I explore the backstreets of Cholon in Saigon in this photo essay, bringing you images from the dynamic street scene and old colonial buildings.


To me Saigon or Ho Chi Minh evoked images of a bustling metropolis with old french colonial architecture, quaint backstreets and busy streets. So to my disappointment this mental picture didn’t fully translate to reality as Ho Chi Minh today is an ultra-modern city replete with glass and chrome high rises and ultra modern expressways. But as I explored the city, I came to realize that in spite of the modernity, Ho Chi Minh still retained a lot of it’s yesteryears charm.

One early morning, I joined a trip with Arnaud Foucard (from Vietnam Photo Adventures) to explore the backstreets of Cholon. The Cholon neighborhood is Vietnam’s oldest Chinatown and dates back to 1778. It has an interesting mix of Chinese and French inspired architecture, atmospheric pagodas and a bustling and colorful street scene. The subsequent photographs explore the streets of Cholon.

Tables await diners at a roadside eatery
Tables await diners at a roadside eatery
A traditional chinese calligrapher at work
A traditional chinese calligrapher at work
We meet an old man in Cholon
We meet an old man in Cholon
This couple is all smiles looking at me trying to click photos on the street
This couple is all smiles looking at me trying to click photos on the street
Fresh breakfast at this street side stall
Fresh breakfast at this street side stall
A man on a motorbike balances a tray while whizzing by
A man on a motorbike balances a tray while whizzing by
An old lady passes by on her bicycle
An old lady passes by on her bicycle
Fresh noodle soup at one of the many little breakfast places
Fresh noodle soup at one of the many little breakfast places
An animated discussion over the breakfast table
An animated discussion over the breakfast table
A fruit seller selling her wares as traffic whizzes by
A fruit seller selling her wares as traffic whizzes by
Oranges appear bright against the passing traffic
Oranges appear bright against the passing traffic
Live Eels and fish squirm in the marketplace of Cholon
Live Eels and fish squirm in the marketplace of Cholon
We visit an old building by the marketplace for a vantage point
We visit an old building by the marketplace for a vantage point
A seller cuts off a slice of a fruit in the market
A seller cuts off a slice of a fruit in the market
People are quite happy to flash a smile in the market
People are quite happy to flash a smile in the market
This lady can't believe we would want to click a photo of her
This lady can’t believe we would want to click a photo of her
This gentleman is a gifted Jade carver with a small shop right by the marketplace
This gentleman is a gifted Jade carver with a small shop right by the marketplace
Devotees offer prayers at the temple
Devotees offer prayers at the temple
Incense from dozens of incense sticks fills the air
Incense from dozens of incense sticks fills the air
A temple worker clears some of the incense sticks
A temple worker clears some of the incense sticks
An old lady rests by the street side
An old lady rests by the street side
A most unusual helmet is worn by this gentleman
A most unusual helmet is worn by this gentleman

More Information

Getting There

Cholon is located in District 5, on the west bank of the Ho Chi Minh river. You can easily get to Cholon using a cab from District 1. However, Cholon is best explored by a guided tour. Vespa Adventures and XO Tours both conduct off-beat motorbike tours that include Cholon. For those that are more photographically inclined, join the excellent “Cholon Backstreets” tour with Vietnam Photo Adventures and Arnaud Foucard. The tour will take you through the by lanes of Cholon to truly experience street photography and is highly recommended. For the more adventurous discover Cholon through a scripted murder mystery with Urban tales.

What to Do

In Cholon, besides wandering around in the backstreets, there are a numerous other places to explore. Cholon is home to the crowded Bin Thay Market, many old pagodas like the Thien Hau Temple and bustling markets to explore. If you are interested in exploring a slightly off-beat section of Ho Chi Minh, Cholon sure delivers !!

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