For our 91-day trips around the world, there is no decision so critical as the apartment in which we’ll be based. And I imagine that’s especially the case in Saigon, where neighborhoods can be too loud, too touristy, and either too far or too close to the center. Happily, we couldn’t have found a better home than BonBon Residences.
We judge a city based on a few critical factors: cuisine, transportation, museums, nightlife… and the cuteness of its street cats and dogs. And that last one is a category in which Saigon scores high. Check out some of the creatures we’ve met during our 91 days in the city. Which ones would you take home? You can only choose one!
Running along a curvy, eight-kilometer course which defines the northern border of central Saigon, the Thị Nghè Canal is an attractive waterway lined with sidewalks and exercise equipment. A walk along either side of the canal is one of the most pleasant and popular ways to spend an evening in Saigon.
What do you get when you cross foreign hipsters, the newly-wealthy, and regular Vietnamese folks? Probably something that resembles the neighborhood of Thảo Điền, in District 2. We spent a day walking around this weird section of town, constantly finding ourselves surprised by the abrupt shifts in style, around every other corner.
You know those annoying people who, after totally and unquestionably having failed at a stated goal, will pretend that it’s what they wanted all along? “No, it’s actually better this way! Seriously, we’re glad it worked out like this!” Well, we’re going to be those guys. Because finding Giác Viên Pagoda closed for renovation turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Really!
It’s unbelievable that a city of Saigon’s size might still possess undeveloped, riverfront land straight across from downtown. But that’s the case. Saigon has been curiously slow to capitalize on the prime acreage of District 2’s Thú Thiêm ward… but it hasn’t forgotten it entirely. We visited while the area’s most prominent tenants were still grassy hillocks and nuns. Five years later, things would surely look a lot different.
You’d never know it, looking at this completely normal house on Võ Văn Tần street in District 3… but I suppose that was the point. A trap door in the floor hides a secret basement, in which the Viet Cong stored guns, ammunition, and grenades.
You might think that, somewhere in the metropolis named Ho Chi Minh City, there might be a good museum about Ho Chi Minh. But you’d be wrong. There’s a museum, alright, but in no way could it be described as “good”. A visit to the neighborhood is worthwhile, however, thanks to the delirious street of Đoàn Văn Bơ.
Located in the center of downtown, the Ben Thanh Market was built in 1912, though its origins date to the 17th century. Just to the west lays the “Backpackers District”, offering up all manner of drinks and delights. Ben Thanh and the Backpacker’s District are two of Saigon’s most famous sights. We hated them both.
In our neighborhood, there aren’t many supermarkets. Even that’s an overstatement; there actually isn’t a single supermarket anywhere near us. So we’ve had to become familiar the local market, or “chợ”. And the market’s vendors have had to become familiar with us. Trust is a two-way street, people… and Saigon’s markets are worlds unto themselves.