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9 of the best streets in Ho Chi Minh City for street food, history & culture

9 of the best streets in Ho Chi Minh City for street food, history & culture

Ho Chi Minh City can be a daunting experience for any traveller owing to its size, traffic and population density.

With a reputation like this, it’s understandable that many travellers plan short stays in Vietnam’s largest city and use it merely as a hub in which to fly in or out.

Unfortunately for them, they miss out on a lot of what the city has to offer.

If you’re one of those travellers for whom time is of the essence, Matt, Mel and Andy from The Bureau Podcast have done the legwork for you and compiled a list of nine streets (and neighbourhoods) in Ho Chi Minh City that are a must-visit for anyone coming to town.

Listen to the segment below

1. Hem 200 Xom Chieu, District 4

Slicing through what was once Ho Chi Minh City’s gangster heartland, Xom Chieu Street is a jolt for the senses.

It’s a pulsating street where the lives of its inhabitants play out right before your eyes from dawn to dusk and well into the night.

Its most lively time is just before dinner as hungry punters come out in search for something to eat.

Towards the southern end of the street is Hem 200, an alleyway packed with authentic street food delights that match any other in the city for variety and flavour.

It doesn’t get much more local than this.

If you get lost, use the local parish church tucked away at one end of the alley as a reference point – or to ask for help from the heavens above to find your way out.

HOW TO GET THERE: Long walk, taxi, motorbike

2. Nguyen Binh Khiem, District 1

The long gone Gia Dinh Citadel layout

To the naked eye, Nguyen Binh Khiem Street might look like any other inner city thoroughfare in Ho Chi Minh City.

Yet, it cuts through one of the city’s most historic neighbourhoods.

It runs just one block from where the northeastern wall of the Gia Dinh Citadel once stood – unfortunately, however, nothing remains of the citadel that was demolished in the 1830s.

The main entrance to the Saigon Zoo is on this street, while diagonally across from here is one of Ho Chi Minh City’s much-loved dim sum joints, Ocean Palace.

For night life, the area continues to emerge as somewhere to go after dark

Down a small alley off the street, ATM is a speakeasy where, you guessed it, entry is through an ATM – well, a fake one – but you’d never guess something is behind it if you didn’t know.

It’s right on the money.

Craft beer aficionados will also love that Rehab Station, a mecca for local and imported beers, is next door and now has a cocktail bar upstairs.

HOW TO GET THERE: Taxi, motorbike

3. Co Bac, District 1

PHOTO: Van Thanh via Unsplash

This street tends to go under the radar, unless you’re a backpacker because it’s kind of “off-Broadway” so to speak in the Pham Ngu Lao neighbourhood popular among budget travellers and late night revellers.

Co Bac Street is a couple of blocks from Bui Vien Street, otherwise known as Walking Street, which is closed to traffic at weekends and gets taken over by partying backpackers and locals.

About three-quarters of the way down Co Bac Street towards the southwestern end is a relatively little known restaurant called Mr Li Steak & Pasta.

Dishes range in price from VND45,000 for a penne arrabbiata to VND278,000 for a 300g rib eye steak with mashed potato and salad.

Our recommendation though is the gnocchi al gorgonzola (VND85,000).

Not too far away is the Russian Market for reasonably priced branded clothing overruns, or if you’re up for a big night out, hit Bui Vien Street with the masses.

HOW TO GET THERE: Taxi, motorbike

4. Calmette, District 1

Calmette Street is one of the few remaining streets in central Ho Chi Minh City that retains a foreign name.

Albert Calmette was a French physician and scientist who co-invented the tuberculosis vaccine and developed the first snake antivenom.

He became an associate of Louis Pasteur (who also spent considerable time in Saigon) and founded and directed a branch of the Pasteur Institute here in 1891.

These days Calmette Street is synonymous with other French names in the food and beverage industry. Marcel Gourmet Burger is here and a little further on is the Marou chocolate shop.

Both are fine examples of how Ho Chi Minh City’s F&B scene has elevated over the past decade.

In fact, if you’re into street food, casual fine dining, history and culture, boozy speakeasies and cozy coffee shops, then the neighbourhood that Calmette Street bisects – Nguyen Thai Binh – is worth getting to know.

HOW TO GET THERE: Walk, taxi, motorbike

5. Pham Viet Chanh, Binh Thanh District

PHOTO: Mike Palumbo

Around five years ago, not many of us would’ve known Pham Viet Chanh Street, let alone considered a night out here.

The Japanese community was all over it though as rents in and around the “Ghetto” on Le Thanh Ton Street in District 1 forced izakaya sans to look elsewhere.

They looked no further than just over the canal and set up shop in an enclave that has grown into one of the city’s most-loved neighbourhoods for a night out.

Birdy Cocktail Bar opened here in 2016.

Birdy is possibly the smallest bar in town and is both popular with drinkers who want to stay on the periphery of the inner city nightlife buzz and hospitality peeps looking for a wind-down drink after a long shift.

Across the narrow street is the ramshackle Nong Trai Khoai, a self-proclaimed “ruins bar” where you can knock the top off Southeast Asian mainstay brews from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, or up the ante with plenty of top notch local craft beers, like Deme and MixTape.

For more on Pham Viet Chanh Street, check out our feature here.

