The first public motor vehicle in Indochina, 1901

The first public motor vehicle put into circulation in Indochina (open bus used for postal and passenger services between Saigon and Tây Ninh)

Published in La Dépêche coloniale illustrée, 15 April 1907

We publish here a photograph depicting the first public motor vehicle in Indochina, which was put into circulation here in Saigon in 1901 by a motor transport company whose engineer and director was M. V. Ippolito. The latter, now the agent-général of Établissements Peugeot in Indochina, took over the management of the Services postaux et de transports de voyageurs, which now provides services between Saigon and several provinces.

The present government of Cochinchina has also provided certain administrators and officials with cars and even with motor boats. Some colonial critics have exercised their cheeky humour against a regime which, in order to encourage its provincial heads to maintain or develop the road network of roads, distributed motor vehicles to them. However, it’s certain that this has been to our great advantage in the development of the colony, not only because the ownership of motor vehicles has encouraged their users to ensure the construction and upkeep of good and long roads, but also because it has enabled provincial administrators to exercise personal supervision, control and direct influence over territories which hitherto could only be traversed once a year, and with great difficulty.

From the dual perspective of our prosperity and the security of the provinces, therefore, the administrative or private development of motoring throughout Indochina will surely have the happiest results.

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

“The Court of Annam modernises,” Les Annales coloniales: organe de la “France coloniale modern,” 14 December 1912

“Annam – Hue – Tribunes et cavalier du roi, vue des jardins”

Packed with the usual colonial arrogance and assumptions of western superiority, this short 1912 article by Henri Cosnier sheds interesting light on French Governor General Paul Doumer’s policy towards the royal court in Huế

The powerful breath of modernism carries off, one after the other, the sumptuous traditions of the court of Hue.

Emperor Thành Thái in 1898 (Le Monde illustré, 11 December 1898)

The republican simplicity of the representatives of France accredited to that city seems to have affected the sovereigns of Annam and their entourage. The era of melon hats and varnished court shoes is finally at an end, for the greater good of the princes and mandarins, whose manners and dress tend to simplify ever more each day.

Where are the splendour and the regalia with which the Asiatic monarchs once surrounded themselves when they left their palaces to mingle with the flood of the populution? All ancient rites have long since disappeared; western civilisation has chased before it that grandiose spectacle which once accompanied even the smallest walks by Gia-Long, Minh-Mang and Tu-Duc. The present sovereign of Annam [Duy Tân], whom we raised in an atmosphere of extreme civilisation, is still too young to indulge in modernism, but his predecessor, the sinister Thanh-Thai, often ventured out alone into his capital, on foot or on horseback, on a bicycle or in an automobile, just like a mere mortal.

He was the first to modernise, to cut his hair short, to dine at the Résidence Supérieure, and to do the American square dance in the salons of the Cercle de Hué.

He also began to travel, visiting Cochinchina and Saigon several times, where, incidentally, he gave the chiefs of protocol something of a headache.

“The cyclist emperor of Annam,” from L’Empereur d’Annam en Cochinchine, L’Illustration, 22 January 1898

He then came to Tonkin to inaugurate the railway line from Hanoi to Haiphong, the Doumer Bridge and the Grand Palais de l’Exposition.

He attended military parades, the Philharmonic, parties at the Palais du Gouvernement général, and, as a mere mortal forgetting his divine origin, made innumerable yet futile purchases in our houses of commerce.

He also revelled in royal gallantly, earnestly asking the officers attached to his person if, for a great deal of money, he could not be permitted a tête-à-tête with one of our female compatriots!

In a word, he did just as Alfonso XIII or Edward VII had done when travelling to Paris: he modernised himself.

I dare not affirm that, in the eyes of his people and of the old mandarin guardians of millennial rites and historical traditions, he had plumbed new depths.

It is a certain fact that he lost the greater part of his prestige. And I have heard that the first trip which he made with M. Doumer had no other aim.

Paul Doumer, Governor General of Indochina from 1897 to 1902

The former governor wished to show him to his people, and at the same time to destroy the legend which represented the Emperor of Annam as a superman, a demi-god living in the mysteries and prodigies of a palace populated by spirits, inaccessible even to the gaze, and in constant relations with the divinity.

The popular imagination, so thirsty for marvels, had imagined him in a fairy-like setting, walking on clouds, as beautiful as the divinity itself, wise as a Buddha, on familiar terms with the immortals whose images are seen in the dim light and sandalwood smoke of pagodas.

The visit of H M Thanh-Thai to Hanoi was a disenchantment. The crowd, massed for his arrival on the banks of the Red River, was astonished and disappointed to see a small boat laden with tricolour flags appear, instead of a royal barge with a hundred oarsmen decorated with heavy banners featuring flaming dragons on yellow brocade.

Was that it? That was all? A vulgar gunboat, like the ones which carried our own chiefs of service. He was dressed in national costume, like a simple scholar or a modest interpreter, comprising a long “cai-ao” of black silk that did not fit the grand cordon de la Légion d’honneur, his head crowned with a turban of black grenadine and his feet shod in the French style.

Emperor Thành Thái and Governor General Paul Doumer inaugurate the Doumer (now Long Biên) Bridge on 28 February 1902

Thus did the great emperor of the East step ashore beside Monsieur Doumer, his eyes roaming somewhat astray, astonished to find himself before this crowd.

He climbed into the Governor’s carriage, sat down opposite a general wearing a white feathered hat, and that was all.

The effect was instantaneous: The ancient prestige of the emperors of Hue had sunk in the eyes of their people.

Annamite plebeians repeated, skeptically: “So this is the Emperor!” They understood that henceforth, the absolute sovereign of the land of their ancestors was indeed the French Republic, and at the moment when the Emperor crossed the threshold of the Pagode des Pinceaux on the Little Lake [Hoàn Kiếm Lake], a coolie threw a stone into his face.

Henri Cosnier
Deputy for the département de l’Indre

Emperor Thành Thái and Governor General Paul Doumer pictured in Hà Nội in February 1902

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

“Monsieur Doumer, his Emperor and his King,” Figaro (Paris), 21 January 1898

The Palace of the Government General in Saigon, illuminated for a ball

The King of Cambodia, H M Norodom I, and the Emperor of Annam, H M Thanh-Thai, have just paid a visit to the Governor-General in Saigon.

The stay of the old Khmer sovereign and the young Annamite emperor in the old capital of French Indo-China took place on the occasion of splendid week-long celebrations.

Saigon harbour at the turn of the 20th century

Celebrations in a French colony! Those people whose minds are anchored to the prejudice that our colonies are “lost, miserable, unhealthy” countries filled with unhappy people shivering with fever in “straw jungle huts” might believe that these celebrations are just vulgar rejoicings and sad feasts in which preserves provide the dishes of resistance. However, few large European cities could offer a festival a setting as beautiful as Saigon, that former Annamite city which the French colonising genius has so rapidly transformed into the capital many English people call their “loss in the Far East.”

These were my words when I reported on the festivities organised to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the conquest in 1884. I have not changed my mind after reading the details of the reception given to the two sovereigns sent to me by our correspondents from Saigon and our confrères from the newspaper Le Mékong. I only wish I could publish everything. But that would demand a review article, rather than a newspaper report. So it will have to be just a few lines.

On the first day, at the Palace of the Government General, there was a reception and a ball.

King Norodom was introduced first. The Cambodian king appeared a little old, a little “compacted.”

Emperor Thành Thái (1889-1907)

Then, accompanied by M. Doumer, came the young Emperor Thanh-Thai, who is not yet 20 years old. He was dressed in a multi-coloured costume constellated with gold and precious stones, the grand cordon de la Légion d’honneur around his neck. He wore a turban of yellow silk, an imperial colour which only he has the right to wear. His wife and younger brothers were at his side.

An amusing observation: though individually very straightforward, very natural with everybody, the two sovereigns, as soon as they were close to each other, adopted the attitudes of idols.

The fireworks amused both Majesties greatly. Less, however, than the gala the next evening at the Municipal Theatre. Would you like to know the programme?

“The Marseillaise, sung by Madame Dargissonne and choir, with apotheosis and grand staging by Mr. Maurel, director general. Then the second act of Lakmé. Then the serpentine dance by Madame de Lhérys, the ‘Loïe Fuller’ of Saigon. And, finally, the second act of Carmen.”

The young emperor of Annam was said to have been particularly seduced by the serpentine dance. On the following evening this would cause great anxiety to M. Doumer, who would wonder if he had perhaps led his Emperor astray.

A horse race meeting in Saigon

There was also a day at the races, complete with a betting shop. A grey horse named Ly-Tong, winner of the Festival Commission prize, was presented by the jockey Binh. It was bought for 1,500 piastres by M. Doumer and offered to the Emperor. Festival events on Tuesday were also popular: a fair, public games and a torchlight procession.

