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Beautiful Patterns, Common Threads


Ho Chi Minh City is one of the largest cities in Southeast Asia, with a population approaching seven million. It is an incredibly busy and pulsing kind of place, with teeming street markets and sidewalk cafes, streets crammed with crazy motorbike drivers, and a wild night scene. At the same time, traditional Vietnam lies just below that surface, often peeking its head out so you can see how if forms the core around which all that modernity is painted.

It's a good question what to call the city. "Ho Chi Minh City" replaced "Saigon" as the official name upon reunification of the south and the north after the American War, but most people around here still call it Saigon. Many people distinguish between the inner city, referred to as Saigon, and the province of Ho Chi Minh City, which stretches far to the south and also west almost to the Cambodian border. The "Saigon" part actually only includes ten percent of the land, but three-quarters of the population, while the rural areas of Ho Chi Minh City have fewer people but provide the rice and other produce to support the needs of the larger population. In fact, so much rice is produced in this area and the Maekhong Delta nearby that Vietnam is now the world's third-leading exporter of rice (behind the U.S. and Thailand). But, it's industry and commerce (trade) that most come to mind when people think of Saigon -- and as such, what you see in this city represents best how the economic changes sweeping through Vietnam are affecting people's lives, for the better AND the worse.

A Statue of Ho Chi Minh, the "Father of Modern Vietnam", Sits in Front of the People's Committee Building (Formerly the Luxurious Hotel de Ville)

Girls and Boys Often Help Out Their Families By Selling Books or Doing Other Jobs During the Half of the Day When They Are Not in School

The Cathedral of Our Lady Is a Reminder of the Era of French Colonial Control of Vietnam; Many Vietnamese People Remain Catholic

The Old and the New: A Modern Skyscraper Looms Behind the Colonial-Era Post Office

A Sugar Stand at the Binh Tay Market in Cholon (Chinatown): Vietnamese LOVE Sweets!

A Betelnut Stand at Binh Tay: A Tradition Throughout Southeast Asia That Is Beginning to Die Out

Binh Tay's Meat Market: FRESH! (But Look Carefully...)

A Chicken Seller at Binh Tay: Like I Said, FRESH!

Condiments To Make That Meal Extra Special

And, the Finished Product: Vietnamese Food -- A Lot Like Chinese, But With Substantial Differences

After the Meal: Candied Fruits Satisfy That Sweet Tooth

Street Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City: Lots of Cyclos and Bicycles, Even More Motorbikes, a Few Cars...and Prepare to Take Your Life Into Your Hands!

Eight Hundred Cab Drivers for Her Company, But Only Six Women

A Common Sight in Vietnamese and Chinese Temples: Prayer Strips -- Strike the Bell Nearby, and Your Message is Heard in Heaven

Incense is Burned at the Women's Pagoda in Memory of Deceased Loved Ones; The Big Coils Can Burn for a Month!

The "Bodhisattva" of Prosperity at Thien Hau Pagoda

This Many-Armed Statue of Avalokiteshvara at Giac Lam Pagoda Shows Evidence of Indian Influence Far to the East

Chuan De, the Eighteen-Armed Goddess of Mercy, Can Be Seen in Many Vietnamese and Chinese Temples

Beautiful Shrines for Deceased Monks Sit Outside Giac Lam Pagoda

The Beautiful Municipal Theater Has Been Restored, Showing the Government's New and Changing Perspectives

A Wild Scene of the Gods at the Jade Emperor Pagoda: Obvious Chinese Influence, But Uniquely Vietnamese

A Scene Showing the Buddhist View of "Hell", at the Jade Emperor Pagoda

A Common Morning Scene on the Streets of the City

The Caodai Great Temple in Tay Ninh: Seat of a Uniquely Vietnamese Religion

Daily Prayers Take Place at Noon at the Caodai Great Temple

In a Rural Area of Ho Chi Minh City, an Ox-Driven Plow Is Used Today As It Has Been for Thousands of Years

Vietnam, Part 2

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Copyright 1999 by Avi Black
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