13 Ho Chi Minh Facts to Know Vietnam's Cosmopolitan Capital

Named after a Vietnamese revolutionary leader and currently the largest city in the country by population, Ho Chi Minh City is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. Filled with gorgeous architecture and a wealth of culture, it's a beautiful place to spend a holiday. With each passing year, it hosts more and more tourists eager to explore this history-filled city; Fun fact, in 2017 alone, Ho Chi Minh City saw more than 5 million tourists!

Panorama of Ho Chi Minh City at Sunset
Ho Chi Minh City draws in a large number of tourists to Vietnam every year (Source)

Here are 13 more interesting facts about Ho Chi Minh we're sure you're dying to know:

1. One City, Many Names

Saigon Railway Station, Ho Chi Minh City Facts
The name 'Saigon' is still used around Ho Chi Minh City (Source)

Ho Chi Minh City has seen many name changes in its history! Originally called Prey Nokor ("Forest City") or Preah Reach Nokor ("Royal City"), it was a small fishing village of the Khmer people. When the Vietnamese took away the area, they named it Gia Dinh. Under French rule from 1862, it became known as Saigon. With the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the city was renamed after the communist government’s first leader, Ho Chi Minh. Today, it is known internationally as Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) but parts of the city, particularly District 1, are still informally called Saigon.

2. Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam's Modern City

Sklyine of Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam's most modern city (Source)

Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam. In fact, it takes up just around 0.6% of the country’s total land area. It is one of the most important cities in the country that has seen rapid development in the last few decades. As of 2005, it accounted for 20.2% of Vietnam's GDP and 28% of the industrial output. It's no wonder that Ho Chi Minh City is Asia's 50th most expensive city to live in!

3. Ho Chi Minh City Has a Thriving Cash Economy

Vietnamese Dong
Ho Chi Minh City, like the rest of Vietnam, survives on a cash economy (Source)

Vietnam on a whole thrives on a cash economy, and Ho Chi Minh City is no different! The fact of Ho Chi Minh City is that cash plays a major role despite its cosmopolitan nature. If you want to have a comfortable journey here, it’s best to carry plenty of change. On landing, it's a good idea to convert all your currency to the Vietnam Dong, a currency that isn’t easily available outside the country. You'll find some instances when you can use your card, but from short rides to quick snacks and impromptu plans, transactions will be cash-based here. Don't say we didn't warn you!

4. Ho Chi Minh City Has Diverse Demographics

People of Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is a mix of various Southeast Asian Races (Source)

About 94% of the population are Kinh (ethnic Vietnamese). The largest minority ethnic group are the Chinese, making up 6% of the population. They speak a number of varieties of Chinese such as Hakka, Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, and Hokkien. The Khmer ethnic group make up 0.3% of the population. Cham, another indigenous ethnic group, comprise 0.1% of the population.

5. Ho Chi Minh City is a Multi-cultural City

Quan Am Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is a Mix of Many Faiths (Source)

The most prevalent religions in Ho Chi Minh City are Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Some of the famous Buddhist temples in the city are Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, Tam Son Hoi Quan Pagoda, and Jade Emperor Pagoda. An interesting fact about Ho Chi Minh City is how common it is for Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism to be practised in the same temples. Aside from this, Roman Catholics make up about 10% of the city's population. Other minority groups include Hindus, Muslims, Protestants, and the Baha'i faith. 

6. Ho Chi Minh City is a Two-Wheelers Galore

Ho Chi Minh City Traffic Facts
Ho Chi Minh City is a major hub for Two-Wheeler Transport (Source)

After Taiwan, Vietnam has the second largest motorcycle ownership in the world. As of 2016, there are believed to be around 37 million registered motorcycles. That means that there are around 20 motorbikes for each car! In Ho Chi Minh City, there are an estimated 7 million motorbikes with over a 1,000 vehicles being added each day. Unfortunately, these figures are joined by high rates of road accidents. According to the World Health Organisation, Vietnam's traffic fatality rates are the second highest in Southeast Asia. Don’t forget to look both sides before crossing the road!  

7. Ho Chi Minh City Has a Booming Education Industry

Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is home to many of Vietnam's best universities (Source)

Ho Chi Minh City has a rapidly expanding education sector, especially in the realm of higher education. In 2010, it boasted of over 80 universities and colleges, with a student population of around 400,000. Some of the most notable universities are Vietnam National University, The International University, The University of Economics and Law, and the University of Technology. In addition, the city is home to several campuses for international education institutes like RMIT University (Melbourne).

