Ho Chi Minh City

Name
Name: Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh
Former Name: Saigon (Vietnamese: Sài Gòn), still used by most residents
Meaning: Named after Hồ Chí Minh
Founding Year: 1698
Geography
Region: Southeast Asia
Time Zone: UTC +7
Area: 2,095 km²
People
Population: 6,239,938 (As of Mid-2005)
Density: 2,978/km²
Ethnicities: Kinh, Hoa, Khmer
Country & city calling Code: +84 (8)
ISO 3166-2 Code: VN-65
Governance
Administration Type: Municipality
CPV HCMC Committee Secretary: Lê Thanh Hải
People's Council Chairwoman: Phạm Phương Thảo
People's Committee Chairman: Lê Hoàng Quân
Location
image:LocationVietnamHoChiMinh.png

Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnamese: Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh pronunciation) is the largest city in Vietnam and is located near the Mekong River delta. Under the name Prey Nokor (Khmer: ), it was a hamlet of Cambodia, before being annexed by the Vietnamese in the 16th century. Known as Saigon (pronunciation) until the end of the Vietnam War, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina, and later of the former state of South Vietnam from 1954 to 1975. In 1975, Saigon was merged with the surrounding province of Gia Định and renamed Ho Chi Minh City (although Saigon is still frequently used). The city center is situated on the banks of the Saigon River, 60 km from the South China Sea [1]. The metropolitan area which consists of Ho Chi Minh city metro area, Bien Hoa, Thu Dau Mot and surrounding towns has more than 9 million people, making it the largest metropolitan area in Vietnam and Indochina.

Contents

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Origin of the name

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Original Khmer name

Saigon was known by its original Khmer inhabitants as Prey Nokor (). Prey Nokor means "forest city" or "forest land" in Khmer (Prey = "forest"; Nokor = "city, land", from Sanskrit nagara). The name Prey Nokor is still used in Cambodia today, and by the Khmer Krom minority living in the Mekong delta.

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Traditional Vietnamese name

After Prey Nokor was settled by Vietnamese migrating from the north, it became known as Sài Gòn. There is much debate about the origins of the Vietnamese name Saigon, the etymology of which is analyzed below.

Before French colonization, the Vietnamese name of Saigon was Gia Ðịnh. In 1862, the French discarded this official name and adopted "Saïgon", which had always been popular as Sài Gòn.

From an orthographic point of view, the Vietnamese name Sài Gòn is written in two syllables, which is the traditional convention in Vietnamese spelling. Some people, however, write the name of the city as SàiGòn or Sàigòn in order to save space or give it a more westernized look.

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Vietnamese etymology

A frequently heard etymology is that Sài is a Chinese loan word (Chinese: 柴, pronounced chái in Mandarin) meaning "firewood, logs, twigs; palisade", while Gòn is another Chinese loan word (Chinese: 棍, pronounced gùn in Mandarin) meaning "stick, pole, bole", and whose meaning evolved into "cotton" in Vietnamese (bông gòn, literally "cotton stick", i.e. "cotton plant", then shortened to gòn).

Some people say that this name originated from the many cotton plants that the Khmer people had planted around Prey Nokor, and which can still be seen at Cây Mai temple and the surrounding areas. …

Trương Vĩnh Ký, "Souvenirs historiques sur Saïgon et ses environs", in Excursions et Reconnaissances, Imprimerie Coloniale, Saïgon, 1885.

Another explanation is that the etymological meaning "twigs" (Sài) & "boles" (Gòn) refers to the dense and tall forest that once existed around the city, a forest to which the Khmer name Prey Nokor already referred.

Chinese people both in Vietnam and in China do not use the name 柴棍 (pronounced Chaai-Gwan in Cantonese and Cháigùn in Mandarin), although etymologically speaking it is the Chinese name from which the Vietnamese name Sài Gòn is derived (if the theory here is correct). Instead, they call the city 西貢 (pronounced Sai-Gung in Cantonese and Xīgòng in Mandarin), which is a mere phonetic transliteration of the name "Saigon".

