Where To…. Eat by Where To Now? Team member Costa
Ho Chi Minh is a great city for people on a budget. The street food culture is huge and you can eat three meals a day at a very reasonable price. I lived in Saigon for 2 months and I was eating out almost three times a day. Believe me, cooking at home is usually healthier and cheaper but it’s time consuming and you also have to get groceries, which can be very pricey if you’re not a good bargainer at the local market.
Before I introduce the list, it’s important to mention that there are many dishes to choose from food vendors. My suggestion? Be adventurous, get out of your comfort zone and try as many different things as possible, while following my golden rule. Aim for places that you see are full of locals eating. Food sanitation is a big issue in Saigon, with many tourists and even locals getting sick because of the food. The main problem for this being that cleanliness standards simply aren’t at a certain level when it comes to street food, or restaurants selling rice and meat at 27,000 VND (~$1.20 USD).
I’ve put together a list of delicious dishes worth trying, with prices ranging from 15,000- 70,000 VND (~0.60- $3.00 USD). I’ll note that street food prices differ, depending on which street and neighbourhood you purchase them in.
*A couple of tips: If the price is not written at the stall, simply wait for a local to order first and look at the amount that they pay and proceed afterwards. Just make sure that they’ve ordered the same thing! Very often, vendors will rise the price for foreigners and get away with it.
Vietnamese traditions are different and that includes their dining customs! So, as a heads up it’s important to mention that if you order water, you will most likely be served a relatively pricey bottle instead of a glass of water. Locals drink trà đá, a unsweetened iced tea that is often offered with meals for free or if that’s not the case, you won’t pay more than 5,000 VND for a glass.
During my stay in Saigon, I tried many places and among those, I would recommend the following spots:
Vegetarian & Vegan
One of my favourites in Saigon- a healthy vegetarian restaurant with a great menu at a great price. Everything we tried here was amazing.
Here you can choose the ingredients of your noodle soup- all of which are vegetarian. Choose between tofu “meats,” vegetables and noodles. There is also a selection of other vegetarian foods including a tofu burger.
TRUONG SA STREET DISTRICT 3 (VIETNAMESE PIZZA)
This pizza is on a rice paper base- you choose the toppings! Among them are cheese, egg, ham, pork and shrimp, along with many more choices!
If you want to experience something different, head over to the Turtle lake and enjoy some street food with a young crowd in a beautiful location.
DE THAM STREET DISTRICT 1 (STREET FOOD)
There is no end to the choice of Vietnamese street food you’ll find here. From dumplings to ice cream. Try to find the lady who sells coconut ice cream topped with sweet corn and sticky rice. She does not disappoint!
Just click on the maps indicator to find out how to get to each of these places 🙂 Of course, there are many other delicious eats in Saigon, so be adventurous and don’t be afraid to try out Vietnamese cuisine!
Our favourite cafes in Saigon by Where To Now? Team member Natalie
The Cafe Apartment
While not exactly one cafe, per say, one of my favourite spots to go during our two month stay in Saigon was The Cafe Apartment. The building looks like a dollhouse, with each of it’s windows being home to a different, cafe, workspace, clothing boutique or restaurant. Escape the sun during the hot afternoon by exploring the building’s eight levels. Buy a drink while you’re at it. I recommend the blueberry smoothie at Delight Kafe (eighth floor).
Saigon has a truly impressive cafe culture. That being said, 1st Garden really is something special. It is nestled on the third floor of a building it shares with clothing boutiques, an art gallery, restaurants and salons. If you don’t know it’s there, you might not wander in, which is what makes this place a hidden gem. The name hints at what to expect: a cafe modelled to resemble a garden. Complete with live birds, a balcony and an oak tree as a bar, you’ll feel transported.
Stop here for a coffee or smoothie. The city has a knack for making amazing drinks, and this place is no exception. Meals are also available. On the pricey side.
