Ho Chi Minh City: The Largest Metropolis in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, located on the banks of the Saigon River, is the largest metropolis in Vietnam, with a population of over 10 million people, and some unconfirmed estimates suggesting it may be as high as 14 million. Covering an area of 2,095 km², the city is situated 19 meters above sea level, 80 km from the South China Sea and 200 km from Phan Thiet (Mui Ne).

Formerly known as Saigon, the city was renamed Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh City upon liberation in 1976. The name is a Sino-Vietnamese word where Sài means firewood or branches, and Gòn means cotton, alluding to the kapok trees that are still found in the city’s outskirts. However, some claim that Sai Côn is a direct translation of the Khmer word Prey Nokor, meaning kapok tree forest.

Ho Chi Minh City History

Ho Chi Minh City has a rich history, with evidence of the Fou-nan people from China arriving centuries before the Khmer people. The Khmer Empire began in 802 BC, with King Jayavarman II proclaiming himself King of the World in a region called Phnom Kulen, located in Siem Reap province, Cambodia. Angkor, the capital of the Khmer Empire, was home to up to 1220 people during its heyday, equivalent to 0.1% of the world’s population. The end of the empire, however, came in the 15th century with the fall of Angkor.

For centuries, Ho Chi Minh City was part of the Kingdom of Cambodia, which was then known as Prey Nokor or Jungle City. Prey Nokor was an important economic center for exporting rice and fruit grown in the Mekong Delta. In the 17th century, Vietnamese people began arriving in Prey Nokor during the civil war between the Vietnamese Trịnh – Nguyễn dynasties. 

The Vietnamese fled to Prey Nokor and later to other Khmer towns in the Mekong Delta, such as Psar Dèk (Sa Đéc) and Moat Chrouk (Châu Đốc). The Vietnamese arrived in such large numbers that the Khmer were simply outnumbered. Khmer folklore also tells us that the Khmer gave their princess to marry a Vietnamese prince to stop the invasions and looting on Khmer villages.

French Colonial Cochinchina

The Franco-Spanish expedition concluded an agreement in 1862 to establish the French colony of Cochinchina. At that time, Ho Chi Minh city bore the Vietnamese name of Ben Nghe which consisted of 40 villages. As Ben Nghe seemed too difficult to pronounce for foreigners, the name Saigon was used. From this point on, luxury villas, 3 row streets and other classical buildings were built. A north-south railway line was also completed, making Saigon a major collection point for rice and other foodstuffs.

The Vietnamese, however, began to use the name Cho Lon instead of the inappropriate name Ben Nghe after the arrival of the French. Nowadays, Cholon (VN: Chợ (Turg) Lớn (Great)) is the largest business centre in Ho Chi Minh City spread over Districts 5, 6 and 11. Populated mainly by Chinese, it is also the largest Chinatown in the world.

Saigon-Cholon 1880

Cholon was founded in 1879 and by 1930 the city had expanded to the limits of Saigon. A year later, Cholon and Saigon were merged into a single city called “Saigon-Cholon”. In 1929, Saigon had a population of 130,000, 12,100 of whom were French. Saigon-Cholon, however, continued to be called Saigon by the people. Even today, the name Saigon is heard on a daily basis, especially by the Vietnamese themselves. The name Saigon is mostly used to refer to Ho Chi Minh City 1 district, or old Saigon.

The Japanese occupied Saigon in 1940, where the Japanese surrendered in the 1945 riots. The riots were led from Hanoi by Viet Minh troops led by Ho Chi Minh himself. With the departure of the Japanese, the French were able to regain control of the city, but on 19 December 1946 the first Indo-China war began, involving Viet Minh and French troops. 

On 4 June 1949, French President Vincent Auriol signed an agreement returning Cochinchina to Vietnam. The war ended in 1954 with the Geneva Conference, where the country was divided into North and South Vietnam. Saigon then became the capital of South Vietnam. The second Indo-China war started on 1 Nov. In 1955, what is also known as the Vietnam War officially became the Vietnamese Civil War. The war ended on 30 April 1975 with the liberation of Saigon and the US withdrawal. In 1976 Saigon officially became Ho Chi Minh City.

Tan Son Nhat International Airport - The Gateway to Vietnam

Tan Son Nhat International Airport is the largest airport in Vietnam and serves as the main gateway to the country. Located in Ho Chi Minh City, the airport was originally built by the French in the 1930s and was used as a military airfield during the Vietnam War. Today, the airport handles over 40 million passengers annually, with flights to over 50 domestic and international destinations.

The airport has three terminals, with Terminal 2 being the newest and largest, having been opened in 2007. The terminal has 20 boarding gates and is capable of handling up to 10 million passengers per year. Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 serve domestic flights and international flights respectively.

Tan Son Nhat International Airport has undergone major renovations and upgrades in recent years to improve its facilities and services. The airport now boasts modern amenities such as duty-free shops, restaurants, lounges, and free Wi-Fi throughout the terminals. The airport also has a range of transportation options for passengers, including taxis, buses, and car rentals.

Despite its improvements, Tan Son Nhat International Airport still faces challenges such as overcrowding and congestion, especially during peak travel periods. However, plans are in place to build a new airport in the nearby province of Dong Nai to relieve the pressure on Tan Son Nhat.

Overall, Tan Son Nhat International Airport plays a crucial role in Vietnam’s economy and tourism industry, welcoming millions of visitors to the country each year. As Vietnam continues to develop and modernize, the airport will likely see further growth and expansion in the future.

Dive deeper: Private transfers  |  Navigating HCMC Airport Transfers



Ho Chi Minh City, located in the southern part of Vietnam, experiences a tropical climate characterized by two primary seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. Although the rainy season typically occurs from May to October, rainfall is not always guaranteed. Instead, brief but refreshing showers may occur for only a few hours before the sun reappears. Conversely, the dry period lasts from December to April. On average, the temperature throughout the year is approximately 28°C.

Read more: Hanoi – Vietnam Capital

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