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Khmer etymology

Another etymology often proposed is that "Saigon" comes from "Sai Con", which would be the translation of the Khmer words prey kor () meaning "forest of kapok trees" (prey = forest; kor = kapok tree). The Khmer word prey kor should not be confused with the Khmer name "Prey Nokor" discussed above (kor is a Khmer word meaning "kapok tree", while nokor is a Khmer word of Sanskrit origin meaning "city, land").

This Khmer etymology theory is quite interesting given the Khmer context that existed when the first Vietnamese settlers arrived in the region. However, it fails to completely explain how Khmer "prey" led to Vietnamese "Sài", since these two syllables appear phonetically quite distinct.

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Cantonese etymology

A less likely etymology was offered by Vương Hồng Sển, a Vietnamese scholar in the early 20th century, who asserted that Sài Gòn had its origins in the Cantonese name of Cholon (Vietnamese: quốc ngữ Chợ Lớn; chữ nôm ), the Chinese district of Saigon. The Cantonese (and original) name of Cholon is "Tai-Ngon" (堤岸), which means "embankment". The theory posits that "Sài Gòn" derives from "Tai-Ngon".

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Current Vietnamese name

On May 1, 1975, after the fall of South Vietnam, the now ruling communist government renamed the city after the alias of their leader Hồ Chí Minh. The official name is now Thành phố (meaning city) Hồ Chí Minh, often abbreviated TPHCM. In English this is translated as Ho Chi Minh City, abbreviated HCMC, and in French it is translated as Hô Chi Minh Ville (the circumflex is sometimes omitted), abbreviated HCMV. Still, the old name Sài Gòn/Saigon is widely used by Vietnamese and is found in company names, book titles and sometimes on airport departure boards (the code for Tan Son Nhat International Airport is SGN).

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History

Ho Chi Minh City began as a small fishing village known as Prey Nokor. The area that the city now occupies was originally swampland, and was inhabited by Khmer people for centuries before the arrival of the Vietnamese.

In 1623, King Chey Chettha II of Cambodia (1618-1628) allowed Vietnamese refugees fleeing the Trinh-Nguyen civil war in Vietnam to settle in the area of Prey Nokor, and to set up a custom house at Prey Nokor. Increasing waves of Vietnamese settlers, which the Cambodian kingdom, weakened because of war with Thailand, could not impede, slowly Vietnamized the area. In time, Prey Nokor became known as Saigon.

In 1698, Nguyen Huu Canh, a Vietnamese noble, was sent by the Nguyen rulers of Huế to establish Vietnamese administrative structures in the area, thus detaching the area from Cambodia, which was not strong enough to intervene. He is often credited with the expansion of Saigon into a significant settlement. A large Vauban citadel called Gia Dinh has been built, which was later destroyed by the French over the Battle of Chi Hoa.

Conquered by France in 1859, the city was influenced by the French during their colonial occupation of Vietnam, and a number of classical western-style buildings in the city reflect this. So much so that Saigon was called "the Pearl of the Far East" (Hòn ngọc Viễn Đông) or "Paris in the Orient" (Paris Phương Đông).

In 1954, the French were defeated by the Communist Viet Minh in the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ, and withdrew from Vietnam. Rather than recognizing the Communists as the new government, they gave their backing to a government established by Emperor Bảo Đại. Bảo Đại had set up Saigon as his capital in 1950. At that time Saigon and the city of Cholon (Chợ Lớn), which was inhabited primarily by Vietnamese Chinese, were combined into one administrative unit, called the Capital of Saigon (Đô Thành Sài Gòn in Vietnamese). When Vietnam was officially partitioned into North Vietnam (the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and South Vietnam (the Republic of Vietnam), the southern government, led by President Ngô Đình Diệm, retained Saigon as its capital.

At the conclusion of the Vietnam War, on April 30 1975, the city came under the control of the Vietnam People's Army. In the U.S. this event is commonly called the "Fall of Saigon," while in Vietnam it is called the "Liberation of Saigon."