The Emperor wanted to visit the tombs of his ancestors at Go-Cong, so he was taken there.

The journey passed without incident. All along the Go-Cong road to the tombs (about two kilometers), the natives had massed themselves, dressed in ceremonial garments and bearing the attributes of cult and emblems of war. There were also a number of small portable shrines, and many tricolour flags and banners. But not a single yellow flag (let us recall that it is the national flag of the Annamites, the ancient masters of Cochinchina). There was only a yellow curtain at the door of the tomb pagoda, which was also very richly decorated. The Emperor, after having made his devotions before the funerary altar of his ancestors, wrote several inscriptions.

Emperor Thành Thái with his brothers in 1900 (source unknown)

The return journey was undertaken without popular ovations. Six gendarmes, the interim Lieutenant Governor, and M. Briere, the Résident Supérieur of Annam, accompanied the young sovereign, who was doubtless unaccustomed to travelling without being greeted by a soul. But he seems to have taken this very philosophically.

On the subject of reports on the Emperor, here are some amusing details.

As soon as they heard that their sovereign was coming to Saigon, the natives were surprised, and they then stamped with impatience, curiosity, and joy.

The Emperor came, and with him disappointment, in spite of the appearance of the reception, the bells, the bulwarks, and the cannon shots.

They all knew the secular customs: the people must prostrate themselves before the sovereign, never raise their eyes to his august person. They also knew that this sovereign, according to rites, should only leave his palace once a year for a pious festival. They knew that he must always maintain a divine attitude, barely turn his head, be transported only in a sedan chair. And yet here he was, this young emperor who loves to break with traditions, travelling by car, by train, to the theatre to see Saigon’s “Loïe Fuller,” to revues, parades….. And how he delights in them! He does the round of dinners, social evenings, soirées, buffets. He smokes like a Swiss, tours the salons, and even attempts to sing madrigals.

Emperor Thành Thái on the throne in the Thái Hòa Palace, from Empire colonial de la France. L’Indo-Chine: Cochinchine, Cambodge, Laos, Annam, Tonkin by Jules Gervais-Courtellemont (1901)

This was truly the end of the world for old Annamites.

Then there was a large review of troops. Three thousand men marched before the two sovereigns.

There were also regattas, a municipal ball, a “battle of the flowers” parade and a bicycle race which inaugurated the first Indochinese vélodrome. And then, yet more balls, more dinners, at the Cercle militaire, the Lieutenant-Governor’s Palace, the Town Hall, aboard the imperial ship, and so on. Until 15 December, the date of the departure of the Emperor, when M. Doumer would accompany him back to Hue.

The impressions of the young sovereign himself? It is said that he found the parties too short. He wanted to stay in Saigon. He found much more to amuse him there than in the palace of Hue, in those dull temples where his boredom is as divine as his person.

These festivals will have a considerable influence on our policy in the Far East.

This friendly view of the sovereigns of two races, of two peoples who were always enemies, indicates well to the Oriental people (for whom mere phrases, speeches, proclamations, edicts, promises signify nothing) that all the inhabitants of the Indo-Chinese peninsula are now definitively united under our high and firm protection. Above their respective countries, there will henceforward be another country greater and more powerful: France.

Jean Hess

“The cyclist emperor of Annam,” from L’Empereur d’Annam en Cochinchine, L’Illustration, 22 January 1898

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

“The Little King,” Le Petit Parisien: journal quotidien du soir, 25 October 1895

Emperor Thành Thái in court costume

M. Rousseau, Governor-General of Indo-China, is on his way to France.

We know that he was recently elected as a senator of Finistère. And since, on the eve of his departure from Tonkin, he went to visit the king of Annam in Hue, the rumour has circulated that this was a farewell visit, and that Rousseau would not return to his post. However, this news has now been overturned. It is now asserted that M. Rousseau has not been dismissed of his functions as governor-general of Indo-China.

His visit to the king of Annam was therefore a simple visit of politeness, on the eve of an absence of several months.

There is much talk at this moment of the sovereigns of our various colonial possessions.

The queen of Madagascar has naturally for several months deserved the honours of our chronicles. Now, the sons of King Toffa, one of the most powerful chiefs of Dahomey, are our guests in Paris. Before any attention was paid to them, there had been much discussion about another king of Dahomey, our opponent Behanzin, who is at present imprisoned at Fort-de-France. There is even a story going round that the prisoner of Fort-de-France is actually a fake Behanzin, but the most authoritative testimony has now put paid to this legend – it is without doubt the true Behanzin whom our troops captured after the taking of Abomey.

Emperor Thành Thái and his three brothers, with his interpreter and French personal attache (Le Monde Illustre, 12 November 1898)

After all these African monarchs, why should an Asian monarch not be the order of the day? Thanh-Thai, king of Annam, also deserves to be spoken of. The visit which M. Rousseau has just paid to him gives us an opportunity to do so. He is scarcely 16 years old, this little king of Annam, and has reigned since 1889. His existence has hitherto been very tranquil, and there is no proof that it will not continue to be so. The same could not be said about his direct predecessors, for in less than a few months, several of these sovereigns disappeared in a tragic way, in the prime of life.

One of them, Duc-Duc, who was very devoted to us, reigned for only four days; he was killed at the instigation of his regents on 21 July 1883. His successor was Hiep-Hoa, who was forced to take a poisoned beverage after six months. Kien-Phuc had been on the throne for only a short time before he, too, became a victim of assassination.

There was also another king of Annam, whose reign was equally ephemeral. This one was called Ham-Nghi. He was supported by regents who were hostile to French influence. When these fierce mandarins were taken prisoner by our soldiers, Ham-Nghi, who had fled with them, remained a cause of division in Annam. He still had partisans who believed in his return to power; it was therefore decided to exile him far from Annam, so he was conducted to Algeria, where he remains still, and where, faithfully enlightened as to the lamentable fate of the rebellious Annamite sovereign, he has accepted his lot and now lives peacefully, without any monarchical ambition.

Yet Thanh-Thai is perhaps less fortunate than he. It is true that, now that French influence is completely established, he no longer fears poison or the dagger. But while Ham-Nghi is now free in his movements, even to the extent that he was recently able to visit France, Thanh-Thai passes cruelly monotonous days behind the ramparts of the palace of Hue, where he is confined.

Inside the Purple Forbidden City

In his Tour d’Asie, M. Marcel Monnier, who passed through the Annamite capital in May of last year, describes this palace. “The light,” says he, “penetrates from above, as if into a prison courtyard, reverberating on the flagstones, a blinding and crude light which accentuates the despairing sadness of that royal residence where silence reigns. Here, the calm has a je ne sais quoi of menace. We can only guess how many intrigues, how many cruel dramas were slowly prepared in recent years under the cover of this deceitful peace. Nevertheless, it must not be supposed that the palace of Thanh-Thai is a residence without grandeur; it occupies a considerable area and consists of constructions of many kinds, palaces and pavilions.

On certain days, solemn ceremonies take place. So it seems that Asiatic life is resuming its rights in the vast enclosure. Mandarins of all ranks, in tight formation, bow down before their master, who, diminished but not fallen, remains for them the living symbol of nationality.

There are several large halls, that of the throne and that of audiences, with heavy pillars covered with red and gold lacquer, and that of the ministers’ council, where, at dawn, between 5am and 6am, the regents come to await the moment to make their daily appearance before the king. The royal palace itself is closed to all, guarded day and night. Further on, no less well guarded, are the harem and the apartments of the three queen-mothers.

There are currently no less than three queen-mothers in Hue. “They live a life of seclusion,” says M. Marcel Monnier, “turned into idols and fetishes, and the king himself may only appear before them barefooted, he may only speak to them on his knees.” One is the mother of Tu-Duc, the king of Annam at the time of the French conquest, who is 87 years old and blind. The second is Tu-Duc’s widow, now 70 years old. The third, the mother of the current king, has just reached her 40th year, and the few people who have seen her taking promenades, when the wind spreads the curtains of her golden palanquin, say that she is very graceful, almost beautiful.

The Queen Mother Empress Từ Minh, mother of Thành Thái (BAVH 39, 4)

However, it seems that they are not always tender towards the little king, these three queen-mothers.

Hidden behind a veil of silk, in the midst of their courtiers, they allow him to approach them only after long reverences, during which he pronounces several times the single word “con,” which means “child.” It is only after he has prostrated himself nine times with his forehead against the ground that the curtain is pulled back. And then, still on his knees, he must listen to their orders and remonstrances.

This posture is a bit humiliating for a king. It is true that the power of this one is very precarious. But if the young sovereign deserves a reprimand, that’s not the only humiliation he must endure – one of the serving women comes to him, carrying on a tray a cane made of rattan, a symbol of punishment. It is almost like the European martinet, reserved for mutinous children. M. Marcel Monnier informs us that one day, Thanh-Thai tried to revolt against the use of the cane, seizing and breaking it. But the correction which followed was such that, since then, the little king no longer has the slightest inclination to rebellion.

