Wednesday, September 20, 2017

[Travel/ Food Guide] Itinerary to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam (胡志明市,越南) 2017.

My previous trip to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) was a couple years ago (read my previous entry here), with the newly introduced Penang to Ho Chi Minh route (direct flight via Air Asia); Penangites have better access to the metropolitan city now. It only takes 2 hours to reach Tan Son Nhat International Airport; Malaysians entering Vietnam need not apply for Visa and will be automatically granted a 30-day Visa upon arrival. These attractive features make the place a convenient and most importantly, inexpensive destination for a short family getaway.

Ho Chi Minh City is experiencing rapid development- so many new buildings have sprung up and the economy of the country is picking up, evidently seen from the Foreign Direct Investments, particularly from Japan and South Korea. It is expecting a metro transit network in 2019 but for now, tourists visiting the city may count on Grab and Uber, for easier access to the city's attractions. While Vinasun remains as the most reliable Taxi service-provider, Grab/ Uber typically cuts the margin by 20-30% so it is definitely more wallet-friendly to travel with Grab/ Uber. 

Benh Thanh Street Food Market
Address: 26-28-30, Thu Khoa Huan, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. 
Business Hours: 9 am to 11 pm. Opens Daily. 
Prices are nett.

Barbecued Beef Banh Mi (35,000 VND)

Beef in wild Betel Leaves (50,000 VND)

Barbecued Pork Ribs with Glutinous Rice (89,000 VND)

Vietnamese Pizza (50,000 VND)

Mango Stick Rice (70,000 VND)

It's a challenge for foodies (like yours truly) to try all street foods in one go, especially in foreign lands; with the introduction of Ben Thanh Street Food Market, a short 3-min walk distance from the famous tourist attraction- Ben Thanh Market, foodies can now savor everything under one roof. Things are generally more expensive here, probably a place meant for tourists; but it's the convenience that you are paying for. Food quality is standard-average here so visit only if you are running out of time or for convenience sake.

The Cafe Apartment
Address: 42, Nguyen Hue, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (right next to Union Square)
Business Hours: Most cafes open from 8 am to 10 pm, daily.

The 9-storey tall old-school building in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City houses more than 30 cafes/ restaurants. Visitors may opt to take the lift straight up to level 9 but subject to a fee of 3,000 VND (redeemable if spent on tenants). Otherwise, traipse the stairs behind the building and go floor by floor up. Not only cafes/ restaurants are included, there are some shops selling handicrafts, home-made goodies or even cosmetics goods! The building is a good testament to the old building standing in modern era; the huge contrast provides Instagrammable photo-opportunities. The place is one of the latest gathering-places for the young generations in Ho Chi Minh City.

Poke Saigon- Hawaiian Sushi Bowl
Address: 2nd Floor, The Cafe Apartment.
Business Hours: 10 am to 8 pm. Closed on Mondays.

Sushi Bowl (150,000 VND)

The indecisive would have headache choosing which shop to go into but if you are game for something different (than the usual cafe fare or Vietnamese food), do check out Poke Saigon. The place offers Hawaiian-influenced Sushi Bowls- delicate Japanese-American way of eating raw Fish and Salad, along with other yummy ingredients like Edamame, Seaweed, sauteed Shitake Mushrooms, mayonnaise-dressed Crab Sticks and flavored raw Salmon/ Tune atop of Sushi/ Brown Rice and bunch of fresh greens (Salad). An option to top up Ebiko (Shrimp Roe) or creamy Avocado spread would cost an extra 10,000 VND. The overall flavor-combination was amazing and with the presence of so much greens, it assuaged the guilt away! The place is also popular amongst the office ladies working in the vicinity.

Saigon Oi Cafe
Address: 5th Floor, The Cafe Apartment.
Business Hours: 8 am to 10 pm. Opens Daily.

Matcha Frappe (55,000 VND)

While Saigon Oi Cafe is not particularly impressive with its food/ drinks, the atmosphere and its strategic location (high-floor and facing the busy Union Square) have an edge over others. The place has a unique local Vietnamese touch, with rattan chairs and wooden tables in lieu of modernized furniture. The overall package is cozy and would be a good pit stop to recharge and rest your shopping legs (and provides a good platform for you to sip on your drink while looking at all walks of life in the metropolitan).