In 1976, upon the establishment of the unified communist Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the city of Saigon (including Cholon), the province of Gia Ðịnh and 2 suburban districts of two other nearby provinces were combined to create Hồ Chí Minh City in honour of the late communist leader Hồ Chí Minh. The former name Saigon is still widely used by many Vietnamese, especially in informal contexts. Generally, the term Saigon refers only to the urban districts of Hồ Chí Minh City. The word "Saigon" can also be found on shop signs all over the country, even in Hanoi. In terms like "Saigon Fashion" or "Saigon Style" the word "Saigon" is employed to connote chicness and modernity.

Today, the city's core is still adorned with wide elegant boulevards and historic French colonial buildings. The most prominent structures in the city center are Reunification Hall (Dinh Thống Nhất), City Hall (Uy ban Nhan dan Thanh pho), City Theater (Nha hat Thanh pho), City Post Office (Buu dien Thanh pho), Revolutionary Museum (Bao tang Cach mang), State Bank Office (Ngan hang Nha nuoc), City People's Court (Toa an Nhan dan Thanh pho) and Notre-Dame Cathedral (Nhà thờ Đức Bà).

Ho Chi Minh City is home to a well-established ethnic Chinese population. Cholon, now known as District 5 and the parts of Districts 6, 10 and 11, serves as its Chinatown.

With a population now exceeding 7 million (registered residents plus migrant workers), Ho Chi Minh City is in need of vast increase in public infrastructure. To meet this need, the city and central governments have embarked on an effort to develop new urban centers. The two most prominent projects are the Thu Thiem city center in District 2 and the Phu My Hung New City Center in District 7 (as part of the Saigon South project) where various international schools such as Saigon South International (The American School), the Japanese school, Australia's Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, the Taiwan and Korea schools are located).

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Geography and climate

Ho Chi Minh City is located at 10°45'N, 106°40'E in the southeastern region of Vietnam, 1,760 km (1,094 miles) south of Hanoi. The average elevation is 19 meters (63 feet) above sea level. It borders Tay Ninh and Binh Duong provinces to the north, Dong Nai and Ba Ria - Vung Tau provinces to the east, Long An Province to the west and the South China Sea to the south with a coast of 20 km in length. The city covers an area of 2,095 km² (809 sq. mi) (0.63% of the surface of Vietnam), extending up to Cu Chi (20 km from the Cambodian border), and down to Can Gio on the East Sea coast. The distance from the northernmost point (Phu My Hung Commune, Cu Chi District) to the southernmost one (Long Hoa Commune, Can Gio District) is 120 km, and from the easternmost point (Long Binh Ward, District Nine) to the westernmost one (Binh Chanh Commune, Binh Chanh District) is 46 km.

The city has a tropical climate, with an average humidity of 75%. A year is divided into 2 distinct seasons: The rainy season with an average rainfall of about 1,800 mm annually (about 100 rainy days per year), which usually begins in May and ends in late November. The dry season lasts from December to April. The average temperature is 28 °C (Celsius), the highest temperature sometimes reaches 39 °C around noon in late April, while the lowest may fall below 16 °C in the early mornings of late December.

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Political and Administrative System

City center of Ho Chi Minh City
City center of Ho Chi Minh City
Municipal theater
Municipal theater
Main post office, 1991
Main post office, 1991

Hồ Chí Minh City is a municipality that exists at the same level as Vietnam's provinces. As such, it has a similar political structure to its provinces, with a People's Council of 95 elected deputies, and a People's Committee of 13 members chosen by the council, being the principal local governmental entities. The People's Council Chairman is the top governmental official while the People's Committee Chairman is the top executive of the city, instead of a single mayor position as in other cities in the world. The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) leads all political-economic-social activities in the country, therefore the CPV HCMC Committee Secretary is really the highest ranking leader of the city.

