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Phats Dumpling House dishes up trendy fusion dumplings in Thao Dien

Phats Dumpling House dishes up trendy fusion dumplings in Thao Dien

Phat’s Dumplings is a colourful shoebox of a restaurant, doing interesting things with dumplings since its opening earlier in 2016. The interior is decked with old Asian movie posters and brightly painted wooden shutters, setting a cheerful and cheeky tone. For me, it’s the perfect spot for a quick lunch or dinner, with its speedy, casual service. With only 25 seats and no reservations you do have to chance it, but once you’ve pulled up a stool, the range of dumplings, bao and noodle soups are delicious and good value.

Phat's Dumpling House
Phat’s Dumpling House

Phat’s offers some funky cocktails and beers, as well as interesting juices and teas. The food menu is definitely made for sharing, with mostly 3 dumplings and 2 bao per dish. The steamed dumplings include chicken & sweetcorn dumplings with a sesame dressing and scallop & edamame dumplings. If you like spicy food, then I would recommend the pork & prawn dumplings with Sichuan chili soy, which were my favourite. The highlights of the fried section of the menu are the delicious satay chicken puff with peanut sauce and crispy duck leg wontons with a Thai red curry sauce.

Spicy Sichuan Dumplings, Chicken & Sweetcorn Dumplings, and Bo Kho (Beef Stew) Dumplings
Spicy Sichuan Dumplings, Chicken & Sweetcorn Dumplings, and Bo Kho (Beef Stew) Dumplings

The bao at Phat’s dumplings are the signature dishes. The roasted duck bao with spiced hoisin combines classic Asian flavours that work effortlessly inside a light fluffy bao. Other star baos on the menu include a pork bao with slaw and a chicken bao with kimchi. All of these are winners.

The soups section of the menu seems slightly random, but ordering a noodle or dumpling soup to accompany the smaller bites actually works really well. The spicy minced pork Sichuan noodle soup was lovely – not actually too hot but with lots of spices coming through. The menu also offers a range of good vegetable options including roasted eggplant with white miso and sesame and an Asian broccoli dish.

Hoisin Duck Bao, Crispy Duck Leg Wontons, Spicy Pork Noodle Soup and Broccoli
Hoisin Duck Bao, Crispy Duck Leg Wontons, Spicy Pork Noodle Soup and Broccoli

The only dish which I found slightly disappointing was the prawn toast, which felt a little dry and had an overpowering sesame flavour. Otherwise, I would confidently say that you should order adventurously and you won’t be disappointed. Phat’s is such an easy spot for a quick bite that I’ve been several times and tried almost everything on the menu. Every time I promise myself I will save space for the coconut with salted caramel ice-cream sandwich, but with the huge range of delicious dumplings on offer, that hasn’t been managed to date.

 

What’s on in Saigon: 2 – 8 December 2016

What’s on in Saigon: 2 – 8 December 2016

Looking for things to do in Ho Chi Minh City this week? Look no further – Ho Chi Minx has it covered…

Friday – Saigon Pop-Up Dinner

Calling all foodies for the second round of Saigon Pop-Up! Hosted monthly at a secret location by Estelle&Fred, the creative french menu is served with tailored wines. For 1,050,000VND guests can taste an amuse-bouche, 2 starters, a main course and a desert, with a glass of wine paired with each course. There are only 12 places, so sign up fast to get a seat at this special foodie experience.

Register here

Saigon Pop Up
Saigon Pop Up

Saturday – Christmas Carols at St. Paul’s Convent Chapel

Get in the festive spirit with a carol concert by The International Choir & Orchestra at St. Pauls Convent Chapel in District 1. Tickets cost 100,000VND for adults and 50,000VDN for students and kids, and proceeds go to a charity supporting children in need. Merry Christmas everybody!

Christmas Concerts 2016: Star of Bethlehem

Sunday – The Big Sunday Chill @ Indika

It’s free entry for an all-day chill out session at Indika on Sundays, featuring special guest DJs, food offers, board games, happy hour, and an open turn-table for you to play your own chill vinyl records. Head to Indika’s District 1 jungly garden escape for the ultimate chilled out Sunday.

The Big Sunday Chill @ Indika

Indika, Saigon
Indika, Saigon

Monday – Teh Dar at the Saigon Opera House

Splash out on tickets to Teh Dar at the beautiful and historic Saigon Opera House this week. Teh Dar explores Vietnamese tribal culture through cirque, dance, and features music using tribal instruments. On Monday the performance starts at 6pm and tickets cost 630,000VND.

