Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

4 Days in Ho Chi Minh City {aka HCMC or Saigon}

We had barely digested our Taichung Thanksgiving Day turkey and Mr. Handsome Tiger (aka Pickles) was off on another work trip. Heckles Creative, mobile and hungry for phở, tagged along. What timing because a typhoon, the first one to hit HCMC in 15 years, was also. Luckily it did not impede our landing. Upon touchdown, we threw on our trash bag jackets and beelined to Heart of Darkness’s taproom…

The sun eventually came out, but there was enough flooding that Nike announced a “typhoon day” for employees to deal with flooded homes. Geesh… the lengths Scott will go for a day off is impressive.

Let’s cut to the chase. The food and drink culture in HCMC is one of our favorites in Asia.

HCMC gets a couple things:
  1. Food – It is so fresh, healthy and cheap. Sure, you might get diarrhea if you drink a drop of the water from the tap (Referred to as the Vietnam Diet), but these are the risks we take because it’s so damn delicious. Neither of us got sick by the way (on this trip).
  2. Zen cafes & bars – The city is loud, wild, frenetic and precarious for pedestrian so most cafes are designed to be a respite, evident in the furniture, lighting and music. We heard so much great music sitting in bars and cafes (Oh Louisiana by Chuck Berry, heck yea). You can easily slip into another space and zone…  away from the crazy, loud outside world. This is something Taiwan consistently misses, but in comparison Taiwan has a sliver of the international exposure/tourism.
  3. Massages – Taiwan may have the market on foot massages, but Vietnam gets body massages.
  4. Getting lost and solitude – For 8.4 million people (that’s just HCMC), you can still get lost like a local and find some solitude. HCMC is swimming with tourists, from all around the world, yet most places we list below were tourist-free (aside from the breweries). Admit it, there’s nothing like another tourist to ruin your vacation, right?
  5. Christmas – Vietnam does a classy, classic, sophisticated Christmas in terms of decorations and music. We spent Christmas 2016 in Hoi An and it was also very festive and classy. In comparison, Taiwan does a really good cutesy-cartoony Christmas. We like the classy! 

Here’s our 4-day list of fav 👍 brews, 👍 phở + bánh mì, 👍 cafes and 👍 massage

👍 Breweries

Having a beer with former work buds Harry and Huy. Harry, the sexy one (middle), now works for Victoria’s Secret and Huy is an sports equipment engineer with a Nike partner.

  1. Heart of Darkness: Independent local craft beer brewed and bottled in HCMC, 20 rotating distinct beers, one taproom. Scott’s fav and celebrating their two year anniversary.
  2. Pasteur Street Brewing: Independent local craft, 200 distinct beers, 4 tap rooms (this being the original location). Sarah’s fav due to the environment and two beers; The Salty Dragon (Dragon Fruit Gose) and Jasmine IPA.

Nothing like ending the day with a drink with my Taiwan team, Eugene and Austen. It was Eugene’s first trip to Vietnam. We had to teach him some local language: “Mo, Hi, Ba – Yo”, aka. “1, 2, 3 – Drink”.
Mo, Hi, Ba

👍 Phở + Bánh Mì

Say what? Phở: Vietnamese soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs, and meat. Banh Mi: Baguette sandwich, split lengthwise and filled with various savory ingredients like meat, cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon. I hit the pavement to seek out the nitty-gritty local stuff and succeeded. ⭐ = highly recommend

