Beyond the City Center

Several interesting sights lie outside of the center, some of them in far-flung areas of the city, such as the Buddhist-themed Suoi Tien amusement park and the Ao Dai Museum in District 9, the Dam Sen pair of parks in District 11, and the many quirky cafés of Phu Nhuan District. There are modern residential suburbs in District 2 and District 7, where expats and wealthy Vietnamese live in large villas with swimming pools and gardens. Though they don't have any notable sights, these areas can be worth visiting for the shopping and dining options.

Southwest of central Ho Chi Minh City is Cholon, a Chinese sister-city-within-the-city, which takes up most of District 5 and a small part of District 6. This was and still is the heart of Chinese culture in the city. There's no discernible entry point into its rabbit warren of small streets with wall-to-wall houses, shops, and eateries. Hai Thuong Lan Ong road is worth a peek for the aromatic apothecaries, and Luong Nhu Hoc—home to stores selling all kinds of ritualistic costumes, ornaments, and opera masks—is a great spot to pick up souvenirs.

The French supported the Chinese in Vietnam because of their success in commerce and their apolitical outlook—the Chinese seldom supported Vietnamese Nationalist struggles. The Communists, on the other hand, saw Cholon as a bastion of capitalism, and the area suffered greatly after 1975. Later, in 1979, during the war between Vietnam and China, Cholon was again targeted, since it was considered a potential center of fifth columnists (pro-Chinese agitators). Many of the first boat people to flee Vietnam were Chinese-Vietnamese from Cholon. Now, after having made money in Australia, Canada, and the United States, many have returned to Saigon and are among the city's wealthiest residents.

The pagodas concentrated around Nguyen Trai and Tran Hung Dao streets can be navigated on foot. Bright blue, yellow, red, orange, and gold cover the pagodas in a dazzling display that would put mating peacocks to shame. Getting lost in Cholon's back streets can be interesting, but also hot, tiring, and noisy. For a good overview of the suburb, consider a motorbike tour that can whizz you through the crowded narrow alleys.

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