Xoi Ga Ut Map Number One (Steamed Glutinous Rice with Chicken)
Address: 19, Nguyen Trung Truc, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Business Hours: 7 am to 9 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +84 90 920 1003

Xoi Ga/ Steamed Glutinous Rice with Chicken (15,000 VND)

Goi Cuon/ Vietnamese Spring Rolls (40,000 VND)

At one corner of Le Thanh Toh (the main street that connects Ben Thanh Market to Union Square) is Xoi Ga Ut Map, a shop that specializes in serving Xoi Ga, a delicate Vietnamese version of Steamed Glutinous Rice with Chicken. The piping hot resilient Glutinous Rice is lightly doused with light Soy Sauce and served with Shallot crisps and shredded Chicken Breast. The flavor combination was amazing, you will first taste the fragrance of the Shallot followed by the chewy-addictive texture of Glutinous Rice with a mellow Soy Sauce aroma, then the meaty Chicken takes place. For those who prefer the dish with a spicy touch, add the home-made Chili paste but be careful, it can be overwhelming for some. A small serving of pickled Radish will also be served. This delicacy is famous amongst the working class of Vietnamese as afternoon snack (Glutinous Rice provides good energy).

Home-made Chili Paste

Tan Lap Restaurant
Address: 272-276-277 D, Le Thanh Ton, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Business Hours: 7 am to 10 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +84 (08) 3827 4717
Subject to 5% Service Charge

Pho Bo/ Beef Noodles (55,000 VND)

Chan Ga Xa Tac/ Vietnamese Chicken Feet (80,000 VND)

Nui Xao Bo/ Stir Fried Pasta with Beef (90,000 VND)

Muc Sot Chua Cay/ Stir Fried Squid (140,000 VND)

Gio Heo Ba Tri/ Vietnamese Pork Leg (195,000 VND)

Rau Muong Xao Toi/ Stir Fried Water Spinach (60,000 VND)

Vietnamese-styled Family restaurants are aplenty in Ho Chi Minh City but if you feel like splurging a little while traveling, give this place a try. Tan Lap Restaurant has presence along Le Thanh Toh, with a few branches along the bustling street, it is impossible not to notice the restaurant. The place is a little quiet during day time but can be thronged with regular patrons in the evenings and turned into a crowded bar with drinkers squatting right in front of the restaurant sipping on beers. Surprisingly, the food was not shabby at all. The Beef Pho was delicious, the broth was lovely and the texture of the noodles was beyond amazing. Other stir-fry dishes were great too but the addition of 10% VAT would bring up the cost of this meal. Not a bad option if you are on the lookout for a decent Vietnamese restaurant with comfortable and clean atmosphere. 

Pizza 4P's
Address: 8/15, Le Thanh Toh Street, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Business Hours: 10 am to 1:30 am. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +84 (08) 3622 0500
Prices subject to 10% VAT
Full Menu available here

Japanese Vongole Bianco (140,000 VND)

Carbonara (155,000 VND)

Cheese Fondue (95,000 VND/ small)

Margherita Pizza (150,000 VND)

3 Cheese Pizza (180,000 VND)

Flower Pizza (150,000 VND)

With its recent rapid development, Ho Chi Minh City has welcomed quite a number of foreign eateries and amongst the worth-visiting outlets, Pizza 4P's is definitely one of them. The Japanese-influenced Pizza joint offers a spectacular spread of Pizza, along with some Pasta choices but they are proud of their home-made Cheese. All Pizzas are made from scratch, including the dough. We had 3 types of Pizza- Margherita Pizza, 3 Cheese Pizza and Flower Pizza. The former 2 choices are their signature dishes but to our surprise, the Flower Pizza (meant for Vegetarians) stood out. It has Pumpkin Flowers, Leek Flowers, Onions etc, the greens provided a crunchy bite to the creamy-cheesy pie; everything amalgamated perfectly. But overall, the Pizzas were good and worth every penny spent. Just in case you are wondering about the Pasta, skip the Vongole, utter crap. 