The apartment of Thanh-Thai is separated from the harem by a series of pools large enough for women to bathe in. The latter go to their lord and master only when he asks for them. Their names are inscribed on plates of jade, and the king indicates which one he chooses by turning over the plate. His servants then hurry to seek the chosen one.

At 5am each day, Thanh-Thai is already up. He is dressed by ladies of the royal wardrobe. After a light breakfast, he goes to his study room, where his teachers await him. After a few hours of study, cut off from others, followed by an interview with his ministers, he has another meal. From 10am to 12 noon he retires to his apartments. At noon, lessons resume. The king learns French and speaks it well enough. At about 4pm, he takes physical exercise in the gardens. Then to dinner, where a European dish is served. By 8pm his majesty is in bed.

Such is the daily existence of this 16-year-old sovereign.

Emperor Thành Thái

At times he does not hide his annoyance. He also anxiously awaits the four or five annual ceremonies over which he must preside – the Feast of the Spring, the Feast of the Harvest, the visit to the Tombs of the Kings, etc – during which he gets the chance to leave the palace. Along the avenues he processes, past incense burners and through rows of altars loaded with flowers and fruit, followed by mandarins in superb silk tunics and escorted by guards dressed in red and wearing lacquered hats. On the route he sees not a single inhabitant, for to go outside during the passage of the king and stare at him would be tantamount to an insult. The procession proceeds to the river, where a richly decorated junk awaits the king. Forty oars row him for about an hour. And all the time the boat is followed by skilful swimmers who swim alongside in relays, ready to catch the little monarch in the event that the boat capsizes.

M. Marcel Monnier, who met Thanh-Thai during a visit to the French Resident in Hue, describes him in a long robe of golden cloth studded with precious stones. He speaks little, and when he does speak, it is above all to ask questions.

On that day, he enjoyed the snack which was served, and even drank several glasses of champagne, while his two brothers, standing behind him and all dressed in green like small parakeets, ate cakes and sweets.

France has, to some measure, instituted in Indo-China the system of the British in India. While assuming the direction of the government and ensuring our full influence, we have not infringed on national traditions.

In India, the rajahs who submitted to the British crown still guard their thrones and their ancient prestige, which are like a facade concealing foreign domination. Likewise, the king of Annam, considered by his people less as a leader than as the representative of traditions and rites, preserves in the eyes of his subjects all the authority of his ancestors.

We must not think of suppressing at one stroke such centuries-old customs, of destroying the traditions of a country which we wish to pacify.

Mandarins in front of the Thái Hòa Palace

We have applied this same system to Cambodia, and many would like it to be so in Madagascar, where Queen Ranavalo will be kept on the throne. Others are in favour of annexation, pure and simple.

But whatever type of regime is ultimately decided upon, protectorate or annexation, we may trust that we will not lose the benefit of our efforts, and that so many sacrifices of men and money will not be in vain.

Jean Frollo

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.



“Excursion to Hue: Court, Palace and Tombs,” published for the Hanoï Exposition, 1902

Marred by the usual colonial condescension and obvious ignorance of Vietnamese art and architecture, this French article of 1902 is published here in translation only for its interesting historic references and intriguing images

Indo-China has experienced a definitive rise under the impetus of a very talented governor, Paul Doumer.

The visitor to the Exposition in Hanoï will find him there in person, revealing in striking form the path which has been travelled since the conquest in the fields of arts, commerce and industry. Listening to his words will surely awaken in the visitor more extensive curiosity.

In particular, this visitor will not want to stick with his first plan of travel, cautiously limited to the immediate attractions directly dependent on the Exposition itself. He or she will have an ardent desire, before returning to France, to go and see some old things of this empire of Annam which have yet to sink beneath the civilising tide. An excursion to Hue should at the top of any redesigned and expanded travel itinerary.

In November 1901, a special meeting of the Conseil supérieur de l’Indo-Chine was convened in the palace of the Council of Ministers of His Majesty Emperor Thanh-Thai in Hue. No doubt Governor Doumer wished to close his five years of government with a significant ceremony at the very heart of his vast colonial domain, now definitely conquered and pacified, and ready to receive the fruitful seeds of his labours.

Already on the road from Tourane to Hue, which passes through the picturesque Pass of Clouds, one meets large teams of diggers and road workers. Their main “points of attack” are the new tunnels located on the flanks of granite rocks clothed with wild vegetation. The local tram (chair carrier) agonises about the future of his job; he will be replaced, before two years are out, by new rails and locomotives.

Whether coming from Hanoï or Saïgon, you must land in Tourane. One joyfully embarks from the little steamer of the Messageries maritimes after what can be a rough passage through the Tonkinese gulf. One rides by chair for a full day, viewing picturesque sights which are a joy to the eyes. Lunch is served in the village of Lang-Co. In the evening, after a few last kilometres travelled by night in the light of torches in order to scare off marauding tigers, one reaches Cao-Haï, where dinner is served. Then one settles in comfortable sampans to pass a restorative night, rocked very softly on the waters of the great lagoon. The next morning, one arrives in Hue, eager for excursions and strolls, ready to hunt for the trinkets which very well-informed merchants hold in reserve for the tourists of distinction.

A stay between two journeys by courier vessel leaves five or six days to be spent in Hue and its environs. This is sufficient.

The “places to see” are spread out at various distances, permitting visitors to undertake small, medium and large days of tourism. One returns at the end of each day satisfied and not weary, finding again with pleasure those pacifying sampans on the great lagoon.

Properly speaking, Hue is not yet a city. Situated on the left bank of the pretty and gracefully named Perfume River, one will find here a vast Citadel, built about a century ago by a mission of French officers in the most exact Vauban style. Within its enclosure there are some basic elements: first, the vast Palace compound, dotted with pagodas, outbuildings, gardens and mandarin dwellings. Then the Co-Mat or Council of Ministers, the School of Agriculture, and the barracks of the Naval Infantry Battalion which holds garrison here. Against the brown walls of the fortress lies a swarming and fragrant Asiatic agglomeration, where, as everywhere in Indo-China, the Chinese control the bulk of traffic and wealth.

Upstream from the Citadel on the Perfume River, a short distance from the ramparts, a tall, octagonal tower in the Chinese style attracts attention. It functions like a “bell tower” of the great Confucius Pagoda, which serves as the Buddhist cathedral of the capital of the Empire of Annam. It’s in this temple, placed under the invocation of the great philosopher, that all ceremonies of high significance are performed. And in particular, examinations and competitions determining admission to the higher grades of the literary mandarinate.

Not far from the Confucius Pagoda, and still on the left bank, are the Landing Stage and the Baths of the Emperor, in direct and private communication with the Palace by lanes lined with high walls. The young sovereign is passionately fond of steam navigation, and two boats belonging to the Résidence supérieure currently ensure his favourite entertainment. However, it is sometimes necessary to supervise Thanh-Thai’s nautical audacity: one day recently, after commandeering a poor Chinese vessel with a breathless engine, he ventured to cross the sand bar of Lang-Co in an attempt to reach Tourane by sea. This prompted great commotion at the Résidence supérieure, which hurriedly dispatched some qualified officials to bring back the young monarch who had escaped from his capital.

Let’s pass along the right bank of the river.

Here, visitors will find a series of modern buildings, mostly official in function, including customs, public works, gendarmerie, treasury and indigenous guard, together with a comfortable and well-kept hostelry. Also located here is the Cercle, where tourists are guaranteed a most cordial welcome. After an exhausting day trip, they will find pleasant pre-dinner relaxation here on the terraces of the club, which overlook the river.

Finally, rising above all these new and constantly rebuilt structures, visitors will see the roofs of the Résidence supérieure emerging from the beautiful gardens which surround it. It is still called, by habit, the Legation, on account of its primitive affectation. It was occupied by our diplomatic agent before the organisation of the Protectorate.

This European quarter, fresh and pleasant in appearance, is surrounded by greenery and forms a strong contrast with the dull, brown half of this composite and imprecise city.

A large iron bridge with its narrow frames, an obvious vanguard of the future railway, connects the two banks and seems to extend a destructive arm towards the old things destined for inevitable disappearance.

Will Emperor Thanh-Thai be the last monarch of Annam? Let us beware of prophesying in these delicate matters. He is only 23 years old and can therefore live and reign for a long time. But it is to be supposed that this century may see the tricolour flag float over the old ramparts, where the imperial standard, with its sumptuous embroideries and serrations, is now still tolerated. In any case, this absorption will take place without violence: our Indo-China government has too much interest in using to its own end the administrative mechanisms of the old empire. Supervised and framed, the mandarinate forms a valuable tool in the hands of our eclectic and wisely opportunistic administrators.

