130-year-old post office continues to charm


In Ho Chi Minh City, two iconic buildings that are tourist attractions as much for their architecture as their history are the Notre Dame Cathedral and General Post Office situated next to each other in District 1.

In Ho Chi Minh City, two iconic buildings that are tourist attractions as much for their architecture as their history are the Notre Dame Cathedral and General Post Office situated next to each other in District 1.

Such is their Gothic architectural charm that many Vietnamese couples have their photos taken outside them before their wedding.

The post office, built 130 years ago, is in a busy traffic circle and has a wide view in front. In the past peddlers used to push carts in the area selling snacks like bananas, bò bía rolls, coconuts, and sweetened soup. They are now banned in the area and have moved to smaller corners away from downtown.

In November 1860 the French began construction of a wire service center, and it opened and issued its first stamps on March 13, 1863.

The first letters began to be sent through the center on January 1, 1864.

In 1886 the French started construction of a new building at the site designed by architect Villedieu and his assistant Foulhoux.

The building, a combination of European and Asian architectures, was completed in 1891 and became operational as the “Saigon Post Office.”

At first, its roof was covered with yin and yang (very simple identical) tiles and it had a low wattle fence made of bamboo sticks.

Construction continued on the three-story building until 1893 before it finally took the shape we see now.

It has doors in the shape of arches with engravings of men and women with laurel wreaths on their heads to warmly welcome every new day. The elaborate designs of 19th century French architecture can be clearly seen.

There is a large clock on the façade of the building with roman numerals instead of numbers. It was not the clock that was originally placed there. That had been smaller and had a white contour.

Inside, on the ceiling, are two paper maps that were put up there when the building was constructed, Saigonet ses environs, 1892, and Lignes télégraphiques du Sud Vietnamet du Cambodge, 1936, that remain in good condition.

The arched ceiling creates a feeling of roominess. The counters are laid out lengthwise on both sides and the telephone booths are old style. I was especially charmed by the mail box beside which, for decades, there has been a bowl of sticky paste used as glue and a wet sponge for envelopes with a strip of dry glue.

There are benches for visitors to rest, and they are utilized to the fullest since thousands of people come to the post office every day to take in history and culture rather than send letters. For foreign tourists, a photo here is mandatory. They can also buy old stamps, post cards, and other objects to take home as souvenirs.

The women in the sales counters wear the traditional Vietnamese ao dai and speak fluent English to the delight of foreign visitors.

City residents sometimes drop in just to look or sit on the benches and indulge in nostalgia.

By Khue Viet Truong, Thanh Nien News (The story can be found in the December 16th issue of our print edition, Thanh Nien Weekly)
Inside the General Post Office in HCMC
The Saigon Post Office in the early-20th century
… and the Ho Chi Minh City’s General Post Office at present
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