Things to do in District 1
Along with the Archbishop’s Residence, this ranks as perhaps the most graceful and visually arresting colonial building in Saigon, full of rococo flourish and wonderful wedding-cake detail.
Irony comes to Ho Chi Minh City at this perfectly named boutique that trades in Socialist-themed ephemera: Communist Party T-shirts, Uncle Ho coffee mugs, key-chains emblazoned with NVA tanks, and more.
Bespoke couturier Nguyen Cong Tri fashions runway-worthy satin and silk frocks at ready-to-wear prices (a floaty, turquoise chiffon dress for under $300). But don't expect a quick turnaround: it will take up to 10 days and a couple of fittings (shipping is available).
The fabulously embellished, often downright zany handbags of Hong Kong native and Hanoi resident Christina Yu are sold in Paris and London at three times the price; here you’ll find her latest designs as well as a small selection of shoes and costume jewelry.
Stepping into L’Usine is a whole other sensory experience: the light-filled industrial space (polished concrete floors; exposed beams) holds a café, a gallery, and a bevy of casual-cool clothing labels—even a selection of vintage bikes.
This friendly store—one of many similar cotton shops on Le Thanh Ton—ranks as one of the street’s best. The accommodating staff, which speaks halting but comprehensible English, will make simple embroidered cotton or linen sheets, pillowcases, duvet covers, and napkins to your specifications.
Parents of little girls thank heaven for Than Thuy, an unassuming shop packed to the rafters with adorable gingham dresses with Peter Pan collars, plaid jumpers, and eyelet nightgowns—all meticulously embroidered, stitched, and smocked by hand.
Valerie Gregori McKenzie, a French clothing designer based in Saigon, sells her breezy resort wear (sundresses, tops, and sarongs in soft cotton, silk, and linen) and yoga separates at this pleasant and well-run boutique, which emphasizes ethical sourcing of fabrics.
Saigon’s main public market sells everything from dried spices and live chickens to cheap clothing and plasticware. And while it may be chaotic and crowded, it’s always entertaining to explore—and especially good for a quick snack from the many food vendors here.
At this minimalist shop tucked under the Beaux-Arts Municipal Theater, graphic primary-color classics are reminiscent of Michael Kors; a crimson satin party dress with an exposed zipper is a steal for less than $100.
The white-on-white Modernist building that houses Gaya makes a dramatic first impression (yes, those are giant fountain-pen nibs on the façade). Inside, you'll find the best haute souvenirs in all of Saigon.
Housed in a restored colonial villa (next door to a former opium refinery) with a broad terrace overlooking a tree-shrouded courtyard, this louche hot spot is a hangout for the local beau monde. It’s perpetually jammed, especially on weekend nights, when live bands or DJs reign.
Racks of candy-colored Indo-chic dresses (from $120) fill the sleek pink-and-black space. Traditional Asian silhouettes are modernized and delivered in unusual fabrics such as houndstooth or nubby wool.
The delirious pastiche of the former presidential palace, completed in 1966, calls to mind the lair of a Bond villain crossed with Austin Powers’s pad. Yes, this is where the National North Vietnamese Army crashed its tanks through the fence in April 1975 and effectively ended the war.
What was once Vietnam’s hippest nightspot—in the mid-1990s pioneer days—has lost a bit of its edge: the new décor is too flashy, the lighting distracting, and the clientele more corporate than cool.