Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnamese: Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh), and known as Saigon (Vietnamese: Sài Gòn ) is the largest city in Vietnam. It was once known as Prey Nokor, an important Khmer sea port prior to annexation by the Vietnamese in the 17th century.
Under the name Saigon, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina and later of the independent state of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1975. In 1976, Saigon merged with the surrounding Gia Định Province and was officially renamed Hồ Chí Minh City (although the name Sài Gòn—formally known as District 1—is still commonly used.)
The city center is situated on the banks of the Saigon River, 60 kilometers (37 mi) from the East Sea and 1,760 kilometers (1,094 mi) south of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
The metropolitan area, which consists of the Hồ Chí Minh City metropolitan area, Thủ Dầu Một, Dĩ An, Biên Hòa and surrounding towns, is populated by more than 9 million people, making it the most populous metropolitan area in Vietnam and the countries of the former French Indochina. The Greater Ho Chi Minh City Metropolitan Area, a metropolitan area covering most parts of Đông Nam Bộ plus Tiền Giang and Long An provinces under planning will have an area of 30,000 square kilometers with a population of 20 million inhabitants by 2020. According to the Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Economist Intelligence Unit and ECA International, Ho Chi Minh City is ranked 69th on the list of world's most expensive cities and the 3rd most expensive city of South-East Asia (after Singapore and Hanoi).
Hồ Chí Minh City began as a small fishing village known as Prey Nokor 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 Trịnh–Nguyễn civil war in Vietnam to settle in the area of Prey Nokor and to set up a custom house there.
In 1698, Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, a Vietnamese noble, was sent by the Nguyễn rulers of Huế by sea to establish Vietnamese administrative structures in the area. He is often credited with the expansion of Saigon into a significant settlement. A large Vauban citadel called Gia Định was built, which was later destroyed by the French following the Battle of Ky 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" or "Paris in the Orient". Saigon had, in 1929, a population of 123,890, including 12,100 French.
Former Emperor Bảo Đại made Saigon the capital of the State of Vietnam in 1949 with himself as head of state. After the Việt Minh gained control of North Vietnam in 1954, it became common to refer to the Saigon government as “South Vietnam”. The government was renamed the Republic of Vietnam after the referendum in 1955. Saigon and Cholon, an adjacent city with many Sino-Vietnamese residents, were combined into an administrative unit called "Capital City Saigon".
At the conclusion of the Vietnam War, on April 30, 1975, the city came under the control of the Vietnamese People's Army. In 1976, the city of Saigon, the province of Gia Ðịnh and two suburban districts of two other nearby provinces were combined to create Hồ Chí Minh City. Generally, the term Saigon refers only to the urban districts of Hồ Chí Minh City.
The main district that tourists visit in Ho Chi Minh is district one. This is the old town that the French have build and has most of the sights and older buildings.