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Cholon or ‘Big Market’ is the massive Chinatown of HCMC. Way back in the 1800s it was a separate city and eventually expanded and merged with its neighbour to create Saigon-Cholon, which was only reduced to ‘Saigon’ in 1956 after Vietnam gained independence from France.

Although its cultural heritage is still visible, today the area is less Chinese than it was when French Photographer Jack Garafalo took these amazing photos in 1961.

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In 1968 during the Tet offensive Cholon suffered the worst fighting and when the smoke cleared whole areas had been burnt to the ground.

Then during the anti-capitalist anti-Chinese campaign of 1978-1979 hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chinese fled the country, many on perilous boat journeys.

Despite this it is still one of the noisiest and most vibrant areas of the city, and is once again becoming flooded with Chinese entrepreneurial spirit.

Cholon birdcage boy

A female actress prays before a performance.

Cholon woman prayer makeup

Flickr: Manhhai

A cobbler sitting in his shop next to a wall display of sandals.

Cholon old man

A costume designer in front of a display of headdresses for the Chinese Theater is sitting in his shop, a pipe in his mouth, surrounded by his three daughters.

Cholon man with pipe

A herbalist standing at his counter.

Cholon man at desk

Cholon boys bath

A young child is standing among a magical arsenal of cellophane dragons, garlands and lanterns, masks mixed with airplanes and rockets.

Cholon masks boy

An actor in a black satin jacket.

Cholon moustache man

The Chinese Theater is the oldest in the world. Here three actresses are applying thick makeup.

Cholon makeup women

Cholon makeup mirror

Cholon makeup man

A line of kids in front of the altar at a pagoda.

Cholon kids

Boat houses along the banks of the canal.

Cholon boats

Men playing boules.

Cholon bowls

Cholon woman towel

A woman outside a shop selling Confucian and Buddhist imagery.

Cholon hat woman

Flickr: Manhhai