8. Ho Chi Minh City Has a Rich Coffee Culture

Vietnamese Coffee in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, like Vietnam, is famous for its love for Coffee (Source)

An interesting fact about Ho Chi Minh City is that despite the options of beers and Vietnamese wine, it remains loyal to the fine coffee bean. Coffee, or ca phe da, is perhaps the most loved drink here. It is served cold with condensed milk, and it is often thick enough to scoop with a spoon. Throughout Ho Chi Minh City, you'll find coffee shops and cafes selling different varieties of this beverage for anywhere between VND 5,000 to a sizeable VND 70,000. You'll be surprised to learn that this coffee culture is so prevalent here, even business deals get signed in coffee shops!   

9. French Influence Remains in Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon Central Post Office, one of the many examples of French Colonial Architecture in Ho Chi MInh City
Ho Chi Minh City is Populated with Many Building Exhibiting French Colonial Architecture (Source)

Vietnam was a French colony for over a century, so it's no surprise that there's a strong French influence even today. Ho Chi Minh City is home to Vietnam's own Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral that was built in the 19th century. Today, it is one of the most popular spots in the city for wedding photos. Saigon Central Post Office was designed by the famous Gustave Eiffel in 1886.  Across District 1's pretty boulevards, you'll get to see other French colonial buildings like the Reunification Palace, Municipal Theatre (also called Opera House), Hotel Majestic, and City Hall.

10. Ho Chi Minh City Was a Strategic City For The Vietnam War

Cu Chi Tunnels, a Fascinating Labyrinth of Underground Caves near Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City was the Capital of South Vietnam and an Important City duing the Major Wars in Vietnam (Source)

Called Saigon then, Ho Chi Minh City was the capital of South Vietnam until 1975. It was run by an anti-communist government backed by French and US troops. Running under the city are the Cu Chi Tunnels, a network of underground tunnels used by Vietcong guerrillas during the Tet Offensive (1968). The tunnels acted as hiding spots during combat, supply routes, and living quarters for many North Vietnamese fighters. History buffs will be happy to learn that you can visit these claustrophobic tunnels even today through a guided tour. 

11. The Reunification Express Runs From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City

Reunification Express, Ho Chi Minh City Facts
The Reunification Express runs from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, a symbol of unity between North and South Vietnam (Source)

Before north Vietnam and south Vietnam were unified in 1976, they operated as two independent countries. Today, trains that follow the north-south route from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south are sometimes called the Reunification Express. An interesting fact is that the Reunification Express isn't one but many trains, and none of them carry the name officially. As of 2005, nearly 200 stations in the Vietnamese railway network are located along the Reunification Express route. In case you were wondering, this route spans 1,726 kilometres.  

12. Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam's Spa Central

Spas in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City has many spas, more than any other city in Vietnam (Source)

A fun fact about Ho Chi Minh City is that it is flooded with fantastic spas! After a tiring day of wading through Ho Chi Minh City's crowded streets, battling the hot sun, there’s nothing like unwinding in a calming spa. Best of all, their prices don't burn a hole in your wallet! The best spas can be found in the city centre, such as Ben Thanh Market. For manicure and pedicure services, you'll be charged around VND 250,000 while full body massages are priced at around VND 150,000.   

13. Ho Chi Minh City Has Delicious, Global Street Food

Street Food in Ho Chi Minh City Facts
Ho Chi Minh City has some of the best street food in Vietnam (Source)

While Hanoi is the best place for authentice Vietnamese food and street food, Ho Chi Minh City is home to some of the best street food in all of Vietnam, and we wouldn't want you to miss out! From scrumptious banh mi (a variation of the French baguette sandwich), ba lo lat (grilled minced beef patties), goi cuon (translucent summer rolls), cao lau (a pork noodle dish), and, of course, the popular pho (broth with rice noodles), you're going to be spoilt for choice at every meal.

Read more about Street Food in Ho Chi Minh City

Armed with all this information, aren't you tempted to pack your bags and catch the next flight to the beautiful city, and see if all these interesting facts about Ho Chi Minh City are true? We wouldn’t blame you!

This post was published by Rhea Nath

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