Then and now: A touch of French class down Saigon street

By Nhung Nguyen, Trung Son   August 3, 2016 | 01:29 pm GMT+7
Then and now: A touch of French class down Saigon street

French legacy lives on in Vietnam's southern metropolis.

If you want to look for some French heritage in Saigon other than Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office, take some time to stroll down Dong Khoi Street.

Saïgon - Vue aérienne 1931

An aerial view of Saigon in the 1930s. Dong Khoi Street, then called Rue Catinat, ran from Notre Dame Cathedral, past the Opera House and the Continental Hotel, and ended at the Majestic Hotel and the Saigon River.

SAIGON đầu thập niên 1900 - Rue Catinat nhìn về phía nhà thờ - Bên trái hình là gần ngã ba Tự Do-Nguyễn Thiệp ngày nay.

A photo taken of today's Dong Khoi Street in the early of 1900's, with Grand Hotel de France (R) at the address 157 rue Catinat. At the center of the photo lies the blurry twin tops of Notre Dame Cathedral.

SAIGON - ENTREE DE LA RUE CATINAT

Before the French took over the city, the street’s name was simply No. 16, together with twenty-five other numbered streets. In 1864, four years after the French arrived, it was officially changed to "Rue Catinat" after Nicolas Catinat, the 17th and 18th century Marshal of France. 

SAIGON - ENTREE DE LA RUE CATINAT POUR THEATRE MUNICIPAL

However, many argue that it was in fact to honor the French warship "Catinat" that participated in the mid-19th century attacks to seize control of Vietnam. The new name of the prominent street was intended to remind pedestrians of a nation vanquished by a colonial power.

SAIGON - la place du théâtre, rue Catinat

It was once called Saigon’s Canebière, a comparison to the main street in Marseille, France.

SAIGON - UN COIN DE LA RUE CATINAT VUE DU THÉÂTRE MUNICIPAL

Stretching nearly one kilometer in the central District 1, Rue Catinat in its heyday housed key colonial government offices, Catholic cathedrals, famous hotels, business establishments and rendezvous points for French military personnel. 

SAIGON - LA CROIX DU SUD - RUE CATINAT

theatre-bonard

An old picture of the Boulevard Bonard-Rue Catinat junction (now Le Loi-Dong Khoi)

Saigon - la rue Catinat

Situated on Rue Catinat, the Hotel Continental (R) was the first of its kind to be built in Saigon.

SAIGON - PLACE DU THÉÂTRE - RUE CATINAT - HOTEL CONTINENTAL

Completed in 1880, the hotel was meant to offer French travelers a French style of luxury accommodation after a long cruise to the new continent.

SAIGON - Hôtel Continental

Its noble guest list includes famous Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore and The Quiet American’s author Graham Greene, who was a long-term guest in room 214.

saïgon - grand hotel majestic

The Majestic Hotel and the Grand Hotel Sai Gon were built in the final decades of French rule on the bustling street.

Saigon - Hôtel Majestic

Inaugurated in 1925, the Majestic was an investment by wealthy Chinese-Vietnamese businessman Hui Bon Hoa, based on a design by a French architect.

SAIGON RIVER

A view of Saigon river from Majestic Hotel 

SAIGON - Hotel Majestic in 1940

The Hotel Majestic in 1940. It initially had three floors and 44 rooms before being expanded to 175 rooms plus six restaurants, bars, a pool and a gaming area as it is today.

then-and-now-a-touch-of-french-class-down-saigon-street-15

In 1904, Vietnamese businessmen started opening stores on the street.

According to the history books, from 1907 to 1909 the street was host to cafes, tailors (tailleur in French) and shoemakers (cordonnier): at No. 6 Rue Catinat was Café Luong-Trung, No. 8 Tailleur Luong Tich , No. 10 Tailleur Duong Kim, No. 12 Cordonnier Thai Thieu, No. 14 Tailleur- Cordonnier Ly Nhu, No. 16 Tailleur Tran-On and No. 18 Tailleur Luong Can.

The shop signs of these stores can be seen in this photo taken at the Catinat-Vannier crossroads (Dong Khoi - Ngo Duc Ke).

SAIGON - les Nouveautés Catinat - 1950s

Rue Catinat continued to be the busiest and best shopping street in town after the French departed.

Saigon 1961 - Main street, formerly Rue Catinat, renamed Tu Do.

It underwent two name changes after 1954, to Tu Do street (Liberty) under the South Vietnamese Government’s rule and to Dong Khoi street (Mass Uprising) in 1975, the year of Vietnam's reunification.

Above is the picture of Rue Catinat in 1961 after it was renamed Tu Do Street.

Nowadays, modern high rise hotels, shopping malls and office buildings have shot up on the one-way street next to French architectural marvels. Dong Khoi has become one of the most valuable streets in Ho Chi Minh City. A square meter here is worth VND600 million ($26,898).

Related news:

Saigon photo montages blend the old with the new

Not such a waste of space: businesses spring up in Saigon's old apartment blocks

Saigon of the past: Downright bizarre vintage adverts