The dense cluster of streets comprising the Chinese ghetto of CHO LON was once distinct from Saigon, though linked to it by the five-kilometre-long umbilical cord of Tran Hung Dao. The distinction was already somewhat blurred by 1950, when Norman Lewis found the city’s Chinatown “swollen so enormously as to become its grotesque Siamese twin”, and the steady influx of refugees into the city during the war years saw to it that the two districts eventually became joined by a swathe of urban development. Even so, a short stroll around Cho Lon (whose name, meaning “big market”, couldn’t be more apposite) will make clear that, even by this city’s standards, the mercantile mania here is breathtaking. The largest of Cho Lon’s many covered markets are Tran Phu’s An Dong, built in 1991, and the more recent but equally vast An Dong II. If you’re looking to sightsee rather than shop, then historic Binh Tay is of far more interest. You’ll get most out of Cho Lon simply by losing yourself in its amorphous mass of life: amid the melee, streetside barbers clip away briskly, bird-sellers squat outside tumbledown pagodas and temples, heaving markets ring to fishwives’ chatter and stores display mushrooms, dried shrimps and rice paper.
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