Indeed, in the skilful evolution towards progress and justice, it is surely better to let the old edifice fall slowly, rather than seeking ingenious ways to effect immediate adaptation. Thus, the evidence of old consecrated skills is still clearly understood and demonstrated here.

A visit to the Citadel, not including the Palace which must be visited separately, occupies a morning.

Here first is the Co-Mat or Council of Ministers, a new construction of modernised Annamite architecture which seems vaguely … seaside-like? Some say that it resembles a casino pavilion on some second-class beach, flamboyantly decorated with dragon motifs. For want of taste, should we think?

The same criticism might well be addressed to the so-called “à la française” décor favoured by His Majesty, which evokes fairly accurately your average “tapestries and furnishings” display in the Maison du Petit Saint-Thomas department store. On the whole, these errors may have their energetic sense: an active policy does not always have time to embarrass itself with aesthetics. In short, this style of decoration is one which befits silky and gilded puppets, all the strings of which are attached to the expert fingers of Monsieur le Résident Supérieur of Annam. Let’s regard it as a brand new “guignol” of a particular kind.

The School of Agriculture, where a fantastic host of orchids prospers and multiplies, forms a group of low and divided buildings, a whole city of greenhouses constructed from light bamboo, with fine lattices replacing windows. And here are the pupils of the course, led by a native professor and duly endorsed by our Agricultural Institute. They go out to the countryside to recognise some species, to analyse some soil. What pain we endured to convince them to cut their long nails curled up into horn clippings! They were much attached to these signs of idleness and patricianism, so incompatible with the handling of the pick and the plough. However, they have obstinately retained their silk robes, their parasols, their fans, their varnished slippers. Thus enrobed, these mandarinal youths file along the narrow paths of the rice field, a hint of disdain on their lips, proud and distant, united, refusing to incline their heads towards the robust soil.

To enjoy the wide-open spaces of the Hue countryside, one leaves the Citadel by the “Bridge of the Assault.” It was amidst great danger, on the night of the 5-6 July 1885, that officers of our garrison of occupation were forced to take this passage after their party at the Legation had been interrupted by an Annamite attack.

Out in the countryside, one sees His Majesty’s War Elephants returning from their morning walk. Oblivious to the wishes of their mahouts, these heavy intelligent beasts display the malice of a schoolboy, determined to prolong the pleasures of the open air. They tear out clumps of grass, shaking the roots to make the earth fall, blowing on them to chase away the last specks of dust, and finally, swallowing the tasty bites. Their mahouts insist on returning, using their heels and sticks; but the mischievous animals, continuing their meals, shake their big ears and utter fierce cries.

Let’s leave to the tourist-explorer of the native districts the pleasure of discovering the bargains of the trinket: Lots of bric-a-brac stalls where the adventurer may find pieces of beautiful jade, old porcelain or old enamelled copper, all vestiges of rapidly disappearing art industries.

And let’s reserve for the beautiful warm nights of November the experience of attending the Annamite or Chinese theatre, listening to dancers and singers, to orchestras where the tap-luk (zither) and the one-stringed violin draw precious motives, well synthesised by the effeminate suppleness of the Annamite race, with its inconsistent hieraticism, interspersed with playfulness and laughter.

The Palace and Royal Court

From the top of the “grand cavalier du roi,” a heavy protuberance in the fortified walls, one may obtain an overview of the palace and its gardens. However, curious tourists may see in detail only a very limited portion of this palace and its gardens. The mystery of the royal apartments, the harem and the sacred pagodas is not accessible to anyone.

It was in those hidden places that court intrigues, crimes and revolutions were germinated and played out. And today this is where a young emperor seeks mysterious distractions from the boredom of his idle reign. Sometimes, the echoes of singularly cruel fantasies reach our surprised ears. The sages affirm that it is necessary for us to close our eyes, to leave barbarism in this, its last refuge, which, like the rest, will eventually disappear.

You will then see the throne room, the ceremonial hall, the dining room and the “salon à la française.” You will see the pagoda of the ancestors, the pond with the crocodiles where, until very recently, thousands of young saurians were given as annual symbolic presents to queen mothers. You will see the Ministry of Finance, the bell workshop and the store for theatre accessories and costumes, singularly reminiscent of the rags used by our provincial theatres. It seems that the unique misery and perfume of the chariot of Thespis are the same in whatever latitude! Finally, you will see the “Nine Sisters,” the nine sacred bronze cannon of His Majesty, which now lie silent forever.

One enters the Palace by the great Ngo-Mon gate, which looks out over the “Esplanade du cavalier.” This door is a mass of granite, perforated by vaults, surmounted by tribunes, and crowned with a heavy horned roof. Dragons, clouds, bats, sacred books, brushes, tap-luks (zithers) and fans, motifs of architectural ornamentation, are reproduced and multiply on columns, on carved beams, on coffered ceilings, at the corners of roof ridges. With an intelligent guide, an interpreter or a scholar from the Résidence, it’s possible quickly to enumerate these few symbols which reappear everywhere in Hue, representing the sum total of the artistic imagination contained in sculptures, enamels, woodwork, balustrades and terraces, as well as in a more delicate range of knick-knacks, incense burners, teapots, cups, trays and boxes.

However you view it, Annamite art has comparatively few strings to its bow, just like Annamite music and dance, which revolves around the repetition of a few monotonous and restricted motifs. It is by its assembly and the association of the monument with nature that the Annamite people take interesting revenge. It certainly has a sense of “décor,” but we must not look too closely. The artifice is often coarse and fragile, of a kind analogous to that abundance of votive offerings in gilded and coloured cardboard which one finds in Taoist worship.

At the corners of the pagoda roofs you’ll see figures of monsters, with gaping mouths and menacing tongues. From a distance, the subjects seem to be treated in mosaic, or at least in vigorous ceramic work. They stand out strongly against the dark foliage of the great pines.

Yet as one approaches, one discerns a frightful polychromic conglomerate made from the debris of old cups and plates, glued onto poor mortar that’s softened by the tiniest drop of rain. In this way the monster, an ephemeral architectural motif, loses, one by one, its claws and its scales.

After passing through the vaults of the Ngo-Mon gate, you come to gardens with water features. Here one enters a wide stone passageway, framed by two arches with bronze columns engraved with the legendary dragon, which support enamel panels inscribed with mottos in Chinese characters, similar to those found everywhere in the Palace, as well as in the Tombs scattered throughout the graceful countryside of Hue.

These characters mean, in turn:

Righteousness, integrity, justice.
Greatness, eternity, longevity.
Direct path to radiant virtue

Let’s continue to the terrace of honour, which provides access to the Throne Room. When the monarch received the Conseil Supérieur last year, this terrace was animated with a display of banners, a flickering of sumptuous gilded silk robes, while, on the right and left, on large grassy areas, the War Elephants, then in high formal dress, swung their trunks solemnly, like monstrances.

The official reception in the throne room was a remarkable spectacle: the hieraticism of the little emperor, encamped very high, as if on the summit of some dazzling rockery, enveloped in his regalia of gold, silk and precious stones; the marble immobility of the mandarins, bearers of insignia, eunuchs and guards distributed all around the throne, their eyes fixed obstinately on their jade horns, that indispensable accessory of the great outfit, in order to ensure the dignity of the eye by preserving it from uncertainties.

This strange and grandiose spectacle, descended from the depths of the ages and faithfully perpetuated, left the average western viewer adrift on a vast sea of enigmas.

The speech of the governor, the reply of the king, translated by the great interpreter, offered nothing unexpected. After individual presentations, a glass of champagne brought this ceremony to a close after less than one hour.

Longer, and much more entertaining, was the gala evening at the Palace. Here, it was not impossible even for a secondary personage to make contact with the young princes, brothers of the king. These elegant adonises sported chignons and were dressed in marvellous silks, from which emerged only the finest extremities. These young princes have renounced betel and may add an ivory smile to the natural charm of their figures. The emperor himself, in contrast, remains reactionary on this point, revealing at moments of friendliness a tooth of ebony. All of them are quickly conquered with talk of the bicycle, their dominant passion. And they are particularly moved and ardently attentive when engaged in conversation about the possibilities of modern steam power – “Horseless carriages can now travel as fast as steamboats…. That’s very fast!”

During these elementary insights into technological progress and sports, classical singers unfolded their monotonous and melancholic poems, developing their reptilian gestures, parallel, slow and supple, in the attenuated light, which gave their tawny arms the shade of brownish gold.

A young and very obliging clerk of our Résidence, very initiated to the rites, has been assigned to the Ministry of Finance. It would be imprudent, perhaps, to leave the vault with its piastres and bars of gold without control and without a European guard. This ministry is in fact more of a depository, a store for precious goods. In its halls there reigns an absolute peace, quite a contrast to the rumours and intrigues found in other royal bureaucratic hives. Preserved here are precious things used for the making of royal costumes, collections of earthenware for the current needs of the palace, large bolts of saffron-coloured paper and gold spangles. This is where the official records of scholars and royal delegations are written. The ministry also preserves the insignia of the mandarinate of the various classes, which are distributed gratuitously during promotions; And, lastly, a real oddity… abundant supplies of cinnamon, of very superior and very expensive quality, a condiment of constant use in the imperial kitchen!

