Ho Chi Minh City Guide

With an average age of thirty and soaring economic growth, Ho Chi Minh City, the massive metropolis in Southern Vietnam,
bursts with youthful energy and vitality, and will hopefully soon be home to UNIQLO HO CHI MINH CITY. Let’s take a look around this bustling town.

Cityscape: Spotting History in the Scenery

Completed in 1891, the Saigon Central Post Office has been in operation for nearly 130 years. Its beautiful arched ceilings were modeled after the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

Completed in 1891, the Saigon Central Post Office has been in operation for nearly 130 years. Its beautiful arched ceilings were modeled after the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

The seafood restaurant Ốc Đào Nguyễn Trãi, a local favorite, buzzes with customers. Every night, the garage-like atmosphere is packed like sardines.

The rapidly developing District 1, the busiest part of the city.

Sunrise comes early to Ho Chi Minh City. At dawn, as if on cue, the city stirs to life.

Ten minutes south by car from District 1, Xom Chieu Market in Distinct 4, a pillar of the city’s food culture, has every kind of fruit, meat or fish imaginable.

The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Building was completed in 1909. Lit up at night, it is a sight to behold.

Ho Chi Minh City―
Where Diverse Cultures Come Together

Harsh sunlight and humidity. Squads of Japanese scooters zooming down the road. In the markets, starting early in the morning, ladies in straw hats call out for you to buy their vegetables and fish. A young woman dressed in a dazzling ao dai sashays past a group of friends slurping noodles at a phò stand. As typical a vignette as this may be, it shows but one of the many sides of Ho Chi Minh City. Strolling about centrally located District 1, you’ll stumble upon grandiose colonial structures built almost a hundred years ago, when the city was under French rule. It feels like you’ve been teleported from the hubbub of Asia into a classic European scene. Further down the road, you’ll see a skyscraper. The collection of high-rises feels like Manhattan. The young artists and other creatives live in the comparatively cheaper District 2, across the Saigon River, in a pattern reminiscent of what Brooklyn was like ten year ago.

While known as the “Paris of the East,” the city is both more diverse and more complex. What makes Ho Chi Minh City so fascinating is its remarkable ability to embrace its history and create something entirely original from a diverse mix of cultures.

Architecture The Changing Face of
Ho Chi Minh City

Urban Farming Office
39A Ta Hien, Quarter 1, Thanh My Loi, Dist.2, Ho Chi Minh City

The offices of Vo Trong Nghia Architects, constructed this year in District 2. Moveable “tree pods,” which expand vertically and horizontally, send water vapor transpired by the plants into the building, cooling its interior.

Wind and Water Café
6/28T Tran Binh Trong, Phu Tho, Thu Dau Mot, Binh Duong
+84 274 3813 085 OPEN 6:30-22:00 Daily

“Wind and Water Café,” Nghia’s first venture into bamboo architecture, pictured here in 2006. A soft breeze blows through the cafe, where bent bamboo elements conjure images of traditional Vietnamese crafts.

Vo Trong Nghia
Architect. Born in 1976 in Quang Binh Province, Vietnam, Nghia heads VTN Architects. Since founding the office in 2006, he has focused on green architecture that decreases the burden on the environment. His work has received numerous international awards.

The Myst Dong Khoi
6-8 Ho Huan Nghiep, Ben Nghe, Dist.1, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 28 3520 3040

The Myst Dong Khoi, a hotel designed by a21studio. The plants randomly distributed over the walls were inspired by street-side planters.

GEM Center
8 Nguyen Binh Khiem, Da Kao, Dist.1, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 28 3911 7070

The woodworking inside the GEM Center, an event complex, is styled after the ventilated walls and fences found in domestic Vietnamese architecture. These wood designs, a familiar sight in homes throughout Ho Chi Minh City, were all handmade by master craftsmen from Southern Vietnam.

Nguyen Hoa Hiep
Architect. Born in 1978 in Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam, Hiep heads architectural group a21 studio. Much of his design work has dealt with a nostalgia for a bygone lifestyle, making people curious to see what he does next.

The Key is Updating Tradition

Rapid economic development is threatening the city’s greenspace. Approaching 9 million people, the population is rising year by year. The city occupies about 2000 square kilometers—about the same as Tokyo, in terms of area, but with not even 1/10 of the amount of greenspace per person. The architect Vo Trong Nghia has devoted himself to rectifying this societal problem. By applying bamboo work techniques traditionally used in Vietnamese crafts and furniture to his designs, he has created a style both indigenous and novel. In recent years, he pivoted toward green architecture, making his mark on the global stage.

“a21studio,” led by Nguyen Hoa Hiep, is updating tradition in a similar fashion. Inspired by the planters and ventilated masonry of their first memories of Ho Chi Minh City, their approach is both nostalgic and fresh, as well as being good for the environment. More than just a modern look, it answers to the era. Reinterpreting and recycling traditions, to help the city coexist with nature. In Ho Chi Minh City, this is the new architectural standard.

