We stayed in District 1 for the entire duration of our stay in Saigon (also called Ho Chi Mihn City). It’s hard to get a real feel of the city when you’re restricted to a 2-day travel schedule. Fortunately, District 1 isn’t a bore. You can spend the day exploring remnants of the city’s colonial past and the night — by letting the locals show you how to have a good time.
Get Dazzled by Light
District 1 lights up by night. With the evenings being relatively cooler in the month of July; it’s perfect to walk around and soak in the the night scene. Almost every building (including Saigon Opera House and City Hall) or high-rise puts on a splendid show of lights.
If you’re walking around Ho Chi Mihn Square, along Nguyen Hue Walking Street, keep your eyes peeled for the ‘Cafe Apartment‘. I had read about it before our trip and didn’t think we’d get to see it. As the name suggests, the ‘Cafe Apartment’ is an old apartment building that has been converted into a series of hip cafes, restaurants, and boutiques.
Get High on Flavour
Sampling local food should definitely top your list. Vietnamese cuisine is high on flavour and I couldn’t get enough of it. You could choose to dine at local chains or expensive hotels. Over the years, the expat population has contributed to the gastronomy of the city. So, it wouldn’t be hard to find global cuisine around. Tempting as it looked, we preferred to stick to authentic Vietnamese cuisine.
If eating fancy isn’t your thing, you could head to Nguyen Hue Walking Street. Street food stalls dot the paved street and are a big hit with the locals. Everything looked interesting and curious as we were — I wasn’t brave enough to try any of it.
Watch Street Performances
At night, Nguyen Hue Walking Street transforms into a performance venue for local entertainers. Honestly, it was hard to understand what was going on between bobbing heads. Some performances were theatrical and seemed to effectively combine humour with drama. I preferred the musical performances instead. It’s easier to appreciate music without understanding the language. Although I could be mistaken, some tunes seemed vaguely similar to the OST of Korean dramas. I wouldn’t be surprised given the influx of Korean tourists and the spread of K-Dramas across Asia.
Not to be left behind, some expats/tourists decided to give their musical abilities a shot.
It’s hard to capture the energy of an evening in Saigon in words. The air is filled with a celebration and one would expect foreign tourists to line the streets. Instead, the locals came dressed in their best. Given the short duration of our stay, it would be difficult to say if this was a seasonal occurrence (coinciding with tourism) or just a way of local life. I’m tempted to go with the latter. If I’d be living in Saigon, I guess, I would love to enjoy a gentle breeze and the energy of being surrounded by people. Families with kids, young adults, and couples seemed to melt together. It could be just me, being a tourist looking from the outside, but I did feel a general sense of happiness.
The Saigon River lies on the opposite end of Ho Chi Mihn Square. It wore a deserted look by the time we made it there. Flags fluttered high and lights blurred the night sky. The gates were closed and we couldn’t get a clear view of the river. The closed gates didn’t stop couples from trying to get away from the festivities — on the other side of the street.
Put your Bargaining Skills to the Test
We’d heard a lot about Ben Thanh Market and wanted to end the night with a visit to this famous local market. Sadly, it didn’t live up to our expectations. There were some interesting eating options and you can find good deals on souvenirs. I loved the intricate (eggshell) artwork of the Vietnamese women in traditional attire. Basil being the tough negotiator tried to get a good deal for a set of two. I’d have just paid the price and turns out Basil got a good deal and it was a great way to end our stay in Saigon — before we left for Hanoi.
And just in case you’ve missed our previous post on Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon):
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