They say you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, and some time away from Ho Chi Minh City has certainly made me appreciate it all the more. Sure, a break from the greyness and the heat is nice, but I’ve found myself beginning to miss the metropolis, and dreaming of a cold cup of cà phê sữa đá. From cheap beer to bikes to beauty treatments, there’s so much to love about Saigon. Its vibrancy, café culture and abundance of hidden gems make it a pretty dynamite place to live. Here are my very favourite things about Ho Chi Minh City:
1. Coffee Coffee Coffee
Vietnamese coffee is the BOMB. As the second-biggest coffee producer in the world, the Vietnamese know a thing or two about coffee- and how to serve it. Even if you’re not a coffee fan, cà phê sữa đáwill likely be one of the best things you ever taste. It’s strong, rich Vietnamese coffee served iced with a generous amount of condensed milk, and it’s beyond delicious. Cà phê sữa đá is a thick, sugary treat that wakes you up and cools you down at the same time- a godsend for those early weekend classes.
It’s not just the drink itself that I’ve been missing- cafe culture abounds in Vietnam. There’s nary a street in Saigon without a coffee shop (or ten) present. These quaint cafes blend simplicity and charm in a strangely picturesque way, offering relief from Saigon’s daily pandemonium.
2. Bui Vien
Good old B.V.! Ho Chi Minh’s sordid backpacker strip is loved and hated in equal measures by tourists and expats alike. Some say it’s not “real Saigon”, yet it wouldn’t be Saigon without it. Characterised by neon lights, blaring music, dodgy bars and the most incredible cross-sample of Saigon’s population, Bui Vien is nothing if not a spectacular people-watching spot. Drunken backpackers in garish fruit-patterned shirts dance until the wee hours, and teachers are on their very worst behaviour after school. The young, fashionable Vietnamese head there, the women often dressed to the nines in spite of the litter and cockroaches under their fabulously high heels. An array of street hawkers and beggars haunt the strip each night, selling cigarettes, souvenirs and knock-off DVDs. And of course, who could forget the ladies of the night and the vendors selling more, ahem, medicinal wares? This is Saigon’s seedy underbelly, after all.
Expats tend to go through three stages with Bui Vien: fascination, disdain and finally an acceptance of the street for what it is: a dirty, dingy, bloody good time. You don’t plan Bui Vien, you just end up there. At 7 am. Minus your shoes.
3. Cheap Beer
The aforementioned Bui Vien wouldn’t be half as much fun if the beer weren’t so damned cheap. Beer in Ho Chi Minh City is crazily affordable, starting at ₫10,000 (£0.33/$0.43) for a bottle of Saigon beer. Supermarket cans only cost about ₫15,000 (£0.50/$0.64) and a Tiger will set you back around ₫30,000 (£1/$1.29) at most places I like to go. You’ll pay a little more at some popular western bars, but it’s still VERY affordable. With beer this cheap, you can’t afford NOT to go out.
4. Easy Living
Working 20-30 hours per week whilst being able to live the life of riley and save a little money? What’s not to love? As I’ve said before the high salary of a teacher compared to the low cost of living in Saigon permits you to have it all.
5. My Motorbike
Vietnam is infamous for its dangerous roads and crazy motorbike traffic, yet zipping about on my noble steed is one of my favourite things about life in Ho Chi Minh City. There’s a sense of freedom that you just don’t get with a car, plus there are always a fair few interesting sights along the way. Even after a year, there’s something wonderful about seeing a family of four (or more) piled on a motorbike, with their dog riding in the footwell. Or someone with a basket of live goats balanced precariously on the back. Or a fridge. You get the idea. For more on motorbiking in ‘Nam, click here.
6. Banh Mis and Pho
There’s nothing like a fresh banh mi when you’re starving hungry. A crusty baguette filled with pate, vegetables and a selection of processed meats, the banh mi is a delicious staple in the diets of locals and expats alike. Plus, they only cost around đ15,000 (£0.50/$0.65) per sandwich!
Pho, meanwhile, is more than just the name of this blog (I didn’t realise it was pronounced ‘fuh’ when I chose my username…) It’s an incredibly flavoursome beef noodle soup served with fresh herbs and lime. Traditionally eaten for breakfast, pho can be enjoyed at any time of the day- and it will only cost you around đ30,000 (£1/$1.30).
7. Beauty and Spa Treatments
I’ve written before about how affordable it is to pamper yourself in Vietnam. Salons, spas and nail bars are abundant in Saigon, and their treatments cost a fraction of what you’d pay in the west. £14 for eyelash extensions? Yes, please! £10 for an hour-long massage? Shut up and take my money.
For me, there’s a certain sense of luxury that comes with being able to afford a weekly massage or being able to get your nails done without batting an extended eyelash at the cost. Basically, I just enjoy pretending to be a well-pampered lady of leisure.
This might seem a little strange because Poke is Hawaiian, not Vietnamese, cuisine. However, a Poke craze has swept Saigon and restaurants are popping up left, right and centre. This raw fish and rice salad, topped with brightly coloured fruits and veggies, is so good that I’ve eaten it for four days running before. It really hasn’t taken off in England yet, so I’m missing it big time!
What are your favourite things about your city?