Art Galleries Recommended by the
Next Generation

The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre
15 Nguyen U Di, Thao Dien, Dist.2, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 28 3744 2589 OPEN 10:00-19:00 CLOSED Monday

This massive factory-style gallery opened in 2016. The facility includes a library and a cafe.

Galerie Quynh
118 Nguyen Van Thu, Da Kao, Dist.1, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 28 3822 7218 OPEN 10:00-19:00 CLOSED Sunday and Monday

Galerie Quynh is run by Quynh Pham, who grew up in California, and Celine Alexandre, originally from Belgium. Their space serves as a hub between the Vietnamese and overseas art scenes.

San Art
MILLENNIUM MASTERI BUILDING, UNIT B6.16 & B6.17, 132 Ben Van Don, Ward 6, Dist.4, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 339 811 696 OPEN 10:30-18:30 CLOSED Sunday and Monday

Hailing from Tỉnh Kiên Giang, internationally renowned artist Dinh Q. Le founded San Art in 2007.

Liar Ben’s graffiti work pops up all over the city.

Liar Ben
Graffiti artist. Born in 1990 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Ben started making graffiti while studying at Ho Chi Minh University of Fine Arts. His work is a standard feature of hotspots around the city, from restaurants to nightclubs.

Three Must-See Art Galleries
in Ho Chi Minh City

“This idea that Vietnam equals Propaganda is old news,” explains Liar Ben, the driving force behind Ho Chi Minh City’s graffiti scene. Which galleries offer a taste of where the city is today?

“I’m a fan of San Art, produced by Dinh Q. Le, who had a big solo exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in 2015. Then over in District 2 there’s The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre, which is as interesting inside as it is from the outside. And don’t miss the classic Galerie Quynh. The younger artists are working all across the board, in film, motion graphics, digital media, photography, crafts. The scene is really experimental. Just like the city itself, the art world here keeps changing at a dizzying speed.”

Tuhu Ceramics
11/4 Nguyen U Di, Thao Dien, Dist.2, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 90 694 74 88 OPEN 9:00-18:00 Daily

Set on a narrow street in District 2, the shop catches the eye. These cannisters cost 105,000 VND.

Green Around the Corner
32 Tran Ngoc Dien, Thao Dien, Dist.2, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 773 727 024 OPEN 9:00-18:00 Daily

This cozy shop is packed with eco-friendly local goods. Woven by city artisans from water hyacinth grasses, this bag is 690,000 VND.

The BLOOM
32 D10, Thao Dien, Dist.2, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 28 3519 0102 OPEN 10:00-22:00 Daily

The BLOOM shares its space with Spice Bistro, an eatery focusing on Vietnamese dishes with a reputation for its organic lotus wine.

T・POT JOURNAL delves deep into the world of crafts through articles on things like indigo dying and hand embroidery.

Doan Thi Kim Anh
The chief editor of T・POT JOURNAL. Born in 1989 in Bac Ninh Province, Vietnam. Kim Anh also works as the Creative Leader of lifestyle shop The BLOOM.
www.away-studio.com

Taking a Closer Look
at Vietnamese Crafts

T・POT JOURNAL showcases Asian artisans and crafts, centering around the theme of living the good life. We asked the chief editor, Doan Thi Kim Anh, for her list of the essential lifestyle shops in Ho Chi Minh City.

“I’d start off with Tuhu Ceramics. This curated space is a great spot to buy Song Be ware, a traditional pottery from Southern Vietnam. For a nice assortment of eco-friendly local products, check out Green Around the Corner. Over at The BLOOM, which I help manage, we offer things like bamboo baskets custom made by traditional artisans from Hà Tây Province. There are also lots of new shops partnering with skilled local makers, to promote crafts made right here in Ho Chi Minh City.”

Food Eating Your Way
Around Ho Chi Minh City

Banh Mi Hong Hoa
62 Nguyen Van Trang, Ben Thanh Dist.1, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 90 881 15 94 OPEN 4:30 to 22:00 Daily

Open from the crack of dawn at 4:30 until 10 at night, this popular banh mi shop is a local favorite, with people often spilling out the door. The bread, all of which is baked on premises, spends practically no time in the oven, creating a flaky crust around the puffy dough. The sandwiches are slathered with a thick layer of pate and piled with roast pork, ham, pickled vegetables, fish, and cucumbers, but even the large size, fully loaded, isn’t too much for a single sitting. 40,000 VND.

Be Che
1154-1130, Ben Thanh Market, Phan Chu Trinh, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 90 9634 917 OPEN 6:00-17:00 Daily

Found inside the Ben Thanh Market in District 1, this chè specialty shop opened in 1968. A mixture of various ingredients like fruits, sweetened agar jelly, azuki beans, sweet potatoes and fermented mochi rice, this local dessert is stirred and eaten with a long spoon. Ice adds a pleasant crunchiness. Not too sweet, chè has a refreshing aftertaste. The mixed chè is 25,000 VND. Essentially a Vietnamese custard pudding has a simple, old-timey sweetness. The banh flan is 20,000 VND.

