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[Photos] A Collection of Illusory Saigon Nightscapes From 1938

A rare glimpse into colonial Saigon after sunset.

While there is no shortage of photos that depict the lives and experiences of people from all walks of life in Vietnam during the last 100 years, very few present the country's nocturnal happenings. Simply, the technology of the past made it a much more difficult process compared to the digital and flash-abundant means today. One would need to set up a tripod and let the camera take a long-exposure shot to capture a city with few streetlights: a much more involved undertaking than a simple point and click. That is the reason why collections like this one by French photographer Eli Lotar are so striking.

The iconic facade of the Majestic Hotel.

Electricity, and thus streetlights, first arrived in Saigon in the 1880s, and by 1938 they illuminated the wealthier sections of the city. In these photos, an upscale clothing shop is bathed in the warm glow, beer advertisements beam above bars, and the marquee in front of a theater sparkles above the street. While most of the people that can be seen are from the suit-wearing, custard-eating upper crust of society, a few commoners can be seen strolling the clean avenues or huddled around a newspaper stand. 

The photos may not reveal what happened in Saigon's shadows, but they give a unique perspective on the city's refulgent regions once the Earth has turned its back to the sun.

A glitzy cineplex used to rub shoulders with the Majestic Hotel on what is now Dong Khoi Street.

A canal dotted with the embers of oil lamps.

A bar used to accompany the Signal Mast (Cột cờ Thủ Ngữ) along the banks of the Saigon River.

Ton Duc Thang Street at night.

A fashion display outside Courtinat, a boutique whose location now is part of the Sheraton Hotel at the corner of Dong Du and Dong Khoi streets.

The Dong Khoi-Le Loi intersection.

A cinema at the Passage Eden department store.

A streetside restaurant outside the cinema.

A glimpse inside the Passage Eden department store.

An evening newsstand.

The best-sellers of the day on display.

Outside a jewelry shop.

Chợ Cũ at the Ham Nghi-Ho Tung Mau corner.

Marveling at a lit-up map of central Saigon.

[Images via Flickr user manhhai/Top photo: The corner of Dong Khoi and Nguyen Thiep, where a Brodard bakery sits now]