The municipality has been divided into twenty-four administrative divisions since December 2003. Five of these {Area: 1,601 km²} are designated as suburban districts ("Huyện" in Vietnamese), covering the urbanized - farmland around the city which is included in the municipality's official boundaries. These districts are named Nhà Bè, Cần Giờ, Hóc Môn, Củ Chi, and Bình Chánh. The remaining nineteen divisions {Area: 494 km²} are found in the city itself. Only seven of these nineteen inner districts ("Quận" in Vietnamese) have names (Tân Bình, Bình Thạnh, Phú Nhuận, Thủ Dức, Bình Tân, Tân Phú and Gò Vấp) - the remainder are simply numbered from one to twelve. Each inner district is sub-divided into many wards ("Phường" in Vietnamese), while a suburban district usually consists of many communes and townships ("Xã" and "Thị trấn" in Vietnamese). Since December 2006, Ho Chi Minh City has had 259 wards, 58 communes and 5 townships (see List of HCMC administrative units below).

List of HCMC Administrative Units
Name of district (since December 2003) Sub-division units (since December 2006) Area (km²) (since December 2006) Population as of the October 1, 2004 Census Population as of Mid 2005
Inner Districts:
District 1 10 wards 7.73 198,032 199,899
District 2 11 wards 49.74 125,136 126,084
District 3 14 wards 4.92 201,122 199,297
District 4 15 wards 4.18 180,548 185,268
District 5 15 wards 4.27 170,367 192,157
District 6 14 wards 7.19 241,379 243,416
District 7 10 wards 35.69 159,490 163,608
District 8 16 wards 19.18 360,722 366,251
District 9 13 wards 114 202,948 207,696
District 10 15 wards 5.72 235,231 235,370
District 11 16 wards 5.14 224,785 225,908
District 12 11 wards 52.78 290.129 299,306
Go Vap District 16 wards 19.74 452,083 468,468
Tan Binh District 15 wards 22.38 397,569 394,281
Tan Phu District 11 wards 16.06 366,399 372,519
Binh Thanh District 20 wards 20.76 423,896 435,300
Phu Nhuan District 15 wards 4.88 175,293 175,716
Thu Duc District 12 wards 47.76 336,571 346,329
Binh Tan District 10 wards 51.89 398,712 403,643
Total Inner Districts 259 wards 494.01 5,140,412 5,240,516
Suburban Districts:
Cu Chi District 20 communes and 1 township 434.50 288,279 296,032
Hoc Mon District 11 communes and 1 township 109.18 245,381 251,812
Binh Chanh District 15 communes and 1 township 252.69 304,168 311,702
Nha Be District 6 communes and 1 township 100.41 72,740 73,432
Can Gio District 6 communes and 1 township 704.22 66,272 66,444
Total Suburban Districts 58 communes and 5 townships 1,601 976,839 999,422
Whole City 259 wards, 58 communes and 5 townships 2,095.01 6,117,251 6,239,938
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Demographics

The population of Ho Chi Minh City, as of the October 1, 2004 Census, was 6,117,251 (of which 19 inner districts had 5,140,412 residents and 5 suburban districts had 976,839 inhabitants). In the middle of 2005 the city's population was estimated to be 6,239,938 (of which 19 inner districts had 5,240,516 residents and 5 suburban districts had 999,422 inhabitants), or about 7.4% of the total population of Vietnam; making it the highest population-concentrated city in the country. As an administrative unit, its population is also the largest at the provincal level. As the largest economic and financial hub of Vietnam, HCMC has attracted more and more immigrants from other Vietnamese provinces in recent years; therefore, its population is growing rapidly. From 1999 - 2004, the city population has increased by about 200,000 people per year.

The majority of the population are ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh) at about 90%. Other ethnic minorities include Chinese (Hoa) with 8%, (the largest Chinese community in Vietnam) and other minorities (Khmer, Cham, Nung, Rhade) 2%. The inhabitants of Ho Chi Minh City are usually known as "Saigonese" in English, "Saigonnais" in French and "dân Sài Gòn" in Vietnamese.

The Kinh speak Vietnamese with their respective regional accents: Southern (about 50%), Northern (30%) and Central Vietnam (20%); while the Hoa speak Cantonese, Teochew (Chaozhou), Hokkien, Hainanese and Hakka dialects of Chinese (only a few speak Mandarin Chinese). A varying degree of English is spoken especially in the tourism and commerce sectors where dealing with foreign nationals is a necessity, so English has become a de facto second language for some Saigonese.

