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Bring to light the secret in the names of the top 5 tourist attractions of Saigon

It is fascinating to see how travelers have made their ways through hundreds of journey and learn a great deal from their cultural exploration trips. And as you set foot to a location, we wonder if you have ever pondered on its name because personally, we think that the first impression is very important and it is what the name brings to you when you first know of it, to see it, and to finally remember it. We are proud that our country owns a diverse system of both natural and man-made beauties. However, today we will not show you around but will lead you through what makes the name of these five most popular destinations in the sleepless city on one of our Saigon group tours.


Nguyen Hue Street of Saigon in 1986

So, when you travel to Saigon, have you ever wondered what meaning is hidden behind the name of the destination that you are heading to? From our point of view, name is not simply an “accessory”. Since our country is in Asia and was under more than 1000 years of the Chinese domination, our culture bears resemblance to theirs and it links profoundly in how we behave and call one another. Name is somewhat our identity and we just do not name for fun. As you travel around our country on Saigon group tours, you will realize how names diversify based on each location and it is hard to digest them and their meanings. Even to Vietnamese, it is still a difficult mission to understand deeply and completely the meaning behind each name because most of them are transcribed phonetically from the old Chinese.


Street signs in Saigon

If you have headed from North to South, as you take Saigon day tours, you will realize that the way names are called in Saigon is different from Hanoi as they use many words from the local language system. It is not hard to tell a Southern person from a Northern one as it is to distinguish a Northern location to a Southern one. For people, you have dialects and for destinations, you have local words. For example, in the North, we call apple “táo” and in the South, they call it “bom”, a homonym to “bomb” in Vietnamese. In short, most of these destinations follow the same formula, which is they are mostly named after a famous person at the time. So let us see if these below destinations stick to the road.

1. Thu Thiem

The first destination we would like to introduce in our Saigon group tours is Thủ Thiêm. Despite there are many other popular spots in Saigon, we think Thủ Thiêm is widely known by both locals and foreigners. As you travel to Saigon, Thủ Thiêm is one of the must-visit locations for it is also the most talked-about historical destination that has grown up with Saigon itself. For our Northern people, it is hard to tell what Thủ Thiêm means.

From the first glance, we can make a guest that the name has something to deal with “headquarter” or the main base. This presumption is based on the word “thủ”. According to the phonetic transcript from Chinese, this means “head” or bears similar meanings in many other ways. This somehow is relatively accurate. Regarding documentaries and what is heard from the locals, the word “thủ” in Southern language is “the guardhouse” or can be related to headquarters of guards situated along the river. As you take several Saigon tours, you will see that not only Thủ Thiêm but many other destinations in the city have “thủ” in their names such as Thủ Đức or Thủ Ngữ. Some other places in the South also use it in the name of their locations. For the instant, we have Thủ Thừa of Long An and Thủ Dầu Một in Bình Dương.


Thu Thiem – the resplendent peninsula

About the word “Thiêm”, it is rumored to be the name of the mandarin who was ordered to be in charge of the houseguard compartment in that area. And usually, when a mandarin was assigned to take over an area, they would work in that position for quite a long time. That is why the people use their name to call where these mandarins used to work. It is a little bit off road but you will be quite fascinated to find that Thủ Dầu Một is called that way because of this interesting fact. It is said that there used to be a single olive tree, which is known as “dầu” in Vietnamese, grew from the middle of nowhere in that houseguard area and “một” is “one” so “Dầu Một” can be related to “a single olive tree”.

2. Tau Hu Canal and Cha Va Bridge

Tàu Hủ Canal is a very famous destination in Saigon since it is about 22 kilometers long and spreads through total 8 different wards in the city. At the first time when hearing this name, we raise a question in our head if the people living around this area has the tradition to make tofu or if there is a village with that same tradition here. If you are a foreigner, you will likely to wonder why a canal has anything to do with tofu. However, it is even more shocking when you learn that “tàu hủ” is the Southern calling of “tào phớ” in the North, which is made of tofu! Unfortunately, it even doubles the shock when the name has nothing relating to tofu!


Tau Hu Canal nowadays

As we make our research, it has been stated in some documentaries according to two scholars Trương Vĩnh Ký and Huỳnh Tịnh about a street going across the canal. The street was once called Tàu Khậu by Triều Châu people living in this area and Tàu Khậu is the phonetic calling of “thố khố”, which means the brick-house area. Later then, it has gradually become the slang word “tàu hủ”. However, there are also some people say that because of the common image of black water and many stinky things floating on the canal, many people draw themselves to that imagination of “tàu hũ” and regard it as “poetic”! Sounds quite fascinating. Well, you cannot tell how far imagination can take us to!


