Monday, October 5, 2015

HCMC Foodie Trip: 5 Days in Saigon

I recently returned from a trip to Saigon, by myself. CX ran a special Fanfare promotion to SGN in late September so I figure it's a good time to pay a visit to a country that I have never visited before, something I haven't done for more than 4 years.

Anyway, I arrived on a Sunday morning on a hot and humid day, not exactly knowing what to expect. Yes I have done some research and asked friends for recommendations etc before I boarded the flight, but Vietnam is still remained a mystery country to me, other than the tidbits we picked up from movies or occasional visit to Vietnamese restaurants in town. I basically know nothing about the language, its history and culture, what to see, what to do, and most importantly its food and culture. So I was eager to explore more, one town at a time.

My first reaction when I walked out of the gate at the airport was, Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as many locals still call it, was super crowded and fast-paced. Official record shows a population of almost 8 million living the city but the real figure was said to be closer to 12. And the city itself is still in a mixture of old and new - there are no lack of modern skyscrapers, fancy hotels and shopping malls, and they are even building a new metro system, but most of the city remained like those Chinese cities in the early 80s before economy took off. And I was daunted just by standing at a random street junction, trying to cross the road in the midst of scores of pedestrians, cars, buses, scooters, all coming in different directions and showed no intention to stop. People have always said in China, traffic lights merely function as a reference, but here, I almost felt like the traffic control system is simply non-existent.

I can't wait to explore this new country and this new city, as I left my bag in my hotel in District 1 in downtown. My first stop was Ben Thanh Market, a quick 10 minute walk from where I stayed. Every single guide book - English and Chinese - would tell you this is a must-visit spot, for a little experience of the local life. But I was slightly disappointed. The market is huge no doubt, and there's a fair share of areas for food - cooked or fresh - towards the back end of the market, but most of the floor space was mainly arts & craft or souvenirs, obviously items more catered to tourists then locals. It's almost the same scene as what you would expect at say Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, or even Temple Street back home.

After spending about 20 minutes inside the market, I left and wanted to sit down for some food. Saigon is famous for its street food culture - more on that later - but my first meal was actually a sit-down western style brunch at a fancy restaurant. L'Usine is a lifestyle store with 2 branches in Ho Chi Minh City - a mixture of a boutique with designer fashion items, a houseware store, art gallery and cafe.

The one I went was just down the road from Ben Thanh Market, and at 11am when I arrived, the upstairs cafe was already full of young people, mainly locals but some out-of-towners, all having a sip of coffee or tea or juice and simple western brunch dishes. The decor is a bit generic and just resembles any hipster cafe you would see in any metropolitan city elsewhere, but the price was reasonable and food quite decent. To me, this is a perfect spot for me to catch a breath after my first impression of the city, to just sit down, relax and start to plot what I am going to do for the next 4 days, while observing the fast traffic and passers-by on Le Loi Street outside as time slowly ticked by.

To be continued...

Where? L'Usine, 70B Le Loi Street, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

More pictures from my Vietnam trip in my Flickr album:

1 comment :

Saigon Parks said...

Very interesting piece of information, your trip in Saigon looks awesome.