Three years ago, I settled in this crowded, hectic, and absolutely amazing city with many hopes and ambitions. Three years, not enough for me to even know the way around the city, but enough for me to fall in love with it completely – with the year-round hot weather, with the sudden rain, with the noisy streets, with the tanned, always smiling people, with the food that is as sweet as the people here. Three years, more than enough for me to establish attachments – professional and personal – with the city. A job, a house, a boyfriend who I love so much. It is hard to imagine one day I would ever leave this place that have stolen a part of my soul.
And now, to celebrate 3 years I’ve lived in this most awesome city, I would like to share some corners of Hochiminh City, or Sai Gon as I still usually call it for short without really paying attention to the political and historical ramification, that are so beloved to me.
1. Cà phê bệt
It is hard for me to find a word in my English vocabulary to translate it literally but this is probably the spot where you can find the truest spirit of Sai Gon. Right in the very heart of the city, at the park between Independence Palace and the Notre Dame Cathedral, with Pasteur, Han Thuyen and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia streets as boundaries, you can find hundreds of young people, mostly college students, sitting right on the ground, each holding a plastic cup of iced coffee. This is also the location where young people of some college clubs – guitar club mostly – gathered to practice. Most crowded in the evenings or weekend mornings, you can see the many faces of Sai Gon from a single spot here – the traditional one with Notre Dame, the historic one with Independence Palace, the modern one with Diamond Plaza, the busy one happening right on the very central streets of Sai Gon, the dynamic and hardy one with those middle-aged women selling coffee, the simple one with all kinds of people sitting directly on the ground forgetting the hassle right around, and the open, intimate one with those young boys and girls singing to the strums of their own guitars.
2. Garden cafe
Sai Gon is the heaven for coffee lovers and those who can’t drink coffee but love a pretty place just to hang out. There are tens of different style for coffee shops in Sai Gon, but my favorite one is the garden cafe – large, green, usually having a fountain and/or a pool where you can enjoy the fresh air, smoothies, fruit juice, fast food, and freely talk to your friends. Among those, Du Mien Cafe is my most favorite.
3. The rooftop bar on Duc Vuong hotel
A Dutch intern in my company introduced me to this place more than 1 year ago. Located on the roof of a hotel right in the backpacker area, this bar serves mostly tourists on a budget, and thus the atmosphere is also unique. There is no loud music, no disco balls, no hot bartenders. Everything is calm, and quiet; the customers simply sit, enjoy the open air, engage in their conversations, and after a while, make friends who may join together to discover other parts of Vietnam or even South East Asia.
4. Crescent Lake
A popular location for dates, events, or an evening walk. The first time I went to this lake was for the 2014 Heineken Year End Party. It has everything around this lake: a high-end mall with a food court and a movie theater, a park, a castle built in the style of the Taj Mahal. Yes, everything in this area is a little bit pricey compared to others, but just holding hands with your love walking around this lake at night is enough to make a very pleasant memory.
5. Van Thanh resort
More like a restaurant cluster revolving around the theme of rural Vietnam. The restaurants are mostly log cabins above a lake, or in traditional style with wooden piles and tiled roofs. There is also a lotus pond, some cabins with roofs from coconut leaves quite separated from the restaurants. A truly peaceful corner right in the center of the hectic city.
6. Nhieu Loc Canal
Once the nightmare of the residents of Sai Gon due to pollution, after years and millions of dollars, now this canal is my most favorite place, like a peaceful river gracefully winding around the city, reminding me so much of the beautiful European cities. Driving along this river, you will see many pretty bridges, breathtaking tropical sunset, loving couples holding hands (and other body parts :p), and many other daily life images that will make you feel so in love with this city. At nights, food stalls springing up along this canal also the best places to get a “real” taste of Sai Gon cuisine.