the Bamboo Curtain'
Ho Chi Minh City
is still called ‘Saigon’ by locals
and travellers, despite the official name change in 1975. Situated
in southern Vietnam, on a huge curved part in the Saigon River,
it's presently the Vietnam's business centre. The
Communist government, who took power of Vietnam
in 1975, suppressed the natural entrepreneurial spirit of the Saigonese.
The economy declined dramatically until recovery began in the 1990s.
Once again, there is a dynamic feel to the city with the people
purposefully conducting business. They have embraced the opportunities
offered to them due to the presence of many multinational
companies that have poured in from elsewhere within the
region and Europe and Australia, but the city still maintains its
clearly Asian feel.
The city may not have the charm and luxury of Hanoi, Vietnam’s
capital, but the lively streets and riverside activity make it exhilarating
and thrilling. Spectacular high-rise buildings
with their sparkling windows in the sunshine, tower over the shabby
French colonials tucked away at their feet. Saffron-robed
monks collect alms while walking past glitzy car showrooms
and karaoke bars. Street children laugh happily as they shine the
shoes of businessmen shouting into their mobile phones, trying to
make themselves heard above the thousands of motorbikes buzzing
noisily around the city.
The city has experienced 25 years of peace after decades of turmoil.
Saigon was the capital of the
French colony of Cochinchina, present-day south
Vietnam, in 1862. The French expanded and reformed the city with
wide boulevards and charming architecture still in evidence at present.
When they were defeated in battle in 1954 according to many years
of struggle by the Vietnamese against the colonial yoke
– Vietnam was divided in half. Saigon became
the capital of the Republic of South Vietnam but almost instantly
Communist North Vietnam, under president Ho Chi Minh, tried to overthrow
the South Vietnamese government. Then the Americans
arrived – bringing the ‘Vietnam War’
global notoriety – in an attempt to block a Communist takeover,
but the North succeeded and in 1975 all of Vietnam came under Communist
rule from Hanoi. Widespread inflation and poverty followed. Then
in 1986, the government introduced doi moi, the Vietnamese equivalent
of perestroika, and relaxed hold on the people allowing them to
run their own businesses.
The city skyline reflects this – in the last ten years it
has dramatically changed from a low-rise cityscape to one whose
central area, District 1, is dotted with sparkling skyscrapers
housing international hotels, companies
The wide Saigon River curves down the city's eastern
part and is the crucial link to the sea. This, including a good
selection of air routes to the rest of Asia and beyond, has enticed
capitalists in industries which include oil, gas, textiles, marine
products and agriculture. Tourism is currently
a huge earner for the government, up-lifted by
a 20% increase in arrivals in 2000 and additional 10% in 2001 to
2.3 million. This is bettered by the climate, since Ho Chi
Minh City is an all year-round destination and even the
hard rains of the rainy season (May to October) end in a couple
of hours, when the sun shines again and the city feels refreshed.