East West Brewing Company
Address: 181- 185, Ly Tu Trong, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Business Hours: 11 am to 11 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +84 91 306 0728

Craft Beer- Farm House Saison and Summer Hefeweizen (75,000 VND onwards)

Grilled Oysters (150,000 VND/ half dozen)

Vietnam is officially one of the highest beer consumption countries in South East Asia, prices of beers are comparable to drinking water. The demand is pretty much self-explanatory, having said that, it also brings opportunities for craft Beers. East West Brewing Co. is one of the prominent brands in Ho Chi Minh City known for its craft Beers. The place houses its own brewing machines and have more than 8 types of craft Beers on offer at any times. The industrial interior decor of this place has a huge contrast over the street view of Ho Chi Minh City; to be frank, it wow-ed me when I first entered this place. It felt so spacious and comfortable, one of the better places to chill out in the city. 

Yamamoto Matcha Cafe @ Saigon Center
Address: Lower Ground Floor of Saigon Center, Le Loi Road, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Business Hours: 11 am to 10 pm. Opens Daily.

Matcha Shaved Ice with Soft Serve (70,000 VND)

Saigon Center is one of the more premium shopping malls in Ho Chi Minh City, its anchor tenant- Takashimaya, a famous Japanese Department store offers a wide variety of Japanese delights. One of which is Yamamoto Matcha Cafe, a cafe that specializes in serving Japanese Matcha sweet treats. While resting our shopping legs, we had the Matcha shaved Ice with Soft Serve and to our surprise, the vegetal flavor of Matcha was bold and paired extremely well with the Soft Serve. The texture of the shaved Ice nevertheless, can be smoother and finer (a little coarse to our liking).

Vietnamese Yong Tofu near Ben Thanh Market
Address: Le Loi Street, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Business Hours: Afternoon (around 3 pm)

Vietnamese Yong Tofu (30,000 VND)

While Ben Thanh Market is one of the must-visit places in Ho Chi Minh City, there are some mobile vendors around the neighborhood trying to sell some authentic local delicacies as well. If you are in luck and happened to meet this grandma on her bicycle, curiously carrying a big pot, do stop by and approach. She sells Vietnamese Yong Tofu (Vegetables stuffed with Fish and Meat Paste); unlike those found here, the broth that cooked the Yong Tofu was beyond amazing. It packed a herbaceous punch, probably a combination of Spices that my untrained palate could not discern; the outcome was lip-smacking. Texture-wise, the Yong Tofu was more or less similar to ours but the real draw was the simmering broth. It worked perfectly well with the Vietnamese Sriracha sauce. The locals enjoy this delicacy with Banh Mi as well.

Self-Photo Printing Kiosk (BOFT) @ Vincom Center Saigon
Address: Lower Ground Floor of Vincom Center, 72 Le Thanh Toh, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

2 Prints for 30,000 VND/ 4 Prints for 50,000 VND

It's hard to miss Vincom Center due to its strategic location (short walking distance from Union Square and major upscale hotels like Caravelle or Park Hyatt). But apart from the brands and interesting food establishments, do take a look at the self-printing kiosk. If you have taken some photos and wanted to do some quick printing, the kiosk allows you to do so, in less than a minute time. First, you connect to the WiFi (password given) and visit the website as instructed, you may then upload your photos to the website and make the payment. Printing will be done in a glimpse of an eye; pretty cool feature especially if you wish to bring some memories back.

UPDATES- as at September 2017:

Binh Tay Market

Notre-Dame Cathedral Saigon

On our recent visit to Ho Chi Minh City, we found that both Binh Tay Market (at China Town) and Notre-Dame Cathedral Saigon are closed for upgrading works. Binh Tay remains as one of the cheapest places to grab all your souvenirs and food stuff but most tenants have moved out to the temporary lots nearby and it can be very confusing to locate them (unless you speak and write Vietnamese). Be clear on what you are looking for and ask the Taxi Driver to drop you at the nearest spot. It does not seem like the place will be ready anytime soon. 

Have Fun Exploring Saigon!


  1. I love ASEAN cusines, Vietnamese included. No, thanks to all the rest...but I've never tried Banh Mi - I sure would love to try, having heard so much about it. I hear it is French in origin...or something handed down from their French colonial days?

  2. Aha... a Vietnamese theme between the two of us today. ;-)

  3. Wow! This is a long interesting post to lure me there. My close friend has visited HCM many times and told me they have more fun cafes & bars than KL. What am I waiting for??