Photo: View from Saigon Trade Center building - currently the tallest building in Saigon

Population: 4.5m
Area code: (+84) 8
Time zone: GMT +7
Currency: Dong (D)
Climate: Tropical, hottest months Mar-May, monsoon rain May-Oct;
Average temperature: 29C/82F
Tan Son Nhat Airport (SGN): 7km/4miles

Old habits die hard. Just St Petersburg has officially triumphed over Leningrad at last, it seems as if Saigon is also rising phoenix-like from the ashes of Ho Chi Minh City - in spirit as well as in name. Saigon is the name on everyone's lips, for the entrepreneurial flair of Vietnam's southern metropolis has survived undaunted, and the airport baggage tags never ceased to bear the legend 'SGN' anyway. Hanoi may be the capital and a few hundred years older, but the motor behind the country's progress into the next millennium is being fuelled by its largest city.

Built on the site of an ancient Khmer settlement, Saigon's transformation into a flourishing trading center took place about a century before the arrival of the French in 1859. They brought with them formal gardens, tree-lined boulevards and Ruffier's grandiloquent neoclassical palais architecture, which imposed on the capital of Chochin-China something of the appearance of a Paris suburb during the Belle Epoque. They also brought a modern drainage system, steam tramways, baguettes and an array of less tangible assets. The ocher-colored stucco is peeling in places and English is rapidly taking over as the lingua franca, but the faded colonial elegance seems to haunt the "City of the Kapok Tree Forest" through the fading spectres of the more recent past, giving it a slightly wistful air. South of the twin-spired red-brick cathedral runs Graham Greene's beloved Rue Catinat - rechristened Dong Khoi, the 'Street of the People's Revolution'. His 'Quiet American' would have felt at home in the trendy new restaurants and bars clustered round the lower end near the Continental, for at night this was one of the raciest districts in pre-war Saigon.

From dawn till long after dusk, however, the 4.5 million inhabitants of yet another (to its lovers) 'Pearl of the Orient' devote themselves to business as usual. Outnumbering the proponents of the industrial and agricultural revolution in search of overseas partners are the armies of street traders pursuing hard-currency customers as they hawk their wares and services on every street corner. Saigon as not yet succumbed to the fog of exhaust fumes which has engulfed Bangkok ot Manila, for the bicycle trishaws weaving their way through the bedlam of the streets still outnumber motorized taxis. In front of the Reunification Hall, you can even journey back in time by renting a gleaming 1940s Citroen. Nor - as yet - has the city's countenance been blighted by an excess of the concrete-and-glass monuments to Mammon.

Francophile nostalgia notwithstanding, there is no doubt from the proliferation of electronic wizardry, Western fashions and blaring pop music that Saigon's sights are set unswervingly on a consumerist future. And yet the city has never lost its essentially Eastern aura. Dotted across the city are myriad graceful pagodas and temples, and in swallowing the twin city of Cholon - where Marguerite Duras kept her assignations with her Chinese lover - Saigon acquired a Chinatown full of lively markets and small-scale businesses. If you have had enough of the displays of liberation struggles in the War Museum or the Viet Cong's Cu Chi tunnels beyond the city limits, you can hire a car and meander up the coast to the pristine beaches between Vung Tau and Nha Trang, or take the Vinh Long ferry and chug past emerald rice field through the muddy waters of the Mekong delta.

* Vietnam
* Saigon
* Saigon Attractions Guide (

5 star for 3 star holidays

Template by - Abdul Munir - 2008