And here, set apart, is the emperor’s special casket, which contains over 60,000 piastres in old money. This hoard was constituted following excavations carried out beneath the old mandarin dwellings of the Citadel, destroyed following the proscription of their once powerful mandarin owners who had unwisely become the focus of ambition and intrigue.

We should add a little about royal finances. Visitors may be curious to know what the part is represented in the great budget of Indo-China by the court of Annam, its high dignitaries and the many royal officials of all kinds. Here are exact figures from the last budget agreed by the Conseil supérieur of the colony.

The government general of Indo-China grants the Annamite government an annual sum of 960,000 piastres, or 2,400,000 francs. Of this sum, the court receives 280,000 piastres, or 700,000 francs. Of this endowment, until recent years 25,000 piastres or 62,500 francs were spent on the three queen mothers, surviving wives of deceased emperors. Lastly, the expenses of the king’s pleasures and his table are ensured by a monthly payment of 4,000 piastres or 10,000 francs…. That’s 120,000 francs a year spent on the young emperor!

It is difficult to explain this last sum, in a residence entirely lacking in night-time restaurants, betting shops and opera houses; And since the constitution encloses the Emperor in his palace and tolerates only short walks by him outside its walls, one understands still less the size of the subsidy. On the other hand, if the purse of the royal pleasures seems overly provided, the total budget which ensures the salaries of the numerous indigenous officials of all classes, spread over the whole territory of Annam, seems very modest: just 680,000 piastres, or 1,700,000 francs!

It is customary to repeat that, if mandarins and the mandarinate apparatus are paid little, they know how to make complementary resources; and that there would be no advantage in paying them more, since they are able to conceal the misappropriation of public funds very easily. However, this singular reasoning, adapted specially to the ancient customs of Asia, loses its value every day. These days, the indigenous official, caught between close French administrative supervision and the easy slander of his citizens, can no longer realise the fat prebends of former times.

The Tombs

The main interest of an excursion to Hue focuses on the tombs of the emperors. The oldest of these tombs date back less than a century. For the older dynasties prior to that of the last six emperors, one searches vainly to find necrological traces, even ruins, left on the ground. There is a mystery here. It seems that this architectural piety, symbolic and decorative, emerged spontaneously from a sort of renaissance in which we may have played, perhaps in a small way, the role of the Italians. The age of the Citadel was also marked by the creation of grand necropolises built amidst ornamental lakes, all built to a royal design based on that of the Gia-Long Tomb, the oldest and wildest of the classical tomb quartet which the tourist should not omit to visit: Gia-Long, Minh-Mang, Thieu-Tri and Tu-Duc. When one considers the elegance of their avenues, the Versailles-like width of the stone steps which give access to their terraces, the layout of the balustrades, one wonders if the same French officers who built the dark ramparts of the fortress did not also give indications of aesthetics for the mausoleums?

In any case, a real harmony emerges from these constructions, situated in the grandiose settings of hills planted with maritime pines and giant ficus.

The Buddhism of Annam, strongly influenced by Taoism, accords a formidable appearance to the tombs of the great. These are subdivided into various different areas, each with a monument of profound significance, and it is their ensemble that forms the tomb. Every man must be considered according to his physical person, his private soul and his public life, so each emperor’s tomb presents three distinct elements – The Tomb, the Pagoda of the Soul and the Stele which traces the highlights of his reign.

The Tomb is ritually inaccessible. It is concealed beneath a large mound planted with trees, shrubs and flowers, crowned with a strong enclosure of stone closed off by a barricaded and padlocked gateway.

The Pagoda of the Soul houses an accumulation of rare and precious objects. In front of the veiled altar, where a symbolic tablet rests on a carved ancestral altar, lie all the items which give a complete and precise account of the deceased’s intimate habits – his favourite books, his own literary works, his betel chests, his tea sets, etc. Old royal favourites or former ladies in waiting from the court stand silently on watch in the soft shadows. They are charged with scrupulously observing the rites, of maintaining with one thousand attentions all the signs of his survival, of continuing to assure to the eternal soul of the departed a residence of luxury and repose, populated by graceful symbols, favourable to noble reveries.

The three essential elements of an imperial tomb are always complemented by an annex called the Pavilion of the Throne. This lightweight and in no way obituary construction commands a view of the entire site. During his lifetime, the emperor would have come here to take relaxation by reading works of high philosophy and following the progress of construction of his palace of eternity.

We can guess that royal funerals at the court of Annam display a splendour corresponding to the sumptuousness of the tombs.

The last ceremony of this kind dates from the month of July 1901. That was when the old Queen Tu-Du, wife of Thieu-Tri and mother of Tu-Duc, passed away. Her funeral lasted a whole day. At the outset, an endless procession wound its way at length through the broad avenues of the Citadel. The coffin was then taken to the Landing Stage and placed on a vast raft which served as a catafalque, crossing the Perfume River under the escort of a flotilla of sampans of honour, each carrying members of the great mandarin families. On the right bank, the procession was reconstituted and continued its journey to the tomb of Thieu-Tri, where the old queen was laid to rest near her husband. The two souls, symbolised in two precious tablets engraved with sacred characters, were placed side by side on two altars of twin ancestors sheltered in the same temple.

The Nam-Giao Festival

In the graceful countryside of Hue, where the melancholic sighs of the maritime pine bring to mind the sobbing of inconsolable lovers, two other manifestations of royal architecture still call our attention:

One is the Arena, or, more exactly, the fighting pit for elephants, panthers, tigers and buffaloes. The walls of this pit are now crumbling and abandoned. Since the court no longer supports the great barbarous pomp which these evocative games of Rome and Byzantium once contained, the Arena has already become a distant memory.

Of greater significance is the Nam Giao Esplanade or Esplanade of Sacrifices, a large terrace of square stone, bordered with balustrades, containing another circular raised enclosure. The whole is framed by a beautiful forest of regular, distinct and symmetrical pines. Each of these trees represents an important mandarin personality of the court, and Asiatic superstition is pleased to draw omens from the height of their trunks and their proud verticality, or, on the contrary, their cheeriness and the indolent inclination of their branches, smothered by vigorous neighbours who forbid the access of light from the sun….

On this Esplanade is celebrated, every three years, the nocturnal Nam Giao Festival, solemnly presided over by the emperor in the guise of great priest. On the night in question, the monarch emerges at sunset from the great neighbouring pagoda after completing a holy retreat of 11 days. Large buffaloes, slaughtered and skinned, are arranged symmetrically across the flagstones along with a bloody garland of slaughtered pigs, calves and poultry. Countless altars carry offerings of fruits, choum-choum (rice alcohol) and precious objects. The night passes in prayers, which, from the first murmur, swells and grows to become clamours and vociferations. Flesh and bones are burned in pits, more beasts are slaughtered and spirits are invoked on the broad esplanade, now awash with blood and bathed in moonlight. At first light, the ceremony ceases and delegated notables of the villages carry away quarters of meat for more intimate rejoicings.

How much more graceful and idyllic is the Spring Ploughing Festival, which puts in the patrician hands of the young emperor the handle of a gilded and sculptured plough, with which he traces a hesitating furrow before his prostrate people, who thank the Buddha for his benevolence.


Tourists, hurry! Because Hue, that delicate and fragile watercolour, is already pale and faded, and will soon surely disappear in the civilising whirlwind. Hasten there now, while there are still some vestiges of the vanishing Annamite empire to be seen.

The ruling classes of Annam are delicate, refined and cruel. They love pleasure, and are happy to expend minimal effort in all things. The Annamites will not be remembered as a civilisation which defied the centuries and commanded respect as conquerors. The history of this people will be heralded not by great stone monuments but through literary works on silk which enunciate philosophical truths and sacred maxims. A subtle intellectuality reigns amidst the silence of the tombs and in the soft shade of the pagodas. When the old literati with their fine silver beards, mummified in their robes of silk and gold, proclaim in their ghostly voices the winners of the triennial mandarin examination, we are gripped with sadness and regret by the thought that conquest and progress on one side and conservation on the other are difficult to reconcile.

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

Massenet Première in Saïgon, 1900

From Le Ménestrel, journal de musique, 30 December 1900.

A first in Saigon!  The new Saigon Theatre, a marvel of architecture inaugurated earlier this year, recently presented the première of La Navarraise, the poignant lyrical drama by Jules Massenet. Great success! Our brave soldiers, just returned from the campaign in China, were thus able to experience a little of France and applauded with enthusiasm the master’s work. We join with all those in Saïgon in congratulating the directors of the new theatre, Messrs Aristide Boyer et Baroche, who have transformed the capital of Cochinchine into a great cultural centre…. 4,000 leagues from Paris!