Book here

Performance at Saigon Opera House
Performance at Saigon Opera House

Tuesday – Double Trouble @ Last Call

It’s double trouble on a school night at Last Call, with all drinks buy-1-get-1-free, including cocktails, spirits, wine and beer. Get a mid week party fix in District 1 on Tuesday this week.

www.lastcallbarsaigon.com

Wednesday – Take a free yoga class

Unwind before or after work with a free trial class at Sivananda Yoga in District 1. Offering a range of classes for beginners, you can drop in without registering and join a class as a free trial, if you are not a member. The perfect mid-week wind down.

Class Schedule

Thursday – Unplugged Acoustic at La Fenetre Soleil

Warm up for the weekend with live music in La Fenetre Soleil’s cool and cosy ramshackle space. From 9pm on Thursday there is a weekly acoustic jam, featuring set performers as well as an open acoustic jam after the main sets.

www.lafenetresoleil.com

La Fenetre Soleil, Saigon
La Fenetre Soleil, Saigon
La Villa is the ultimate fine-dining treat in Saigon

La Villa is the ultimate fine-dining treat in Saigon

Situated in a beautiful white colonial villa in the leafy backstreets of Thao Dien, La Villa is quietly making waves among the fine-dining restaurants in Ho Chi Minh. The restaurant is known for its exquisite french food, produced by Chef Thierry, in the most special of settings – a welcome change from the shiny 5* hotels offering fine-dining experiences. La Villa manages not to be pretentious, yet is firmly traditional in terms of French food being done properly.

La Villa, Saigon
La Villa, Saigon

The villa has a lush garden with twinkling tables situated around a small pool, which is a very romantic setting for dinner. Our group of 5 were seated inside due to the rain, in a gorgeous large room with an old wooden spiral staircase, white columns, plush red drapes and oil paintings adorning the walls – it felt like stepping back in time.

La Villa, Saigon
La Villa, Saigon

We were greeted and looked after Tina, Chef Thierry’s wife, who was beyond charming. She thoughtfully talked us through the menu while we ordered up a couple of bottles of wine from the extensive wine list that the restaurant offers.  There are a few set menu options, so two of our group went for the Menu de La Villa, two opted for the Menu de La Villa Gourmet and one brave soul ordered a la carte.

At 1,090,000VND, the Menu de La Villa is a great choice for anybody wanting to sample a range of dishes without breaking the bank. The menu includes an amuse bouche, a starter, main course, cheese trolley and dessert. The portions are not large but the food is so delicious that it is worth every penny. We were also served an additional amuse bouche before we had chosen our menus and a selection of warm freshly-baked breads.

Melt in the mouth Crab Ravioles
Melt in the mouth Crab Ravioles

Standout dishes for us included the Melt in the mouth Crab Ravioles with Foie Gras Sauce, the Pan Seared Sea Scallop, the Beef Tenderloin, the French Duck Breast Pan Fried and, from the a la carte menu, the French Pigeon and Languedoc Red Wine Juice (a la carte dishes come in slightly larger portions). But to be honest, there wasn’t a single dish which we ate which wasn’t utterly glorious.

French Duck Breast Pan Fried
French Duck Breast Pan Fried

I must give the the cheese trolley special mention because it was one of the best I’ve ever seen. With a beautifully presented and wide selection of both well-known and more obscure French cheeses and chutneys, you are pretty much welcome to go to town on the trolley and try however much cheese you like. If you are a cheese fanatic, it doesn’t get better than this.

The Cheese Trolley
The Cheese Trolley

After dinner, Chef Thierry did the rounds and we were able to meet him and compliment the food. La Villa strikes this balance well; Michelin quality fine-dining, but with very friendly, personal and attentive service that keeps the restaurant removed from any pretentiousness. Admittedly the style and pricing means that for most people, La Villa will be a treat, but my word what a treat it is. I will be rushing back for the first special occasion I can think of.

