MTV Vietnam VJ Dustin Phuc Nguyen turned his man-about-town status into the YouTube show Bar Stories. It’s one of the stand-outs so far for his Dustin On The Go Production company. And as, frustratingly, Dustin Phuc Nguyen usually finds the best new bars and restaurants before we do, we decided to enlist his help. This is his guest concierge Saigon city guide.
Read on in Vietnamese
“Try not to become a man of success, rather become a man of value.” TV show host and content creator Dustin Phuc Nguyen smiles as he quotes Einstein to kick off our interview.
Though he majored in Hospitality Management in the States, he decided he wanted to dive into the entertainment industry. And so he came back to Vietnam seven years ago to pursue his ambition.
For five years, he worked as a Video Jockey at MTV Vietnam. And it led him to a conclusion: he knew he had what it takes to be a freelance host.
Dustin Phuc Nguyen had always loved interacting with people over good food and tasty drinks, so he teamed up with his partner Richard Vu – creative director for their Dustin On The Go production house. Together, they created the YouTube talk show called Bar Stories where they combine those two pastimes. “I’m the guy that people always ask where the best place to drink is and where the best place to eat local foods is!” Dustin Phuc Ngueyn nods proudly. And he’s happy to be that guy. “I’ve fallen deeply in love with Asian cuisine, mixology and good conversation,” he shrugs.
Recently, Dustin Phuc Nguyen and his team have launched another talk show. It’s about blind dating. It’s called Love Is Blind and it takes a deeper dive into personal relationships than most dating shows with coaching and counseling for contestants. “I also see myself as a matchmaking enthusiast,” Dustin Phuc Nguyen laughs.
As talk turns to this Saigon guide, Dustin Phuc Nguyen says he’s Zen and easygoing but hungry and energetic – just like this city. And even though Dustin has traveled from Paris to Amsterdam and from London to San Francisco, Saigon always draws him back into her arms. “This city has the buzz I crave…”
What does Saigon mean to you?
Saigon sounds like the roar of a thousand motorbikes. It smells like a wet raincoat. And it looks like an intricate puzzle. But most of all, Saigon feels like home.
Where should we go for some quiet time?
It’s tricky to really find quiet time in Saigon. I used to go up to the rooftop of a 17-floor apartment building where I worked. It’s located at 331 Ben Van Don, District 4, and it was called the Orient Apartment Building. It faces the Tau Hu Canal, and from it you can see straight across to downtown Saigon.
Try finding your own rooftop. There are good ones around District 4. Enjoy a couple of sunrises and sunsets there. Saigon’s sunsets can’t be beat. They not only relax you but they also give you some perspective.
Where should we go for a date?
I like comfort food for dates. Quan Bui on District 1’s Ngo Van Nam is definitely a good place for a date. They serve true Vietnamese cuisine and creative traditional decorations abound. It is my unrivaled go-to when I get my cravings for home-cooked Vietnamese comfort food. Go here, and you’re guaranteed a peaceful, easygoing date. But get ready for a fish-sauce flavoured kiss afterwards! If you’ve dated in Saigon, you know what I’m talking about.
Where should we go for a party?
On Nam Ky Khoi Nghia street there are two poppin’ places. Hypeasia’s Bam Bam and Commas Club. Bam Bam, the lounge, is downstairs and the club, Commas, is upstairs. They’re conveniently interconnected. If you’re looking to vibe out to progressive techno, house and hip hop music, this is the place! Add their amazing sound system and their hot crowd and you’re good to go.
How about an important meeting? And a more casual meeting?
An important meeting requires somewhere private. Maybe a place with some low and chill background music. Go to Runam d’Or Cafe across from Notre Dame Church. Book the private cigar room in the corner. It has everything – Eastern and Western cuisine. Savory and sweet fare. Non-alcoholic beverages through to cocktails from their full bar. It’s a bit pricey but use your meeting as a reason to splurge.
For a more casual meeting, I would go to Starbucks Reserve on Han Thuyen. Clients are usually down for some good coffee with a nice view. But if they’re in the mood for drinks, Inthe MOOD bar is a good choice. Go during happy hour. It’s a cozy, simple speakeasy. And it has an air-conditioned smoking area.