According to some researchers the religious breakup in HCMC is as follows: Buddhism (all sects) 50%, Roman Catholic 12%, Protestant 2%, others (Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, Islam, Hinduism) 2%, and no religion or unknown 34%.

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Economy

Ho Chi Minh City is the most important economic center in Vietnam. Some 300,000 businesses, including many large enterprises, are involved in high-tech, electronic, processing and light industries, also in construction, building materials and agro-products. Currently, the city has 15 industrial parks (IP) and export-processing zones (EPZ), in addition to the Quang Trung Software Park and the Sai Gon Hi-tech Park (SHTP). There are 171 medium and large scale markets, tens of supermarket chains, dozens of luxury shopping malls and many modern fashion or beauty centers. Over 50 banks with hundreds of branches and about 20 insurance companies are situated inside the city. The first Stock Exchange of Vietnam was opened in the city in 2001.

In 2005, the city's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was estimated at USD 11.6 billion, or about USD 1,850 per capita, (up 12.2% on 2004) and accounting for 20% GDP of the country. The GDP calculating Parity Purchasing Power method (PPP), attained USD 56 billion, or about USD 8,900 per capita (approximately 3.5 times higher than the country's average). The city's Industrial Product Value was USD 5.6 billion, equivalent to 30% of the whole nation. Export - Import Turnover through HCMC ports took USD 29 billion, or 40% of the national total. Ho Chi Minh City has also contributed about 30% to the national budget's revenue annually.

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Education

Higher education in Ho Chi Minh City is quite developed, concentrating about 50 universities and colleges with a total of over 300,000 students in such places as: Vietnam National University with 35,000 students, the most important university in the Southern Region, consisting of 6 main member schools: The University of Natural Sciences (formerly Saigon College of Sciences); The University of Social Sciences and Humanities (formerly Saigon College of Letters); The University of Polytechnic (formerly Phu Tho National Institute of Technology); The International University, Faculty of Economics and the newly-established University of Information Technology.

Some other important higher education establishments include: HCMC University of Pedagogy, University of Economics, University of Architecture, University of Medicine and Pharmacy, University of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Law, University of Technical Education, University of Banking, University of Transport, University of Industry, Open University, University of Sports and Physical Education, University of Fine Art, University of Culture and the Conservatory of Music. The RMIT University with about 2,000 students, the unique foreign-invested higher-education unit in Vietnam at the present, was founded in 2002 by the Royal Melbourne Technology Institute (RMIT) of Australia.

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Public Health

The health care system of the city is relatively developed with a chain of about 80 publicly owned hospitals or medical centers and dozens of privately owned clinics. These establishments are equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment. The 1,400 bed Chợ Rẫy Hospital, upgraded by Japanese aid and the French-sponsored Institute of Cardiology, are among the top medical facilities in Indochina. The Hoa Hao Medical Diagnosis Center (Medic) and FV Hospital have recently attracted many clients, including foreigners, because of their good quality of service and modern equipment. Patients come from cities in nearby provinces and Cambodia as well.

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Transportation

Vietnam Airlines is the national carrier of Vietnam. The airline currently operates a modern fleet of Western-built aircraft, including Airbus 320, 321, Boeing 767, 777 and the 787 in the near future. It operates over 20 domestic routes and to 39 international destinations. Vietnam's second airline, Pacific Airlines, is using a leased fleet of Boeing 737s and 767s. Tan Son Nhat International Airport, a joint civilian and military airport, is located 4 mi / 7 km north of the center (District 1) of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Taxi and bus services are available for travel to and from the airport and within the city. Because of the rapid growing number of air-passengers and Tan Son Nhat Airport's proximity to the center of the city, the Vietnamese Government has prepared to build a new international airport near Long Thanh Township, Dong Nai Province about 31 mi / 50 km to the northeast.

