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Where the tombstones stood: Revisit Saigon's former graveyards

By Quynh Tran, Nhung Nguyen   July 17, 2017 | 09:23 am GMT+7

The city’s largest graveyard is going to be demolished to make space for skyscrapers, and it’s not the first to evict its occupants.

With 16,500 graves in the 44-hectare (100-acre) Binh Hung Hoa Cemetery being excavated, let's take a tour of the other former burial grounds that have more of a pulse these days.

1. Le Van Tam Park

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Le Van Tam Park (District 1), once locally known as Saigon’s European Cemetery, was the final resting place for French soldiers and sailors during the colonial era. Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of the U.S.-backed regime, and his brother and chief political adviser Ngo Dinh Nhu, who were assassinated on November 2, 1963, were also buried there.

In 1983, it was transformed into a public park. The families of those buried there were given two months to relocate, according to Tim Doling, the author of the walking tour guidebook, "Exploring Ho Chi Minh City."

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Thousands of occupants were moved to Lai Thieu Cemetery, 25km (16 miles) from the city, in Binh Duong Province. Unclaimed remains were cremated and relocated.

The park now is famous for hosting book festivals and spring flower markets. In 2010, a $100 million plan for a parking lot under the park was announced. However, red tape has stalled the project.

2. Le Thi Rieng Park (District 10)

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Le Thi Rieng Park (District 10) was built on the grounds of Do Thanh Cemetery in 1983, which for decades had provided a peaceful resting place for locals and fallen soldiers.

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The most famous occupant was Tran Phu, Vietnam Communist Party’s First General Secretary, whose tomb was unearthed in 1999, 68 years after his death. Now it's a rare green space in the densely populated District 10.

3. Tan Binh Exhibition & Convention Center (Tan Binh District)

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Tan Binh Exhibition & Convention Center stands on the grounds of a vast French military graveyard from the First Indochina War, where thousands of graves were reportedly divided by the Christian and Muslim faiths. The center was built after 1975, when the dead were taken back to France by their families.

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Houses and roads also stand on parts of the old cemetery, now known as the Bay Hien Intersection and a traffic hotspot.

4. Binh Thoi Residential Area (District 11)

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Binh Thoi Residential Area (District 11) emerged after the demolition of Nhi Ty Quang Dong Cemetery in the 1980s. It used to be one of the largest graveyards for Saigon’s Chinese community.

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In 1983, authorities announced they would be moving the remains, and construction began in 1988.

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Now it is home to 15,000 people, with a hospital, gym, schools and offices.

5. Pho Quang Pagoda (Tan Binh District)

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Pho Quang Pagoda (Tan Binh District) and its surrounding buildings stand on where was once dubbed “The land for the death” – Bac Viet Cemetery. It was demolished between 1980 and 1995.

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According to local elders, Pho Quang Street used to be a dirt road and the main route leading into the cemetery.

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Binh Hung Hoa Cemetery will lose its current occupants to make way for high-rise buildings, parks and public works, according to local media reports.The city made the decision to clear the cemetery in 2008 due to the concerns of environmental pollution and groundwater contamination.

Work to remove the 75,000 graves, however, did not start until 2016, when relatives were given until October 31 this year to relocate their loved ones. Binh Tan will exhume the bodies and cremate them if the families do not come forward, and no compensation will be paid.