Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is, without a doubt, one of my favourite Cities in Asia when it comes to eating well, I even wrote about it here, naming it as one of my Top 5 Foodie destinations and it is safe to say that 3 years later, nothing has changed!
Make your way to Saigon Social Club, the beautiful rooftop bar in the Hotel des Arts by MGallery, one of HCMC’s best hotels, for their excellent Happy Hour. Be sure to try one of their carefully crafted cocktails as you kick back to their chilled out DJ and enjoy as the sun slowly sets over the city.
Cocktails not your thing? Local brewery Pasteur Street Brewery, was set up by a team of American expats in 2014 and has expanded rapidly in popularity since then. They focus on using “American craft brewing techniques with fresh and exotic Vietnamese ingredients to create amazing craft beer” and I loved all of their beers that I tried, from the Saigon Saison (7.2% ABV) a light, unfiltered beer with lemongrass, ginger, and Phu Quoc black pepper, a Jasmine IPA (6.5% ABV) made with American hops and local dried jasmine and a PSBC Double IPA (8.7% ABV) with wonderful notes of grapefruit, orange and pine, and a bracing hoppy finish.
I prefer to save my street food experiences for breakfast and lunch, and enjoy a bit of comfort (read = nice glass of wine!) with my dinner so I would head to Hoa Tuc, an excellent Vietnamese restaurant housed in a beautifully refurbished former French opium factory.
Don’t miss the Bò cuộn sả nướng cuốn bánh tráng – BBQ lemongrass beef w/ rice noodles, fresh leaves & rice paper, the Gỏi bưởi hải sản – Pink pomelo, squid & crab salad w/ Vietnamese herbs & fish sauce-citrus dressing or the Đậu hủ chiên sả ớt – Pan-fried home-made tofu w/ lemongrass & chilli
We spent around $40 pp with LOTS of alcohol at Hoa Tuc (it was a special birthday celebration) but needless to say you could easily eat very well for far less. I would recommend booking a table outside, weather permitting!
Not ready to end the night just yet? Alley Bar, a newly opened “Mekong Delta” style speakeasy on a darkened alley way just off Pasteur, serves some of HCMC’s most creative cocktails and is the perfect for a night cap (or pre-club drinks should you wish to continue once they close at 1am) I loved their signature “Mekong Delta” made with Bourbon and banana syrup, but their cocktail lists is one of the most comprehensive you will find, and there is bound to be a cocktail to suit everyones tastes.
HCMC is a city where booking the hotel breakfast would be a crying shame, not to mention completely unnecessary! Grab a taxi and make your way across town to Bánh Mì Hòa Mã for Opp La, one of my favourite local dishes.
Farm fresh eggs are cooked over a scorching hot flame in a matter of seconds and then served with homemade pork sausage, ham and chunks of gluten (trust me, its delicious!) then served with a light & fluffy, freshly baked baguette with pickles and pate.
Service is brisk and efficient and you will be set up for the day, having spent just a couple of dollars!
I think it would be a mistake to visit HCMC and not make the time to visit the War Remnants Museum, difficult to experience though it is. It is certainly one of the City’s more comprehensive museum collections and it is, on the whole, done very well indeed. From a fascinating look at the anti-vietnam war movement propaganda from around the world on the ground floor, incredibly moving survivor and eye witness testimonies on the first floor, and a sombre and thought provoking exhibition of war photography on the top floor, the experience is not easy, but it would be doing the country an injustice not to learn more about the Vietnam war whilst visiting.
I needed a stiff drink after my visit to the museum but if coffee is more your thing, walk down past the Independence Palace to the cool and comfortable surroundings of L’Usine on Le Loi, for a local drip coffee (served hot or on ice)
Suitably refreshed, wander over to Ben Thanh market for a spot of souvenir shopping and people watching afterwards.
If you are still up for exploring, make the short walk over to Notre Dame Cathedral, built between 1863 – 1880, and the beautiful Colonial Post Office, built between 1886-1891. All of the materials used in the construction of the cathedral were imported from France and it is, at present, undergoing renovations thus ensuring it still looks as impressive today as it always has done.
There are plenty of half day trips available if you want to head out to the Cu Chi Tunnels but personally, I like to relax a little when I’m on holiday too, so why not relax by your hotel pool, or retreat, as I did, to the nearby Propaganda Cafe to sit on their terrace with a good book and enjoy another Pasteur Street beer.
For dinner, I would recommend eating at Secret Garden, a pretty rooftop restaurant, just off Pasteur street, which specialises in classic Vietnamese home cooking.
Favourites at Secret Garden included Bảnh trảng thit – Rice paper wraps with salted shrimp and pork belly, Nem Sả – Pork meatballs wrapped and grilled in lemongrass and the Heo Kho Đậu hủ – Braised tofu with pork belly and sweet, dark soy.
We spent around $15 pp, with moderate wine, at Secret Garden and I would expect to spend around $10-$20 if visiting in the evening.
HCMC has plenty of late night party options and it all depends on your mood, and energy levels as to what to do next!
