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[Photos] A Sepia-Toned Tour of 1902 Saigon

Long before Saigon became a maelstrom of motorbikes zipping past bubble tea shops, convenience stores, and cellphone sellers, it was a sleepy town where sampan boats cluttered placid canals, locals snoozed under thatched roofs and colonizers had begun to roam around wearing pith helmets and pleated pants.

It's not to say things were necessarily better in Saigon approximately 120 years ago - penicillin hadn't been invented yet and the French were constantly trying to squeeze the poor nation of all it had, resource by resource, after all. Yet, the plentitude of trees and a pace of life that moved as fast as a backwater branch of the Saigon River seems like it would be a nice addition to the metropolis' modern-day manifestation. 

A market on modern-day Nguyen Hue Street.

Except for the elephants in the Zoo and Botanical Garden, these photos from 1902 taken by an unidentified photographer allow one to glimpse a city that bears almost no resemblance to the Saigon of today. The rapidity of change is astounding.

Take a look at the shots below, and then compare them with what Hanoi looked like the same year for a sense of how and when the two cities developed:

A flower market near modern-day Nguyen Hue Street.

A flower market near what is now Ho Trung Mau.

Vegetables for sale. 

Coal gathered for use at the Saigon port. 

Tet celebrations.

Parasols are sadly under-utilized today.


Saigon race track.

Inside the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden.

A long-gone slice of solitude in the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden.

Wooden pagoda.

Inside the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden.

Áo dài certainly looked a lot more comfortable back then.

View in Thu Duc.

French officers.

Interesting pose.

Chinese merchants.

Chinese merchant boats.

A boat race on the Saigon River in honor of French National Day, 1902.

We will never know who won, will we?

The crowd gathered to watch.

Seems like a raucous environment.

Peaceful Thu Duc.

Simple dwellings and a rudimentary bridge.

Natural space in Cu Chi.

No bricks, glass, or metal here.

Locals not so sure what to think of having their photos taken.

A home in Tan Dinh.

A Pagoda.

Vinh Tê Pagoda.

[Photos via Flickr user Manhhai]

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