctive roof style.


Markets of Chợ Lớn

Bình Tây Market It was established by Quach Dam in 1928 to replace the old market located by the Post Office. His bronze bust stands in the courtyard. A canal used to run up to its doors to deliver and distribute goods. It is still the business hub of Cho Lon and one of the biggest wholesale market in Vietnam. The food hall is one of my favourite places to eat.

Tống Duy Tân alley This is the haberdashery market of Saigon. Tightly packed with every kind of specialist notions, trimmings, buttons, buckles and lace. Fascinating.

Kim Biên Market A local grocery market specialising in food additives. Handle with care!

Xã Tây Market A busy local street market worth wandering through.


710 Nguyáť…n TrĂŁi, D.5 The Thien Hau pagoda in Cho Lon is an evocative place that is worth lingering in for an hour or so and it provides a cooling retreat from that bustling community of traders and dealers. To get a good view of this 18th century pagoda you need to stand across the street. From there you can see all the details on the roof which features gorgeously glazed, ceramic dioramas of feasts, battles, traders, demons, dignitaries, actors and merchants from other continents all set against creatively modelled Chinese houses, palaces and shops. It is incredible that these old ceramics have survived the ravages of weather and time to look as beautiful as the day they were created. A hush descends and you are in a place where everything is sacred, where civic pride and community endeavour meet the gods and ancestors, where all the richness of the lives of the residents of Cho Lon can be seen.


On the walls of the first, inner courtyard there are some unusual friezes, possibly from the 1970s depicting modern buildings, factories, a school, the interior of an elegant house. Maybe built by local philanthropists and entrepreneurs, these places must be very important to the community here. I can’t image such urbane images being installed in a religious building in Europe. How different Westerners are from Asians in this regard.

The central courtyard is hung wit h incense coils sending prayers and wishes out to deit ies and forebears. The colourful ceramic frieze continues around the rim of each courtyard; the stories are from history and Chinese mythology and create an imaginary world where fact and fiction co-exist. If you take a seat and linger in this cool space for 20 minutes, you will also see the two aspects of contemporary Cho Lon; the locals quietly carrying on with their religious rituals and the foreign visitors gawping at the overwhelming visual feast as they snap photos and wonder at the richness that surrounds them. If you step in to an ante-room to the right there is yet another delight that has little to do with religion or ancestors but adds to the eclectic mix of incense coils, bronze-faced deities, relief friezes of factories, a 19th century fire-fighting device and dioramas of ancient fables. On the walls are large watercolour paintings of the twelve animals of the zodiac; each one a masterpiece. The animal of the year, the goat at the moment, is topped with a red garland and rosette. There are rows of elegant Chinoiserie chairs so you can take a seat to appreciate this unique gallery and decide which is your favourite. One thing is for sure; this pagoda is not for rushing.


A hush descends and you are in a place where everything is sacred, where civ ic pride and community endeavour meet the gods and ancestors, where all the richness of the lives of the residents of Cho L on can be seen.


The original settlers of Cho Lon (Big Market) were Chinese communities from SE china who moved south.They were skilled traders and prospered through rice trading and ship building. This community was know as Minh Huong (Minh from ‘Ming’). The oldest assembly hall still stands at 380 Tran Hung Dao B, in Q5. Here they housed the relics from their villages in China and also honoured the Nguyen Lords who had welcomed and protected them. In the 1940s, Cho Lon was equal in size to Saigon. It was the main trading port for rice that was exported all over South East Asia. One of the most successful was a Chinese man called Quach Dam whose house still stands at 45 Hai Thuong Lan Ong and who built the grand Binh Tay market which can be found at 53 Thap Muoi in the heart of Cho Lon.You can see a bronze bust of the ‘King of Commerce’ in the central courtyard. This market is a great place to wander, watch and eat.


703 Nguyễn Trãi, D.5


With thanks to all those who have helped me along the way. Nguyen Hai Minh and Marjon Barton for endlessly trailing around this city with me, Ani Petrova for being able to turn all my drawings and scribbles into a well-ordered book, James Pham for his endless support and quiet encouragement, My students who have sat and drawn with me.


Š Bridget A. M. March 2012-2018 ISBN: 978-604-953-558-1 License number: 517/Q�-NXB Quantity: 2.000 copies Printed in Vietnam


Sensational Saigon is about a city that is changing shape at the speed of sound. That sound is the symphony of Saigon; a never ending creak of cranes, scream of circular saws and the rhythms of water pumps and jack hammers. What I set out to find is the Saigon that remains, the Saigon that is found in its oldest buildings, its neighbourhoods, temples and parks, the Saigon that has ignited an excited flame in the imaginations of its young people. By the time you have read this book, it will have changed again, but at least you might understand what is precious and what the Saigonese will take forward with them.

Xin Chao Saigon !

Price/Giรก bรกn: 390,000 VND

Sensational Saigon  
Sensational Saigon