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I have been living and working in Ho Chi Minh City for over eight years during which time I founded Vietnam is Awesome, the premier expat and tourist group in Vietnam – bringing both foreigners and locals together with positive stories,photos and videos.
I believe there’s nothing better than learning about yourself while traveling and Vietnam has given me that opportunity. Living here for eight-plus years, I have seen and done a lot, and sometimes I don’t even realize how special the things to see or do are because they are so numerous and sometimes I might take Vietnam for granted – I really need to stop doing that. Since I first came to Vietnam, HoChi Minh City has changed dramatically. A few years ago the first real mall, Vincom Center, opened, now there are at least 8-10 of them.
The metro is finally going to be built and so much more is changing every year. For me as well as other foreigners living here in Ho Chi Minh City, finding things to do can be challenging, yet exciting. There are many new restaurants, bars,lounges and pubs opening and closing monthly and there is a lot of competition in the F&B industry now.
One of my favorite things to do is check out all the new places in town – I am foodie (check out Vietnam Foodies FB group) and also appreciate beautiful views of the city. There is a wide variety of local street food available and some of my favorite foods are to be found at local Vietnamese eateries. I love eating with locals because if you see a lot of locals eating at a place, you know the food is delicious! Pho, Bun Cha Gio, Bun Rieu, Banh Xeo and Banh Beo are my favorite Vietnamese dishes!
One place to visit is Five Oysters in Bui Vien Street in the Pham Ngu Lao backpacker area. The owner is really passionate about his business as well as treating his guests to a memorable experience. If you want to try some local seafood and regional specialties this is the best place to eat at. They are right downtown so after eating you can walk around the area and explore or stop at the newly opened outdoor food courts. Speaking of outdoor eating, you definitely need to check out the Ben Thanh food area. There are many international and local food options!
If you are into seafood (snails, oysters, clams etc.) you absolutely need to check out the riverside area of District 4. There are a few streets that are entirely devoted to local seafood. The sights, smells and sounds of this area is truly amazing. The best thing about it is not only the variety of food but also the extremely reasonable prices so both locals and tourists can enjoy.
Two of my favorite spots to have some cocktails and food and to enjoy the awesome landscape of Ho Chi Minh City is at and Shri and the Social Club, which happen to be next door neighbors. They both have reasonable prices for their location on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, pretty much at the heart of the city. Shri is managed by Richard Fawcett who happens to be an incredible artist who has designed his very own cocktail book which shows cocktails based on famous city landmarks and their head Chef is Javier Gomez who cooks some of the best dishes in town!
What makes the two venues incredible is that you can actually walk back and forth between the two on a sky bridge. Just don’t look down! If you are into craft beer, Ho Chi Minh City is perfect for you. There are about a dozen strong craft beer brands in the city now, and one of the best ways to experience all of them is to take a craft beer tour with Vespa Adventures. I believe you can get almost fifteen beers on the tour – yes fifteen!
Ho Chi Minh City also has some really nice pubs and two of my favorite places to eat and drink are Union Jack’s fish and chips who have great fish and chips like in the U.K., Pitchers in District 7 have really good pub food and drink selections.
If you are into photography you should definitely check out Bitexco as it offers some of the best views and vantage points in the city. They have a dedicated viewing platform with its own high-speed elevator that costs about 200,000vnd ($10usd) to go up to; however, if you are on a tight budget you can sit at the coffee shop upstairs from the viewing area and enjoy a cup of coffee or some food (food is expensive). Two other fantastic spots for photos are the Thu Thiem and Thi Nghe bridges. They both offer fantastic views of the skyline, river and beautiful scenery.
If you need to do some shopping, there are plenty of big shopping malls to choose from. You can check out District 1 venues such as Vincom Center, Union Square, Bitexco, Diamond Plaza, Parkson, and Takashimaya. Another option is to head out to District 2 and check out all the boutique options as well as District 7 where you can find Crescent Mall and Vivo City. If you want to explore some local markets head over to Cho Lon Market in District 5, Ben Thanh Market or even the Russian market on Go Van Kiet street. One of the busiest streets in Ho Chi Minh City for shopping is Nguyen Trai Street in D1.
I decided to ask some of the members of the Vietnam is Awesome Facebook group (86,000 members) to get more of an idea what people like to do in the city and to make sure the readers of this column have more of an objective view instead of just hearing what I had to say.
Sang Nguyen Dang had this to say: “I like the crazy and chaotic traffic in HCMC. I can feel a sense of freedom whenever I get into the flow of vehicles just like I am part of the city. I like the dynamic, fast-paced lifestyle of the city. Creativity and openness stimulated by the youth make me believe in a brighter future that all the potentials of the city will be turned into reality.”
叶国 had this to add “Highlands Café, 333 beer, Saigon beer, Biere Larue and the you-name-the rest local brands are nonstop quenching the HCMC population visitors well. Occasionally joining the next table chanting together "Mot Hai Ba, yo!”
Deliciously local delicacies and beverages/dessert (caphe da, che mau, nuoc mia) are humbly sold by the roadside. Dining by the street is a total new experience and lets hope it will remain a HCMC trademark, forever. Parks in downtown Q1 and Q11 Dam Sen Park is always filled with people doing sports activities or family and friends gathering together to socialize. There are numerous buildings (HCMC City Hall/The Municipal Theatre of HCMC aka Saigon Opera House, Saigon Central Post Office, Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica) is so well preserved.”
As you can tell, Ho Chi Minh City is a bustling vibrant city that has a lot to offer visitors. Many unique adventures and experiences await you as you get to know this city I now call home.