Concentrated pockets of French or Chinese architecture can be found throughout HCMC. Walk through the city center and you wont find just one China town or one French Quarter. Instead you are likely to see these influences, along with so many others, intermingled throughout the city’s wildly woven alleyways and side-streets.
The bright yellow central post office is quintessentially french. Inside “Uncle Ho’s” (Ho Chi Minh, for whom the city is named) portrait hangs front and center, and classic communist imagery in statues of iron stand to either side of the door. Just across the street, Notre Dame Saigon is filled with people for Mass. We can hear music pour out of the one open door.
Less than a mile away is the Reunification Palace, also known as the Independence Palace. Once a glamorous french building stood but it was bombed, it was rebuilt, bunkers and all in 1970’s fashion and the interior remains in that style. Walking through, it seems almost as though it has never been used and sits stagnantly like a museum exhibit. Perhaps the glamorous rooms are filled once in a while for big events, it’s hard to tell.
Chinese influences abound, in food and style. Classic roof lines can be seen all over. There’s a strong Russian flavor throughout the bars and nightlife, and quite a few more tourists here as well. Of course there are American Influences too, but since this is the lense I see through to begin with, it’s more challenging for me to pick out.
The many influences here aren’t just architectural or political of course, they come from groups that have dominated, oppressed and exploited Vietnam. Some groups came invited but more that did not. In so many ways, Vietnam is painted by the other groups who came here but the longer you listen the more you hear the Vietnamese are still their own.