HOW TO GET THERE: Taxi, motorbike

6. Nguyen Trai, Districts 1 & 5

One of the longest streets in the city, Nguyen Trai Street, stretches from Nga Sau Phu Dong – the six-way intersection and roundabout in District 1 adjacent to the New World Hotel all the way deep into Chinatown in District 5.

The so-called Chinatown neighbourhood has been well documented (also see below) with its food, culture, history and places of worship, like Chua Ba Thien Hau, that was first erected around 1760 and remains one of the pagodas in the area that should be a priority for travellers to visit.

It happens to be on Nguyen Trai Street.

Closer to District 1, the street in the evenings resembles a bazaar as the proprietors of the long strip of clothing stores bring racks of clothes out onto the pavement and street so that shoppers – especially young ladies – can conveniently window shop on the back of a motorbike.

It’s quite a typical way of shopping in Vietnam and is well worth getting on a motorbike yourself to experience it

Naturally, this is all thirsty work.

Nearby is one of the more unusual speakeasies in town where you gain entry through a London telephone booth, while the popular Gin House is also nearby.

In the early hours of the morning, Nguyen Trai Street is famous for dim sum and perhaps no more famous is Tan Hai Van where an eclectic mix of night owls converge for bowls of rice porridge and baskets of dumplings to soak up the excesses of a big night out.

HOW TO GET THERE: Taxi, motorbike

7. Tran Hung Dao, District 5

Named after one of Vietnam’s historical military figures of legendary proportions, Tran Hung Dao Street runs somewhat parallel to Nguyen Trai Street from District 1 to District 5 in the Cho Lon neighbourhood.

These days Cho Lon is part of our city, but before 1931, Cho Lon and Saigon were referred to as the ‘twin cities’ because they were two distinct cities.

During the French colonial era and especially in the early 1900s, Cho Lon was gangster territory and had a thriving nightlife scene, albeit in a murky opium-addled way.

In fact, it was home to Asia’s largest casino, The Grande Monde, and Asia’s largest brothel across the street called The House of 500 Women.

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Ho Chi Minh City skyline at dusk

These days the Dai The Gioi Waterpark stands on the site of the former casino with just its name as a reminder of the neighbourhood’s seedy past. Dai The Gioi translates to Big World in English and Grande Monde in French.

Just up the street is the Arc en Ciel Hotel, although not the original building, it was referred to in Graham Green’s The Quiet American.

At the very end of the street where the funk of Chinese herbal medicine stores lining the street is at its most potent, sits St Frances Xavier Church where former South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem fled the military coup in 1963 that ousted him and was responsible for his assassination.

If all the history works you up an appetite, then we recommend nearby Tien Phat, a Hong Kong style dim sum joint that’s one of the best in Ho Chi Minh City.

HOW TO GET THERE: Taxi, motorbike

8. Vinh Khanh, District 4

Also known as “Snail Street”, Vinh Khanh Street is likely where you’ll end up if you get invited out by a local to eat snails.

It’s conveniently located in District 4 across the canal from District 1 and the Pham Ngu Lao backpacker area.

Vinh Khanh Street is famous citywide, if not nationwide, as where you need to go to nhau-down on snails and shellfish.

Most of the action happens at the northern end of the street where quan oc joints line both sides of the street and jovial punters sit cheek to jowl on plastic chairs slurping, sucking and digging away at their fiddly snacks.

Matt eats snails in Vung Tau

Snail eating is the epitome of Vietnam’s nhau culture – one where friends and colleagues come together to joke, gossip, argue and debate over shared plates of food and torrents of cheap local lager.

We recommend you dig into some mud creeper sea snails in coconut sauce, also some clams steamed in lemongrass and chili and our favourite, oc mong tay, a slimy slender mollusc named as such because its size and shape resembles a human finger.

HOW TO GET THERE: Walk, taxi, motorbike

9. Ho Thi Ky, District 10

Famed for its flower market, Ho Thi Ky Street is also well-known for its Khmer community.

During Pol Pot‘s barbaric reign of terror in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Cambodians fled to neighbouring Vietnam and rebuilt their lives and communities in places like the Ho Thi Ky Street area of Ho Chi Minh City.

Not that having a Khmer community was anything new at the time.

The southern parts of Vietnam from current day Ho Chi Minh City down into the Mekong Delta have been home to the Khmer Krom – people ethnically Khmer but not Cambodian – for centuries, so their influence on Vietnamese food culture remains profound.

Meals on wheels with YesRide!

These days, the narrow alleyways of Ho Thi Ky are a street foodies’ dream, especially in the evening as people come out to eat tasty traditional and fusion varieties of Vietnamese and Khmer dishes.

This is where on certain days of the week you can try bun nuoc leo, a favourite of the Khmer Krom community and eaten as a breakfast staple, along with bun ca, an aromatic and vibrant yellow coloured snakehead fish noodle soup, and even banh khot Campuchia, a tasty version of what is typically thought to be a Vung Tau specialty only.

Instead of wrapping the banh khot in healthy herbs as usual, this piping hot version is dunked into a unique medley of coconut milk, fish sauce and birds eye chili.

The result?

An absolute flavour bomb.

HOW TO GET THERE: Taxi, motorbike

Listen to the full podcast episode below

Follow Matt on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon

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