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From Saigon to Ho Chi Minh: a city transforms, holding to its past




Motorists pass by the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica on April 21, 2015 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  April 30th marks the 40th anniversary of the capture of Saigon by North Vietnamese forces.
Motorists pass by the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica on April 21, 2015 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. April 30th marks the 40th anniversary of the capture of Saigon by North Vietnamese forces.
Taylor Weidman/Getty Images

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Forty years after Saigon fell to forces from the north, the city today is transforming itself into an economic power in Southeast Asia, striving to balance communist rule and changing political dynamics.

"The most obvious thing is the emergence of a downtown skyline, with a handful of  skyscrapers that you'd see in any big U.S. city," said journalist Mike Ives, speaking to Take Two from Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City.

Though the city is still on a smaller scale than others in the region,  like Beijing or Hong Kong, the transformation has attracted Vietnamese from abroad.

Quynh Pham returned to Vietnam in the late 1990s and now runs a popular art gallery called Galerie Quynh.

“The biggest difference then and now is that wealth is just  more conspicuous,” said Pham.

“Back when I arrived, of course there were wealthy people. It was still a very communist country and you were not supposed to display that wealth, but as the years progressed, you see so much more money here, very ostentatious wealth. In fact, there are Rolls Royces, there are Bentleys,” said Pham.

Vietnam is now the fastest growing trade partner with the U.S. Relations between the two countries were normalized in 1995 and that paved the way for a key trade deal in 2001, after President Clinton became the first U.S. president to visit the country since the Vietnam War.

For many Vietnamese Americans, the return to live and work in Vietnam isn't without challenges.

When Trinh B. Quoc expressed interest in returning, his father was not supportive.

"Basically, he said 'I don't want you to go there because we risked everything to leave and to give you opportunities,'" recalled Quoc, a real estate developer.

"But he said, 'now you make your own money and you choose.'"

In the end, Quoc chose to return to Vietnam, where today he's part of a new generation remaking the country his family fled.