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.
Every city worth its salt has a Chinatown, but the award for World’s Largest Chinatown (at least in terms of area) goes to Cholon in Ho Chi Minh City. This district was actually its own city for a long time, until eventually being swallowed up by its bigger neighbor to the east. We spent a day navigating its busy streets and visiting its markets.
The most significant event in the history of Saigon’s Presidential Palace was also the moment that it permanently lost its political relevance. On April 30th, 1975, a Viet Cong tank plowed through the gates, putting an end to the two-decade war which had torn Vietnam apart. The south had fallen, and the Presidential Palace was suddenly a relic.
Saigon is a city of crazy traffic, constant noise and unbroken swaths of concrete. But there exists a section of the city which is totally different. We spent the day walking around Phường 28: an island that has been almost completely overlooked by Saigon’s insatiable appetite for urbanization.
One of the greatest things about Saigon is its street food. There’s an endless variety, it’s ultra-cheap, and (almost always) delicious. This was the number one reason we had been excited about living in Saigon, and so far we haven’t been disappointed. We eat out for both lunch and dinner, and often breakfast. And when plates cost around a dollar, there’s no reason not to indulge… if we especially loved a particular dish, we’ll gleefully order another round. It happens more often than I’d like to admit.
One of the largest green spaces in Saigon is Tao Dan, a 25-acre park in the middle of the city. With the busy street of Trương Dịnh running straight through it, Tao Dan doesn’t exactly provide an “escape to nature”, but it does give you the chance to mingle with locals and watch families enjoy their leisure time. And during the Tet Lunar New Year holiday, the park becomes the scene of a popular fair.