We were recently in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam (read our article about the fantastic Villa Song hotel HERE).
There are many districts in HCMC, and as you really realistically should only focus on one district per day to do it justice and not stress too much, we will put our focus on District 1 in this article. If you want to read more about what to see and do in District 2, read on HERE
The great thing about this itinerary is that as a bonus, you will also walk past some of the more famous landmarks in Saigon:
1. HCMC Fine Arts Museum - After a breakfast of the obligatory Pho Noodle soup and one of the many places in town, head over to the Fine Arts Museum (9am - 5pm, admission 10,000 NVD). The best way to spend a few hours in the morning has to be to head over to the lovely old buildings (dating from 1829 in a combination of French and Chinese style) that houses the HCMC Fine Arts Museum. Contrary to what one would think, there is remarkably little of what we normally see as "traditional" Vietnamese Art (and this we are very happy about!). The museums different buildings show a mixed collection from modern, wartime and centuries old carvings and pottery. Especially the collection of art from 1975 and onwards is exciting and shows that there is a lot of artistic talent in the city.
There is also a small area outside the main buildings that houses a few art galleries (unfortunately with a lot more "traditional Vietnamese Art"..) The branch of Galerie Quynh is well worth a visit though.
2. Le Cong Kieu Street antiques - Just across the street from the arts museum lies this street which is filled with more than 60 antique shops - all lined up one after the other. Some say, that this is Saigon's best kept secret..
Be aware however, as only 30% of the antiques here are exactly that, the rest are reproductions.
3. Temple Club - Time for lunch! On 29-31 Ton That Thiep and just upstairs from Fanny's Ice Cream lies this great and very atmospheric restaurant which serves great Vietnamese cuisine, don't miss the small door that leads to the staircase that takes you up here, it can be hard to spot. But you should come here just as much for the decor as for the food as you step right into a great piece of "Old Saigon". They also serve yummy drinks.
4. Mekong+ - Just next door to L'Usine on 68 Le Loi and a short walk from Temple Club, lies this nonprofit organisation. Started in 2001 with only 35 women, the two brands of Mekong Quilts and Mekong Creations have joined together and now produces hand-crafted quilts, bamboo bicycles (!) and accessories using sustainable materials. The group works with disadvantaged women from rural Vietnam and Cambodia, providing around 340 women with full-time employment and which also contributes to community development. They also take orders for custom-made products so this is an opportunity to create something truly unique for your home.
5. L'Usine @ Le Loi - On 70B Le Loi lies this great store which is part of a chain. With great products from local and international brands below, and a fab cafe upstairs, you are sure to satisfy both your craving for a post-lunch coffee and some shopping for quirky souvenirs and products.
6. Authentique Home - Founded in 1995, this shop prides itself to celebrate and uphold the finest craft traditions in Vietnam. All products that are sold in the store are handmade at their workshop in HCMC and the collections are all one-of-a-kind. We like! You find it on 113 Le Thanh Ton (9am - 9pm).
7. Dong Khoi Street Art Galleries (Galerie Quynh and Ben Thanh, Galerie Nguyen) - Wander down this, one of the biggest shopping streets in Saigon and nip into some of the more famous art galleries to see what is on offer. Here you will also find stores that sell the more traditional handicrafts like products of lacquer and buffalo horn, both are big exports.
8. 3A Station - At the end of Dong Khoi, make a sharp left and walk along the river up past the Ton Duc Than museum. After the museum, turn left again and you will find yourself in the super cool and quirky neighbourhood of 3A Station which is a 2,000 sqm space in which three abandoned warehouses are being refurbished and converted into ‘spaces’ for galleries, shopping areas, consignment warehouses and coffee shops. In addition, the courtyard as well as other units are used to host art activities and performances for the community, ranging from live music to fashion shows. As by now you have definitely deserved an afternoon drink or another coffee, buy one at one of the many little cafes and bars lining the alleys and walk around exploring all the great murals in the area. Especially if you are into street art and local brands, don't miss this little gem, located on 3A Ton Duc Thang in District 1.
9. Sundowner at Chill Bar, grab a bite at Sorae. Jump in a taxi to AB Tower and head up to the top floor for a sundowner, watching the fabulous view over the city while contemplating your highly successful day. Then pop down to the 24th-25th floor for some great Japanese small bites. The restaurant is designed by Dubai and Hong Kong architectural firm LW and is worth it for the design only (but the food is great too!). The result is a double story space with a sweeping staircase swirling upwards toward the sky where large metal cloud pendants float above the diners. Tall Sake display units inspired by traditional Japanese Chidori toys stand tall behind the undulating food counters and there is a great tall wooden structure behind the lower floor bar. Journeying upstairs guests can indulge in the vast drinks selection at the bar, or enjoy a quiet drink in the private lounges tucked away in cozy corners throughout. All with stunning views of the city below. All design in this project is bespoke and custom-made by nearby furniture manufacturers and joiners and all exotic stones and timbers were sourced locally or found within the region.
10. Saigon Opera House - Make sure to leave time for the fantastic local A O Show at the Saigon Opera House. It is only about an hour long, but definitely worth a look! The A O Show is phonetically understood as the Ahhh! Ohhh! Show, has performed since Feb 2013 and depicts the charming beauty and richness in the culture of Vietnamese lives. It shows lives in the countryside and the country's urbanisation and is a mix of bamboo cirque, acrobatic acts, contemporary dance and theatrical visual art. Live music which echoes the Southern work songs, and scenic lighting design makes the A O Show a must for anyone visiting the region.
The Opera House is in itself a gorgeous old building and located conveniently on Lam Son Square - right in the middle of District 1. Shows run at 6pm and 8pm.
11. GLOW - What better way to round off a hugely successful day than a drink on a roof top bar, overlooking the city? Head to GLOW Skybar on Nguyễn Du for a tipple before bed.
For anyone wanting to join a tour, Sophie's Art Tour is well known and respected and a good way to get a guided tour of some of the art galleries and hotspots in the city. Sophie was kind enough to help us with some of the research for this article. Feel free to contact her HERE