Saigon in the 1960s was the capital of America’s global proxy war to counter the ‘domino effect’ of spreading communism, the focal point of the battle between ideologies. Most of the fighting, however, took place in rural villages throughout central Vietnam. In Saigon, life went on much the same as it had for years — except with more American soldiers around. A decade later, the scenes in these pictures belonged to a new name: Ho Chi Minh City.
The motorbikes are older, and nobody’s wearing helmets, but much of the street life in Saigon looked the same back in the 1960s as it does today: tall trees, ao dais, conical hats, and cyclos. You don’t get the sense of a cataclysmic war in these photos, because it hadn’t come to Saigon yet. These are scenes of business as usual, with people out hustling to get ahead, just like their children and grandchildren still do today.
Below is famous Pasteur Street, in the heart of Saigon. The traffic is still hellish, even today, so that hasn’t changed much. It’s easy to see this city’s charm in a picture like this; the vitality is palpable. After the war, many street names were changed to shed the colonial history of this city, but Pasteur is one of the few names to remain.
The following pictures are real eye-openers for anyone who’s been to Ho Chi Minh City recently. The change is incredible, and yet you can still make out familiar sights. Nguyen Hue is now a walking street, where thousands of people get together every night for selfies and snacks. The Continental Hotel is still there, with its posh, high-end French restaurant. Bui Vien back in the 1960s is almost unrecognisable. Today, it’s jammed with neon beer clubs and drunk backpackers from around the world.
War comes to Saigon
The relative tranquility of Saigon came to an abrupt end during the Tet festival in 1968. Under cover of firecrackers, a lunar new year tradition, 35 battalions loyal to Hanoi launched a coordinated attack against six primary targets around the city, including the Ton Son Nhat International Airport, the Presidential Palace, and the US Embassy. The Americans and southern army eventually repelled the attacks, but the damage was done. The war in Vietnam was already unpopular in America, but even the most hawkish supports were calling for an end to the bloodshed after the Tet Offensive, which beamed horrible images to TVs and newspapers around the world. The streets of Saigon became part of the war, and for many, it was time to get out.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.