How do you find the best of ever-vibrant, ever-changing Ho Chi Minh City? Get an insider guide. T+L asked three plugged-in residents to open their little black books.
The Journalist: Brett Davis
Editorial director, AsiaLife magazine
Moved from Australia in 2010
Favorite neighborhood: The corner of District 3 bordered by Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Dien Bien Phu, and Hai Ba Trung is filled with old architecture and grand trees.
In-town escape: When Saigon gets to be too much and I need my whiskey and Miles Davis, I go to the First Bar (23 Huynh Thuc Khang St., District 1), which has jazz and a maestro mixing cocktails.
Weekend getaway: Ho Tram is a beach about two hours away, depending on traffic. It will be the next hot spot, but for now it’s mostly just a couple of resorts. My wife and I recently stayed in a magnificent oceanfront villa at Sanctuary.
Quintessential Saigon Bite: Bánh xèo, crisp pancakes you fill with prawns and sprouts. I get mine from Bánh Xèo 46A (46A Dinh Cong Trang), in District 3, which has been around forever.
If Saigon were a film, it would be... a David Lynch movie, because you see some weird stuff. Someone will offer you whiskey in a jar with a baby leopard in it. That really happened to me. You just have to drink it.
The Designer: Linda Mai Phung
Art director, Linda Mai Phung fashion design house
Moved from Paris in 2009
On friday evenings I’m usually… at the Deck, a restaurant in District 2, for a riverside cocktail with girlfriends.
In-town escape: A head massage-slash-shampoo at a local hairdresser. I love L’Apothiquaire spa, in District 3.
Weekend getaway: Definitely Hoi An. I ride a bicycle, get lost in the rice fields, and wander the tiny old city with its ancient houses and plethora of good tailors and shoemakers—important for a designer.
Hotel recommendation: I send friends to the Alcove Library Hotel, a boutique property in Phu Nhuan that’s hidden and charming, with attentive owners and an extensive collection of books.
Recent discovery: At the District 1 boutique L’Usine, I found a great leather satchel by Valérie Cordier, a French expat who makes beautiful pieces from upcycled industrial food bags and textiles by Vietnamese ethnic groups.
The Pop Star: Kim Khanh
Singer, director, actress, talk-show host
Born and raised in Saigon
What’s underrated: Nuoc mia (sugarcane juice). You’ll see the carts on the street, pressing fresh sugarcane through the machine by hand. It’s not too sweet—just frothy and refreshing.
Last great meal: Duck noodles at Bun Vit Le Van Sy (Hem 281 Le Van Sy, District 3). The meat is soft and has such a nice flavor. They only sell them for two hours per day, from about 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. If you come at six, they’ll have sold out.
What nobody tells you: Saigon’s history. South Vietnamese people don’t like to talk about politics, but understanding the past is important; it explains why Saigonese are the way we are. Visit the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City to learn some of the backstory.
Hotel recommendation: The Park Hyatt Saigon is one of the city’s gathering places for drinks, dinner, brunch, or even tea. And it’s got a beautifully landscaped swimming pool right in the middle of town—very important in a place that’s always hot and humid.
Looking for more on Ho Chi Minh City restaurants? Read T+L’s Guide to Restaurants in District 1.