If you are looking to experience fine-dining on a budget in Ho Chi Minh City, then La Villa also offers a set lunch menu including 3 courses and an amuse bouche for a 810,000VND – a gourmet bargain.

www.lavilla-restaurant.com.vn

 

What’s on in Saigon: 26 November – 2 December 2016

What’s on in Saigon: 26 November – 2 December 2016

Saturday – The Return of Saigon Soul Pool Party

Saigon Soul Pool Party

This weekend, the Saigon Soul Pool Party smashes back on to the Ho Chi Minh social scene, marking the end of the rainy season and start of the party season. Taking place from 10am – 10pm at the New World Saigon Hotel in District 1, entry costs 150,000VND and there are a range of drinks and food stations to keep you going while you soak up the sun and the house music.

www.saigonsoul.com

Sunday – Saigon Flea Market

Head to Boomarang Restaurant in District 7 for a relaxing Sunday stroll around Saigon’s original vintage flea market. Selling clothes, accessories, home ware, food and wine, there are plenty of creative bargains to be found.

www.saigonfleamarket.com

flea

Monday – Free Salsa at Cuba la Casa del Mojito

Cut some Latino shapes on Monday night at Cuba la Casa del Mojito in District 1. The venue offers a free salsa class every Monday evening from 9pm, followed by freestyle dancing until late. Grab your girlfriends and head down for a Sangria or ten to keep the weekend going.

www.facebook.com/cubanvn

Tuesday – Ladies Night at Lush

Start the weekend early with Ladies Night at Lush in District 1. Every Tuesday Saigon’s bright young things gather to hit the dance floor. Ladies drink for free until midnight – deals don’t get much better than that.

www.lush.vn

Wednesday – Free Food at Saigon Outcast

Every Wednesday Thao Dien’s coolest bar offers free food made by guest chefs when you buy a drink. Think graffiti, vibey music and creative types in an industrial open-air space, with a good selection of quirky cocktails and craft beers. Free food starts at 8pm – make sure you get there on time as its first come first served.

www.saigonoutcast.com

Thursday – Live Jazz at Broma: Not a Bar

broma

Unwind from the week at Broma in District 1 on Thursday, for a night of live Jazz Night on the rooftop. The perfect way to gear up for the weekend with a few drinks listening to great jazz musicians.

www.facebook.com/bromabar

Friday – Sounds of the World Piano Concert

If you’re looking for an alternative Friday night, why not check out the Sounds of the World Piano Concert, featuring Maciej Grzybowski, a Polish pianist and chamber musician, and Nguyen Tuan Manh, a Vietnamese soloist of the Asian Symphony Orchestra and a ‘30 Under 30’ FORBES Vietnam 2016 recipient. Tickets cost 180,000VND and the performances run from 6.30 – 9pm.

www.ticketbox.vn/sotw-piano1

5 of the Best Rooftop Bars in HCMC

5 of the Best Rooftop Bars in HCMC

As Ho Chi Minh City grows up, so does it’s selection of rooftop spots to suit all tastes. Saigon offers historic heights which became famous for the role they played during the war, and brand new shiny skyscrapers providing panoramic views and party vibes. Unlike other cities, rooftop drinking is affordable in Saigon, especially if you take advantage of the happy hours and offers that most of the bars listed offer. This is an introduction to five of the top spots in the center of town to enjoy sunsets and glittering night views of Ho Chi Minh.

Rooftop Garden at the Rex Hotel

Rex Hotel
Rex Hotel

A Saigon institution, the roof bar of the Rex Hotel is a spacious corner terrace overlooking the colonial City Hall. This is one of the more historical watering holes; the now-famous hotel bar was popular with military officials and international correspondents covering the Vietnam war during the 60’s. The 5th floor roof bar retains plenty of the right kind of old-school charm, but also has a little of the wrong kind; being rather kitch and dated, despite a renovation in the early noughties. The background music tends to be bizarre array of pop tracks, from the Vengaboys to Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’…(in May). Get there early to avoid the cheesy live band which play on a stage flanked by plastic elephants and a giant illuminated crown. Despite a few tacky touches, this old-fashioned joint is a must-visit for a taste of Saigon’s past in a fantastic rooftop setting.

www.rexhotelvietnam.com

Rex Hotel Saigon, 141 Nguyen Hue Blvd, HCM City, Vietnam
Phone: +848 3829 2185

Level 23 at the Sheraton Saigon Hotel

Level 23 at the Sheraton
Level 23 at the Sheraton

Soaring above the HCM skyline, Level 23 is a much higher view over the city stretching into the distance. Perfect for sundowners, the bar is semi-enclosed, but with large open windows facing towards the sunset. Given the staggering view, the bar has surprisingly never been particularly busy when I’ve visited, but apparently gets more lively as the evening goes on. With a wide selection of drinks, this roof bar also has the best complimentary beer snacks – generous bowls of wasabi peas, nuts and rice crackers. Level 23 is an understated bar with no pretension and a really great view, so definitely worth a visit to escape the hustle and bustle of street level.

