Saigon Opera House

Built by the French next to historic rue Catinat in 1872, Saigon Municipal Theatre is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.

 

Its history is quite eventful and turbulent and here’ s a summary.

Did you know that the first purpose-built city theatre was constructed in 1872 on the site of today’s Caravelle Hotel?

It was originally built to entertain Saigon’s developing middle class in French colonial times. At the time it specialized in comic operas.
Made of wood, it burned in 1881 and was reconstructed in stone the following year.

Later it was decided that Saigon needed a much larger and more elegant theatre building to reflect the power of the French empire.
A number of French Architects were involved with the creation of this third building and it was completed in 1898. The current theater was inspired by «The Petit Palais» in Paris built the same year. The ornaments, balustrades and roof of the theatre building were originally imported from France.

Fun fact: at the time the theater could only function 4 months a year (from October to January) because of the heat!

Later, the façade got remodeled during the Japanese occupation of Indochina in the beginning of 1940’s. Then it finally got severely damaged by Allied bombing in 1944. Closed during World War II, it reopened in 1955 after the Geneva Convention and became the Southern Vietnam’s Assembly House.

In May 1975, it was officially named Saigon opera house.

It finally reopened as a theatre in 1982 and was completely refurbished and modernized at the end of the 1990’s with French support to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Saigon.

Saigon Opera House was certified as a national relic in 2012. Nowadays, with its 468 seats, it still daily provides high-quality performances.

You can look at its programme right here.

If you are interested in getting an overview of Saigon’s essentials in a short time and in an original way, join our vintage car tour.

The rice paper pizza

Have you already tried a Vietnamese pizza?

Actually, it’s not really a pizza but it looks like it.

This very popular street food called “Bánh tráng nướng” (literally meaning “grilled rice paper”) is much beloved by young people.

It is made of some rice paper grilled over a coal grill and covered with various toppings. Some quail or chicken egg is beaten directly on top of the rice paper and spread evenly to help gluing the toppings. Toppings are various: it could be fish, minced meat, dried shrimps, sliced sausage, cheese, peanuts, fried shallots, spring onion, herbs and fish sauce…

In Saigon, you can find vendors cooking and selling them next to school gates, city parks and around Hồ Con Rùa roundabout (Turtle Lake). Be aware that you can get easily addicted to this crispy and tasty snack!

If you want to feel the pulse of the city at night and taste this local pizza, join our evening street food tour!

Vietnam National Day

Vietnam National Day (Ngày Quốc Khánh in Vietnamese) is tomorrow!

Just a quick reminder: it commemorates the proclamation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi and the independence of the country on September 2, 1945. At the time, nearly 500,000 people gathered at Ba Đình Square in Hanoi to listen to the Declaration of Independence read by Ho Chi Minh, the first President of Vietnam. This officially stated that Vietnam was liberated from French’s colonial force.

As a typical National Day, people get a day off from work and take this opportunity to travel and visit their family, especially if it falls on a Monday like this year.

On that time of the year, we can see Vietnam flags appearing everywhere on the streets, vividly coloring the whole country.

We can also admire the very colorful posters, with the typical graphic style that recalls the spirit of the 1970s, which appear along the streets, to commemorate the national holiday.

Ceremonies and cultural activities are set up and fireworks displays take place on that special day in the major cities of Vietnam.

In Ho Chi Minh city, there will be fireworks shows organized in three different locations tomorrow evening: at the Thủ Thiêm Tunnel between Districts 1 and 2, at the Landmark 81 (Vietnam’s highest building) and at Đầm Sen Park in District 11.

Be ready to gather in advance as the fireworks displays will start at 9PM and will last 15 minutes. Note that several major streets will be closed to vehicles at that time so you have to be ready to walk and stand in the crowd!

If you like to enjoy Saigon by night on quieter evenings, join our city tours by vintage car.

Tân Định Church

During our tour aboard vintage cars, we cross different areas of the city and pass by Tân Định area.

Tân Định church is quite iconic in Ho Chi Minh City and always surprises and fascinates visitors with its walls painted with a joyful pink and adorned with decorative white motifs.

Somehow, shall we dare to say that it kind of remind of a huge cream cake? 😃

Built in 1876 and more than 50 meters high, Tân Định church was designed in Romanian style with Gothic and Renaissance elements. It is said to be the second biggest church in Ho Chi Minh City, after Notre Dame Cathedral and one of the earliest catholic institution to be established in Saigon.

Outside mass hours, there reigns a quiet and pleasant tranquility in the church as well as outside in the yard and in the small garden at the back.

Last time we came was around 5:15pm, and floods of local visitors were converging on the parking and the building to attend mass which has already started. It was the rush time!

Quite a bustling atmosphere and such a lovely golden light as the daylight was fading. It was a great time to take pictures and to enjoy the moment!

To get an overview of the city’s essentials in a short time and to visit Tân Định church, we recommend you do not miss our morning discovery tour.

The story of Thích Quảng Đức

You may have passed the busy intersection of Cách Mạng Tháng Tám and Nguyễn Đình Chiểu Streets and seen this big dark statue standing there amidst a park, with flowers, plants and burning incense.

You may have passed the busy intersection of Cách Mạng Tháng Tám and Nguyễn Đình Chiểu Streets and seen this big dark statue standing there amidst a park, with flowers, plants and burning incense.

This is the statue of Thích Quảng Đức, a famous Buddhist Vietnamese monk who immolated himself in 1963 and whose picture spread around the word in all the media. For this reason, he is also known as the “burning monk”.

The statue was erected in HCMC in 2010 to honor the venerable monk’s piety, courage and patriotism and is located where the self-immolation took place at the time.

Let us go back to the year 1963 to refresh our memory on this part of Vietnam history.

At midday on June 11, 1963, Thích Quảng Đức took a ride in a car to the corner of Phan Đình Phùng and Lê Văn Duyệt Streets in central Saigon (now Nguyễn Đình Chiểu and Cách mạng tháng Tám Streets). He then got petrol poured over himself, sat in the middle of the junction in the traditional meditative position, struck a match and burned himself to death without a movement.

At 66 years old, Thích Quảng Đức decided to sacrifice himself to show his opposition to the political issue of religion during the Vietnam War, becoming a martyr.

The aim of that terrible act was to protest against the repressive policy towards Buddhism coming from pro-catholic President Ngô Đình Diệm’s regime that controlled the South Vietnamese government at the time. Buddhists priests were then not allowed to practice their religion and were persecuted and detained. His act increased the international pressure on the former Vietnamese regime to authorize religious equality.

No one can forget this striking black and white picture of his self-immolation in the middle of the street. It is part of the most iconic visuals about Vietnam War.

If you are interested in getting an overview of Saigon’s other essentials in a short time, take a ride with our 2CV tours, morning or evening.