Ho Chi Minh City vs Saigon: What’s the difference?

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Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon are two names for the same place. The area was first known as Prey Nokor, then Saigon, and was later renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975. The origin of the name Saigon is debated, but it is believed to come from the Khmer term for “city of kapok trees.” Ho Chi Minh played a vital role in the war from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s and remains a cult hero in Vietnam. Despite its official name, many still refer to the city as Saigon due to its romanticized history.

Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon are simply two names for the same general place. The city now known as Ho Chi Minh City has been inhabited for many hundreds of years and its name has changed a few times during that time as ownership moved between nations.
At first the area was known by the Khmer name Prey Nokor. The name Saigon was used in an official context as early as the late 17th century when Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu sent a retainer to form a government there as a southern outpost for Vietnam. After the French colonized Vietnam, the name Saigon was used almost exclusively as a name for this city, although it is more commonly spelled as Sai Gon, to more accurately reflect Vietnamese naming conventions.

The origin of the name Saigon is up for debate, but most people argue that it comes from the Khmer Prei Kor, which simply means city of kapok trees, and would be a pretty accurate description of the area in the past. The Vietnamese translation of this term would be roughly Sai Con and it is easy to see how this could later evolve into Saigon.

During the war that took place from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s, the man Ho Chi Minh played a vital role. After spending some time in China and the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s, he returned to Vietnam and led the independence movement. After convincing the Emperor of Vietnam to step down, he took over as president of the new provisional government. After France’s eventual defeat in the 1950s, he became president of the new North Vietnam, leading it through the war that would follow.

Though he died in 1969, Ho Chi Minh remained, and remains, a cult hero to many in Vietnam, particularly in the Communist leadership. He is still called Uncle Ho by many in Vietnam and his likeness appears throughout the country. It was this adoration and admiration that led to Saigon being renamed, in 1975, as Ho Chi Minh City.

While that is its official name, and while Ho Chi Minh is still revered, for many, if not most, the city will always remain Saigon. Saigon is the name given to the city in many works of romantic fiction. It is Saigon used in old movies and musicals. Somehow Saigon seems to wrap itself in a veil of beauty and mystery, while Ho Chi Minh City seems utilitarian and sparse. Just as for some, Sri Lanka will always remain Ceylon, and Myanmar will always be Burma, so too, Ho Chi Minh City is destined to always be known as Saigon.

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