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

The Emperor of Annam – The Investiture Ceremony at the Court of Hue, from Saïgon Républicain, 6 March 1889

It was in the prison where he had been confined since the death of Phan-Dinh-Binh that they found the new king, designated as heir by the Grand Dowager Empress, the Court and the Co-Mat, and conducted him to the palace.

The induction ceremony took place on 31 January. It was a marvellous spectacle; more than 300 mandarins, all dressed in their great costumes of brocaded silk of different colours, all entirely new, were arrayed in front of the throne room; 300 men of our naval infantry formed the royal guard of honour.

Bursts of artillery exploded upon the ramparts, and bugles rang in the fields, as our Résident-Supérieur, M. Rheinart, followed the civil and military officials by standing in attendance before the throne.

Suddenly, great shouts were heard from the interior of the palace, and a few moments later the new king appeared.

He is a nice little boy of just 10 years, slightly little crushed by the weight of his brocaded royal costume and hindered in his movement by his great mandarin boots.

After having offered his tiny hand to M. Rheinart and two or three other persons, he climbed, supported by a servant, onto the gilded throne, which was just too high for him.

He responded to M. Rheinart’s speech in a crystal clear voice. The French officials then retired to let the mandarins do their laïs. At the front of the throne room were the princes; beside them were the ministers and great dignitaries, and finally all the other mandarins.

At the command of a voice singing a kind of chant, the laïs began, so numerous and so frequent that they could almost be considered as some form of exercise.

At the end of the ceremony, the new king was led in procession into his private apartments.

(Avenir de Tonkin)

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

“Saigon Life,” from Société de géographie de Lille, January 1883

Chinese shops on the rue Catinat

Life in Saigon changes little from day to day. Indeed, it will be much the same tomorrow as it was today and yesterday.

The days when the Messageries Maritimes courrier vessel arrives from France are without doubt the most interesting days for everyone in this town.

The arrival of the courrier vessel within sight of Saigon (which, because of the many meanderings of the river takes place long before its actual arrival) is announced by the hoisting of a black ball on the Signal Mast, and accompanied by a shot from the cannon of the good ship Duperré. Its docking at the port in front of the Messageries is signalled by a second shot. The courrier vessel must wait for the tide in Cap Saint-Jacques before sailing up the Saigon River, so in order to save some time, a small steam ship is usually dispatched to Saigon ahead of it, carrying the most urgent mail from France. It is expensive to take advantage of this service, but some find it useful.

Saigon harbour in the late 19th century

The courrier vessel stays for 24 hours in Saigon before leaving for Hong Kong.

Soon after the arrival of the courrier, colonial residents go to the post office to collect their letters and parcels; this is a most enjoyable time for everyone,

A few hours after the arrival of the courrier from France, a second courrier vessel coming from Japan and China also arrives in Saigon. It too remains here for just 24 hours, then leaves for Europe carrying letters and packages from Saigon. At this time, traders are very busy; they have just 24 hours to process a voluminous quantity of correspondence, take important decisions and draft replies. Only after both steamers have left does calm return to Saigon.

The greatest public distraction in Saigon is “la musique,” held at 8.30 every Friday evening and often thwarted by rain, a problem which affects almost all concerts held on fixed days and at fixed hours. A number of military officers, sailors and colonial officials pace up and down in front of the musicians; ladies are very rarely present.

There is now also an important official distraction in Saigon, a bimonthly soirée hosted by the Governor, who issues a circular to a selected few every 15 days, announcing that he will open his salons to them. So let it be known!

The barn which serves as a reception room for this event is equipped at each end with two small raised platforms. One serves as the ladies salon, while the other accommodates the musicians, and dancing takes place in the space between them. The evening often begins with a theatrical performance presented by local amateurs, for which the musicians’ platform serves as a stage. After the performance, the seats are removed from the dance area, the ladies go and sit on their platform, and the dance commences.

French military officers on parade in Saigon

This is when the vigorous lieutenant-commander or the energetic marine clerk get to work. The ladies… Ah! The ladies! But shh, let’s talk softly. All colours of skin are represented here, from the pale hues of Europeans exhausted by the climate to the darker shades of the so-called “créoles.” Later, the Governor gives a little speech. He has been hosting a dinner in a room adjoining the barn, with Mrs X on his right side, Ms Y to his left, and in front of him the General of our troops. After this meal, while the gaiety fuelled by champagne wine is at its height, the Governor rises, and, with a voice moved by the circumstances, delivers his small address. He offers a toast to the ladies of Saigon who have the grace of the Virgin Mary (and probably all the qualities, too).

At the end of the evening, everyone withdraws, dripping with sweat and emotion. Such are the official pleasures of colonial Saigon.

After dinner, the men take a little promenade, spending the rest of their evening at the Cercle des officiers. As I have said, life on one day in Saigon is much the same as it was the day before and will be the day after.

The promenade on horseback or by horse-drawn carriage from 5.30 to 6.00 in the evening is a popular distraction, but it’s always the same. The same large man carrying a baton and putting on the airs of a Marshal of France; the same aide de camp, as thin as a cuckoo, shrivelled with resentment after being repeatedly overlooked for promotion to captain of frigate; the same young Bourbonnien, swerving from left to right on his tiny nag which he launches at a gallop until it’s ready to drop….. The normal route of the promenade by carriage is the road which leads to the Chinese town of Cholon, 5 kilometres from Saigon; half way along is an army barracks known as les Mares.

The rue Catinat in 1890

Saigon at night

For an evening walk through the city, start by descending the rue Catinat, principal thoroughfare of Saigon, to the quayside. Then, passing the Maison Wang-Taï, take the rue Rigault de Genouilly as far as the rue de l’Eglise, take the rue d’Adran to the market and finally return to rue de l’Eglise along rue Chaigneau. This will permit you to visit the entire Chinese district of the city.

As you descend the rue Catinat, you’ll pass Chinese shops and a few French houses to your left and right. This is the main street of cobblers, tailors, purveyors of canned food, etc. The Chinese businessmen Apan and Atho, well known in Saigon, do business here.

Within a single shop, one may find tailors and cobblers working together. All of the shops are located on the same level as the street and you can enter at will, since everything opens directly onto the street.

When we walked down this street, we saw inside one shop five or six coarse lamps with paper lampshades; these lamps were placed on the ground or on low tables, and around them were gathered eight to ten Chinese, shirtless, legs crossed, each working on one garment. The light projected onto their bare shoulders shone in a strange way. Behind them on the wall was a large image of the Buddha on yellow paper, with red and blue decoration. There was also a mirror with facets which sparkled in the light. Beyond the shop area we saw a back room. It was a resting place which we could not penetrate – the shop dog, seeing me stop and look, barked. He clearly doesn’t like the French!

Chinese shops on the rue Catinat

In this part of the street there are five or six stores, located side by side. If you have seen one you have seen them all.

Leaving the shop, I passed a lantern which illuminated an itinerant food vendor carrying over his shoulder two heavy baskets supported at opposite ends of a long pole. He sounded his usual cry, one which is well known to his customers. One of the Chinese inside the store called to him: the food vendor stopped, lowered his baskets to the floor, removed the carrier rod from his shoulder, breathed a little, then started to prepare the pittance requested, the ingredients of which he took from five or six different pots – two peppers here, three species of beans there…. He blew on his little fire to prevent his dish from getting cold. In such situations, the customer, standing or sitting according to the time he can devote to feeding, eats somberly and pays little. The food vendor left, and his cry was soon heard a little further along the road. Sometimes, mischievous Annamite boys working in the service of French colons will deliberately call two of these food vendors at the same time, forcing the poor devils to compete for their customers.

Suddenly, close by, we heard in the dark the sound of a silvery voice, sweet, plaintive, melancholic. It was the cry of a little boy aged just 7 or 8 years, who ran through the streets carrying on his head a basket containing small pieces of sugar cane. Just 20 centimetres long, they are sold cheaply. They are then peeled, or given two or three knife incisions to liberate the sweet juice; all the Oriental peoples – Annamites, Chinese, Malays and Indians – find this juice delicious.

On the left side of the street, you will see the shop of the Chinese merchant Apan, sparkling with tin boxes of canned food and glass bottles of various liquids.

Cafes on the Saigon River quayside in the late 19th century

Further along in the shadows, standing on the corner of the street, who is this mysterious character wearing a blue garment and a cap of cylindrical blue cloth, carrying a sword at his side? It’s a night watchman, who each night is supposed to prevent the store of his boss from being robbed. Thieves are bold in Saigon, as I can vouch from personal experience.

Opposite, you’ll see the famous Salle des ventes (Auction room). At this time of night it’s closed, of course.

