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.
Waking up at 5am is usually a surefire sign that you’re still suffering from jetlag… except in Vietnam, where it means that your body has properly adjusted. This country gets going earlier than any other place we’ve visited. It took some time, but once we accepted and embraced the early lifestyle, our experience in Saigon improved immeasurably.
Coffee wasn’t a part of their culture until the arrival of the French, but Vietnam is making up for lost time. Today, the country is the world’s third top coffee exporter, behind Brazil and Colombia, and the drink has become a integral part of the country’s lifestyle. We went to our favorite neighborhood joint, Cỏ Cafe, to learn how to make the perfect cup.
Saigon is a city in constant flux, and there’s no better place to appreciate this than from above. Seemingly every building has a rooftop bar, allowing you to check out how the skyline has changed since… well, probably since yesterday. (Is that a new skyscraper over there? I’ll bet it has a rooftop bar!)
One of our favorite places in downtown Saigon is the circular pond at the intersection of Phạm Ngọc Thạch and Võ Văn Tần streets. Every afternoon, especially on the weekends, the pond becomes a popular area in which to hang out with friends, eat junk food and wait for night to fall.
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!
The Ho Chi Minh City Museum introduces visitors to the city’s culture, currency, industry and geography. The exhibits are interesting enough, but the real reason to visit is the chance to explore the charismatic Palace of Gia Long in which it’s housed.
Here’s our final compilation of our favorite Saigon street food. This is the kind of chow which makes us smack our lips, smack smack smack. The kind that makes us chew with our mouths wide open, so that we can smack as loud as possible! The kind which sticks in our tooth gaps, so that after our meal, we sit around with a toothpick for 30 minutes, picking and sucking our teeth… wait a second… have we gone native?
One look at the pictures of Saigon’s bizarre theme parks, and we knew we’d be visiting at least one. After careful deliberation, we selected Suối Tiên. Not only did this quasi-religious park look genuinely entertaining, but it seemed delightfully unaware of its own kitschiness. A day of ironic fun awaits… let’s go!
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.