While most of the city's 10,000 taxis are metered and usually in good condition, not many drivers can speak English well. Some drivers refuse to use their meters in order to obtain a higher fare. Visitors should exercise vigilance when using motorcycle taxis (xe ôm) or three-wheeled cycle rickshaws (xích lô), as they may sometimes leave passengers vulnerable.

Street packed with motorbikes
Street packed with motorbikes

Generally speaking, Ho Chi Minh city's road system is not in good condition - some of its streets are riddled with potholes. This is especially true of the city's numerous back streets and alleyways, which are sometimes little more than dirt paths. Travelling by bus is the only public transport available although the city is seeking financing sources for implementing metro (subway) and elevated train projects, including the Ho Chi Minh City Metro planned for completion in 2020. Recently, due to the cheap importation of motorcycles, especially from China, the number of motorcycles has increased to about 3 million. There are also over 400,000 automobiles, packing the city's arterial roads and making traffic congestion and air pollution common problems. If Beijing is "the City of Bicycles", then Ho Chi Minh City may be called "the City of Motorbikes". Visitors shouldn't consider the city's streets as dangerous due to the motorists' general behaviour of dodging pedestrians. In general most people follow traffic rules and enforcement of traffic law is improving. However, drivers can still be seen driving the wrong way up a one way street or ignoring red lights.

The city is the main hub of the Trans-Vietnam Railroad. Passengers can travel to Hanoi and the Chinese border, about 1,212 mi/1,950 km to the north. There are many harbours along the Saigon and Dong Nai Rivers, such as: Saigon Port, Newport, Bennghe Port and VICT Port. They account for the annual 40% export-import cargo output of Vietnam.

From Saigon, one can travel to many places in Southern Vietnam and to Cambodia by road or waterway. The city is linked to the Central Highlands by National Highways 14 and 20, to the Central Coast and the north by National Highway 1 and to the Mekong River Delta by National Highways 1 and 50. Two expressways are being built to connect HCMC to Can Tho, the capital of the Mekong River Delta, and to Dau Giay Township, Dong Nai Province, 70 km to the northeast.

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Media, Culture and Entertainment

The city's media is the most developed in the country. At present, HCMC has 5 daily newspapers: Sai Gon Giai Phong (Liberated Saigon) and its Chinese, sports and evening editions, Tuoi Tre (Youth); the highest circulation newspaper in Vietnam; Nguoi Lao Dong (Labourer); The Thao (Sports) and the Saigon Times Daily, the business newspaper in English, and over 30 other newspapers and magazines. HCMC Television (HTV) is the second largest television network in the nation, just behind the national Vietnam Television (VTV), broadcasting 24/7 on 7 different channels (using analog and digital technology). The Voice of HCMC People is also the largest radio station in the Southern region. The major international TV channels are provided through two cable networks (SCTV and HTVC), with over 300,000 subscribers or satellite TVs.

The city has over 1.2 million fixed telephones and about 3 million cellular phones (the latter growing annually by 20%). The Internet, especially through ADSL connections, is also rapidly expanding with over 800,000 subscribers and around 3 million frequent users.

The city has hundreds of printing and publishing houses, many bookstores and a widespread network of public and school libraries. The HCMC General Library with over 1.5 mìllion books, is a beautiful architectural building, among the greatest in Vietnam. One can visit the Museum of History, the Museum of Revolution, the Museum of Southern Women, the Museum of Southeastern's Armed Forces, the Museum of Fine Art, the Gallery for War Remnants, the Nha Rong Memorial House, the Ben Duoc Relic of Underground Tunnels and many private art galleries. Besides the Municipal Theatre, there are other great places of entertainment such as: the Bến Thành and Hòa Bình Theaters and the Lan Anh Music Stage. The Đầm Sen Tourist and Cultural Park, Suoi Tien Cultural Park and the Can Gio Eco beach resort are three recreational sites inside the city which are popular with visitors.

Visitors can also enjoy various non-local cuisines, from Japanese sushi to Texas barbecue. The city has hundreds of ranked hotels with over 18,000 rooms, including ten luxury 5 star hotels. However, backpacking travelers can easily get cheap menus and rooms in the "Western Quarter" on Pham Ngu Lao street in District 1.

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