www.level23saigon.com

Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers, 88 Dong Khoi, HCM City, Vietnam
Phone: +848 3827 2828

Saigon Saigon at the Caravelle Hotel

Saigon Saigon at the Caravelle Hotel
Saigon Saigon at the Caravelle Hotel

Across the road from the Rex, and equally historic, Saigon Saigon at the Carvelle is a fantastic spot for an early evening gin & tonic. Slightly more elevated than the Rex, this was the highest spot in the city during the 60’s and was also popular with journalists swapping stories and drinking heavily during the war. After 9pm, there is a very loud live band which for me ruins the ambiance of the bar, so I would recommend early evening for a pit stop here, and avoid 10pm when you risk having to watch 20 elderly tourists performing a synchronized dance to a Ricky Martin song. Despite that, it has remained a great spot for stunning views over the center of the city whilst sipping a cold one.

www.caravellehotel.com

Caravelle Saigon, 19 – 23 Lam Son Square, District 1, HCM City, Vietnam
Email: hotel@caravellehotel.com
Phone: +848 3823 4999

Chill Skybar

Chill Skybar
Chill Skybar

It’s full on glamour at Chill Skybar, the poser’s choice of roof bar in Saigon. The clientele are young and stylish in this vibrant spot. Chill is also high up on the 26th floor, so the views are magnificent. The concept is more modern, with the bar marketing itself as a place for Saigon trend-setters to be seen. In stark contract to the Rex or Caravelle, Chill Skybar is unashamedly flashy, and a better rooftop spot if you are looking for a late night party. Good news for my fellow Ho Chi Minxes; Chill put on a great ladies night every Wednesday, offering a free bottle of sparkling Rose to a group of 4 or more ladies.

www.chillsaigon.com

Level 26 AB Tower, 76A Le Lai Street, District 1, HCM City, Vietnam
Email: info@chillsaigon.com
Phone: +848 6253 8888

Shri Restaurant & Lounge

Shri Restaurant and Lounge
Shri Restaurant and Lounge

With more of an emphasis on food than many of its rooftop counterparts, Shri overlooks many of the key landmarks in the center of the city and its glass railings provide clear sweeping views over wider Saigon. Shri has also recently introduced a happy hour offer; 50% off drinks from 3-7pm. The bar has regular live music, lunchtime menu offers and other events. Shri is far from pretentious and, without anything kitch about it either, it provides a happy medium between the likes of the Rex and Chill Skybar.

www.shri.vn

Rooftop – Level 23 – Centec Tower, 72-74 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 3, HCM City, Vietnam
Phone: +848 3827 9631
Vespa Adventures delivers on food, fun and originality in Saigon

Vespa Adventures delivers on food, fun and originality in Saigon

Stepping out into the scooter-swarmed streets of Saigon feels like a dice with death. The heaving volume of motorbikes weave an elaborate dance; seemingly chaotic but beautifully synchronized. So naturally I jumped at the chance to get the inside perspective and boldly stepped forward to join the riotous mass on a Vespa Adventures tour. This could be considered motorbiking-lite but is thrilling enough to get a decent kick from, especially if you aren’t a regular on two wheels. Vespa Adventures do a variety of tours but our group opted for the foodie night tour of Saigon. It’s rather long (4.5 hours) and not cheap (90 USD) but my word it is worth it.

Vespa Adventures Saigon Night Tout
Vespa Adventures Saigon Night Tour

We were collected from Thao Dien on five restored vintage Vespas by our smiley and reassuringly experienced drivers. One or two of our group went for the Dutch courage approach and swung confidently on board whilst the rest of us clambered on awkwardly, all dignity left at the door. Once we’d made it on, 20 minutes of pure scooter joy ensued until we arrived at the Zoom Cafe in District 1. This first drink at the cafe feels a little ‘tourey’ due to the swathes of other Vespa adventurers, but the groups disband after this, taking different routes so that you are sort of doing your own thing.

Our grinning group were introduced to our guide, Hanh, as we sat down for a drink on the pavement outside and barraged her with questions about how this all works. Hanh explained that the company was started by an American with a passion for Vespas and has now expanded to offering different adventures across several Southeast Asian cities; the Saigon food tour alone consistently taking about 70-120 people per evening.

