Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Surprising & Fascinating Saigon

So we finally hosted a couple of dear friends from our hometown, Karachi Pakistan. This was going to be a tough one. They had just spent a wild few days in Bangkok... destination wedding of a friend... and if you know anything about Pakistani culture you know our weddings are insane

From there they continued on to Cambodia ...having survived two hours of sleep a night from their previous destination.. straight to Siem Riep where they oohed and aahed and fell in love with Angkor Wat wondering why they had to leave Cambodia

Considering the fantastic time they had there.. I was nervous about them coming to Saigon... and tried my best to show them Saigon through my eyes. So when they landed the first place I took them to for lunch was Monsoon, which I have already written about earlier in my blog.

They of course loved the food there... nice intro to Vietnamese food .. and given that cuisine from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam were on the menu.. .it was a good easing into  the culture considering they were familiar with food from Thailand and Cambodia 

Next it was time to take them to Binh Thanh market... coffee, laquer work, a typical tourist trap but not to be missed as its a great opportunity to do some fab shopping...

Since we were in the area... took them round the corner to that embroidery place that I raved about earlier in my blog as well. Another must stop for anyone visiting as I don't think this art form will last too long... the embroideries are so fine that you could easily mistake them for paintings...its XQ embroidery..and one of their branches is on Le Loi street... do drop in and have a look

By this time they were exhausted so we dropped them off with a promise to take them out somewhere special for dinner. And they were not disappointed. Now we have been to this particular restaurant a few times. Apparently Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have stopped here to dine as well... the food is fantastic.. a bit pricey.. but beautiful. We all know of it as the architect's house.. as he revamped his grandmother's place.. but its Vietnamese name is Cuc Gach Quan and the address is 10 Dang Tat, Ward Tan Dinh, HCMC District 1. Their number is +84 8 3848 0144

Once we had stuffed our gullets well... it was time for some fun entertainment.. and we all trooped down to one of my favourite hang out places in Saigon these days...and that is Carmen. A fun bar with latino/American music played live by a Filipino band.. great sense of humour.. and if there is any talent in the audience..they step up and join the band. We saw a fantastic guitarist from Brazil join them as well as someone from Malaysia step up to sing Hotel California!!! We were blown away! Their address is 8 Ly Tu Trong, District 1, HCMC 

That was quite a bit to pack into the first day so we let them rest and asked them to let us know when they were up so we could start our adventures the next day. They were feeling kind of lazy so we didn't hear from them till noon. Recovering from all the partying... so I took them to another one of my fav places... for one of my fav Vietnamese dishes... Bun Ba xao at Cafe Press

I think I may have mentioned them earlier as well. One of the things I love about Saigon is you turn down a street .. or an alleyway and at the end ....one discovers these amazing spaces... this was one of them.. located at 14 Alexandre De Rhodes.

The owner has a passion for trains which is quite obvious in the decoration of the place..and the food quality is very good too!! I would have never discovered this place if it wasn't for the Ho Chi Minh food forum on Facebook.. but what a find. We all loved our meal and then swiftly moved on to the next destination... which was a cupcake purchasing trip.. to be had as dessert after lunch.. I know... timings were off and considering we had just eaten.. but everything revolves around food in my book.. and the BEST cupcakes in Saigon... are from Sweet and Sour Bakery. They have the best cupcakes I have ever had. They are located at 40/3 Nguyen Van Huong Street, Thao Dien, District 2 HCMC

Armed with our delicious box of goodies.. it would be a shame to just let them sit there.. so we decided to be complete pigs and headed out to the Boathouse. I knew they would enjoy sitting by the river... in this lovely environment where we could chow down some more before pulling out the cupcakes... great place to chill... wonderful food.. nice and zen after the hustle bustle of the city

Since one of our friends visiting is an architect herself... I knew she would love all these spaces but also knew of her interest in furniture... so next stop was a hole in the wall type place for antique furniture where she fell in love all over again with Saigon. Once the hole in the wall was done.. took them to a retail outlet where again the furniture is beautiful. A bit over priced... but beautiful

At this point I was being cursed at for not really explaining all the wonderful treasures held within Saigon... and then it was time to move to our next destination. We had a little more energy left in us and my mind was desperately trying to come up with a place that everyone would enjoy. Now one can't google this place or Foursquare it. I found it because of my dear friend Barbara from +Saigon Street Eats . What's amazing is you go down this street that looks like it just teeming with traffic and then suddenly.. here is this man made park hidden away from the city. Right behind the Manor for those of you who want to get down there and discover it for yourselves. The next dinner location for that night was the Sushi Bar on 141 Nguyen Dinh Chieu

