Cholon, Saigon’s Chinatown, is not the place to come for a quiet respite from the downtown frenzy. In fact Cholon may be the epicentre of the city’s hyperactivity. The name Cho Lon translates literally as “big market” and that’s exactly what it is.
Amidst the cacophany of motorcycles, street vendors and the different tones of the Chinese dialects spoken here, Cholon is also home to some beautiful and relatively serene Chinese pagodas, bustling Binh Tay market and plenty of history.
Originally a Chinese satellite city of Saigon, Saigon has now engulfed its little sister. Still, Cholon has a distinctive character and its people have played an outsized role in Saigon’s economy and history since the enclave was created. Spend half a day or more fighting your way through its historic streets.
If you can brave the traffic, a cyclo is an interesting way to get around – everything is close by.
Chinatown in Saigon
In the 1950s, Cholon was famous for its brothels, opium dens and casinos. The Binh Xuyen criminal gang operated a vast empire that was defended by its own militia with the blessing of the still influential French. In a critical showdown, South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem eliminated the Binh Xuyen in 1955.
Eight years later, in November 1963, Diem faced a new threat. A group of rebel South Vietnamese generals launched a coup against him and he fled his downtown palace (now the Ho Chi Minh City Museum) for Cholon’s Cha Tam Church. A devout Catholic, he prayed in vain for mercy from coup leaders. He was captured at the church and then murdered in cold blood along with reviled brother Ngo Dinh Nhu while being transported back to the city centre.
Do not hesitate to book a Ho Chi Minh motorbike tour with us.
Cholon has been at the centre of economic life in Saigon for decades – excepting an interruption in the late 1970s and early 80s when China’s invasion of Vietnam created a backlash against the ethnic Chinese community. The backlash saw thousands of Chinese flee by boat settling in the US, Canada, France and Australia.
By the early nineties, it was back to business and the Chinese of Cholon have resumed their central role in Saigon’s economy since then.
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