Where would you like to go with Indochina Pioneer?
Please click on the countries below to read more about your desired destinations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. These pages provide first-hand local travel information regarding transportation, accommodation, attractions, food & drink, entertainment ... together with some suggestions on ready-made tours to and from those places.
Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is frenetic Asian city of markets, street clogged with scooters, street side food stalls, as well as foreign restaurants office blocks and shopping malls. It is Vietnam’s economic powerhouse and the rate of the progress over the last few years has been remarkable. Saigon is and exciting and exotic city where the pace of life never dims and which is now looking forward with great optimism after its tumultuous 20th century.
How things have changed from the sleepy days pre-16th century, when the Khmer fishing village of Prey Nokor was established on a vast swampland. Saigon's origins date back to the early 17th century when the area became home for refugees fleeing war in the north. Towards the end of the century, once the population was more Vietnamese and Cambodia weak enough, Vietnam annexed the territory. Over the following decades Prey Nokor developed into the Saigon the French found when they conquered the region in the mid 19th century.
Within a very short time the French began to leave their mark on the city and still today some of the best hotels in Saigon are within grandiose colonials overlooking gorgeous boulevards dating back to Saigon's heyday as the Paris of the Orient. For the French, Saigon became the capital of Cochin china -- an expansive region encompassing parts of modern-day Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Through the next 100 years, they extracted as much as they could from the region -- much of it passing through Saigon's ports. Often cruel and thoughtless, French rule remained over the city and Cochin china until their exit from Vietnam following their defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
When the French opted out of Vietnam to avoid recognizing the communist victors, they left the south under the care of Emperor Bao Dai who had made his capital there in 1950. Subsequently, when Vietnam was officially partitioned, the southern government, led by Ngo Dinh Diem, kept the capital at Saigon. And there the southern capital remained - throughout the Topsy-Turvy period of the American war. Then, as America's role in Vietnam's pains drew to an end, Saigon swelled to the eyeballs with refugees fleeing troubles to the north - just as Prey Nokor once did.
When the South finally fell in 1975, what remained was a paltry shadow of its more grandiose days. Fittingly, the following year the city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the late leader of North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh.. Despite this, many still know the sprawling town as Saigon, and the name still refers to central District One.
The communist victory was followed by widespread repression and re-education. The economy buckled under a heavy hand from the north as entrepreneurial spirit was all but stamped out, and the Chinese trading class were particularly hard done by. Simultaneously, Saigon's elite and pretty much anyone else with the means did their best to get out of the country, and through the late 1970s and early 1980s, Vietnam's "boat people" were featured in media worldwide.
Through a policy of freeing up economic activity known as doi moi in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the economic leash was loosened and Saigon has never looked back. With a very young, increasingly well-educated population, the city has gone from strength to strength. Today, children of The Party slide through the heaving traffic in gleaming, chauffeur-driven Mercedes, and the general population looks more to neon shrines for direction than to Uncle Ho and the old guard.
Towering developments now pierce what was once a very low-key skyline. Five-star hotels and international shopping chains have replaced dowdy government guesthouses and empty shelves. Saigon has some of the best cuisine in the country, from cheap street eating to salubrious haute cuisine. A renewed interest in the arts has stimulated the art scene and many galleries and museums are slowly being spruced up. For a tourist there is a lot to do in Saigon.
And once you're done with the city, use it as a base to explore the surrounds -- head out to the tunnels at Cu Chi, the Cao Dai temple at Tay Ninh or jet off to the sublime Con Dao. Then there's the entire Mekong Delta to explore.