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CommunitiesSaturday, 03/12/2005, 04:49

Welcome to Chinatown

Culture, architecture and food combine as attractions for residents and visitors in one of HCM City's most distinctive sections
Welcome to Chinatown

Welcome to Chinatown

 Binh Tay market in Cho Lon

Culture, architecture and food combine as attractions for residents and visitors in one of HCM City's most distinctive sections

Cho Lon in HCM City has long been known as a bustling Chinatown. Covering District 5 and part of districts 6, 8 and 11, the area attracts tourists because of its special character and its cultural heritage.

Tran Hung Dao Street has been considered the main artery of Cho Lon, serving as a "reception road" welcoming visitors to the town. It is a place of splendor, with many people passing by and Hong Kong-style shops. Within a short section between the District 5 Cultural House and the intersection with Chau Van Liem Street, there are more than 30 eye ware shops whose names mostly end with the word quang (i.e. sight), such as Dai Quang, Tan Quang, Nghe Quang, Sanh Quang, Ai Quang, among others. "Every time I visit Vietnam, I like to walk on this street, especially at night," says Peter, a British visitor. "Apart from seeing the busy traffic, I go shopping here because shops run by people of Chinese origin try to keep up their shop's prestige and give us feelings of friendliness and safety."

According to tour guides, foreigners like to visit Binh Tay Marketplace. Built on Thap Muoi Street more than 70 years ago, the marketplace has been linked with Kook Tan, a Chinese man well known for his prosperity. 

Since a traditional medicinal herbs street was officially opened in District 5, the district has drawn more tourists. Traveling on Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street, visitors can smell the strong odors of different types of medicinal herbs coming from traditional pharmacies such as Van Hoa, Loc Sanh, Vinh Thanh, Nam Xuong and Quang An Phat. In addition, on such streets as Tran Hung Dao, Trieu Quang Phuc, Chau Van Liem and Luong Nhu Hoc, visitors can have a look at blocks of houses built by Chinese people a century ago, combining Chinese and French architectural designs.

Temples and clubhouses are great places for those wanting to study Chinese culture. Of the pagodas in Cho Lon, many are old and have been an attraction for generations of visitors. The most famous pagoda is T'ian Hou (Thien Hau) Pagoda on Nguyen Trai Street. Going there on Madam T'ian Hou's birthday, which falls on the 23rd day of the third month in the lunar calendar, visitors can see rounds of incense with a diameter of one meter hanging. They carry pieces of paper with the names of worshippers. Also on Nguyen Trai Street and as famous as T'ian Hou Pagoda is the pagoda honoring Guan Kung, a Chinese figure well known for his loyalty and nobility. Many visitors who are businesspeople go there seeking Mr. Guan's support in order to remain strong in business.

Diversified gastronomy

Cho Lon attracts visitors not only through its unique cultural characteristics, but also with Chinese-style food. Luxurious meals are available at leading restaurants and hotels such as A Dong, Thien Hong, Ai Hue, Bat Dat and Dong Khanh.

The area selling sui cao (ravioli soup) on Ha Ton Quyen Street (near Tran Quy Street) is patronized by Chinese customers every night. Here the food is served until midnight. Also attracting scores of eaters are the Dan Ich fish hotpot eatery and the Dong Nguyen chicken rice restaurant on Chau Van Liem Street, or the Dai Gia Lac rice restaurant on An Duong Vuong Street. An older eatery and providing cheaper stewed foods such as pigs' stomachs and tongues, tofu and salted vegetables is the Hanh Nguyen rice and soup shop on Hung Vuong Street. This is open from 3:00 to 10:00 p.m.

Not in District 5, the restaurant at 66 Le Dai Hanh Street selling hu tieu mi (noodles with seasoned and saute pork or beef) is patronized by many Chinese people from District 5 - the restaurant remains crowded at midnight. Whenever visiting Dai The Gioi water park, people can cross the street to enter a small alley to enjoy bun ca ri vit (curried rice vermicelli and duck meat). The house selling the food, located on Tran Phu Street, serves Chinese customers from noon to 9:00 p.m.

Those who prefer sweet food can go to Ha Ky, a shop selling sweetened porridge and stewed nuts and beans, on Chau Van Liem Street. Another, which also attracts lots of customers at night, is near Soai Kinh Lam fabric marketplace. Though a little more expensive, at VND5,000 a glass, the sweetened porridge served there pleases visitors from far and wide.

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