Further down are the garage and stables of the Malabars, who rent out horse-drawn carriages. Several dark shadowy forms, wearing little by way of clothing, rub down and harness sad horses to sad carriages. Their companions, bodies glistening with coconut oil, bask in a sweet sleep awaiting customers.

Near the bottom of the street is the shop of the Chinese merchant Atho, a branch of the shop belonging to Apan. Arriving finally at the quayside, you’ll see a few French cafes, whose customers drift in and out loudly.

From the quayside, we forked right onto the rue Rigault de Genouilly, but then left it almost immediately, turning into a very short, tiny street located immediately behind the Maison Wang-Taï. This street is made up of two parts, each at a right angle to the other; to the right and left are the busiest gambling houses in Saigon, along with several other more seedy establishments. In front of the shop openings, as with the Chinese shops, hang large spherical or cylindrical lanterns made from coloured paper of various types, with inscriptions in huge Chinese characters. Considerable animation reigns in this street, which is home to at least four or five gambling dens.

The players are so engrossed that you can stand and watch them without fear of being disturbed. As I said, there is no door to these gambling establishments. The walls of the houses facing the street do not exist at ground floor level; you may go straight into a small room where you will find three or four Chinese sitting around a mat on which the game is played. The game can continue for several hours; sweat trickles down every face and a croupier sings a monotonous chant, a chant of death or triumph, until a winner emerges.

An itinerant food vendor in Saigon

When important players arrive, in order to show them respect, the mat is spread on a table at about waist height rather than on the ground, as is the practice in more vulgar gambling establishments.

Here one often sees French soldiers or sailors playing and fraternising with the children of the Middle Kingdom – the soldier with his blue jacket and white salaco, the naval deckhand out on a binge… Sometimes you’ll even see a boy gambling with his master’s money – if he loses, he’ll run. If he wins, he’ll also run! The number of gambling dens in Saigon is frightening, there are now around 40, not to mention those of Cau-Ong-Lanh and Cholon.

Almost all day long, and especially at night, you’ll hear the monotonous song of the Chinese croupier, or the metallic sound of his copper chips which, in between games, he places in a large canvas bag, holding the ends in each hand and shaking them strongly in order to attract customers. Everyone plays!

But let’s leave this small alley, where we have stayed too long already. As we leave, we can see through wooden window bars of adjacent houses groups of women dressed in the Chinese style, like ferocious beasts behind their gates, making all the propositions they believe customers will find the most engaging.

Soon you will arrive in a muddy square steeped in the stench of the market. This is the rue d’Adran, where you’ll find many more gambling dens, and also some fruit and sugar cane sellers, who set up their mobile stalls in the street. They sell their products to the Chinese and to wheelwrights, carriage repairers and joiners who live in this area.

The rue Rigault de Genouilly was on the west side of the Grand Canal (now Nguyễn Huệ boulevard)

We continued to the rue de l’Église, having visited almost all the Chinese quarter. At 9.00 we heard the distant melancholic sounds of a bell marking the extinguishing of the fires at the Camp des lettrés and the tam tam of the Inspection de Saïgon.

We stayed in Saigon for several weeks, meeting the inhabitants of this city, both European and Asian. We paid our price to the climate of the country by spending a few days afflicted with the most common ailment. In our carriage rides, we went to the Chinese town of Cholon. We visited the pagodas, which are quite remarkable, especially the exteriors, which feature monstrous dragons in blue, green and red, with flaming tongues, terrible eyes bursting from their sockets, and long tails with bristly spines down their backs.

Cholon is a very populous city. It is in the hands of the Chinese, who make a great trade from the rice of Cochinchina. It is also the residence of our Inspector of Indigenous Affairs.

We also went across to the other side of Saigon, taking the route de Govap and visiting the tomb of the Bishop of Adran. Located around 3 or 4 kilometres from the town, it sits in a grove of trees on the edge of a vast plain of rice fields which stretches out from the plain of tombs. Entering the enclosure, we found ourselves in front of a vertically-placed flat granite stone, on which was carved an inscription in local characters, reproducing the titles of the Bishop of Adran given by the sovereign and his people for services the Bishop had rendered to the country. Behind this stone was one of the entrances to the tomb itself, a kind of pagoda built through the munificence of the king.

The Chinese caretaker, attentive to visitors, opened the doors of the tomb. Inside, we saw a rectangular masonry structure around 1 metre in height, beneath which lay the remains of the Bishop of Adran. Behind the tomb was a small altar where one can say mass.

The tomb of the Bishop of Adran

I need not reiterate here the services rendered by the Bishop of Adran to the rulers of Cochinchina nearly a century ago. He was one of these brave Frenchmen who, at the end of the last century, knew how to make our name loved throughout Cochinchina. In particular, he was one of those energetic missionaries who have carried, and continue to carry, the flag of the Catholic faith high and firm into the most far-flung regions. It was not without emotion that we visited the tomb of the Bishop of Adran. At the entrance to the grove where the tomb is located, we also saw the grave of one of our missionaries, who died a few years ago in the dungeons of the last ruler of Annam. An inscription on another vertically-placed flat granite stone gives the name of the martyr whose remains rest in this place.

I remember visiting this tomb as the last rays of the setting sun made the characters of the inscription sparkle. Nature was peaceful, a few buffalo grazed in front of me, under the watchful eye of a small Annamite boy, happy to tread this ground of rice paddies on which stood two or three miserable cai-nhas. We returned at night along the Govap road, bringing us a few minutes later back into Saigon.

During our stay we also crossed the arroyo-Chinois and visited the Fort du sud, passing more cai-nhas located at the edge of the Saigon river, downstream from the town.

Then we retraced our steps back across the arroyo-Chinois and took the street which runs through Cau-Ong-Lanh, following another row of Annamite cai-nhas built at the edge of the water. This area has a small Catholic church that I was not able to visit, its doors being constantly closed. The rectory is next door, and it struck me that perhaps the priest is not often in his parish. There are two brickyards along the Arroyo, they both belong to Wang-Taï. Finally, we returned to Saigon and crossed the river, where another Catholic village and the workshops of a boat builder may be visited.

While these little excursions give us only a superficial idea of Cochinchina, they also encourage us to make a real excursion into the Interior of the country.

Chinese shops on the rue Catinat

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

Emperor Khai Dinh in France: A Victory for French Cuisine, Le Monde illustré 8 July 1922

Emperor Khải Định (ruled 1916-1925)

Our host, His Majesty Khaï-Dinh, Emperor of Annam, has on several occasions shown himself to be an Asian sovereign who knows how to appreciate European customs.

At the time of his reception at the Hôtel de Ville, when he was obliged to sign the registers of honour, the Emperor, before taking his calligraphy brush as is customary in his own country, wanted first to sign in European style, with a pen. What an amiable tribute to our traditions! Even before landing in Europe, His Majesty Khaï-Dinh had informed the Ministry of Colonies that during his stay in France he “would be delighted to get to know the true French cuisine, and that there was no need to prepare Annamite dishes for him.”

Pierre Pasquier, one of the organisers of Khải Định’s visit to France

To avoid any hindrance, the emperor left his own chef de cuisine in Hue. It is known that Annamite menus are generally composed of fish prepared in various ways, with rice and sweet dishes.

Until they reached Marseilles, His Majesty and his suite relied on the care of a voluntary cook in his entourage to prepare only Annamite dishes.

But that experiment seems to have been conclusive enough for the Emperor to decide that, once he had arrived in France, only French cuisine would be eaten.

Would this complete change of regime please or displease His Majesty and his followers? It was curious to know, for one does not change one’s culinary habits overnight without being somewhat confused.

Let us say immediately that French cuisine has won, yet again, a brilliant victory. At the Ministry of Colonies, the good offices of a retired cordon bleu chef were called in: Mme Angèle, who made it her duty to let the Annamite sovereign taste her cuisine, both homely and refined, a quality which has assured the supremacy of our chefs throughout the world.

“Renouncing the dishes of his country, His Majesty Khaï-Dinh, during his stay in Paris, honoured our national cuisine. Here we see the Emperor in the dining room of the Ministry of Colonies, savouring a menu prepared in the French style”

We have before us the first two menus which were served to His Majesty, and we transcribe them faithfully:

First menu:
Smoked salmon
Buttered radish
Leg of lamb with asparagus tips
York ham
Green beans
Savarins, candied fruits
Cherries, peaches, pastries

Second menu:
American lobster
Duck with peas
Gigot salad
Strawberry ice cream
Peaches, bananas.

We can confirm that His Majesty Khaï-Dinh highly appreciated the flavour of the dishes served to him, even the duck with peas. The sovereign declared himself delighted with the menu and the excellence of the wines, and he did not feel the desire to change his regime.

Cordon bleu chef Mme Angèle “made Emperor Khải Định appreciate the science of Brillat-Savarin”

The upshot of this story is that the boxes of rice which His Majesty had brought with him, as a measure of foresight, are still intact, and that no one is thinking of opening them for the moment.

