Ho Chi Minh City, better known by its former name of Saigon, is an industrious and dense metropolis, the largest city in Vietnam and the business capital of the country. With a population of roughly nine million, it is crowded and noisy, yet also exciting, a historic city that encompasses the essence of the nation.
Located on the Saigon River on the edge of the Mekong Delta, Saigon became the capital of the Republic of South Vietnam and was the American headquarters during the Vietnam War. Two years later the Communist north took control of the country, the city's name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City, and recession and poverty ensued.
Today, Ho Chi Minh City has a cosmopolitan atmosphere and, having actively welcomed capitalism, its citizens are clearly business-minded. Although relatively modern, it has still managed to hold onto its historical character, and fine restaurants, chic hotels and bars line the sidewalks. The buzzing of motorbikes and scooters merges with the calls of street vendors and the urgent business of stall owners, selling a range of delectable street food and exotic delicacies. The sight of a family of four balanced precariously on a scooter, a squealing pig strapped onto the back of a bicycle, bowed heads topped by pointed lampshade-style hats and orange-clothed monks are just some of the vibrant images the city has to offer.
Although overshadowed by modern and Asiatic influences, a little of Ho Chi Minh City's French colonial charm still remains, evident in the graceful architecture, wide boulevards, and a sidewalk cafe society. It is not for the attractions that travellers visit Ho Chi Minh City however, but for the vibrancy of its street life, and its proximity to the Mekong Delta.