Where’s the best queer space or bar?
Republic Lounge, which recently moved to a new location on De Tham Street. It’s the most popular gay bar in Saigon. Expect to see a young and good-looking crowd on the busy weekends.
If you are looking for drag shows, come in on a Thursday or Friday at 11.30pm. Another option is Alley50 Saigon on Dong Khoi. Alley50 has become one of the rising gay-friendly bars in town. There you can get lost in another world amidst its tropical jungle decor. Try any of the cocktails suggested by the bartenders. They’re some of the most good-looking bartenders in town.
To me, everywhere in Saigon should be friendly and open to the queer community! We’re working on it.
Where can we eat the best street food?
The best street food spot is Ốc Cổ Mộ at 520 Trần Hưng Đạo, District 5. It’s a very local “nhậu style” venue frequently mostly by local Saigonese. This gem is hidden in the front yard of a small temple and house. The quality of seafood is excellent and everything is seasoned to perfection. And they have affordable prices too.
Which high-end spot is worth our money?
Quince Saigon, take my money! But remember to book a table days or even weeks ahead. Yes, there’s a whole menu of Asian fusion deliciousness. But the drinks are also so exquisite. And don’t forget the desserts. I recently found out that Quince was originally founded in Bangkok, Thailand. I love the way this company runs. You can ask the staff about anything. They’re well-trained and super attentive. They are confident in their knowledge of the menu and happy to suggest Quince’s must-haves.
Where would we be most surprised to find you in the city?
I am a foodie. I love seeking out all the amazing little hidden food places throughout Saigon. Often, you can find me in district 10 on my way to my favorite crab noodle soup. It’s called Bánh Canh Cua Hoàng Lan – 484 Vĩnh Viễn. It’s casual with no bells or whistles. Open from 11am to 10:30pm, it’s packed with mostly local patrons. We come here for the famous spicy hot soup featuring bits of fresh unshelled crab meat. Believe me, it’s worth a try! Yummy and soothing with an affordable price!
Where can I get the best cocktail?
Rabbit Hole on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia. Hands down. In my book, this place has no rivals. I judge a bar by the quality of the very first drink that I order at it. My favourite cocktail at Rabbit Hole is the Mad Hatter. It’s made from earl grey tea-infused bourbon and home-made strawberry syrup and powder.
Where should we go to get a different perspective on Saigon?
Interesting question. Saigon is a puzzle. And it’s full of surprises. It’s great, but when you’re wrapped up in Saigon, it does become easy to keep following the same patterns.
To immerse myself in a place that’s a little less chaotic, I go to the Thao Dien area of District 2. Here, you’ll find a beautiful mix of Saigonese and expats. The vendors, the bars, the houses…everything just gives you that same feeling that you get when you’re walking in the Thong Lor area of Bangkok. There are touches of British and tropical East Asian cultures that meet in harmony in this part of town.
Which newly opened place should we be most excited about?
I’m pretty stoked about the new Asian restaurant and bar, R.O.S Yacht Club on Ton Duc Thang. I haven’t been there yet, but the idea of a river-view yacht club with Asian cuisine and mixology is very attractive. Curiosity piqued.
Where should we go to escape the city? Where should we stay?
A sure-fire way to refresh your mind is to get out of the city! But if you can’t afford the time or money to travel, you still have options. I suggest going to Chloe Gallery (formerly Anna Sanctuary Wellness Spa) in District 7. Come for a swim, a sunbathing session, a sauna and a spa session. It feels like you’re a world away from all the traffic, the pollution, and the chaos.
If you do have the freedom to travel, find a homestay in Da Lat. Bring your books and cameras. Wander around. Get lost. Or fly to Da Nang and visit Blush Beach Hoi An!
I’ve also heard of a gorgeous place called The Mansion Hoi An that lets you book very limited rooms in their beautifully presented Mediterranean-style villa. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to experience it yet. I plan to try it out. Crossing my fingers that I’ll have the time for leisure traveling in the near future.
Photos by Nam Tran Duy. Edited by David Kaye.