How to live like a Local in Ho Chi Minh City
Lonely Planet Local James Pham has lived in Ho Chi Minh City for six years. Born in Vietnam but raised in the US, James ostensibly returned to HCMC (aka Saigon) to rediscover his roots but in reality eats a massive amount of street food. Puttering about on his scooter, he spends his days searching out whatever the next 'best’ thing is.
I like to shop at… Kokois in Thao Dien. It’s a lounge/bistro on the ground floor, with a retail shop above showcasing up-and-coming designers who have made Vietnam their home (think French fashion for men, but designed and constructed in Vietnam using imported fabrics). The products are unique and hold up well in Vietnam’s tropical climate. L’Usine is similar, with Vietnam-inspired gifts such as local versions of Monopoly and the French card game Mille Bornes. I also go to tiny Phuoc Tailor on Ð De Tham, where a husband-and-wife team make dress shirts for less than US$20.
To get away from the crowds… I’ll follow the Saigon River north of the city centre to Thanh Da, an island just 20 minutes drive from downtown. It looks like the Mekong Delta, with rice fields, palm trees and hammock cafes by the water. Or I’ll drive another 20 minutes to the ritzy An Lam Retreats Saigon River and spend the day by the pool watching barges sailing by while enjoying gourmet Vietnamese cuisine or Western comfort food.
One thing I hate about Ho Chi Minh City is… the cost of imported foods. Sure, street food is world class and inexpensive, but like most expats, I experience regular cravings for things like cheese, imported steak, cheese, almonds and Doritos (did I mention cheese?) There are speciality stores that sell almost everything you’d want, but I rarely leave without a major dent in my wallet.
When I want to get out of the city… I head to the beach. Saigon is a transport hub, so I can be on the white-sand beaches of Nha Trang to the north or Phu Quoc Island just off the Cambodian coast, or the tiny island of Con Dao (a penal colony during French and American times) in less than an hour by air. Alternatively, the former French playground of Cap St Jacques (now known as Vung Tau) is just a two-hour shuttle ride away, and the sleepy fishing village of Mui Ne is just over fours hours by train.
I know Ho Chi Minh City is home… because I’m not afraid of getting lost in its endless maze of alleyways. Navigating can be a nightmare because streets are mostly named after Vietnamese historical figures, each name having at least three parts (first, middle and last name). To make matters worse, the same street names are often used in multiple city districts, so you really have to know where you’re going.
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