Spice Bistro Thao Dien
32 D11, Thao Dien, Dist.2, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 28 3519 0106 OPEN 7:00-22:00 Daily

This modern Vietnamese restaurant has two locations in the city, but the District 2 location was designed by a21studio. The gabled roof and brick facade make for a charming presentation. Once inside, you’ll find a courtyard cooled by a gentle breeze. The menu runs the gamut of Vietnamese cuisine, everything from phở and banh mi to soups and hot pots, but the stewed fish (90,000 VND, pictured above) and lemongrass freshwater snail kebab (150,000 VND, middle) are works of art. There is also an extensive wine list.

Vi Saigon
41 Tran Nhat Duat, Tan Dinh, Dist.1, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 93 920 18 51 OPEN 7:00-21:00 Daily

Vi Saigon’s bún thit nuong—rice noodles topped with charred pork, spring rolls, and lightly dressed vegetables—is simply unforgettable. They use only the best rib roast, and their spring rolls, chock-full of taro, shrimp and crab, get tastier with every bite. In the kitchen, the staff works in perfect harmony, preparing the meals in matching floral dresses. 46,000 VND.

Com Tam Moc
85 Ly Tu Trong, Ben Thanh, Dist.1, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 28 3824 8561 OPEN 6:00-22:00 Daily

This relaxed spot offers the ideal setting for trying out cơm tấm, a Ho Chi Minh City soul food consisting of grilled meat over rice and vegetables. The pork roast, marinated in a sweet and spicy sauce, is unbelievably delicious on its own, but mixed with broken rice, sliced pork rind, pork pies and crunchy vegetables, and topped off with nước mấm (fish sauce), the flavor is irresistible. The fluffier texture of broken rice pulls everything together, sopping up the different flavors. 74,000 VND.

The WORKSHOP
27 Ngo Duc Ke, Ben Nghe, Dist.1, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 28 3824 6801 OPEN 8:00-21:00 Daily

Ho Chi Minh City has no shortage of cafes, a product of French influence. Many of them specialize in old-fashioned Vietnamese iced coffee, sweetened with condensed but, more and more specialty coffee shops are popping up, But The WORKSHOP remains the only place where you can have your coffee made using a French press, Aeropress, Hario or Chemex. Vietnamese beans from Ngoc Farm, prepared with a siphon. 135,000 VND.

PHO HOA Pasteur
260C Pasteur, Ward 8, Dist.3, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 28 3829 7943 OPEN 6:00-23:30 Daily

If you’re going to eat phở, the quintessential Vietnamese comfort food, you need to visit PHO HOA Pasteur, in business now for over fifty years. After simmering for six hours, the beef bone broth is rich but not without a certain clarity. Even once the lime and the spicy garlic paste are added, the flavors of the broth shine through. The soup itself includes a heaped helping of beef, chicken, meatballs, and offal, topped off with fresh herbs and your choice of seasonings. 90,000 VND.

Banh Xeo 46A
46A Dinh Cong Trang, Tan Dinh, Dist.1, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 28 3824 1110 OPEN 10:00-14:00, 16:00-21:00 Daily

Bánh xèo is a homestyle dish originating in Southern Vietnam, where a pancake made from rice flour, coconut milk and turmeric is stuffed with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts and eaten by hand, using red leaf lettuce or leafy herbs as a wrapper. Opened in 1945, Banh Xeo 46a is a city institution. The moment you arrive, you can hear the batter sizzling in big woks over the coals. Vegetables give the bánh xèo added body, and the sweet nước mắm based dipping sauce offers the perfect complement to the meal. Bánh xèo with all the fixings goes for 150,000 VND.

※All prices, hours, and days of operation current as of May 2019. 10,000VND≒0.43USD (as of July 2019)

What Gives Ho Chi Minh City its Appetite?

The noodles in phở are made from rice flour. Bánh xèo, similar to Japan’s okonomiyaki, is also created from a rice flour paste, but dyed with turmeric. With its history of French colonial rule, Vietnam is full of delicious bakeries, but what gives its bread that signature flaky, fluffy texture is none other than rice flour. Same goes for the wraps on spring rolls. The rice flour is key. Mochi rice also plays a vital role in chè, the sweet Vietnamese drink or pudding recently popular in Japan. The culinary possibilities of rice verge on the unfathomable, but the soul food cơm tấm is bound to take your idea of what rice can do to the next level. The rice used for this dish is broken into tiny pieces, about 1/3 the size of the white rice used in Japan. Cơm tấm has its roots in the long period of suffering brought about by war, when people ate unmilled “broken rice” out of necessity. Today, broken rice is an essential element of Vietnamese cuisine.

What gives Ho Chi Minh City its energy and vivacity? Walk around sampling the street food, and you’ll realize: it’s all about rice.

Store Opening

Coming soon...

UNIQLO HO CHI MINH CITY

Ho Chi Minh City stirs with activity, and will soon hopefully be home to a new UNIQLO. Details on the location and opening date will be announced in the near future.

Photography by Tetsuya Ito, Coordination by Noriaki Sugita,
Pham Nhu Hao, Illustration by Shinji Abe, Adrian Hogan(portrait),
Editing by Kyosuke Nitta

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