Saigon, officially known as Ho Chi Minh City, is easily overlooked by travelers looking to experience surreal landscapes such as the numerous limestone monoliths of Halong Bay, the cascading rice terraces in Sapa or the immense green tea hills of Dalat. What most don’t immediately realize is that Saigon has a personality unlike any other city in Vietnam described by its numerous colonial monuments, chaotic streets, and tranquil parks. But most traveler’s limit their itineraries to the popular ones such as Ben Thanh Market, The Notre Dame Cathedral, Post Office, War Remnants Museum, etc. Here is a compilation of five must-see places in Saigon travel brochures often don’t mention, that visitors easily miss.
Saigon has a personality unlike any other city.
Coffee with Birds Singing in District 1
Every morning, bird-lovers around the area gather together on the rooftop of Cong Doan coffee shop (the third floor) to sip their morning coffee, while enjoying the chirping of birds calling one another. The rooftop of Cong Doan coffee shop has dozens of bird cages with many different bird species hanging above. You can find ordinary birds such as magpie-robins and larks, and even rare ones such red-whiskered bulbul and canaries. Each type of bird has a unique coat of colored feathers, which creates a fantastic background for photographers. But perhaps their most beautiful trait is their song. Bird-lovers also bring their precious birds in order to show off their birds and “compete” with their singing voices, finding the best vocals in District 1l.
Focusing on their melodious coos helps you tune out the angry honking of traffic and thus this cafe offers peace of mind, something that is normally hard to find in the hustle and bustle of Saigon. If you want to witness the magic of songbirds, then visit early in the morning. This is when you are most likely to run into these bird enthusiasts.
Maybe in the memories of the Saigonese, having coffee and listening to birds was once an integral and everyday part of their lives. Everyone comes here with the same intention. They come here to listen to these peaceful birds chirping to forget the chaos of work, the stresses of life, the noise of the streets, and to take the break we often crave.
Things you should know
- The best time to visit is on early mornings, when the weather is cooler and the birds are more active.
- The “bird show” usually starts at 6:30 AM and ends at around 9 AM.
- The Cong Doan coffee shop is opposite Tao Dan Park on Cach Mang Thang Tam street.
- The coffee shop is about one kilometer from Ben Thanh market. Walking there should take you about five minutes.
- Besides coffee and other drinks, this coffee shop also serves breakfast and lunch with many Vietnamese dishes like rice (with side dishes) and bun ca (fish noodle soup).
Name of place: Cong Doan Coffee Shop (Ca Phe Cong Doan in Vietnamese)
Address: 85 – 87 Cach Mang Thang Tam street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, HCMC
Special feature: Home to most birds residing in Ho Chi Minh City
What to do when you visit: Buy a cup of Vietnamese coffee, find a seat, and listen to the birds sing.
Binh Tay Market (Cho Lon)
Binh Tay Market, also known as Cho Lon, is the biggest wholesale market in Vietnam. A vast majority of the wholesale goods available here are from the southwest provinces of the country. If you intend to save some money on shopping during your stay, Binh Tay Market definitely warrants a visit.
Running since 1930, the market has a long storied past about the transformation of the city during and after the Vietnam War. Along with its reverence of historic values, the market also possesses a stunning architectural design, which all combine to make Cho Lon a great number for filming documentary pieces. Nowadays, more and more visitors flock to the site, excited to discover what treasures lay hidden in every corner of the bazaar.
Binh Tay Market houses a warren of stalls soliciting buyers with decent and fair prices, a diverse number of items, and a bustling trading atmosphere which is a true reflection of the city’s rhythm of life. Not to mention, the market’s culinary delights are another major highlight that will satisfy even the pickiest of diners. That is why most foreigners agree Cho Lon is the most remarkable market experience they have during their time in Saigon.
Things you should know
- The market is open from 8 AM to 5 PM.
- Buying stuff in bulk is cheaper than buying just one.
- It takes around 20 minutes to go to Binh Tay market from Ben Thanh market. The price for Grab bike is around 37,000 VND and 96,000 VND for Grab car.
Name of place: Binh Tay Market
Address: 57A Thap Muoi street, District 6, HCMC
Special feature: This is the biggest wholesale market in Vietnam. A vast majority of the wholesale goods available here are from the southwest provinces of the country. Cho Lon is located in the Chinatown area, where you can find many tasty Vietnamese and Chinese food.
What to do when you’re there: Shop for souvenirs – Explore the biggest Chinatown in Vietnam – Try as many street food as you can.
The Antique Collector’s Market (Cao Minh Cafe)
Operating since 2009, this marketplace has caters to clientele who want to get their hands on old and used items from decades past. With an airy setting and sweet melodies wafting through the air, the cafe might give you a peaceful moment to take a walk down memory lane.
The collector’s market is only open for a small window of time every Sunday morning, from 6 AM to 2 PM and each visitor has to pay a small entrance fee of 30,000 VND, inclusive of a drink. Those without any knowledge of antiques may deem a lot of the inventory sold here as unusable or of having no value, but in actuality, the prices of these items begin at a mere hundred thousand VND and are valued at over thousands of USD.
Honestly, it will take you a significant amount of time and effort to get to the market from the city center. However, most antique enthusiasts admit that they can’t skip out on going to the collector’s market every time they visit the city.
Things you should know
- The antique market only opens every Sunday morning, from 6 AM to 2 PM
- You have to pay a small entrance fee of 30,000 VND. This is inclusive of a drink.
