Ho Chi Minh City/ The Saigon’s Main Street
Dong Khoi St is Saigon’s historic main street, witnessed six decades of change in Saigon. Its three different names marks each phase of Saigon’s history. During French colonial times, it was called Rue Catinat. When South Vietnam’s short war plagued existence as a nation, It was named Tu Do or Freedom Street. After the communist victory in 1975, the street is renamed as Dong Khoi (Total Revolution) Street. The street has gone though the centre of glamour in the French colony to the centre of scandals and chaos during the Vietnam War. Throughout the decades of political discord that overwhelmed Vietnam after World War II, the physical character of Dong Khoi Street barely changed. Until 1990 or even 2000 the street has still been barely altered architecturally since 1960. But this iconic main street is now changing rapidly as the destruction of historic buildings threatens to rob Dong Khoi St of its unique architectural heritage and character.
When the French colonial elite inaugurated the street as the Rue Catinat, a strip of upscale boutiques and cafés were opened, named after a naval ship that besieged Da Nang in the 19th century. In the 1950s, the two-decade existence of US-backed South Vietnam, Rue Catinat became Tu Do St. In the years that followed, the street was dominated by new businesses, mainly bars and clubs, opened to service the huge influx of American military personnel. The decadent freedom eventually built on Tu Do St were probably not what South Vietnam’s President, Ngo Dinh Diem, a sincere Catholic, had in mind when the street was renamed marking its liberation from French colonial rule.
After the Vietnam War ended, in the early 1990s, Dong Khoi Street returned to its form, flourishing again as a centre of commerce and entertainment. At the same time, Vietnam’s economy began to boom.
However, the street itself changed little over the decades. Colonial era icons like the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Continental Hotel and the Opera House sat across the Saigon River, which were followed by apartment blocks, shophouses and cafés that also reflects Saigon’s intense history.
The narrow tree-lined Dong Khoi St has not only been an oasis of quietness and order, which is one of a handful of Saigon streets, but also offers an enjoyable journey through Saigon’s architectural heritage and history.
But Dong Khoi St’s character is being washed away by demolitions, which seem hard to justify on economic, city planning or heritage grounds. 213 Dong Khoi St., a deco building at the corner of Le Thanh Ton St built in 1930s, was once the strip’s most prestigious apartment block and was unfortunately demolished recently.