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Saigon’s Tour de l’Inspection - Part 1

An essential feature of life in early colonial Saigon, the Tour de l'Inspection was not so much a sunset promenade as an event designed to showcase wealth and power.

The origins of Saigon's famous Tour de l'Inspection may be traced back to “La musique,” a Sunday afternoon military band concert held from the 1870s, either in the grounds of Botanical and Zoological Gardens or in front of the Cercle des Officiers [now the District 1 People’s Committee building at 47 Lê Duẩn]. Usually attended by the Governor of Cochinchina and other high functionaries, “La musique” is described by several contemporaneous commentators as an event where members of colonial high society came to see and be seen, where the rich and powerful sought to outdo one another in lavishness and pomp, and where their wives could show off their latest fashions.

A late 19th century image of Europeans leaving Saigon Cathedral after Mass.

After the concert was finished, many of those attending “La musique” would set off in their carriages for a sunset promenade across the arroyo de l’Avalanche (Thị Nghè Creek) towards the north of the city. By the 1880s, this post-musique excursion had taken on a life of its own, becoming a daily after-work event which no self-respecting Saigonnais could miss.

The excursion became known as the Tour de l'Inspection, because the final destination of the earliest tours was the Inspection de Gia-Dinh, the French local government office which once stood on the site of today’s Bình Thạnh District People’s Committee.

Many writers of the period compare the Tour de l'Inspection to the contemporaneous “Tour du bois,” one of the most popular social phenomena in the French capital, which drew Parisians of all classes to promenade and meet with their peers in the Bois de Boulogne.

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A private horse-drawn carriage waits outside the villa of a European family in Saigon.

At around 5pm every evening, after the close of business, all the great and good of Saigon would gather outside the Botanical and Zoological Gardens. The entourage would then head out through Đa Kao, crossing the 3rd Bridge over the arroyo de l'Avalanche (Thị Nghè Creek) and continuing north along the “superbly straight and very well-maintained road” towards Gia Định.

During the early colonial period, the area north of the creek was still open countryside, intersected by a network of waterways, and the road to Gia Định, then known as the avenue de l'Inspection (today upper Đinh Tiên Hoàng street), was described as being “lined with trees and surrounded by flooded paddy fields.” Just before reaching Gia Định, it became a tradition for the promenaders to stop by the side of the road and “take the air,” while meeting and greeting their fellow travellers.

By the 1890s, the number of people taking the daily Tour de l’Inspection had increased significantly, and after the opening of the CFTI Saigon-Gò Vấp steam tramway in 1895, an alternative outward route across the 2nd Avalanche (road-tramway) bridge and north along rue Martin-des-Pallières (now Bùi Hữu Nghĩa street) was devised, making it possible to split the promenaders into two groups with a view to avoiding avoid traffic jams.

After reaching the Inspection de Gia-Dinh and the nearby Lê Văn Duyệt Mausoleum, the original “classic” Tour de l'inspection took its participants east towards the Saigon river before circling back through Phú Mỹ. It then re-entered Saigon via the 1st Avalanche bridge (the Thị Nghe Bridge), returning to its starting point, the Botanical and Zooloigical Gardens.

A pousse-pousse on a Saigon street.

However, during the same period, a longer Tour de l'inspection also became popular. After passing the Lê Văn Duyệt Mausoleum and Inspection de Gia-Dinh, this “grand promenade” took participants west along the route provincial (modern Phan Đăng Lưu and Hoàng Văn Thụ streets) to the Pigneau de Béhaine Mausoleum in Tan Sơn Nhất, and then headed southwest through the Plain of Tombs towards Chợ Lớn, finally returning to Saigon either along the route stratégique or “High Road” (modern Trần Phú and Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai streets) or via the “Low Road” which bordered the arroyo Chinois (Bến Nghé Creek).

Many writers of the period describe the beauty of the countryside enjoyed by those taking the Tour de l’Inspection. In 1894, Henri Gallais commented: “Taking this sunset promenade outside the city in an open carriage, travelling through lush green forest on a beautiful starry and relatively cool night, it is truly reminiscent of a promenade in the Bois de Boulogne in the summertime.”

Check back tomorrow for Part II to see why for many early colonial settlers, the Tour de l'Inspection was much more about flaunting wealth and power than about getting exercise or taking the air.

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tours book Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts 4-hour Heritage Tours of Historic Saigon and Cholon. For more information about Saigon history and Tim's tours visit his website,

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