Memory lane: More than a century of Dong Khoi, icon of Saigon beauty

Thanh Nien News

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This photo taken in the late 19th century shows one end of Rue Catinat near the Saigon River This photo taken in the late 19th century shows one end of Rue Catinat near the Saigon River


Rue Catinat, which is now Dong Khoi, was the first street built by the French after they captured Saigon, and with it, they managed to turn the city into “Paris of the Orient” at the time.
According to many researchers, Catinat has the oldest and most famous history of all streets. It had been called Rue 16 until it was paved and became the center of commercial and entertainment activities in the city.
Saigon in the early 1900s, after four decades under colonialism, resembled the architecture of many European cities, enough for visitors to call it “Paris of the Orient.”
Nguyen Lien Phong, a researcher of Vietnam’s traditional music during the colonial time, praised in his book published in 1909 that Catina was the best part of the city, with tidy houses, buildings and shops providing an endless list of products and services from potteries and bamboo products to restaurants and hotels.

A photo by Ludovic Crespin shows the area sometime between the late 1910s and early 1920s. On the left are three money exchange shops run by Indian men.


In an earlier photo, at one end of the street is Hôtel d’Annam of a local named Huynh Hue Ky.


The houses on the left are being razed to give way to Majestic.

Majestic Hotel was built by a company owned by Chinese-Vietnamese Hui Bon Hoa, one of the richest business men in southern Vietnam at the time.


Majestic had three stories and 44 bedrooms, according to a French architect’s original design.


Carrying the then favorite baroque architecture style, the hotel became one of the most elegant and impressive buildings in Saigon after it was finished in 1925.


In 1948, the Indochina Tourism & Exhibition Department directed by French man Franchini Mathieu bought the ground and first floors of the hotel and rented 44 rooms in 30 years.


In 1965, the hotel added two more stories based on the design of Vietnamese architect Ngo Viet Thu.


The hotel was right in front of the Saigon River.


But the pier was later built into a park.


The hotel in 1967


The US renamed the street Tu Do (Liberty) and the Vietnamese government changed it into Dong Khoi after the Vietnam War ended.


The hotel was ranked five stars in 2007. Work on two new towers of the hotel on Nguyen Hue Street started in July 2011 to add 353 new rooms.


Opposite the hotel is Cafe de la Rotonde, as shown in this 1901 picture

The name of the café means Round House, possibly because of its curvy front.

A driver waits with his rickshaw at one end of Catinat. Historical data said the first rickshaw in Hanoi was brought over from Japan in 1883, and it only showed up in Saigon nearly 15 years later. The city only had horse carts before that.

The café in this photo carries a new sign, Grand Hotel de la Rotonde. The city was using electric street lights.

Café de la Rotonde was a popular destination for rich people at the time.

The coffee shop is filled with customers one night in 1920.

If it was still there, the café would have one the best views of the Saigon River.

A building at the corner of Catinat and Vannier, which is now Ngo Duc Ke

On October 24, 1930, Henry Edouard Charigny de Lachevrotière, the editor in chief of a French newspaper, won a license to open Grand Hotel Saigon at the Catinat-Vannier
corner. The hotel replaced a small café.

The hotel was renamed Saigon Palace in 1937.

In 1958, it was renamed Saigon Dai Lu Quan, a Sino-Vietnamese translation of Grand Hotel Saigon.

Grand Hotel today

Café de la Terrasse Hotel at 130 Catinat, near the Opera House square.

The Opera House nearby

There was a patisserie, run by Mr. Marius Rousseng,

Saigon started serving electric trams in 1923. 

The tram stop station in front of the former Café de la Terrasse

The construction of Caravelle Hotel finished in 1959, with investment from Air France and the Australian government.

Women walk along the street in traditional and modern dresses.

Caravelle was named after an aircraft model of Air France, which then had an office on the ground floor. Air France ticket booth is still there now.

The hotel was renamed Huu Nghi (Friendship) after the Vietnam War. It was rebuilt and only reopened in 1998 as Caravelle  with a new 24-story tower. “The Quiet American” film crew stayed there in 2001.

Reference: “Saigon – Duong Catinat dau the ky 20” (Saigon – Rue Catinat of the early 1920s) by Nguyen Duc Hiep, published in 2012.

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