- Cao Minh coffee is located a little farther away from the city center. From Ben Thanh market to the Antique collectors market, it costs around 40,000 VND by Uber motorbike or 120,000 VND by Uber car.
Name of place: The Antique Collector’s Market
Address: Cao Minh Cafe, 255/47 Bis, No Trang Long street, Binh Thanh district, HCMC
Special feature: You can find many secondhand goods and antique stuff from the past. A must-go place for the bargain hunters!
What to do when you’re there: Drink coffee – Wander around the market – Purchase some unique items that you like.
The Sea Shellfish Street in District 4
When asked “What is the most interesting food you have tasted in Saigon?” nine out of ten respondents would choose sea shellfish! Indeed, it is impossible to find any place with better sea shellfish platters than here, right in Vietnam’s most bustling city. From small alleys to main roads, you can easily find dozens of restaurants as well as vendors serving different plates of snails cooked in hundreds of ways. However, when it comes to the most popular spot of shellfish mushrooming happening in Saigon, the first name usually recommended is Vinh Khanh Street in District 4, a well-known paradise for seafood lovers.
Along this alleyway, you can find many servers of seafood and shellfish, from big and fancy restaurants to small and unnamed street vendors. All share one thing in common – being full of diners at all times. You do not need to wait until weekends or holidays to witness guests queuing for seats while sellers continuously serve hundreds of shellfish dishes. Only here, guests can fully capture how important cuisine is to the Saigonese.
Unlike other regular shellfish restaurants that solely operate at night, the restaurants and vendors on Vinh Khanh Street open at around 4 PM until late at night. Diners can find all kinds of shellfish dishes priced roughly between 40,000 VND and 80,000 VND on average (from two to five USD for each dish), mainly depending on the type and size of the shellfish. Furthermore, to guarantee the quality of each dish, some owners on the street will gladly replace a dish if the shellfish are not up to customers’ satisfaction.
Oc Oanh here is the best of the best. Although the restaurant’s space is not really a highlight in itself, inside each plate is a world full of flavor, especially in their signature dish – the salted roasted crab claws.
Tasting the these dishes here is as close as you will ever get to enjoy the full bounty of the sea. Vinh Khanh Street turns many foreign one-timers into regulars from their very first try.
Tasting the shellfish dishes here is as close as you will ever get to enjoy the full bounty of the sea.
Things you should know
- Evening is the ideal time of the day to eat shellfish and drink beers.
- The salt, pepper and lime dipping sauce is something you don’t want to skip when eating seafood!
- From Ben Thanh Market, it costs around 10,000 VND by Uber motor or 24,000 VND by Uber car to get to Vinh Khanh street.
Name of place: shellfish street
Address: Vinh Khanh street, District 4, HCMC
Special feature: There are more than ten eateries that sell seafood along this alleyway.
What to do when you’re there: Eating some greatest dishes such as mud creeper snails fried in a mild green curry-style coconut sauce (Oc len xao dua), scallops grilled with spring onions and peanuts (So diep nuong mo hanh), areola Babylon snails fried in chilli and salt (Oc huong rang muoi ot), and clams steamed in lemongrass and chilli (ngheu hap xa).
Saigon Outcast – District 2
Those who love rock climbing, skateboarding or BMX will love spending time at Saigon Outcast in District 2. This place is where many locals and expats gather together to share their street art hobbies with each other.
Three years ago in 2012, two creative (yet crazy) young officers, Linh and Ha, spent their savings on buying three shipping containers to live in and host some cool events at the grassy yard in front of their “house”. With time, Saigon Outcast gained a loyal following. Many interesting events are hosted there – from music concerts, and art exhibitions to workshops or networking events. Furthermore, you can find some blank walls to create your own graffiti masterpiece! A climbing wall is there if you feel adventurous, or if you want to stick a little closer to the ground, try your hand at skating on the custom built concrete half pipe. An outdoor pool cinema is also set up to serve you. Really, how could you ask for anything else?
On weekends, you can go to the garage sale that take places at Saigon Outcast to find some unique items from clothing to furniture and decor stuff to bring home. To anyone who just simply wants a place to sit down and chill on a do-nothing day, Saigon Outcast also have a bar section that caters food and beverage for you to enjoy while listen to good music in the air.
Saigon Outcast is a perfect place for the social butterflies to meet up with new people in town or for those creative introverts who just want to be around art.
Things you should know
- The venue is truly a self-service space. So if you are looking for a fancy place with great service, this is not a place for you!
- There are plenty of events being host at Saigon Outcast. You should follow Saigon Outcast Facebook page or website to keep track of all the upcoming events.
- Saigon Outcast is ten kilometers from District 1. It costs around 42,000 VND by Uber motor and 86,000 VND by Uber car to get there.
Name of place: Saigon Outcast
Address: 188 Nguyen Van Huong street, Thao Dien ward, District 2
Special feature: Saigon Outcast has a cool bar section, a climbing wall, a concrete half pipe, and an outdoor pool cinema. They also host many fun and good events there.
What to do when you’re there: Bring your skateboard and try skateboarding – Test your limit with the rock climbing activity – shop ’till you drop on the garage sale
That being said, these five places above have won the hearts of both locals and newcomers. Try out these experiences in your next trip to better understand the reason why there are more and more wanderers flocking to these sites. Perhaps you will soon join them time and time again. Let us know what you think or if you have found a must-see place in Saigon most travelers miss that is not included in this list.