Enough of that and off we went for another 20 minutes of Vespa exhilaration, complete with a ‘roadie’ beer which I tried very hard not to spill down my drivers back. We whizzed along wide, glittering bridges and snaked through narrow backstreets; swerving hawkers and pavement beer drinkers. Our small legion stuck closely together, taking our place within the mighty throng of motorbikes which pour through Saigon’s streets like blood pulsing through the veins of the city.

Local street food kitchen preparing fresh dishes for our tour
Local street food kitchen preparing fresh dishes on our tour

We arrived in District 3 at a street which Hanh told us was famous for seafood and mafia. At our first street side plastic table we were brought out a range of local, fresh and utterly delicious dishes. Steamed lemongrass clams and mussels were served with fresh rice noodles. The grand finale was ‘jumping chicken’ which Hanh delightedly explained was the Vietnamese way of describing frogs. We tried not to think about how large these Vietnamese toads must be to produce such substantial trotters – if you are adventurous enough to try them then you will be rewarded with succulent meat which tasted just like lightly fried chicken.

Hanh sat with us throughout, helpfully explaining the food and anything else we wanted to know about Saigon. The designated conversationalist of our group took great pleasure in covering a wide range to topics with her, from marriage in Vietnam to her thoughts on Donald Trump. Hanh graciously indulged us.

Vietnamese pancakes and fresh spring rolls
Vietnamese pancakes and fresh spring rolls

Next stop was a back alley open air restaurant famous for its savory pancakes stuffed with pork, prawn and beansprouts. Hanh showed us how to break up and wrap the crispy crepes in various herbs and leaves. These were good but we agreed the least impressive dish on our adventure. Here we also tried deliciously fresh and herby prawn rolls as well as a fragrant beef roll which we compiled from scratch, even wetting the dried discs of rice paper ourselves. All of this was accompanied by lashings of cold beer.

The food was very plentiful and tasty at both stops but we also found ourselves sneakily looking forward to getting back into our Vespas at every stop. Knowing the city, we could see that the routes taken were not the most direct but this is all designed so that you can enjoy scooting round the Saigon’s most famous sights and atmospheric streets.

Our third stop was a tiny candlelit bohemian bar wedged down an alley and up some stairs, with a sense of nostalgia nodding to the French colonial era; it’s the kind of place that’s very hard to find without being taken there. The velvety twinkling room revealed a pianist and singer half way through a dramatic Vietnamese love song. This was surreal and a dramatic change in tempo to the night, but deeply captivating. A couple of local songs gave way to Adele covers, which I’m sure were for the benefit of all the Vespa tourists but were very charming and amusing at the same time.

Vespa Adventures Saigon Night Tour
Vespa Adventures Saigon Night Tour

A short ride away, the final stop was a loud rock bar, clearly aimed at pleasing tipsy adventurers looking to up the tempo. It was again quite a departure in tone from the last stop. It seemed to me that the tour was trying to tick a lot of boxes so that there was something for every taste. On the plus side there was great variation and it felt like a night of many vibes, but if candlelit bars or loud music aren’t your thing then you may feel differently.

The tour is more expensive than other scooter tours but it is incredibly well researched, planned to perfection, and the food is excellent. To top this all off, our intelligent, informative and friendly guide, Hanh, simply made the trip for us. All in all I can’t think of a single person I know who wouldn’t love Vespa adventures foodie night tour. The visitors said that it was the highlight of their trip to Saigon and the thing that they would still be talking about in a year. At the risk of gushing, for me the experience gave me a strong rush of love of the city that is now my home, and provided a huge dose of fun-factor for my guests. The tour is, in my opinion, currently one the most original, exciting and interesting things you can do in Saigon.

www.vespaadventures.com

 

Sunday Lunch at The Deck – Review by Ho Chi Minx

Sunday Lunch at The Deck – Review by Ho Chi Minx

For me, The Deck is a soothing tonic to Saigon’s hot and hectic madness. Nestled on the banks of the Mekong in Thao Dien (District 2), the restaurant and bar serves up a large dose of escapism alongside beautifully presented plates of Asian and Western food on a serene wooden deck jutting out over the river. Sunday lunch in this tranquil spot is fast becoming a crucial part of my Saigon weekend. Saturday evening, on the other hand, is a little more vibey in terms of the music and crowd.

