After a half-century marred by war and economic stagnation, Ho Chi Minh City-a.k.a. Saigon-has come into its own with a tireless energy few places can match. (Just watch out for those scooters.)
ILLUSTRATIONS PETER JAMESFIELD
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF THE WORD: HO CHI MINH CITY
“My favorite place is the alley off of Hai Ba Trung where a number of my favorite restaurants are: Vasco’s Hoa Tuc, The Refinery, Vino and Jasper’s. I love getting a bottle of wine on the terrace of one of the restaurants, chatting with friends and seeing who I run into.”
SCOOTER TAXI DRIVER
“When I get a little time off, I take my family to Vung Tau Beach to go swimming. Splash splash!”
“When I’ve got some time off in the city, I love to stop at the cafés and drink coffee. My favorites are the outdoor ones by Cong Vien 30-4 on a Sunday morning. Everyone’s so relaxed!”
Image – Michael Turek
Since chaos reigns on the streets of Saigon, travelers would be wise to watch their backs. Scooters will routinely hurtle down the wrong side of the street, take to the sidewalks or cut across three lanes of traffic to make a right turn. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t get around without some semblance of safety. When crossing the street, don’t panic when a taxi starts bearing down on you. Keep moving forward; the driver sees you and is already making a move to avoid you-stopping would only lead to trouble. While we don’t recommend trying to drive, taxis are safe and won’t gouge you if you stick with reputable companies like Mai Linh or Vinasun. Those feeling a bit more adventurous might want to try a scooter taxi. They’re an invigorating way to see the city and, for better or worse, a great way to rub elbows with the locals.
Vietnam has a seemingly infinite number of great dishes. Here are some of the most popular:
BANH XEO – a chewy crêpe containing shrimp, sprouts and pork, torn into pieces and wrapped in lettuce leaves.
BANH MI – a spicy sandwich on a baguette with pickled carrots, daikon radish, cucumbers, cilantro and a variety of meat fillings.
BO LA LOT – fried beef dumplings wrapped in betel leaves, often served with vermicelli noodles, mint leaves and rice paper wraps, and dunked into spicy fish sauce.
BUN BO HUE – a lemongrass-scented soup with shredded beef.
CAN CHUA – sour and spicy noodle soup, with fish or shrimp.
GOI – Vietnamese salad in a sour sauce, served with a variety of toppings.
PHO – noodle and beef broth soup with a variety of meats.
RAO MUONG XAO – morning glory stem and roasted garlic stir fry.