Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The best that Ho Chi Minh has to offer

 What I wished I had known about when I first got to this city.

Want to live it up whilst in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam? Here are my hot tips for the best of the best examples of hedonistic goodness. Ok, your probably going to think I’m a cocktail swilling, stuck up ex-pat that never gets her feet dirty or slurps a bowl of Pho’ with the rest of them on a plastic chair. Well your wrong! I just know what my family and friends want when they come here, so here you are, my tips for the best that Ho Chi Minh has to offer (in my opinion).

I am also requesting that you please not contact me asking me which hotel you should stay at, where you should get your clothes copied or which Cu Chi Tunnel tour is the best! I am not a travel guide, that’s what Trip Advisor is for. I’m just somebody that lives here and is deciding to selectively share what she knows after 3+ years here ;-) These are not necessarily cheap options, so if your on the back packer ‘counting your pennies’ travel adventure. A) Head to Pham Ngu Lao as the book suggests or B) What I am suggesting below will most likely send you into a spin as its’ gold that you possibly cannot afford, so maybe choose one or two off the list and enjoy!
My travel agent Chris at Asiana Travel on Nguyen Hue is the bomb! He has and will sort you out with goods…

You will no doubt go to The Reunification Palace, The War Memorial, Ben Thanh Market, Cu Chi Tunnels and possibly the Mekong. Well they are the top touristy things to do. My suggestions are certainly less cultural and more indulgent! Judge away!

1)  Champagne Brunch on Sunday at the Intercontinental Hotel from 12-3pm.
Many hotels offer something similar, but this is the best in my opinion. Free flow Veuve Clicquot champagne and great food for about 50 dollars a head! You must book ahead as its popular. Seriously, even if you strangely think French champagne is ‘just awwright’, do it, just cos’ you can! Corner Hai Ba Trung  St. & Le Duan Bl, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Phone 0835209999. Dress nicely.

2)  Cocktails and dinner at The Deck. This restaurant is about 20 minutes out of the city centre, and right on the river. It has great cocktails and menu and a lovely place to go for a special evening. Again, book ahead, and ask for a table by the river. Approx 50 dollars a head for a couple of cocktails and 2 courses. It’s a Euro/Asian fusion menu. They have a happy hour from 4-7pm every day. You won’t be disappointed; at least I don’t know anyone that has been.

3)  L’Usine -the closest this city gets to trendy! Good shopping for clothes and home wares and really nice coffee or ca phe sudas (the closest I have come to a Melbourne coffee!), CUPCAKES, salads and baguettes. Away from the bustle on the streets this is a little oasis, any time other than Saturday and Sunday mornings! They have recently opened another one on Lei Loi but it is the original one that I love. Go down the alleyway beneath lined with bad replicative artworks, and turn right and head up a stairwell past the parked motorbikes. 151 Dong Khoi Street. It sounds more difficult than it actually is! Right in the heart of the city and goodness to be had.

4)  Quynhs Beauty Salon-0835124321 open from 9am to 8pm 7 days a week.
This place is the ex-pat cheap and cheerful beauty salon mecca in District 2 so about 20 minutes from the city centre. So nowhere near geographically speaking to Ben Thanh market (as a guide!) I have a 90-minute Dermologica facial as often as possible and it costs the outrageous sum of about 12 dollars! I tip 100,000 VD and they seem really happy and appreciative. I have given most of the reputable and expensive spas in town a work out and this is still my favourite! You can also get massages, mani+pedi's, eyelash extensions, your hair washed, hair coloured etc as well. Facials and mani+pedi's are my staples. The manicures and pedicures are thorough, they razor the skin off my feet, and are really meticulous. Not a fancy or overly clean place (!!), but if you are willing to turn a blind eye, again, you wont be disappointed! Having said that, the wax pot in the waxing room seems to have DNA samples from 1986 hovering about. So please don’t consider this if you are squeamish!Mani pedi's are a killer at about 4 dollars a pop!They don't have a website sorry. 

Don’t be swayed by the ladies on the street offering you massages and the like in District 1. Trust me, if you want good places in District 1, these places are where the ladies that live here go. So expect to pay a touch more, but the places listed below are clean and reputable. Get your bikini line waxed, kind of reputable!
Jasmine Spa (45 Ton Thap Tiep 3827 2737) and Rosa Blanca are my tips for midrange and reputable spas. For something equally fancy try the L’apothiquare ½ Day Beauty deal. Its decadent! Just call them on 0839325181 for more info. They have a few of these places throughout town but only go to the D3 address.  Approx. $90 USD for the 5 hour half-day beauty package, consisting of mani+pedi, massage, facial, lunch, sauna, steam room and its very nice and you will feel like a new woman/man on departure!  Good to take a friend though as I am well and truly over sitting and being handled by the 5 hour mark!

