Lifestyle and beauty blogger Phuong Ha is a regular visitor to Saigon. Lots of her popular YouTube shows are shot in Airbnbs in the city. So, we caught up with Phuong Ha for our guest concierge series to find out where she likes to visit (and stay) in the southern city.
Read on in Vietnamese
Phuong Ha is versatile. She’s a cool photographer, fashionista, beauty expert…the list goes on.
All this has helped her build her YouTube channel. Currently, she counts 326,000 followers on her channel. And counting.
Her approach is personal. Topics like fitness, health routines, and photo and beauty tips are tackled in a uniquely fun, quirky way. Her broad-ranging appeal has helped her realise her dream -– to become a full-time Vlogger.
Born in the capital, Hanoi, projects keep bringing Phuong Ha to Saigon. “It’s my second home,” she smiles. So we asked her for her favourite places in the southern city where she spends much of her time for the latest in our guest guide series.
What does Saigon mean to you?
If Hanoi is my family, Saigon will be my BFF. And you can’t live without your BFF for long, can you?
Saigon is in general more Westernised and open-minded than Hanoi, which is more conventional. So many of my peers, similar in age to me, have moved here to fulfill their “you only live once” youth. I also get that energy from this dynamic city. It gives me this endless motivation to cultivate myself from within.
Where should we go to feel good?
I’m a simple girl! I don’t usually indulge myself with posh restaurants or extravagant clubs. I only need a giant yummy rice paper snack, bánh tráng trộn, a comfy bed and a good movie.
Bánh tráng trộn is a hodge-podge salad-type creation famous throughout Saigon. Hanoians like me always envy Saigonese because they have access to a broader range of creative street food. This staple dish is everywhere in Saigon, but I especially favour Banh Trang A Non near Turtle Lake. Delicious cheap eats and the fresh Saigon breeze are enough to clear my stresses away.
Where to go for the best lunch or brunch?
Another reason to be jealous with Saigonese youth is brunching culture is a lot more vibrant here! If I fancy a chilled Sunday morning, you’ll find me munching on the healthy dishes at Godmother Bake & Brunch. I was immediately impressed by the cool interior design here: pastel pinks and greens and warm sofas.
My favorites are Smashed Avocado and Eggs Atlantic. You also eat by the eyes at Godmother – every dish is beautifully garnished like a treat for yourself on lazy weekends. A great place to hang with your girlfriends!
What are the best street food in Saigon?
For my Saigonese friends, nothing feels more like home than a plate of cơm tấm (or ‘broken rice’). Once considered poor people’s food, this dish is now all over the country, from pop-up street stalls to high-end five-star restaurants.
If you want to eat like a local, don’t miss out Cơm tấm Ba Ghiền, arguably the best Com Tam Saigon has to offer. The grilled pork chop they cook up is the bomb! Alternatively, opt for a fatty indulging Com Tam plate at the well-known brunch place L’usine. In exchange for the extra pennies you are charged in this established restaurant, you will get to enjoy working or meeting up with friends in a chic, trendy space.
Where should we go for a fancy dining experience that’s worth our money?
It’s not super fancy, but I’m extremely fond of Pizza 4P’s. Everything at this chain is on-point – intimate yet spacious venues, accommodating service and outstanding food. A few years ago, before Pizza 4P’s was brought to Hanoi, visiting this restaurant was a must in my to-do checklist during my Saigon trips, no matter how short the stay was.
My regular orders are the signature Crab Spaghetti, Half sashimi, half four-cheese pizza, and the Avocado & Shrimp Salad with balsamic sauce. Listing these out is making me drool already…
What’s the perfect place for a work meeting?
My choice is Pat’a Chou at the center of Hai Ba Trung street. A lovely, cosy place to pla business, with the bonus of some yummy sweet bites (you can tell I have a sweet tooth!).
Where should we go to look more beautiful?
As a beauty blogger, it is my job (and my hobby) to experience different beauty products and services. Among the numerous cosmetic brands in Saigon, I especially love Beauty Box and Dr. Jart.
Beauty Box is a reliable distributor of affordable Korean cosmetic brands like AHC, A’pieu, and The Face Shop. And Dr. Jart is my all-time favorite brand. Their intense face mask can do wonders for your dry and damaged skin while travelling.
And where should we go to get the best outfits?
Many old apartment buildings in Saigon have been brought back to life. They’re filled with cafes, beauty parlours, fashion boutiques and co-working spaces. Find the most reasonably-priced shops in the Ly tu Trong apartment, knowns as the locals’ favorite vintage shopping “center”. It can satisfy my shopping addiction without compromising my wallet (too much).
My favorites are Polkaholic, which has chic, minimal designs for an active “street style” outfit. Then there’s Sophia Shop and Soda Pop. They’re more feminine, for that “sweetie pie” look.
For formal occasions and events, I like to look a little more elegant and stylish. My go-to shops for the best classy outfits are Embold Official, Leger.bn and Twenty Five Studio. The better quality materials and the uniqueness of their designs make for a remarkably higher quality…and price.
Where should we go on a Friday night?
I personally enjoy chill bars where I can sit down after grueling working days and chit chat with friends. Acoustic Bar on Ngo Thoi Nhiem helped create the exciting bespoke bar scene in Saigon. Old-fashioned cocktails, antiquated ambiance and great live acoustic music can easily comfort me.
And where can the best late-night bites be found?
I’m a big fan of frog congee. My craving can only be fully satisfied in Saigon. Maybe it’s because the Chinese community here is much bigger than in Hanoi?
Ho Chi Minh City’s Cho Lon Market in District 5 is Vietnam’s largest Chinatown with classical Chinese architecture reminiscent of years gone by with plenty of Chinese restaurants. But before moving to District 5, the Chinese neighborhood used to be in District 7. It’s now “invaded” by Korean expats. But there remains a few authentic Chinese restaurants like Chao Ech Su Bin. It’s not the closest dining place to the city center but it’s definitely the best frog congee I’ve ever tasted. The frog meat melts in your mouth and blends in harmony with the perfectly-seasoned congee and crunchy greens. It’s probably even better than the ones I tried in Singapore!
Where should we stay in Saigon?
I always stay in an Airbnb. The advantage is that when I shoot my YouTube videos the background changes making them more interesting. There’s one particular charming Airbnb with a five-star location, close enough to get downtown quickly, but distant enough to stay uninterrupted by the noisy touristy areas.
What are the best gifts to take home from Saigon?
I always get the scorched rice topped with pork floss, called cơm cháy, for my parents, Phúc Long tea for my grannies, and some eco-friendly souvenirs from Lại Đây Refill Station for my siblings and myself.
What is a new addition to Saigon’s F&B scene that you think we should try out?
Famous Vietnamese comedian Tran Thanh’s new restaurant A Mà Kitchen has been praised as the cheapest ticket to Hong Kong! Neon lights and authentic Hong Kong dishes certainly won me over. It’s the best place to hang out with my gang. Saigon is, like I mentioned, my BFF, and my second home…
Photos by Khooa Nguyen and edited by David Kaye.