[Photos] A rare glimpse of undeveloped and small-town Saigon in 1867

Ho Chi Minh today is a sprawling megacity home to over 21 million people across its metropolitan area. But back in 1867, it was still a small and serene town sitting on the banks of the Saigon river, as these archive photos show

July 15, 2020
[Photos] A rare glimpse of undeveloped and small-town Saigon in 1867
The Bach Dang Wharf under construction.

Before “southern Vietnam,” there was Cochinchina; before Saigon, there wasn’t much of anything but vast stretches of tropical jungle and mosquito-infested swamps.

This set of rare black and white images from 1867 was taken by a man named John Thomson. Even though not much is known about the identity or life story of their author, these images are among the few visual testaments of the very early days of the city we now know and love.

In 1859, the French conquered Saigon and the three provinces of Bien Hoa, Gia Dinh and Dinh Tuong. Just a few years later, in 1864, all French territories in the southern region of the country officially became the French colony of Cochinchina. Thomson’s images were taken just three years after that, when, despite a few buildings and ongoing construction projects, Saigon was barely a town, let a lone the bustling metropolis that we know today.

A barely finished section of the pavement facing the Bach Dang Wharf.
A grave of a well-to-do family.
Lang Cha Ca.
Houses along the Tau Hu Canal near Cho Lon.
Most of Saigon’s waterways were covered in vegetation.
A diverse range of local flora.
A Saigon resident takes care of her cabbage patches.
Resting on the side of a countryside street.
A diverse range of local flora.
Early Saigon residents.
A river-side shanty.

Boats docking along the Tau Hu Canal.

A suburban area.
he road leading to Lang Cha Ca, now Hoang Van Thu Street.
The Saigon River as seen from above.

This story was originally published on Saigoneer.

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