Saigon or Ho Chi Minh? Which One Is Correct?

Saigon or Ho Chi Minh? Which One Is Correct?

If you've ever visited the former Vietnamese capital, you probably asked this question too.
October 16, 2014 by Le Ngoc Ngan

There is a Hotel Muse Bangkok in Bangkok, Intercontinental Phnom Penh in Phnom Penh, and so on. But what about Ho Chi Minh City? So far as I know there is neither Ho Chi Minh Hotel nor Ho Chi Minh restaurant.

Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City

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Instead, they have Intercontinental Asiana Saigon, Sheraton Saigon, Metropole Saigon, Saigon Riverside Hotel and even SGN as the airport ID code. So are you in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh?

Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City

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Yes, you are in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - according to Google Maps - and Saigon, Vietnam, according to local people. Let's take a short trip to the past to make it clear. The city was recognized as Saigon - capital of Vietnam - until 1975, when the government of the Republic of Vietnam was abolished. In 1976, after the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was established, Saigon was combined with Gia Dinh and two other suburban districts to create nowadays Ho Chi Minh City. It was done in order to show Vietnamese people's honor of the country's first president.

So, 38 years have passed but the local people still use the old name of the city in daily conversations because it's rooted so deeply in people's mind and everyday life. If you ask the local people, especially those who live in the city center, they will tell you their city is Saigon. But for most young citizens, who have got used to the new name since they were born, "Ho Chi Minh City" is likely to be preferable while the old residents are comfortable with "Saigon".

Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City

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People who live in other provinces and cities, Hanoi for example, would rather use the official name (you can hardly hear any Hanoian use "Saigon" to indicate this city). The official name must be used in some cases such as formal documents and contexts.

Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City

For most foreigners, they prefer "Saigon" because it’s simply shorter and easier but it will take them quite a while to feel how different it is between Saigon and Ho Chi Minh. Saigon, which as mentioned above - short and easy to say - represents the typical characteristics of Saigonese: liberal, easy-going and simple in thinking and behaviors , even though you can't feel this emergence all the time yet. They live a simple life and make everything simple, which is one of the reasons why they don’t like the official name and neither official things.

There are also many interesting and funny allophonic variations for the city's name. Its names are Sài Gòn, Sài Thành (Saigon City - this name also arouses the sense of a prosperous city) or Hồ Chí Minh in Vietnamese with their specific and inimitable intonation.

Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City

However, most foreigners prefer to call it "Saigon" (without a break in between and necessary intonation) and "Ho Chi Min" (without "H" at the end). What about HCM and HCMC? Well, just the abbreviations for Ho Chi Minh City.

So I hope you won't be confused anymore about the different meanings of Sài Gòn or Saigon; Hồ Chí Minh, Ho Chi Minh or Ho Chi Min; HCMC or HCM. It would be too much to distinguish Saigon and Ho Chi Minh, it works just fine when you head to one place, but right afterwards you might get bothered with the question: where am I actually?

Author: Lê Ngọc Ngân (Vietnam)