I kind of happened upon this place accidentally while walking around District 1 in search of cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee). It has a nice selection of drinks and coffees, but it turns out they have another specialty. If you walk past during the later hours, you’ll see crowds of young people sitting around tables in their signature red plastic chairs, sipping on their drinks and on giant yellow balloons full of what Heritage is known for: laughing gas. It is served up during the day as well- for those wondering 😉 This little shop is also home to two adorable French bulldogs.
Located right across the street from Heritage, this little cafe has an unusual theme, and name. It’s walls are decorated with cute English quotes, and the tables are set with pens and pencils. In a city bursting with cafes, you’ll see no end to creativity when it comes to decor. The coffee here is good, but it was the smoothies that had me coming back. Make a stop here and you’ll see why.
Jabanit Matcha and Coffee House
This place makes cakes, smoothies, milkshakes, green teas and more. Almost everything on the menu is the signature Matcha flavour. The items are on the pricey side, but we went back here a few times because they did not disappoint.
For more coffee shop recommendations by our friend Theo, a local of Ho Chi Minh, click here.
MONEY by Where To Now? Team member Costa
Ready to become an overnight millionaire? In Vietnam the currency is Vietnamese Dong (VND). Local businesses run on VND and if they do accept USD, you will most likely lose out due to a bad exchange rate. The best thing to do is to stock up on VND so that you don’t have to worry about this. While most people would recommend using ATM’s to withdraw VND, I highly recommend bringing USD, POUND, EUROS or CAN$ and exchanging it at the shop recommended below. The rates were better than on XE.com or Google, and I used their service 4 times. On top of that, you won’t be charged any service fees from ATMs.
Where To Exchange Money:
Money Exchange Service/Jewellery Store
Address: 2 Nguyễn An Ninh, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
I used their services in early 2017, so make sure to check to see whether you are getting a fair rate.
Using an ATM is of course still an option, but the problem is the withdrawal limit. Most of them max out at 4,000,000 VND per transaction. Local banks have a limit of 2,000,000 VND as well as a service charge. You can find some International banks that usually have higher limits. These include HSBC, CommBank, CitiBank, ANZ but once again, by using an ATM, you will be most likely be charged a fee twice; abroad and back home. If you plan on using ATMs during your trip, try getting a card that has free international transactions or low fees. In Vietnam, the ATM fees go from 20,000 to 40,000 VND, adding up very quickly as you withdraw every couple of days.
Transportation by Where To Now? Team member Costa
There are quite a few options available to get around the city. Depending on where you decide to stay, you can use the local bus, GrabBike, Uber, the local cab, bicycle or simply walk! While most people would advise against walking in the city, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s the best way to discover Saigon. However, do be advised that there isn’t really a sidewalk, you have to make your own way and walk on the street most of the time. This was my main way ofmoving around for 2 months. When I wasn’t walking, I was using GrabBike– it’s cheap, efficient and fast. You need a local sim card and telephone number in order to set up an account and communicate with the drivers. For a 6km ride (30 minutes) with traffic, it would cost you 28,000 VND (~$1.2). If you stay in andaround the centre (District 1), it would often cost you less than 15.000 VND (~$0.66) per trip. From my personal experience, GrabBike is cheaper when used during rush hours and Uber is cheaper when there is no traffic. Use it wisely and you can save quite a bit of money in the long run! In addition, if you are travelling as two or more people, use GrabTaxi or Uber. You will have AC and it will be the same price as booking individual Grab bikes. Grab sends many discount codes every few days, often 50% or more, use them!
You also have the option to catch rides from local motorcycle taxis for about 10,000 VND (~$0.44) per kilometer but Grab and Uber will always be more efficient and safe. If you still want to be adventurous, remember to set the price beforehand and wear a helmet please!
Vietnamese weather is much hotter than many travellers are used to, so stay hydrated beautiful people, it’s very important! Protect yourself from the sun and use sunscreen and a hat. You can have a fresh coconut from many street vendors or different snacks in between meals to keep your energy level high!
And last but not least, be respectful of the local customs. Don’t show many signs of affection in public such as kissing, it is not a liked behaviour from the locals. Be friendly and open minded, Vietnamese people will gladly help you if they understand your request 😛