Instead of running after the main tourist attractions in Saigon, you can do some lovely alternative things to satisfy your cravings for food, entertainment or adventure shopping.
Saigon Square | photo: Frank Fox (cc-by-sa)
Tired of the daily grey? Try these alternatives!
Instead of: Heineken
Drink: Local Craft Beers
Why would anybody bother with international dishwater, if some of the greatest craft beers in all of Asia are brewed right around the corner? Platinum tastes just awesome and its headquarters are right here in District 1. Hoa Vien offers dark, Czech style beer on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street. But don’t forget Pasteur Brewing Company on (duh) Pasteur and, of course, the ever-expanding medley of other craft breweries. Bia Craft alone has around 30 beers on tap in their main place in District 3. Myself I fancy the pale ale from Fuzzy Logic, while friends of mine swear that the Winking Seal is the best recent addition to Saigon's brand new and utterly amazing craft beer scene.
Instead of: Coffee Chains
Try: Speciality Coffee Shops
Yes, the pricing of speciality coffee is on another scale, but it's well worth the extra đồng. Great coffee beans from farms all over the world and of course Vietnam are freshly roasted, ground and brewed by skilled baristas. The roasters, many of whom I know personally, are master craftsmen of their trade and constantly improve their methods to bring out the best of each individual harvest. The taste is very different from your normal cup of coffee, and if you are especially curious you can try and compare speciality coffee beans prepared by different brewing methods.
I fancy myself a bit of a coffee geek, so keep your eyes peeled on quite some more articles about the joyful beans throughout our platforms.
Ha! Finally we can offer you another option to experience Vietnamese coffee first hand - with our Shin Coffee Tour! Learn what you always wanted to know about coffee in Vietnam, experiment with the traditional phin and attend a cupping of several different coffees from the country's distinct agricultural regions. Read more in our dedicated article over here.
Shin Coffee on Ho Huan Nghiep Street, District 1, Saigon | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox
Instead of: Ben Thanh Market
Visit: Binh Tay Market
Often also called Cho Lon Market after the good old Cho Lon village, Binh Tay is located at the border of District 5 and 6. Even though it is a part of many city tours, it is not as overrun with tourists as the more famous Ben Thanh Market. The prices are a little lower, but it is mostly a wholesale market. Especially in the weeks before traditional holidays, the place is very busy selling tons of decorations. English speaking vendors are rare here in Saigon's Chinatown, but Mandarin and Cantonese are widely spoken.
Instead of: Ice Cream
Eat: Artisan Gelato
Great was my curiosity when I discovered that Ralf, a gelato maker from Germany, has set up camp with an ice cream parlour next to our beloved Tex-Mex place La Fiesta. Now Ralf's gelato is a taste you MUST try. Great flavours in a context of the beautiful lightness of Italian gelato are something that awakens long buried childhood memories. Do it, get one of his fabulous sundaes and enjoy a dream of Italy!
Banana Split at Ralfs Artisan Gelato | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox
Instead of: 23/9 Park
Visit: Tao Dan Park
Tao Dan Park is not only an event space for things like scout group meetings and bonsai exhibitions, it is also one of the favourite spots for local people to do their morning exercises. The playground is much better equipped than many other playgrounds in Saigon and features even an indoor play area. The coolest thing however is the songbird singing competition near the entrance on Cách Mạng Tháng Tám street. At the cafe every morning until 9 AM, people meet up for a Vietnamese coffee and they bring their birds along. Raising songbirds is a very traditional and highly respected hobby and some of these birds are more valuable than a good motorbike. It's great and relaxing to sit there, enjoy a coffee and listen to the birds.
Cactus Love at Tao Dan Park in Saigon | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox
Instead of: Sugary Soft Drinks
Drink: Fresh Fruit Juice
Nuoc ep, or fruit juice, is available cheaply at street-side stalls all over Saigon. Like with so many things in Vietnam, go for the busiest stalls, even if it means that you have to wait a little until it's your turn. Also try nuoc mia, sugarcane juice that is not only delicious, but also supplies you with the minerals your body loses every day through perspiration in the tropical climate. Also try sinh to, the great Vietnamese fruit smoothies.
Instead of: Shopping Malls
Visit: Nguyen Trai Street
Like with so many commodities in Vietnam, there are streets specialised in selling one type of goods. We have lantern street, guitar street, bicycle street, second hand bicycle street and among many others: Fashion Street. During the day, Nguyen Trai street is just a regular street with mostly fashion boutiques around. By nightfall however it turns into one of Saigon's most colourful fashion nightmarkets. While you can get your regular stuff at shopping malls or at Saigon Square, Nguyen Trai street is shopping entertainment on a whole new level.
Instead of: Miss Piggy
Eat: Indian Vegetable Curry
I always thought that a tasty dish requires meat, or it’s just not as filling and satisfying as it could be. And don't smartcrack on me you carrot hoppers and cabbage gnawers! As an Austrian it is hard to believe that any vegetarian food can be delicious, since we don't use soy sauce, fish sauce or other forms of naturally appearing glutamates to make the crap taste of this umami stuff that makes you come back for more. Let's face it, central European cuisine is made for bites right out of the animal kingdom. Indian cuisine however changed that perception drastically and for good. It has awesome vegetarian dishes with that fabulous naan bread, and you don’t miss the meat at all. For the Muslims among our readers: Most (if not all) Indian restaurants in Saigon serve halal food. More information on specific Indian restaurants and reviews over here on Saigon Eats.
Onion Pakora, Caphe Bombay, Bui Vien Street, Saigon | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox
Instead of: Cheesecake
Eat: Banh Chuoi
At home in Austria cake and coffee is such an old tradition that we consider them as inseparable. Cakes in Vietnam however are different, such as the popular banh da lon (pig skin cake) or banh khoai mon (taro cake). I for one love banh chuoi, a Vietnamese banana cake with sticky rice that is usually eaten with warm and creamy coconut sauce with some roasted sesame sprinkled over it. A good banana cake can make your day, so if you find one of those really busy shops at street corners, mark the address and share it with your friends. This type of banh chuoi is actually not easy to make and the process of grilling and continuously turning them takes a lot of time. It is amazing to see how much work and effort goes into these seemingly simple snacks in Vietnam.
More From Saigon