  1. ⭐ Phở Hòa Pasteur: Expected this to be a touristy spot based on reviews, but not one tourist! Robust menu of every pho imaginable with all the fresh limes, sauces and herbs needed. Highly recommend.
  2. Miến gà Kỳ Đồng: Because I fear road traffic and taxis here, I prefer to walk everywhere. I walked 10k to find this place. Again, not one tourist. Really off the beaten path! I haven’t felt this out of my travel comfort zone in a long time. I was hot and hungry by the time I arrived so I was a bit out of it. All eyes were on me when I walked in so I quickly found a seat to “blend in” which I then immediately knocked over and made a ruckus. A young woman came over and took me under her Phở wing and helped me order, blended all my dipping sauces and sat by me, shooting me little smiles, throughout the meal. Pretty cool experience and reminded me of why traveling and getting uncomfortable is always worth it.
  3. ⭐ Bánh Mì 37 Nguyễn Trãi (alley food cart): This is dirty alley bánh mì – you know it will be good! Took a few passes to find because the only sign is on the front of her tiny cart. Never assume a place is a brick and mortar in Vietnam. Only 1 item on the menu makes ordering easy, 20,000 VDN per sandwich (.85 USD cents). Highly recommend.
  4. L’Usine Le Loi: The opposite of alley food. This place is a cozy, stylish, serene escape, tucked up on a second floor above their gift shop. The bánh mì gets presentation points but was 4 times as much at 95,000 VDN/per ($4 USD)! Quite delicious, but no better than the alley. Creamy passionfruit smoothie gets 2 thumbs up here!
  5. Phat’s Dumpling House: Not phở or bánh mì, but fusian dumplings and bao (mini asian style hamburgers with steamed bun, nothing like American burgers). Cute place and you can sit on 2nd floor balcony to urban street gaze.
(1) Phở Hòa Pasteur ⭐ highly recommend (look at all that fresh lime and basil)!
(1) Phở Hòa Pasteur’s menu (love me a pictorial menu in Asia)
(2) Miến gà Kỳ Đồng – NO tourists here, NO pictorial menu and where I made a ruckus.
(2) Miến gà Kỳ Đồng. This is my Phở Gà (chicken noodle)
(3) Bánh Mì 37 Nguyễn Trãi food cart – alley food at its best ⭐ highly recommend
(3) Food cart bánh mì (1 of 2 consumed)
(4) L’Usine Le Loi (the spendy and not better bánh mì + passionfruit smoothie)
(5) Phat’s Dumpling House (fusion fun)

👍 Cafes

Let’s reclaim the dying art of conversation. Try putting your phone away. The people around you are far more interesting. – Old Compass Cafe
Old Compass Cafe, a book I loved so much I bought at a local bookstore
  1. Yoko Cafe: Known for live music, but also very fresh food and drink for lunch or snack
  2. ⭐ Cong Cafe: If you have time for 1 coffee in HCMC, GO HERE and order COCONUT COFFEE. Highly recommend.
  3. The Old Compass Cafe: Off an alley/walkway and then up 3 flights of steps, cozy escape with a lovely collection of books to read while you sit without your phone. 😉

 👍 Massage

  1. Saigon Heritage Spa: 1 hour, full body with oil, 350,000 VND ($15 USD). Highly recommend. There’s no shortage of places to get massages, but this one checked all the boxes for us.

*** Musings ***

Pray tell what is Wall Street English?
G n’ R’s Slash, admired around the world
Got rope? No problem.
Vietnam’s UBER is called GRAB and includes scootering, if you dare.
Sidewalks are beveled to allow scooters to ride up on them to skirt traffic. Convenient for them, terrifying for pedestrians. And it goes without saying, but this is no place to rollerblade, have crutches, a wheelchair or wear heels. Safety third!
Vietnam wiring at it’s best. Totally to code. Safety third!

Taiwan / Vietnam reunion with Nike colleagues and friends: (l to r)  Johann, Ciacia and Eric with kids just relocated from Taiwan to HCMC.

*** Urban Beauty ***

Amongst the dense traffic and pollution, pristine shirts twinkle in the breeze.
Quintessential Vietnam color palette

We are always struck by the genuine friendliness of the Vietnamese. It’s humbling to us as Americans, considering The Vietnam War, or as the Vietnamese rightly call it, The American War. Where does this kind, resilient and forgiving way come from? We read an astounding fact in Catherine Karnow’s book, Vietnam 25 Years, that 2 out of 3 Vietnamese today have no direct memory of war since they were born after 1975 which is when the war ended. Much to glean and may we never forget.


Love, Pickles & Passionfruit

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2 thoughts on “Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

  1. Such a great post. We love reading about your travels! In Paris, there are cheesy ads all over the metro for Wall Street English – “Do you speak English?” “Yes! Wall Street English!” – must be an international chain.

    1. Thanks, Philippe! So interesting how this is a “thing”. I say there’s a market for Abbey Road, Bourbon Street and Lombard Street English in our world – certainly more culturally interesting English if you ask me.

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