Coming into Thao Dien, the the roar and chaos of downtown Saigon vanishes into the background as you weave through a village of international schools, big (and sometimes brash) mansions and gourmet shops.

deck3
The Deck, Saigon

The restaurant is elegant, spacious and very nicely decked out. The people are beautiful, the wine is cold and the koi carp lead happy lives, but thankfully The Deck pulls off this vibe without much pretentiousness.

A good wine list is available as well as plenty of cocktails (with a decent sunset happy hour offer) – we opted of a couple of bottles of Mussel Bay Sauvignon Blanc, perfect for sipping on a hot day as the river glides by. The ‘pan-Asian’ weekend menu offers a lot of fish and seafood, with some western favourites (burgers, steaks, risotto) and some all day breakfast options. My recommendation would be to stick mostly to the Asian dishes and sharing style.

Sunset at The Deck
Sunset at The Deck

For our group of five, we booked a table right next to the water and selected a wide range of smaller sharing plates – the restaurant will adapt quantities of their dishes to suit the size of your group. The prawn rolls were delicious dim sum-style steamed parcels filled with juicy prawns and a light soy dipping sauce. We also tried the pork belly dumplings which came pan fried with a moist, meaty filling, accompanied by a ginger soy dipping sauce. Both of these dishes were wonderful – light, delicate and packed with flavour.

We also had the Phu Quoc squid, which comes lightly battered in a bucket with a perfect sweet chilli sauce on the side. Glorious. The duck pancakes are predictably excellent, served on a platter with plum sauce, cucumber, spring onion, red onion and chilli. The seafood dumplings look beautiful and are tasty as long as you like fishy flavours. The scallops (we only got three of these sadly) were perfectly cooked and served each on a piece of succulent aubergine.

Duck Pancakes, Phu Quoc Squid and Seafood Dumplings at The Deck
Duck Pancakes, Phu Quoc Squid and Seafood Dumplings at The Deck

We had the marinated chicken skewers, which is positioned on the menu as a main dish for one person, but also works for sharing. Two large skewers of succulent chicken with chunks of leek are served in a lightly curried sauce with skinny french fries, which provided a little extra sustenance to the meal. The only slightly disappointing dish was the fish cakes which our group agreed were a little bland and unexciting, but far from offensive.

The tomato burrata salad was creamy and refreshing, served with avocado which isn’t mentioned on the menu but is always a welcome addition for me. The crab avocado is also a heavenly dish; a light terrine of crab meat and chunks of avocado, topped with half cherry tomatoes and slices of egg – ideal for sharing.

If you are inclined towards dessert, the cinnamon doughnuts are delicious small sweet doughy balls with a variety of dipping sauces. The chocolate bomb is more difficult to share but most definitely a winner – as verified by the most serious chocoholic I know.

Chocolate Bomb at The Deck
Chocolate Bomb at The Deck

The Deck is definitely up-market and on the pricey side, as far as Saigon dining goes, but the ambiance is a welcome departure from the hustle of the city, and the prices are worth it for the quality of food and experience. Expect to pay around 1 million VND (40 USD) per person, and naturally much more if you get stuck into the drinks for an afternoon session of Mekong barge-watching.

For Saigon expats, it’s the perfect weekend lunch spot to take visitors. For tourists, the 15 minute taxi journey from District 1 could transform your perception the city and provide the perfect remedy for foot-sore sightseers. It is utterly worth the trip because there simply isn’t another restaurant like it in Saigon.

The Deck

38 Nguyen U Di St., Thao Dien,
District 2, Ho Chi Minh City

Tel: +84 (0) 8 3744 6632

www.thedecksaigon.com

 

 

24 Hours in Ho Chi Minh

24 Hours in Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as the locals still call it, is a rising Asian star sprawling across the Mekong delta. The mammoth river meanders past both glitzy new skyscrapers and clusters of low thatched huts, marking this diverse city’s intoxicating mix of old and new worlds. Motorbikes and scooters swarm through the streets of Saigon carrying families of five, portable street kitchens and even wide-screen TVs.

The French influence lingers in the tree-lined boulevards and colonial buildings of District 1, as well as the abundance of baguettes which are sold and scoffed on every street corner. Saigon hasn’t historically ranked up there with the big boys of Asia – Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai – but it has so much going for it; vibrant, foodie, fast, ambitious, and incredibly good value.

24 hours is not long to take in all that Saigon has to offer, so these are my recommendations on getting the most out of your visit.

