Slender Dong Khoi, running for just over 1km from Le Duan to the Saigon River, has long mirrored Ho Chi Minh City’s changing fortunes. The French knew the road as Rue Catinat, a tamarind-shaded thoroughfare that constituted the heart of French colonial life. Here the colons would promenade, stopping at chic boutiques and perfumeries, and gathering at noon and dusk at cafés such as the Rotonde and the Taverne Alsacienne for a Vermouth or Dubonnet, before hailing a pousse-pousse (a hand-pulled variation on the cyclo) to run them home. With the departure of the French in 1954, President Diem saw fit to change the street’s name to Tu Do, “Freedom”, and it was under this guise that a generation of young American GIs came to know it, as they toured the glut of bars – Wild West, Uncle Sam’s, Playboy – that sprang up to pander to their more lascivious needs. After Saigon fell in 1975, the more politically correct monicker of Dong Khoi, or “Uprising”, was adopted, but the street quickly went to seed in the dark, pre-doi moi years, and by the seventies had gone, in the words of Le Ly Hayslip, from “bejewelled, jaded dowager to shabby, grasping bag lady”.

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