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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Caravelle Saigon, 19 – 23 Lam Son Square, District 1, HCM City, Vietnam
Phone: +848 3823 4999
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.
Level 26 AB Tower, 76A Le Lai Street, District 1, HCM City, Vietnam
Phone: +848 6253 8888
Shri Restaurant & 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.