Pho for breakfast

pho

Vietnam’s beloved national dish is best sampled at breakfast time (as the locals do), once you get over any preconceptions about eating savoury noodle soup first thing in the morning. Delicious bowls of the fragrant broth are served from hole-in-the-wall style cafes on every street corner – usually the more basic the cafe, the better the pho. You can order ‘pho tai’ (rare beef) if you only have one chance to try it, but there is a choice of different toppings if that doesn’t whet your appetite. True to most Vietnamese food, pho  comes with a small garden on the side for you to customise your bowl. At a local style cafe, if you pay more than 40,000 VND (2 USD) then you are paying too much. The best way to find somewhere for pho is simply to walk a few blocks, wherever you are in the city, and take a seat…likely on a plastic stool, but it will be worth it.

The War Remnants Museum

Saigon’s war museum tops most lists of things to do in the city, and is a must-see even for museum-averse travellers. Chronicling the ‘American War’, as the Vietnamese understandably refer to it, the museum is a harrowing overview of the atrocities of Vietnam’s recent history. Inside the museum, stories are told mostly through an extensive collection of horrifying photographs, but there are also preserved prison cells and some deeply disturbing torture paraphernalia on display, as well as original tanks, weapons, Chinook helicopters and aircraft outside the museum. The museum has admittedly been accused of portraying a rather one-sided picture of the war, but its likely you will have already seen some arguably biased American films about the Vietnam war before your visit, so I recommend just taking it all in and with a pinch of salt.

Lunch on the Mekong river

the-deck

After the war museum, take some light relief by grabbing lunch on the Mekong river. A 15 minute taxi from the centre of District 1 will take you to the tranquility of The Deck in Thao Dien. If so inclined, ask your hotel to call the restaurant and organise for their boat to collect you from District 1. This way to can also squeeze in a Mekong boat trip, and arrive at the restaurant in style; disembarking your boat on a jetty at the front of the restaurant – not for those who prefer to remain inconspicuous. If you choose to take a taxi, driving through Thao Dien you will find an unashamedly expat enclave, with trendy bars, gourmet super markets and some ridiculously large villas to ogle at. True to its name, at The Deck you can escape the heat and hustle of Saigon with some upmarket lunching on a beautiful wooden deck overlooking the river. The Deck’s menu is skewed towards fish and seafood, but there are plenty of options to suit all tastes. Try the duck pancakes, the pork belly dumplings and the Phu Quoc prawn rolls. The restaurant also has a wide selection of wine, including a very decent pale rose, if that’s your poison.

Colonial sights and roof bar hopping

Make your way back to District 1 to take a leisurely tour of the beautiful buildings, interspersed with stops at the most old-school of drinking holes. All of these spots are just a few minutes walk from each other so by foot is definitely the way to go. Start at the Notre Dame Cathedral, where you can also see the very grand old post office located in the same square. The interior of the post office is interesting, with its preserved colonial telephone booths and a looming painting of Ho Chi Minh overlooking the parcels and packaging counters.  From here, head towards the roof of the Rex Hotel for a drink. Everything about the Rex is very dated (including the elevators which look like the perfect spot for a 1970s James Bond villain to pounce), but the views down the central promenade make for good people-watching. Occasionally you can catch unassuming pedestrians getting soaked by the fountains which sporadically spurt water up from the pavement below. Once refreshed, head up to the City Hall and then round the corner to the old opera house, a beautiful building next to the Intercontinental Hotel, where Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American during the war. Finish at the Caravelle Hotel’s Saigon Saigon roof bar for a gin & tonic. This leafy bar is where the newspaper correspondents gathered during the war to exchange information, stories and of course to drink heavily.

Food and sights on a Vespa

vespa-tour

This may sound daunting but a vesper tour is undoubtedly the way to experience Saigon as it’s meant to be done. Jump on the back of a scooter to take in the sights and immerse yourself in the glorious chaos of the city’s streets. If you choose Vespa Adventures night-time foodie tour, an experienced driver will whizz your group around various eating and drinking locations to sample the some of the best Vietnamese food. This is a great way to try a number of renowned local dishes if you have limited time in the city. Make sure you are hungry – there is a lot to eat, even for the greediest of foodies. This tour isn’t cheap (around 90 USD) but if you take into account that you aren’t spending money on a restaurant dinner, and you’re getting a thrilling tour of the city by night, it’s worth the expense. People of all ages and sizes do different scooter tours so don’t be put off if you think you are too old or awkward to get on the back of a vespa. This unique tour will tick boxes for everyone – foodies, thrill-seekers and culture vultures.

