24 Hours in Saigon
A Saigon guide in under 24 hours.
By: Vanessa Ho
Traveling to Vietnam isn't for the faint of heart. It's easy to feel lost in the people and drowned out by traffic noise. So take this guide as a dip of the toe into Vietnam's biggest metropolitan: here's what I did in under 24 hours in Saigon.
Our plane landed at Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport, which can be chaotic during rush hour, but other than that, the only thing you need to prepare for is the scorching heat that hits the moment you exit.
Bún bò huế Cô Ân is nestled within the rows of motorbikes, colorful restaurants, and nail salon signs within an old collective housing area. Although it isn't a Saigon-specific dish, bún bò huế is a sensational experience. The dish, characterized by its fiery-orange soup and vibrant colors from the various toppings adorned on top, is rich in texture and depth of flavor: a little sweet, spicy, and tangy.
Our first shopping destination was an uninviting multi-story apartment building at 42 Tôn Thất Thiệp. The barely lit stairwell we walked up was like a gateway that opened into a completely different world, adorned with bits of greenery and orange terracotta pots. Along with the beeping of the traffic was the sound of conversations: groups of girls—shopping bags in hand—giggling as they exited the small boutiques, couples chatting, and children indulging in afternoon snacks.
This unconventional shopping experience is a common Saigon staple, so we checked out two others on Lý Tự Trọng Street: a 20th-century old building seemingly frozen in time on number 26 and the city's first-ever underground fashion plaza—The New Playground.
Bến Thành market is much more touristy now, with rows of stalls selling trinkets like the iconic "I (heart) Saigon" shirts and Vietnamese conical hats, but hidden behind the "updated" market are rows of stalls selling fresh produce—live fish, cuts of porks and beef, fruit stands and fresh flowers—remnants of what the market once was: a multi-century old marketplace for the locals. Walking down the aisles during rush hour reminds me of years ago: people buying and selling, picking and pointing, haggling and calling out to each other.
But my favorite activity is a personal tradition: a post-shopping chè—Vietnamese dessert soup. Bé Chè doesn't have an exact address, which took us a while to find, but it is in a small food court area by gate 7. The stall is small, but behind the ordinary-looking bowls filled to the brim with vibrant red and bright green jellies is an experience your taste buds will never forget.
Cơm Tấm Bụi Sài Gòn at 100 Thạch Thị Thanh was our final destination. The restaurant had a large cooking station in front, rows of long metallic tables, black lacquer stools, menu billboards, and laminated cut-outs of the foods. We each ordered a cơm sườn—a dish consisting of ribs on rice with a side of a well-done sunny-side up and pickled cucumber salad—and a green soup to share.