Gooood morning, Vietnam!

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Chaotic, energetic, loud and in-your-face, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is Vietnam at its most dizzying. It is a city of contrasts – from grand colonial buildings left over from the French to century-old pagodas in small alleyways. The traffic is certifiably crazy with 4 million motorcycles in a city of 9 million.

Formerly called Saigon (still very much used by locals as well as foreigners), this city was originally part of Cambodia until the 17th century. In the mid 1800s, Saigon was captured by the French and became the capital of the French colony of Cochin-china. The city also served as the capital of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) from 1956 until 1975 before falling to the advancing North Vietnamese forces and was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho Chi Minh was the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary who sought independence for Vietnam from France. He served as prime minister and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). He was also a key figure in the foundation of the Viet Cong (Vietnamese communists).

When you think of Saigon, you can not help but think of the Vietnam War, or the American War, depending on where you are coming from. The war was protracted and bloody. The Vietnamese government estimates that in 20 years of fighting, 4 million civilians were killed across North and South Vietnam, and 1.1 million communist fighters died.

US figures covering the American phase record 200-250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers killed and close to 60,000 US soldiers dead or missing.

Once a town held hostage by its past, HCMC seems to have come a long way since the war. Today, the city is vibrant, modern, and marching ahead at a fast pace. However, the impact of war is still very much felt by many Vietnamese today, in particular the many weak and silent victims of Agent Orange, a herbicide and defoliant used by the US military as part of its chemical warfare program during the war.

Worthy Reads

Cu Chi: The underground war

Agent Orange

The Big Picture