Established in 1698, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is Vietnam’s largest city with a flourishing community of nearly 8 million people. It is located in the southern part of the country and a short distance from the Pacific Coast.
In 1975, Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City, In the past few years, Saigon has rapidly regained its reputation as a thriving city as its GDP has been growing by a steady 8%! The ascension to the WTO at the end of 2006 is surely to keep this upward trend going. There are many tree-lined boulevards as well as numerous French Colonial buildings and street-side cafes, all of which are prominent reminders of the city’s past. Saigon is a very busy and bustling city to say the least. Activity is seen every where, from the construction boom to its open markets and hectic traffic of motorbikes, which is still the main means of transportation in Saigon with over a thousand new registrations being added each month!
HCMC is divided into 22 districts. District 1, which lies in a major curve of the river, is the business core of the city including the location of the City Hall, the Opera House, the ‘Notre Dame’, most deluxe hotels, banks and among the best shopping areas. Close by is Cho Ben Thanh, a huge market where one can find all thingssouvenirs, textiles, shoes, flowers, etc.- produced or sold in the country. Another well known district is ‘Cholon’, Dist. 5, the Chinese Quarter, which houses a large Chinese Market and is home to a closely knit community of Chinese ascent known for their entrepreneurial spirit. Dist. 2 ‘An Phu’ is an old neighborhood where most of the expatriates chose to live and the location of the British School and International School. Dist. 7 ‘Saigon South’ is a newly developing area and also the location of the American School.
There is a great diversity in Vietnam’s climate due to its range of latitudes as well as its altitudes. In the tropical south, however, there is a rather consistent temperature of 25 C to 35 C year round. The two main seasons are the wet and the dry. The wet occurs between May to October and the dry from November to April, with late March to May being the hottest months. At this stage through the rainy season it will be very humid, between 80-100%, and only begins to cool down as the rain arrives. A product of monsoon winds blowing across the South China Sea, the rainfalls are heavy in Vietnam with a monthly average of 125 cm. As some districts have been developed on marshy land, flooding is a common problem in these areas during the rains but also a regular occurrence throughout the year due to strong tides on the river.
Vietnamese, the national language of the country is a tonal language. A different dialect is spoken and the ‘north’ and in the ‘south’, with northern Vietnamese being taught in most language centers. It was written using ideograms derived from Chinese which are still in use in Dist. 5, but today all transactions and official documents use the Roman alphabet to which tone and diacritical marks have been added.
There is still a street nearby the Cathedral named after Bishop Alexandre de Rhodes who brought together the Vietnamese tongue and roman characters in the seventeenth century. The main means of communication for business and the day to day life of the expat is English, though most times in a very basic form.
Saigon is considered a rather safe place for expatriates. As in any city of this size one must learn to be careful. Petty theft and purse snatching is a fact of daily life. Just as when traveling by taxi, make sure the meter is turned on and in good order. And lastly, if living in an isolated house it is wise to hire a security guard.
Saigon’s vibrant restaurant and bar scene is an experience never to be missed. Most of the restaurants, bars, and pubs offer an excellent assortment of cuisine and drink for very reasonable rates. You will find the local people friendly and hospitable. Because there are numerous expat social circles, you guaranteed to run into at least one person you know when heading out for a drink or a bite to eat.
SaigonStay – According to Saigonvan