Bric-a-brac to bespoke
You can find most souvenirs – from traditional outfits to lacquerware and other handicrafts (below) – at the iconic Ben Thanh Market (Le Loi, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1). Don’t forget to bargain.
I love the unique, locally designed handmade clutches, satchels, bucket bags and more from Ipa Nima. Its shops around the city are definitely worth visiting.
When looking for a quality bespoke suit that’s affordable, I go to H&D Tailor for a private consultation with the master tailor. The store has three generations of tailoring experience and you can choose from a wide range of fine fabrics.
Enjoy an authentic Vietnamese meal at Cuc Gach Quan, which is housed in a retro colonial villa. The restaurant, located in a quiet alley in the city centre, is great for those who want to catch a glimpse of Vietnamese life in the old days. This is reflected in its features – from the tableware to the decor, and down to the little drink straws made from the stems of the morning glory plant. If you don’t know what to choose from its diverse menu, the courteous waiters can explain the ingredients. Dishes include sautéed pumpkin flower, fried fish with green mango and boiled pork with shrimp brine.
Banh mi, the Vietnamese baguette with fillings, is one of the most convenient yet nutritious snacks here. Banh mi vendors can be found at any corner of town. For less than US$1.50, you can get a sandwich stuffed with sliced meat, pate, pork floss, cucumber, onions and other ingredients.
I frequent Banh Mi Huynh Hoa (26 Le Thi Rieng, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Tel: 84 83 925 0885), the city’s most well- known banh mi shop. You know you’re at the right place when you see a big crowd of people.
Bitexco Financial Tower is the highest building in Ho Chi Minh City. Enjoy panoramic views of the city from the observation deck on Level 49. The building is shaped like a lotus bud and can be seen from the rooftop of the famous Chill Skybar, which also boasts breathtaking vistas at night – plus classic cocktails with a twist.
Grab a chair at a sidewalk coffee shop and sip on an aromatic Vietnamese brew as you watch the hustle and bustle on the streets.
I highly recommend coffee with condensed milk (ca phe sua da), although serious coffee lovers may prefer the robustly flavoured black coffee. Locals like to enjoy it at Vy Cafe (278 Le Thanh Ton, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1).
Popular day trips
Cu Chi Tunnels, just outside Tay Ninh, is about 70km north-west of Ho Chi Minh City. This elaborate 200km-long system of hand-dug tunnels once sheltered Vietnamese soldiers during the war. Find out more about the life of a soldier with Buffalo Tours. You’ll get a chance to explore the tunnels and look at booby traps.
Nature lovers may enjoy the vast rice fields, fruit orchards and floating markets of the Mekong Delta, a four-hour drive from the city. Visit the markets early in the day and order food from vendors on little boats; it’s amazing how the hawkers maintain their balance while cooking and serving up steaming bowls of noodles.
View other useful insider’s guides.
PHOTOS MICHELLE FALZONE, PAUL PANAYIOTOU (CORBIS) / INMAGINE / 123RF.COM
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.