The best places to eat, shop and stay in Ho Chi Minh City

When it comes to Southeast Asia, Ho Chi Minh City might not be atop your Mid-Autumn Festival travel plans, but it’d be a crime to overlook the energetic, intriguing city. While you may already be familiar with its historical architecture – the colonial charm of the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office, for instance – and its buzzing street markets, look closer and you’ll discover the new and creative developing alongside the old and traditional, from the artisanal coffee houses cropping up next to the countless stalls and cafes where you can order Vietnamese drip coffee to young, up-and-coming designers infusing new life into local crafts. 

Image courtesy of Vespa Adventures

Vespa Adventures

Forget cruising through the city in the comfort of a taxi or coach – the best way to experience it is to get up close and personal, and what better way to do so than on the back of a Vespa? If riding a Vespa is a skill you never got around to picking up – let alone navigating the weaving, sometimes seemingly lawless traffic of Ho Chi Minh City – tour operator Vespa Adventures has got you covered. The company offers a range of tours focused around different interests, but we particularly recommend the Saigon After Dark tour, a four-hour culinary journey that takes you through various cafes and street stalls where you can sample local staples – from banh xeo (savoury pancakes) to do-it-yourself prawn rice rolls – in between watching night views of the city whip by. You’ll even get to see local talent in the form of live music at some of the venues.

Image courtesy of Cong Ca Phe

Cong Ca Phe

Tucked into the upper floors of an old building is a cafe that serves delicious drip coffee and Vietnamese snacks in a quirky setting. In a sort of stylish, coordinated chaos, austere wood floors combine with playful floral prints and bright colours, with furnishings that look like they could have been randomly bought from a multitude of thrift shops and second-hand sales. (Think cushy sofas and pendant lights made from upside-down plastic colanders.) It’s a perfect spot to watch the city go by while enjoying a caffeine fix.

Image courtesy of Kujean

Kujean

Founded by local designer Chuong Dang, Kujean is both a lifestyle boutique and fashion label. Chuong gives traditional clothing such as the national costume ao dai new life by updating the designs to be more casual and comfortable, and by using unexpected colours and fabrics. Alongside his unique pieces are locally made curios such as ceramics created by socially conscious store and workshop Reaching Out, and styling services for men.

Image courtesy of Sadec District

Sadec District

While traditional crafts such as lacquerware and tableware inlaid with duck-egg shell are readily available at the markets, souvenir shops and handicraft stores throughout the city, Sadec District offers up home accessories in ceramic, wooden and glass with a more modern twist; they’re sourced from Vietnam and other countries throughout Southeast Asia. We particularly love the range of delicate, irregularly shaped porcelain mugs and bowls.

Image courtesy of The Reverie Saigon

The Reverie Saigon

Opened late last year and spearheaded by a local developer, five-star The Reverie Saigon is perched at the top of the luxurious Times Square building. The owner’s love of Italian design is evident, from the marble and mosaics used throughout the property to its designer furniture. The hotel boasts stunning views of the city or the river, delicious restaurant offerings – from sophisticated French-Asian fusion restaurant Cafe Cardinal to casual eatery The Long – as well as a stellar spa. In our opinion, the biggest draw is its designer-themed suites, where the majority of the furnishings within are sourced from a single designer, including the likes of Giorgetti and Visionnaire. Not only do you get to experience the exquisite pieces first-hand, but plenty of the brands have their flagship presences in the building, so you can head straight there to order a piece for your own home if anything happens to catch your eye. 

Lead image courtesy of ThinkStock/VuCongDanh