In the monarch’s entourage, this French-style diet did not seem displeasing, and if there is some old servant who secretly misses his national fish and rice, he would not turn his nose up at the cuisine of Mme Angèle.

The chef of the Ministry of the Colonies has every reason to be satisfied with this victory over the palates of our guests.

Let us also congratulate the Minister of Colonies, M. Sarraut, and the eminent Résident Supérieur of Annam, M. Pasquier, who have regulated with so much genuine elegance and pertinence all the arrangements for the Emperor’s stay amongst us. In this way, His Majesty Khaï-Dinh will be able to see that our country is not only the cradle of civilisation and progress, a country of affable diplomats and luminous festivals, but also the last refuge of gourmets, since our cuisine has the symbolic privilege of disconcerting no palate and quickly conquering all those who taste it.

Raoul Viterbo

“The lady who makes our Imperial guest appreciate the science of Brillat-Savarin: Mme Angèle, the great cordon bleu chef of the Ministry of Colonies”

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

“Assassination of a King: Details of the Latest Annamite Intrigues” from Le Matin, 4 August 1883

The Cần Chánh Palace

Kien-Phuc, nephew of Tu-Duc – The assassination of his predecessor – A palace revolution – Causes of our Expedition – The role of M. de Champeaux – The poisoning of Hiep-Hoa

We know by dispatch of the death of the king of Annam, Kien-Phuc, who was aged just seventeen. Who was this sovereign? How had he ascended the throne? In the hands of which party, which mandarins, did he meet his fate? Specific information allows us to give precise details on these various important points.

The Succession of Tu-Duc

Kien-Phuc was the nephew of King Tu-Duc and his fourth adopted son. It is known that Tu-Duc had no children; he had successively adopted four of his nephews: 1. Duc-Duc; 2. Hiep-Hoa; 3. Me-Trui; and 4. Me-Men. The latter, according to Annamite law, had regularly been called to serve the old sovereign, and at length succeeded him under the name of Kien-Phuc.

Tôn Thất Thuyết (1839-1913)

But before he ascended the throne, events occurred which are interesting to relate, and which perhaps throw significant light on his premature death.

Intrigues of the Court

On the death of Tu-Duc, several parties disputed the royal inheritance, in spite of the rules of the Annamite monarchy. That of the first adopted son was at first the strongest, and Duc-Duc was proclaimed sovereign. But his reign was ephemeral; an intrigue by the Minister of War, Ton-That-Thuyet, deposed him within two months. The powerful controller of the royal palace then raised to the throne his creature, Hiep-Hoa, the second adopted son of Tu-Duc.

Ton-That-Thuyet was a relentless but not very intelligent opponent of French influence. His hostility was so open that M. Harmand, then our Commissaire-général in Tonkin, obtained from the French government authorisation to direct an expedition against Hue. The forts at Thuan-An were bombarded and occupied. M. Harmand then imposed on Hiep-Hoa and his ministers a treaty, the clauses of which were unfortunately insufficient, but which stipulated that a garrison of 600 men should occupy the forts on the river some fifteen miles from the capital, and that a guard of 200 men would be attached to our Legation in Hue itself.

The Overthrow of Hiep-Hoa

Unhappy with this adventure, the king resolved to be rid of his protector, Ton-That-Thuyet. But this was a wrong move, since the dismissed minister immediately forged an alliance with the mandarin Nguyen-Van-Tuong, one of our principal opponents who had been well known to us since our first expedition to Tonkin, where he had given much trouble to M. Philastre, the successor to Francis Garnier.

Minister Nguyen-Van-Tuong

Nguyễn Văn Tường (1824–1886)

This person, a former intimate and favourite advisor to Tu-Duc, had married his daughter to a brother of Prince Memen, the last of the four adoptive sons of the former sovereign. He was Minister of Finance, and through his perpetual intrigues had contributed in no small way to provoking our second expedition to Tonkin. Also, he knew very well that, in case our influence should triumph at Hue, all power was at stake for him. This circumstance united the two ministers, who had hitherto been rivals. Ton-That-Tuyet consented to favour the candidature of Prince Memen, dear to Nguyen-Van-Tuong. The two ministers said that it was a matter of life or death for them to have in their devotion a sovereign of their choice, under whose protection they would reign. Prince Memen was their creation; He was only sixteen. But how would they substitute him for Hiep-Hoa in the presence of his protector, the Resident of France?

The Conspiracy of the Two Ministers

Our resident, M. de Champeaux, an old “Cochinchinois” who was well informed about all these intrigues, informed the authorities in Tonkin and asked them for instructions. But they were seemingly so completely absorbed by the events at Song-Koï that they failed to reply to M. de Champeaux’s letters and gave him no order. He could not act on his own initiative because the ministry had ordered him to do nothing without having first referred matters to the Commissaire général of Tonkin, a very long process which usually required about a month. In this way, our Resident was completely paralysed.

In the circumstances, the two mandarins, our enemies, understood that they had the upper hand. They initially planned a coup towards the middle of December, but the king felt so threatened that he moved to be rid of the conspirators, announcing his first public audience to our Resident and forcing them to bring their plans forward. The news of this unusual event, a complete departure from established practice, caused great annoyance in the mandarinate.

Emperor Hiệp Hòa (30 July-29 November 1883)

Yet the two chiefs of the conspiracy realised that this was the opportunity they had been waiting for. They had the audience postponed until the following day, when they knew that M. de Champeaux would be leaving for Thuan-An to ask the commanding officer of our troops to send reinforcements to Hue.

The Poisoning of Hiep-Hoa

The conspirators made Hiep-Hoa swallow poison. The coup d’etat took place very quickly and without any great deployment of forces; only a few soldiers were sent to stand guard around the Missions, in order to prevent them from informing the Residence. As a result, M. de Champeaux did not hear what had happened at Thuan-An until about noon. He then hastened to return to Hue together with fifty soldiers, whom he had obtained with some difficulty. By the time he arrived, at ten o’clock in the evening, everything had calmed down.

The next day the mandarin-interpreter, Father Tho (a former banned Annamite priest) carried to the resident an apocryphal letter of abdication by Hiep-Hoa, saying that the sovereign had committed suicide.

This did not fool M. de Champeaux; without order, he refused to recognise the new king and broke off official relations with the court.

Nguyen-Van-Tuong and Ton-That-Thuyet, who had proclaimed themselves Regents, were thrown into disarray and thought themselves lost when 50 Annamite riflemen from Cochinchina and the gunboat Javeline arrived in Hue. They expected an imminent attack from us and hastily massed five or six thousand men around the residence, pointing all available cannon on their ramparts toward us.

A barracks building in the French Legation

The Legation had a garrison of 150 soldiers. While it had little to fear from the Annamese bands, armed for the most part with pointed bamboos, it was quite exposed, being situated only 700 meters from the Citadel. It could still be bombarded by the cannon on the ramparts. The situation continued to be critical for several days.

Meanwhile, Nguyen-Van-Tuong and Ton-That-Thuyet repeatedly disavowed the bands which they themselves had excited. They protested their friendly intentions and promised to recognise the Harmand Treaty. In reality, Hiep-Hoa was not a great loss for us; we would not have got far with a king lacking partisans, indeed we ourselves would have had to support him by force of arms. So it was that Memen remained as king under the name of Kien-Phuc, with Nguyen-Van-Tuong and Ton-That-Thuyet as Regents. An edict of pacification was issued, and the bands were dismissed, although this did not prevent them from running amok in the countryside under the orders of hostile mandarins, and massacring a hundred Christians.

The Taking of Son-Tay

The two Regents just let this happen, but after the capture of Son-Tay they realised that it would be prudent to capture and execute the perpetrators of the massacres. These executions enabled them to make a fine show when M. Tricou arrived to revise the Harmand Treaty. They lavished him with assurances of dedication, and thanks to this diplomatic pantomime they were able to secure rather good conditions, and in particular to avoid an essential clause, the occupation of the Citadel of Hue.

M. Tricou and M. Patenôtre

The signing of the Giáp Thân or Patenôtre Treaty on 6 June 1884

M. Tricou having left, the two Regents recommenced their intrigues, but this time the game was known. M. Patenôtre arrived and imposed, as a precondition, that we should have a serious garrison installed at Hue. They had no choice but to submit. But it is evident that this last treaty of Hue was a mortal blow to the influence of Nguyen-Van-Tuong and Ton-That-Thuyet.

This very accurate account of events, we repeat, permits us to ascertain as a probability that, following the Patenôtre Treaty, the two Regents – at the instigation of China and against a background of the conflict which had broken out over the terms of the Lang-Son Convention – launched against the young Kien-Phuc the very same kind of coup d’etat which they had already perpetrated in 1883 against Hiep-Hoa, following the Harmand Treaty.


Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and the forthcoming guidebook Exploring Huế.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now and Huế Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.