After-hours

If you want to sample some of Saigon’s night life in one night only, then start by hitting Pham Ngu Lao street for some of the cheapest beers you can find these days. This area is buzzing with backpackers and hawkers. Its not for everyone but its an experience and at the very least a cheap drink. If you have the energy, head to Apocalypse Now, Saigon’s most famous night club, where travellers and locals come together to dance and drink. It reminds me a little of a cheesy club from university days, but if you choose to embrace the vibe then you can definitely have fun dancing the night away here.

24 hours should give you a good taste of what Saigon is about, but to really get under the city’s skin you need to experience the many layers and dimensions of this wonderfully challenging city. There are many things which don’t quite function properly in Saigon but, like an old drunken friend who often gets it wrong, you forgive these misdemeanors for its endless energy and charm.

 

Propaganda – Review by Ho Chi Minx

Propaganda – Review by Ho Chi Minx

Self-proclaimed ‘Vietnamese bistro’, Propaganda, was packed on a rainy Sunday night when we ventured out to try it. Overlooking the park beside the cathedral in District 1, the restaurant is a spacious room with high ceilings, and a pretty terrace at the front if you prefer to sit outside. The walls are plastered with brightly-coloured murals depicting various scenes of harmonious rural Vietnamese life. The decor and the upbeat music make for a fun, friendly and young environment. The punters were mostly foreigners, rather than locals, with the majority seeming to be trendy french expats.

Wall mural at Propaganda
Wall mural at Propaganda

The wine list was good, offering a range of wines and prices, including a few different rose wines to choose from. Propaganda also has an extensive cocktail list, but we stuck to wine, ordering a bottle of Sauvignon Plonk. Our helpful waitress suggested a few dishes to try and in we dived. We were brought some monkey nuts straight away – a touch we appreciated having had a few drinks on an empty stomach.

Propaganda Restaurant Saigon
Propaganda Restaurant Saigon

The menu has a large selection of fresh rolls to share as starters, and we were told these were something of a specialty dish. Coming in 10 bite size pieces the size of sushi rolls, we chose the chicken, avocado, brown rice roll with a spicy peanut dip. The texture was lovely due to the creamy avocado and the peanut dip was delicious, although it wasn’t spicy at all. My dining partner thought the flavour of the rolls was a little bland without the dip, and suggested that the brown rice might be accountable for this. I have a deep appreciation for the subtlety of avocados so they went down well with me.

Fresh Chicken, Avocado, Brown Rice Rolls with Spicy Peanut Dip
Fresh Chicken, Avocado, Brown Rice Rolls with Spicy Peanut Dip

Next we tried the BBQ pork with rice noodles, beansprouts and fried spring rolls. The dish is a warm(ish) noodle salad garnished with the BBQ pork and on a bed of spring rolls. Fish sauce came on the side to dress the noodles. This dish was fantastically fresh and light, as so much of the best Vietnamese food tends to be. The spring rolls at the bottom of the bowl were soft but still crispy – they added variety and substance to the dish.

BBQ Pork with Rice Noodles, Beansprouts and Fried Spring Rolls
BBQ Pork with Rice Noodles, Beansprouts and Fried Spring Rolls

Finally we tried the Vietnamese duck curry – we chose to have rice noodles on the side instead of bread. The curry was quite unlike most Indian-style curries – it was smooth, sweet and very mild. The dish consisted of a large duck leg and chunks of potato, covered in the curry sauce. We found having to tear the meat off the bone a little tiresome, but the duck itself was tender and tasty. On the side we were given chili salt which we were told was to dip pieces of duck into. The rice noodles made a surprisingly good accompaniment to the curry, soaking up the sauce better than expected.

Vietnamese Duck Curry with Rice Noodles
Vietnamese Duck Curry with Rice Noodles

We didn’t have desert, but the banana wrapped in crunchy sticky rice with coconut cream & crushed peanut looked rather dreamy. Instead we took the rest of our wine outside to the front terrace for people-watching.

For me, there wasn’t one item on the menu which didn’t sound appetizing, and my only regret was that we didn’t order more. Its a menu designed for sharing, with plenty of options but not an overwhelming number of dishes.

Propaganda serves up a large dollop of Saigon-cool alongside some pretty tasty food, and is the perfect place for a lively Friday night dinner with friends.

Propaganda
21 Han Thuyen. Q1,
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Tel: 3822 9048

www.propagandasaigon.com

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