The Ho Chi Minh City of 10 years ago is much different from the one it is today. What it will be in the next 10 years is anybody’s guess.
Already more global with an increasing number of things to do, see and eat, it continues to attract people with its promise of opportunity and a better life.
One of those people is creative producer, Linh Phan. Born and raised in Canada, Linh came to Vietnam 10 years ago and has witnessed Ho Chi Minh City’s development first hand.
Linh continues to be involved in projects related to art, culture, music and community engagement, but is perhaps better known by her DJ moniker Superkid of Everyone’s A DJ fame.
Her current project, Here and There, aims to document the lives of the Vietnamese diaspora, with plans for the project to launch later this year. Here’s her itinerary for a fun 24 hours in Ho Chi Minh City.
Pho Ga Cat Tuong. According to Linh it's one of the best places to eat bun thang
Elbow Room. One of Linh's choices for breakfast
After a big night out or if you’re craving a big fry-up, head to Elbow Room (52 Pasteur, Q1) on one of Saigon’s most dynamic streets, for entertainment. “They make amazing, fluffy blueberry pancakes (VND180,000), and the Bloody Mary (VND100,000) is decent, too,” says Linh.
If you want to go more local, try Pho Ga Cat Tuong (63 Thu Khoa Huan, Q1).
“I love their bun thang (VND55,000); it’s one of my favourite dishes. My granny used to make this for me,” says Linh of her childhood. “Every time I went home to visit, it would be sitting on the kitchen table when I arrived.”
According to Linh, despite specialising in pho ga, this joint does the best bun thang in Saigon. “The chicken is tender, the omelette thinly sliced, the broth flavourful and they have quay — deep fried breadsticks — to dip into the soup at VND3,000 a pop. It’s delicious.”
Cuc Gach Cafe only serves two set menus for lunch, but it changes daily and the space has a great atmosphere
Saigon 3 (157 Vo Van Tan, Q3) is Linh’s go-to for no-frills Chinese food and dim sum, especially fried beef with rice noodles — a large one will set you back VND220,000, while Shanghai dumplings go for VND40,000 a piece.
“I grew up in Canada, and Chinatown was the only place where my family could get ingredients to make the Vietnamese dishes they love,” recalls Linh. “Every weekend, we would go shopping and then have lunch in Chinatown.”
At night, it’s packed with Chinese tour groups, but there’s always Saigon 2 at 877-879 Tran Hung Dao, Q5, and Saigon 938 (938 Tran Hung Dao, Q5) which has taken over from Saigon 1.
Unlike the famous Cuc Gach Quan (10 Dang Tat, Q1), Cuc Gach Cafe (79 Phan Ke Binh, Q1) only serves set menus — one vegetarian and one with meat. The menu changes daily (VND70,000 per person), but the atmosphere is the same as Cuc Gach Quan.
“Lunch time is packed with office workers from around the area,” says Linh. “Don’t forget to order the fresh juices — my favourite is a pomelo and kumquat combo for VND80,000.”
Saigon is known for its unique, creatively designed cafes. ID Cafe is one of the stand-outs
ID Cafe has two locations, one just behind Ben Thanh Market (34D Thu Khoa Huan, Q1) and one at 61B Tu Xuong, Q3.
“I prefer the Tu Xuong location with its antique furniture,” adds Linh. “It’s also a good place to catch up on some work if you have to.”
Here, a ca phe sua da costs VND55,000, without condensed milk VND45,000, while an apple juice costs VND65,000.
The first time Linh tried the coconut iced coffee (VND65,000) at the Cong Cafe by the cathedral in Hanoi, she was hooked.
“It was so good I had another one,” she says. “So when Cong Cafe (26 Ly Tu Trong, Q1) arrived in Saigon last year, I was super excited. It’s such a great drink to have during hot Saigon days.”
One tour that gives you a great insight into the history of Vietnamese art but also puts it into a historical and social context is Sophie’s Art Tour. Tours change depending on exhibitions and take you to the beautiful HCMC Museum of Fine Arts (97 Pho Duc Chinh, Q1) to contemporary galleries like The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre (15 Nguyen U Di, Q2), Galerie Quynh (151/3 Dong Khoi, Q1) and Salon Saigon (6D Ngo Thoi Nhiem, Q3), including private collectors. For more information, go to facebook.com/SophiesArtTourHCMC
Saigon is a city of rivers and canals, so why not see it by boat?
“Watch the sunset and see a side of Saigon you don’t get to see too often,” suggests Linh.
For afternoon and sunset tours, try Saigon Boat Company. For more information, go to facebook.com/Saigonboatcompany
Quan Ut Huong is a great place to eat cheap stir-fried pasta with beef
“I love nui xao bo (VND35,000) and this one place, Quan Ut Huong (18/1 Nguyen Canh Chan, Q1), makes a great one,” says Linh.
This street joint is always packed and they sell lots of other items including com ga, bo ne, bot chien and much more. They have two other shops right across the street from the main one, so take your pick and enjoy some great simple street food.
One place that’s been around forever and is a favourite place for Linh to take visitors is Com Nieu Saigon (59 Ho Xuan Huong, Q3).
“Their gimmick is throwing the clay rice pots across the room for another waiter to catch before breaking them open to serve.”
Com Nieu Saigon has a great variety of southern food options: “By far the best thing there is the grilled peppercorn red snapper (VND261,000 per kg). This is the best I’ve had in town.”
Order it as soon as you sit down because it takes a while to grill, so by the time your other food comes, the fish will be ready as well.
The view from Da Kao Bridge
A young boy fishes in the Nhieu Loc Canal close to Da Kao Bridge
“When I first arrived to Ho Chi Minh City 10 years ago, there was no way that I would want to go sit and drink by a canal,” says Linh. “But after a few years of a major cleanup and development, anywhere along Truong Sa and Hoang Sa streets in Da Kao and District 3 is a great place to drink and eat.”
After dinner and a few drinks, it’s time to party at The Observatory (5 Nguyen Tat Thanh, Q4).
“This place is owned by my long-time friend and past promoter/collaborator Dan Bi Mong, and it’s my favourite place for a late night out.”
The Observatory brings many top acts to Ho Chi Minh City and plays a pivotal role in the underground music scene in Vietnam.
Photos by Olga Rozenbajgier