5)  Vietnamese food free of MSG and tasty goodness. I think these places are the best of the best in this city.
 Cuch Gach Quan is unfortunately really popular so you will need to book, but there is a reason why it’s so busy. It’s found in a little colonial style wooden house in outer District 1. Its not always easy to find, but with its increasing popularity, taxi drivers are getting better at getting there! We order the cactus with garlic, and fish with passion fruit perpetually but you can’t really go wrong with their menu.
10 Dang Tat | Ward Tan Dinh, Ho Chi Minh City District 1, Vietnam. 0084838480144 .
  Tib Chai is a more local establishment and a stones throw from the previously mentioned place. Tib Chai is all vegetarian and alcohol free. Don’t let that put you off. I would eat steak three times a day if I could and I still crave and dream about this food! Its a little bit is out of the way, but such nice food and free of the tourist trap. Get the mustard leaf rolls, jackfruit salad, and grilled eggplant to die for. Some of the best Vietnamese I have eaten. 11 Tran Nhat Duat, District 1 HCMC. I don’t ever book, I just turn up.
 Pho Hoa- 260C Pasteur Street | Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam +84-8-829-7943. This place is between the plastic chair on the street and a completely civilized restaurant. It’s also a little popular with tourists unfortunately, but the Pho soup is lovely and a real hit with the locals as well. The reason I am recommending this place is because they have an English menu but it still feels local enough to get a hit of the Pho’ goodness without feeling like you will get dysentery the moment you take your first slurp!

 I can’t promise the next few options don’t have MSG in their food, but     it’s a local experience that I have enjoyed!
6) The roitessoire style pork and Vietnamese pickle and vegie Banh Mi’ baguette roll is the goods at the market opposite the tallest building in town Bitexco. When you see the Adidas shop at the base of this building look across the street to the small local food market on the corner and you will see him there. There is only one dude there selling them and they are about 50 cents for a finger licking good baguette. The juice chic next to him does a tidy juice as well.
If you want a little foodie adventure?..... get in a cab and go up Hai Ba Trung away from the river and city. Keep your eyes peeled on the left hand side for a pink Catholic church (good reference as I have only spotted two in this city).  From the heart of the city its about 7 minutes depending on traffic. Ask the cab driver to stop there at that church. Brave the traffic and walk across the road to the street directly opposite the church. There is a famous and long-standing Ban Xeo (Vietnamese pork and prawn pancakes with bean shoots and fish sauce) place down this little street. About 30 metres in on the left is an alleyway/restaurant courtyard thing. Go to the end restaurant. This place has the best Ban Xeo this city may offer. It sounds harder than it really is to find this place!
All things crab! Very local place Quan Thuy 94 at #84 Dinh Tien Hoang St. Crabmeat with mushrooms and chilli and crab spring rolls, fried soft shell crab good on metal chairs and peeling posters on the wall from 1982.
For street meat/meat on a stick and the closest this city comes to Bia Hoi go to  corner Nguyen Trung Truc and Nguyen Du Streets
7) This is the kind of touristy, but also rad tour!  I ride this city with great delight on my trusty Honda Wave motorbike weaving in and out of the traffic without a care these days. But recently a group of 20 people and I did this tour at night. Its 70 bucks so a wee bit exxy, but I thought it was great and am therefore happily recommending it to you! Vietnam Vespa Adventure Tours. It was so much fun and a great way to feel apart of the city and go to some local restaurants and enjoy some back alley driving. You have a guide driving you the whole time. You just need to hang on and enjoy! You would need to book in advance and I would say it would be more fun if you went with people you know. Ok, gross generalization! ;-)
8) I have also heard great things about this tour…. If you are into Art…and as you are on my blog, I’m hoping this is the case! give’s you an insight into the history of Vietnamese Art from a knowledgeable English lass named Sophie.
9) My favourite small bar with good tunes, and not inundated with bogan tourists or prostitutes for a nighttime boogie and cocktails! La Fenetre Soleil 44 Ly Tu Trong Street,  District 1.

For drunken nightclub times packed to the rafters with all walks of life in this city (some mentioned above!) go to ‘Apo’ Apocalypse Now. 2C Thi Sach Street
District 1. They ask for a cover charge these days which is “com com ding ding” (CRAZY!). Ps-It’s not in the back packer area. You’ll get good (bad) tunes, but great when you think need a little Pitbull and Rihanna fix at 1 am! Its not the place to go to sober, you will hate it! The German style hot dogs in the courtyard are great to soak up some of the cheap alcohol you will have consumed tonight. If you still need more after they kick you out at 2am, head to Pham Ngu Lao backpacker area to Crazy Buffalo for more of the same.

10) Great cocktails and good eats (but shitty décor)-Zanzabar. 41 - 47 Dong Du St District 1. I would still go here over the cheesy Caravelle Hotel rooftop where every cat’s ass frequents just for their drinks, but sadly without a view! Their Passion fruit Caprioska is gooood! For an amazing view and a more expensive cocktail go to Shri or Chill bar. The Hyatt Martini bar does a tidy martini as well. All of these places are fancy, so dress nicely.

