It was a last-minute decision to spend a weekend at Saigon. On Friday, I asked my friends that to do at HCMC. They simply told me, "great food, cheap drink, nice vibe." It seemed that they didn't do any sightseeing and stayed tipsy the whole time. Nice, it really set my expectation high.
And it was proven right. To my surprise, Saigon was such a lifestyle city that I wanted to come back the moment I left. The romantic name Saigon remains its unique charm. Here are some of my unquestionable recommendations.
No kidding, who would expect to have such amazing pizza outside Italy? in Vietnam?! I have a soft spot for interior design and branding, so was psyched to find the restaurant decor and menu so well put-together with the modern rusty style. I was already converted even before trying the food.
The fact that the chain is owned by Japanese somewhat explains the quality. The restaurant not only has the sustainable farm-to-table concept, its signature cheese (Burrataaaaa and Mozaaaaa!) is also sourced from in-house farms in Vietnam. It'd be a huge regret not to try their burrata cheese on top of pizza. (I finished the large one all by myself -- so heavenly!)
The pizza oven, both decorative and functional, is the pillar-item of the restaurant. In fact, the founding story mentions that the pizza oven was where it all started.
If you sit at the bar area, you can watch the staff making pizza right in front of you, from making doughs to baking with the big shovel in the brick oven. The whole process only took less than 10 minutes and the operation flow was so coordinated and smooth that it felt like a symphony. It was fascinating that these simple steps could create something so delicious.
It's another place you cannot miss. If you like cafe hopping or Sunday brunch, you would love L'Usine, a fusion space with food, drink and boutique shop. I went to the branch at Dong Khoi, which also offers tapas and draught beer beyond regular coffee business.
The cafe was nested in an aged building near the Opera House. It was a pouring day. We made our way through the flooded ground and climbed up the spiral staircase to reach the beautiful L'Usine.
(It's interesting that Saigon turned many old buildings into the vertical malls for small shops -- something that I never seen elsewhere.)
L'Usine seemed to be a popular meeting / working space for local and expats alike. It was 2pm on a weekday and despite the bad weather, the cafe was almost full. Totally understandable -- I don't mind working from such an artsy place once in a while.
Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is the largest public market and undoubtfully the most lively place for both tourist and Saigonese -- you can find almost everything there. Although criticized as too touristic and higher priced than elsewhere, the Market was fun to visit and to observe what the culture offers. Be ready to bargain hard, or simply tour around without engaging with the vendors.
At night, the indoor market is closed but the outdoor area will turn into a night market. Apparently business never sleeps here. :)
Be open-minded and adventurous to the street food here! It was my first time trying balut (and probably the last time). I didn't quite get its appeal to the local and the thought of bird's embryo still grossed me out, but at least checked that off my list. :D
Surprisingly fun to shop around, Saigon has the young, creative vibe that reminded me of Bangkok. Around the Nguyen Hue area, you'll find lots of boutiques with unique designs. Most of them are hidden in those old, residential-looking buildings. You need to watch out for the billboards overhead or get a local friend to show you the trick.
Some of the more successful shops have move to the street-front location. The one I bumped into was called Highcut that sells modern vintage style. Love its designs for both its decor and apparel.
There are plenty of nice rooftops at Saigon. Just pick a nice hotel with good height and you are guaranteed a chilled night with cheap cocktails and amazing view. That's why people from the West all love Ho Chi Minh City.
Again, can't wait to visit Saigon again!