The sushi was served beautifully.... and before we could even remember to take a photograph of the food... we fell upon our platters with much gusto... one would even imagine we hadn't had much to eat considering the speed with which everything was demolished.. great quality food. Entertainment time again so we first stopped in at Pecharan .. the spanish bar next to Caravelle hotel...but the music was the boom boom kind and we were not in the mood... or age group dare I add... so we moved on to Saigon Saigon, top floor of the Caravelle, where a Cuban band gets the crowd moving. The salsa club were there too.. .so the energy is was fantastic. Definitely worth a visit

If you visit the place in the daytime this is what it looks like... a very charming place indeed

After watching the dancing and downing a few drinks.. we called it a night when they were told with great seriousness that breakfast together was a must as we had a place they HAD to see. Notice we didn't do the museums, or Cu chi tunnels ... I suppose they can do that when and if they come back. Where was breakfast planned you ask? where else... L'usine. Its not just that its a great space... charming and simple... or that the food is great. Even the entrance is a little lane...through an art gallery... and then up some dodgy looking stairs... Surprising Saigon again! This is on Dong Khoi street

After breakfast I wanted to show my friends another space. Yes all our activities were planned around food.. and since this was a restaurant I couldn't fit into a meal time... I wanted to show the space atleast. Its a beautiful restaurant and the food is pretty good too. La Fenetre De Soleil is located at 44 Ly Tu Trong.. definitely worth a visit. 

We just sat here for a while... soaking in the ambience.. and then took her to a friend's house who is a fabulous artist. What I love about Saigon is how everyone serves to contribute to the energy that is Saigon. The Vietnamese and the expats alike. They contribute to the culture, music and art scene as well as the food of course. Now despite not doing the normal touristy things .. I couldn't let them come to Vietnam and not let them try the Pho... so next stop .. Pho

It was well into the afternoon by this time so we deposited our friends back at the hotel with instructions to rest up as we had quite an evening planned for them considering it was their last night in Saigon. So for drinks we stopped at Shri around 7:30 pm .. enough time for our friends to pick up some art work and of course a beautiful hand carved junk to take home

Shri is a beautiful rooftop restaurant with fantastic food.. prices to match as well...but worth it... its located at level 23 of the Centec Tower. The address is 72-74 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, District 1, HCMC

Drinks done then time to move to the next location. This is another spot apparently frequented by Brangelina... and for good reason too... beautiful restaurant... food is ok.. just about.. but the ambience is fantastic. The Temple Club was opened about 10 years ago in one of the last Heritage buildings in Central Saigon. Its located at 29 Ton That Thiep, Ben Nghe, District 1, HCMC

Now for dinner I had two options for them... but we settled at the first place we went to. Not quiet and intimate as the other places but the food there is phenominal.. we took them to The Refinery. They are located at 74 Hai Ba Trung street, Saigon, HCMC

Here you have a choice of Western food, Japanese, Lebanese and of course Vietnamese. Since it was their last night here we chose Vietnamese. The food was out of this world... and certainly worth suffering through the loud lebanese music being played across the street while the belly dancers did their thing. If there is one thing we all came away with ...its how surprising Saigon can really be. My friends called it a fascinating city. Another friend described it perfectly. If Hong Kong and India were to hook up and have a baby... the resulting offspring would be Saigon. That is the best description ever!

Well I hope I have given you plenty of ideas of where to visit when you are here... or if you are here ..then some places to go to that you may not have been to yet. Thanks for reading through my meanderings.. :) if you wish to leave a comment .. would love to hear from you.. or write to me at ayeshahalam@yahoo.com 


Anonymous said...

After reading the article and viewing the photos, I feel like catching the first flight to Saigon.

Ayeshah Alam Khan said...

hahahahaha it really is a fascinating city... with so many unexpected spaces and the cuisine is phenominal...if you can get here you should...

Stephen McGrath said...

I kept reading, wondering when your post would morph from a food entry into a travel one, but it never happened! I take issue with your statement about Cuc Gach Quan being expensive, particularly given most of your other haunts - Monsoon and Shri being standouts in that sense.
So. With a great deal of good humour, I ask this: After their two days of eating in ExpatWorld, I'm wondering when your friends are going to actually see Saigon? ;-)

Ayeshah Alam Khan said...

Hey Stephen...yes ur right Monsoon and Shri come into the same category....but to answer your question... they weren't into the street food type scene... guess have to cater to each guest's taste when they come in... but if you have any suggestions would love to hear them

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Maha Khan said...

I wish I had come across this before. My cousin went to Vietnam and starved. He hated the food. Now I want to visit Saigon so I can experience what you experienced with your friends. Thank you Aisha. Fab post

Maha Khan said...

I wish I had come across this before. My cousin went to Vietnam and starved. He hated the food. Now I want to visit Saigon so I can experience what you experienced with your friends. Thank you Aisha. Fab post

Ayeshah Alam Khan said...

thank you :)