Cha Va Bridge in 1955

If you have just heard of Tàu Hủ Canal, there is no way you should not be told about the legend of Chà Và Bridge built across this canal in some Saigon group tours. With such a long history of more than 100 years, Chà Và Bridge has contributed greatly to the trading activities between the two ward 8 and 5 at the Big Market. The bridge is quite huge with the length of over 190 meters and the width of about 30 meters to ensure vehicles will run smoothly and avoid the traffic jam by any means. If Tàu Hủ Canal reminds us of the fascinating images of the locals, Chà Và Bridge will even blow your mind of how people have used languages in their daily life. Chà Và is actually just how they say the word “Java”, which is related to an island of Indonesia. The word “Chà Và” was once used by the Southern people to call the people coming from the island Java. Later on, it is used to call people with tan skin color coming from other countries. For example, we have Chà Bom Bay, which refers to people coming from Bombay of India, or Chà Ma Ní used to call people coming from Manila of Philippines.

Of course, now you will question why the bridge is related to Java and Indians. As a matter of fact, Chà Và Bridge used to be the trading area of Indians who came to Saigon to sell their silk and cloth. If you like Indians and India, you will be thrilled to discover the theater Phi Long at the bridgehead is the “promising land” of Indian films! The film Child Bride, also known as Cô Dâu Tám Tuổi in Vietnamese and Balika Vadhu in Hindi is such a big hit in Vietnam!

3. Dakao

Compared to the 4 left destinations, Dakao seems to be the most distinctive for its half-Asian-half-Western name. On the first account, as many Vietnamese people hear this name, they would think that it is Đa Cao, which is phonetically similar but not at all regarded as a Western name as the former. It is not completely hard but yet not easy to explain the name Dakao fully since there are many local words to use. The history of the name Dakao emerged from a historical stage of the city when Saigon and the other big city – the Big Market (Chợ Lớn) were joined to each other as a sole body called under the French name Région de Saigon – Cholon (Địa phương Sài Gòn – Chợ Lớn).


Dakao in the past

The region constituted many sub-branches and lower parts such as “quartier”, which mean “hộ” in Vietnamese, and a “quartier” was equal to a ward or a state at that time. To control and take charge of the quartiers, there were chiefs and a chief who led a quartier was called Chef de quartier in French. As stated, the region consisted of different quartiers and so it is also called Đất Hộ (Quartier area) in Vietnamese. According to some documentaries, the French actually phonetically transcribed this to Dakao. However, the name has only been widely known since 1950.

4. Sir and Madam Chieu Mausoleum

We bet that when you see this name, you will think that this mausoleum must be the worshipping place of Sir and Madam Chiểu. Ironically, this has nothing to do with the ones called Chieu! The actually Vietnamese name of the spot is Lăng Ông Bà Chiểu, Ông and Bà can be translated as Sir and Madam. However, it is not as simple as you think it is as many people have also mistaken the name for a completely different meaning. First of all, the shortened name of the mausoleum is Lăng Ông (Mr. or Sir Mausoleum) and its actual name, which is little known, is Thượng Công Shrine.


A corner of Lang Ong Ba Chieu

The mausoleum is not a worshipping place of anyone called Chiểu but is, in fact, the tomb of a great male general called Lê Văn Duyệt. Since in Asia in the old time, people usually avoided calling one another by name because it was regarded as disrespectful or informal. People only called the others by name if they were closed enough like friends or family. In fact, nowadays when you go to some Asian countries like Japan, people also call one another by their family name. That is why the people here could not name the place Sir Duyet Mausoleum or alike so they call it Sir Mausoleum. However, the mausoleum is situated next to Madam Chiểu Market so it is called all together as Lăng Ông Bà Chiểu in which Lăng Ông is the name of the place and Bà Chiểu refers to its location. The mausoleum is located in 1 Vũ Tùng Street of Ward 1, Bình Thạnh District so you can drop by if you are interested in this place.

5. Ben Nghe

The last and also the most controversial destination in the list is Bến Nghé. At first, Bến Nghé was the name of a river and then it has been used as the name of a central ward of Saigon presently. The word Bến Nghé is actually a combination of singular word “bến” and “nghé” in which “bến” can be related to port like in seaport. So it can be perceived as Nghé Port in some ways. However, until now, there are still two theories about the name Bến Nghé, which are quite controversial and debatable.


A river bus in Bach Dang Port of Ben Nghe Ward

The first theory came from Nguyễn Văn Siêu, who once stated in his book “Phương Đình dư địa chí” written in 1900 about this name. It is written in the document that the place was rumored to once have lots of crocodiles and when they chased after one another, they screamed and their scream resembled that of buffalo, which is known as “nghé” in Southern calling. For this reason, the place was named Bến Nghé.

However, the second theory supported by scholar Trương Vĩnh Ký states that Bến Nghé is actually generated from the Khmer language, in which Kompong is “port” and Kon Krabei is related to “buffalo”. Other scholars also support this idea because they presume that Bến Nghé is where people usually take their buffalos out for a walk and feed them there so the place must be “the get-together location” of these “nghé”.

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