11) If you've had enough morning glory, fresh spring rolls and tamarind prawns on your Nam adventure this place has the best steak dinner in town!So freaking good is El Gaucho, an Argentinian place here. It’s my favourite restaurant in the city and where I go to treat myself.  Fit with great service, location and food. It’s making me salivate just typing it out. Go to the District 1 address! Its right near the Hyatt hotel. Again, probably similar prices to home, but melt in your mouth meaty goodness.
12) Spring Rolls of many varieties…a commercial looking establishment but so freaking good- Wrap and Roll. There is one on Nguyen Hue a block or two back from the river and one on Le Thanh Ton not far from the Hyatt. Good for lunch, cheap and great.
13) Ice cream-Fanny’s. Yep, shocking name, but bare with me, its good! I think it’s the best ice cream that you can get in this city anyway. The best chain restaurant to go to is 29-31 D Ton That Thiep D1.
14) I have been to the movies here three times in three years. The reason being that they generally only show really bad ‘boy movies’ that bore the beejuzus out of me! But if on the off chance they have something half decent on, going to the cinema here costs about 3 bucks a person and is a great way to beat the heat and get a taste of home if you have been travelling for a long time! Great sound quality, same, same as at home and one tenth the price. I go to Hung Vuong Plaza (about 15 minutes from city) and cinema's in the other ex-pat area in Saigon, District 7 (Phu My Hung-about 15 minutes from city).  This website should tell you whats on
 I will add to this post, if I think of anything else great over time. 
And if people like, I can create a list for places outside of HCMC, like the best beach side mini break locations? Let me know if this is something that you would like to know?
Enjoy my adopted city, she sure is a winner!
Pia xx


  1. I wish you had have told me about the cinemas playing dude movies whilst we were there!! This is such a great list, nothing beats a local's insight. I feel like I need to make a trip back here x

  2. Lauren?!!!! I had no idea you had a blog?! Beautiful stuff gorgeous! Ohhh so nice seeing you in your wares! Boy movies pffttttt! I thought of you when writing that line ;-) xx

  3. First of all - I love your collages and I am so sorry to hear about your courier company issues. That is a total shit! Fingers crossed they miraculously turn up and get to the framers on time. I love collaging myself, although I tend to stick to scrap books (NOT 'Scrapbooking' in the Spotlight sense!!) instead of frames.

    Also, I am very excited to read your post on HCMC Pia. We came to Vietnam last year and loved it so much we are coming back 31st Dec to 15th Jan. Looking forward to checking out some of your suggestions - particularly Sophies Art Tour (okay, and the champagne brunch!). Spending NYE in HCMC so looking forward to seeing if/how the Vietnamese celebrate.
    Any tips on finding great second hand/vintage items? We found hand painted propaganda posters (not sure if they are authentic or not but we dont really care! we love them) and vintage watches but would love to bring home some other curios from our trip - ie not necessarily tailored clothes. I imagine there arent really second hand markets as the people dont have much to begin with, but I might be wrong...

    1. Dearest Renae, thanks so much for your kind words and interest in my work.
      I have never been in Saigon at NY so I am not sure, but know that the Vietnamese have their own NY at TET in Feb when they go nuts! Yes, brunch is a must! ;-)

    2. Sorry, computer issues, wasn't meant to send so soon!
      Ok, I get my curios from a place on the corner or Pasteur and Lei Loi. You will see a western looking shopping complex on that corner called Saigon centre. If you stand outside the bad cafe on the corner and look across the street on Pasteur you will see a crappy looking gate and motorbikes coming and going, it looks like a car park. Walk in there and then to your right is a blue green door. It's mostly big stuff to be honest but occasionally you will find some sweet small things. There is also antique street which is Le cong Kieu street. Not that far from Ben thanh market and the fine arts museum. It's in lonely planet. There is a lot of

    3. Reproducion fakes and they an be a rip off. But I buy all my old photos on this street ( they charge me 20.000 or 1 dollar a photo) which is expensive but they are lovely. Most of my great curios I bought when living in China, but these two places have the best in antique goodness I have found here.

    4. I buy my original propaganda posters from dong Khoi down towards the river there is a small place on the right when looking at river. They charge me anything between 70-100 USD for a poster, but the more you buy the less they are. This is the best place in my opinion.

  4. Sorry for the multiple messages, computer being freaky! I hope you have a great time and find some gems and enjoy the goodness to be had xx

  5. ooooh thanks so much for your tips! very excited now and sounds like adventures to be had just getting there!
    The Poster shop sounds like the same one we bought from - we got charged about the same $75each I think, along with some kooky part cash and part card scheme (think the cash went straight in the assistant's pocket!) Ah, just one of the stories that makes Vietnam so fun/funny.
    Have a lovely Christmas here in Melbourne. Think its gonna be a hot one.

  6. Thank you very much for your information. it is really helpful. I have stayed in this budget hotel, it is very good too
    sanouva budget hotel in district 1 ho chi minh city