Saigon River - The origin of river culture in Ho Chi Minh City
the river has gone with the local for thousands of years

Saigon River – The origin of river culture

If you have ever been on a flight to Saigon, you might see an amazing scene of Saigon from above. It is the beauty of the Saigon River, the origin of the river culture of the city.

Saigon River from above

Saigon River from above – Image: Hachi8.

Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City) is the leading city in Vietnam in the economy. However, people still keep their local lifestyle in some ways. They live simply, peacefully, and harmonically along the riverside. If you want to get away from the crowd of the city, the stuffiness of the skyscrapers, the river is the best place to come and enjoy a calm life.

About the Saigon River

Saigon River is a part of the Dong Nai River which is the longest river in Vietnam. There are 13 bridges including small and big scales over the river. The most famous ones are Phu My, Binh Trieu, and Sai Gon 1 Bridges. There is a tunnel under this river which connects two sides named Thu Thiem tunnel.

the "black water area" along the river

The locals have been with the river for thousands of years – Image: Vu Tat Thanh.

This river takes an important role in the city since it is the main source of water supplies to the city activities. Moreover, it is the host of Saigon Port where most of the waterway business activities happen.

Even Saigon has so many rivers and canals that are the origin of the river culture, Saigon River still is the most important one that impacts this lifestyle. Nowadays, the local government starts rebuilding the riverside area with so many constructions. Therefore, it might be a bit difficult for tourists to enjoy the peaceful beauty of the river as it was before.

How did the Saigon River create the river culture of the locals?

During the war between Vietnam and France, the port on the Saigon River was the most active one. There was no bridge over the river at that time. Thus, going by boats is the only way to move between two sides of the river.

port on Saigon River in 1866

A port on the river in 1866 – Image: Emile Gsell.

However, this moving method was not the main reason for river culture in Saigon. Due to the war, there were so many businessmen from France who came to Saigon for trading. Additionally, the Chinese were also a strong business community that worked with the locals in exchanging products and services.

These trading activities made the river became more and more crowded and prosperous. It had a strong impact on the local lifestyle that some still remain until today. And it was the main reason for the river culture of the locals.

saigon river in the france colonialism period

The river was a prosperous port where most of the international trading occurred – Image: Wurster, Bernadi and Emmons Architects and Planners.

Until the most famous Vietnam war with America, the river culture was still maintained as one of the important business activities. Thus, the river still kept its important role in the development of the city. Especially, it was where America transported weapons and machines for the war with Vietnam Communist Party in the south.

In general, the Saigon River is not only one of the most famous and biggest rivers in the city. But also is a witness which has been through so many events in the history of northern Vietnam.

A peaceful place of the locals

There was a time the riverside of Saigon River is ideal peaceful heaven. Adults spend time sitting there for hours to have some cups of tea, talk to each other to share about their life. Children fly their kites in the peaceful sky.

the peaceful beauty along the riverside

The peaceful twilight along the riverside – Image: Quang Pham.

There are many small alleys that lead to the riverside that only the locals know. It is a part of their daily life for years. Moreover, people from other crowded areas of the city come here to enjoy their relaxing moments, to stay away from hustle life.

This area has become hidden peaceful heaven of the Saigon people.

However, there is a place called the “black water area” along the river

Along the Saigon River, there is a hidden life that people have to fight against the difficulties day by day. People call this area the “black water area”.

They are not origin from Saigon. They are from different provinces who come for subsistence. These people live in the makeshift houses which are along the riverside. There are even some houses which are built up with two walls only and a plastic tarpaulin covers the top. Some people even do not have a house. They live on the floating boat. Two to three generations share the same space of 10 square meters is a common thing.

makeshift houses on the river

The “black water area” – Image: Vu Tat Thanh.

There are families who have lived here with the makeshift houses for a half-century. They have created a community on the riverside. People call this a “black water area”. The reason for this name is from the polluted water right at the place they build the makeshift houses.

the black water area on saigon river

This boat is also a house of the man – Image: Nhu Quynh.

The weather in Saigon divides into two separate seasons including rainy and dry season. In the dry season, the temperature is really high, it is hot. Thus, the trash on the river smell terribly. In contrast, during the rainy season, the water level rises, it makes trash in the river move to the makeshift houses. They have to live in a terribly polluted water condition for the whole year. That is why people call this “black water area”.

The government is removing the “black water area”

The local government has started to rebuild the riverside of the Saigon River. They are tending to build the riverside to become a modern and ideal area for a high standard of life. It could help to solve the problem is pollution. However, it would remove the residence of hundreds of people who are living in the makeshift houses along the river.

the goverment plan in developing the riverside area

The government plans to develop the riverside area – Image: Van Phuc.

Besides, it also blocks the public areas where the locals spend time relaxing every day. Even the small alleys lead to the riverside are blocked. The locals are fighting against government planning for their public space.


Saigon River has gone with the historical and economic development of the city for thousands of years. It takes an important role in not only daily life but also the culture and lifestyle of the locals.