Qui Cuisine & Mixology on Le Thanh Ton serves some of the City’s best cocktails ( try Like a Virgin – made with Patron silver tequila, Talisker whisky, pineapple salted plum & sage) and has a real party atmosphere, complete with a live DJ over the weekend. More, ummmm, mature readers may want to skip this and simply head back to the comfort of Saigon Social Club. They also have a DJ, albeit one that plays less frenetic music, & the late night vibes are totally different to those at sunset. We enjoyed it so much that we spent two very fun evenings there indeed, and I would happily return again for late night drinks and dancing.
A no less fun, but more budget friendly option, is to head over to a local Vietnamese beer garden like Bia Hoi Ha Noi in District 3 to enjoy a local beer ( in crowded and raucous surroundings. Expect to pay no more than 10,000 VND (50 cents) for a cool and refreshing draft beer, just remember to keep an eye on your belongings as the bars can get pretty packed!
Vietnamese markets are a real feast for the senses, and assuming you are an early bird, I would recommend heading to a local wet market like Thai Binh market in Pham Ngu Lan. I always love seeing all the different fresh produce available as it’s surprising how much it can vary from South East Asian country to country.
Owned and operated by the same family for some 40+ years, Phở Hòa Pasteur is one of HCMC’s most famous Phở restaurants, and for good reason. Offering both classic Beef & Chicken Phở in a variety of different preparations, the house speciality is gio chao quay, Chinese style fried dough sticks that you are supposed to dip in the broth as you eat. I was really impressed with the light, fresh and clean tasting broth, and well cooked noodles, not to mention the huge heap of fresh herbs, chilli and lime it was served with. A real eating highlight and one that shouldn’t be missed!
Tip – Try the Phở Tai with slices of raw beef that cook in the broth as you eat it, or the Phở Chin with well done brisket.
The Jade Emperor Pagoda, or Tortoise Pagoda, is one of HCMC’s most sacred shrines & being Mahayanist Buddhist is different to any temple I have visited outside of Vietnam. The outer courtyard had ponds with both fish and turtles inside which people can purchase to “make merit”, whilst inside you can admire the menacing figurines of Emperor and his guardians and enjoy the heady scent of incense that fills the air.
You can’t leave Vietnam without having a Bánh Mì and the Bánh Mì from Bánh Mì 37 are deservedly famous in local foodie circles.
A street food stall located between Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai and Hem 39, this two lady operation sets up shop in a quiet alley, BBQ’ing pork meatballs shortly before 4pm daily. Queues start to form anything from 10-30 minutes prior to this and by the time we arrived at 15:45 the queue was about 12 people deep, with several people putting in bulk orders, before we eventually reached the front of the queue.
What is so special about their Bánh Mì I hear you ask? They start with a light & crunchy baguette, before adding a thin layer of pate, a good handful of well marinated pork meatballs (I would guess around 5/6 pieces) with a drizzle of sweet soy sauce, pickles and fresh herbs.
We wandered down the alley way in search of beer and ended up sitting outside a small convenience stall eating our sandwiches and chatting for far longer than one might expect, especially when we all had nice hotels to get back to!
Tip – At less than $1 you can afford to buy a couple of Bánh Mì to enjoy at the airport or on the plane home and we spotted several people on our flight heading home with bagfuls of Bánh Mì!
I would really recommend using Uber to get back to the airport. My ride back was clean & comfortable and cost less than $4 (compared to $6 for a standard airport transfer) Traffic is hard to predict and I would advise leaving at least 30-45 minutes to make your way back to the airport, more if you are travelling during the weekday rush hour. Whilst there are plenty of F&B outlets at the International airport, none are particularly interesting and I would advise avoiding them in favour of eating before going to the airport, or waiting until you get onto the ‘plane.
Easily accessible by budget airliners such as Tiger, Jet Star & Viet Jet, who I flew with, the City is around a 20 minute drive (traffic dependant of course!) from the airport and the arrival of Uber has made booking a taxi, or indeed moto-taxi, even easier and cheaper than ever. I used Uber moto-taxis and taxis all weekend and was extremely impressed, with both service and price, although you can also pick up other taxi’s such as those from Vinasun who also operate throughout the city.
I stayed at the Emm Hotel on Pasteur as I had seen a good promotion on Agoda where I paid $45 per night for my lovely spacious double room on the 9th floor. I was really impressed with the simple, clean decor of the hotel, the staff whom I interacted with all spoke great English and were very helpful, and most importantly, the hotel was conveniently located in District 1.
For those with a more generous budget, the Hotel des Arts by MGallery is one of the loveliest hotels I have visited in recent years. Beautifully decorated, it is home to one of the cities best roof top bars and restaurants, Social Club Saigon, where we enjoyed everything from sunset cocktails to one of the most decadent (and delicious) Sunday brunches I have seen in a while. Service was immaculate throughout and even though I was not a guest, I was made to feel like one whenever I went to see my friends, who were staying there.
Have you been to HCMC? I’d love to hear where you recommend in the comments!