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It borders Tây Ninh Province and Bình Dương Province to the north, Đồng Nai Province and Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province to the east, Long An Province to the west and the East Sea to the south with a coast 15 km (9 mi) long.The city covers an area of 2,095 km (809 sq mi or 0.63% of the surface of Vietnam), extending up to Củ Chi District (12 mi or 19 km from the Cambodian border) and down to Cần Giờ on the South China Sea.This name may refer to the many kapok plants that the Khmer people had planted around Prey Nokor, and which can still be seen at Cây Mai temple and surrounding areas.It may also refer to the dense and tall forest that once existed around the city, a forest to which the Khmer name, Prey Nokor, already referred.Truong Mealy (former director of King Norodom Sihanouk's royal Cabinet), says that, according to a Khmer Chronicle, The Collection of the Council of the Kingdom, Prey Nokor's proper name was Preah Reach Nokor (Khmer: (the circumflex is sometimes omitted), abbreviated HCMV.

He is often credited with the expansion of Saigon into a significant settlement.The area that the city now occupies was originally forested, and was inhabited by Khmer people for centuries before the arrival of the Vietnamese.Beginning in the early 17th century, colonization of the area by Vietnamese settlers gradually isolated the Khmer of the Mekong Delta from their brethren in Cambodia proper and resulted in their becoming a minority in the delta.In particular, Sài Gòn is still commonly used to refer to District 1.An etymology of Saigon (or Sài Gòn in Vietnamese) is that Sài is a Sino-Vietnamese word (Hán tự: 柴) meaning "firewood, lops, twigs; palisade", while Gòn is another Sino-Vietnamese word (Hán tự: 棍) meaning "stick, pole, bole", and whose meaning evolved into "cotton" in Vietnamese (bông gòn, literally "cotton stick", i.e., "cotton plant", then shortened to gòn).

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