Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam, the nation's largest city. During the period when Vietnam was divided, 1954-75, it was the capital of South Vietnam. The city is on the west bank of the Saigon River, near the fertile Mekong River delta and the South China Sea. The central business district and port face the river. Parts of the city, especially the downtown area, have a distinct European look, with modern buildings and wide, tree-lined streets. Much of the city, however, has crowded, narrow streets and low, tin-roofed buildings.
Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam's chief industrial and commercial center. Industries include food processing and the making of textiles, cement, chemicals, and tires. The Cholon district, west of the central part of the city, is a major commercial center and has some of the city's largest markets.
Ho Chi Minh City has one of Vietnam's busiest ports. A railway links the city to important cities to the north. A vast network of canals provides access to the Mekong River delta and beyond. Tan Son Nhut Airport, just north of the city, handles international and domestic flights.
In central Ho Chi Minh City are many of the city's chief attractions and hotels. Museums in the area include the Museum of Fine Arts and the Revolutionary Museum. Also here is the Municipal Theatre. Northeast of central Ho Chi Minh City are the Botanical Gardnes and zoo. Scattered throughout the city are nearly 200 pagodas, the finest of which are in Cholon. Also in Cholon is the University of Ho Chi Minh City.
When the French took over southern Indochina in the 1860's, what is now Ho Chi Minh City was a small village called Saigon. The neighboring town of Cholon had been established by Chinese in the 18th century. Saigon was made the capital of the French colony of Cochin China and soon became the center of a thriving rubber and rice-growing region. Roads, a railway, and canals were built to link outlying villages and plantations with the capital.
After the partition of Vietnam in 1954, Saigon became the capital of South Vietnam. It fell to North Vietnamese forces in 1975. In 1976 the city was renamed in honor of the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh.