Saigon was originally part of the kingdom of Cambodia, explains Lonely Planet. Until the 17th century it was a small port town known as Prey Nokor and as “more and more settlers moved south it was absorbed by Vietnam and became the base for the Nguyen Lords.” It was captured by the French in 1859, became the capital of Cochinchina a few years later, and served as the capital of the Republic of Vietnam from 1956 until 1975, “when it fell to advancing North Vietnamese forces and was renamed Ho Chi Minh City by the Hanoi government.”
The city was “woken by triumphal song” the day after the North Vietnamese took it, reports The Guardian. “During the night the engineers of the victorious army had rigged up loudspeakers, and from about 5am the same tinny liberation melodies were incessantly played.” It was 30 April 1975, and “sharp early sunlight illuminated Saigon’s largely empty streets, at a time when the city’s frenetic traffic would normally have already begun to buzz … but hardly anybody knew what to do -- whether to go to work or not, whether there would be anything to buy in the market, whether there would be petrol, or whether new fighting might break out.
After decades under colonialism, Saigon resembled many European cities, says Thanh Nien News. It was often called the “Paris of the Orient,” and the “main attractions in colonial Saigon for its principally French tourists were French works of architecture and urbanism,” writes Cabinet magazine. The ‘Tourist Guide to Saigon, Phnom-Penh, and Angkor’ (1930) “gives a sense of the city’s attractions: the Boulevards Charner and Bonnard, the Halles Centrales, the Jardin de la Ville, the palaces of the Governor General and the Governor of Cochinchina, the Roman Catholic Cathedral, the Musée Blanchard de la Brosse, the Hôtels Majestic and de la Rotonde with the ‘delightful little open-air restaurant and bar,’ the crowded Rue Catinat near the Mairie with its ‘art and curio, lace and silk shops’.”