Very often, the best things in life happen by chance. And so it was for Ally Hsiao. The Taiwanese’s freelance work meant she could tag along with Dad when his work had taken him to Saigon. Love at first bite! “I even love trung vit long,” Ally laughs about the food that some foreigners find hard to digest. “You can’t get it in Taiwan, and I guess it is kind of strange – you can see the bones and feathers of the unhatched duckling!”
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
She’s thoroughly embraced the dramatic differences between Taiwan and Vietnam. “The main difference is what happens on the street,” she explains, “especially the sound of motorbike horns! In Taiwan, we only beep when it’s absolutely necessary, here you hear them all the time…”
Admittedly, Ally was a bit intimidated by all the motorbikes at first, but now she’s addicted to the energy. But we wonder what tips she’d give to a newly arrived Vietnamese to get the most from the country. “Don’t worry about crossing the road, and approach it fearlessly,” she begins. “Don’t be afraid to try street food. There’s nothing to worry about…although I do bring my own tableware! And finally, enjoy the scenery. The benefit of that is your phone will be safely tucked away, keeping it safe! Oh, wait, one more thing. Don’t plan. Stroll around and discover. That way, you’ll create your own special itinerary!”
How about your one-day itinerary of the best Saigon has to offer?
In the morning, wake up early – by 7AM at least. Then visit the traditional markets and find a breakfast stall. Choose any, whether it’s banh mi, pho or bun thit nuong. And then…keep walking. Find a place for a cup of coffee. Sit outside. And enjoy the energy of the street, which is especially entertaining during rush hour.
Then it’s sightseeing time. Try the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Central Post Office, or the ‘Cafe Apartment’ building. They’re all accessible to each other on foot. But if you’re feeling lazy, hop on a Grab Bike. We don’t have them in Taiwan, so for me, they’re a uniquely Saigon experience.
The weather is always hot. Take regular breaks and hydrate with a fresh coconut from time to time. After a morning exploring, you’re probably hungry. Try Propaganda for lunch. Their food’s delicious and they have some cool souvenirs. I recommend their tri-color rice. A visit to Propaganda isn’t a visit unless you try that dish!
In the afternoon, take a break from the sun. I suggest ordering coconut coffee at Cong Cafe. I fell in love with that drink from the first sip! Then it’s time to explore some museums and art galleries. Personally, I love to attend workshops. There’s lots of those too.
In the evening, go to District 5 to eat. It’s Saigon’s Chinatown, and perfect for Taiwanese looking for some familiar flavors. Dive in and try everything – noodles, sui mai, dumplings…
Then it’s dessert time! Another favorite for Taiwanese. I usually go for the banh flan at Che Mam Khanh Vy. And then a last stop. Walk off all that food along Nguyen Hue heading right down to the riverside. The temperature will have cooled making it a pleasant walk. There’s good banh tran nuong along Ngo Duc Khe Street. And if you still have the energy, Bui Vien is nearby for beers.
And after that, I wish you sweet dreams!
If you had to choose one dish, which is your favorite Vietnamese food?
That’s so hard. I love so many things. If I chose one, it would be bun cha. I still remember the first time I tried it at Quan Nem on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street. It totally amazed me and I still love to eat it.
But I think banh xeo is a must try too. It has a yellow batter, not from the eggs, but from the addition of turmeric and coconut milk. The delicious filling includes beansprouts, pork, shrimp and lettuce.
Which is your favorite coffeeshop?
Another hard question. I think I’m going for Cafe Vy, traditional coffee with outdoor seating. It’s an unmissable Saigon experience, sitting at the side of the road drinking coffee. That’s how you get to feel what it’s like to be Saigonese.
And which is your favorite restaurant right now?
Taiwanese love pho. There are a lot of contenders for the best…and everyone has a favorite. I’m recommending Pho Le Kam Li in District 5. There they serve beef pho, and you get to pick which type – raw beef, sirloin, beef balls, or a combination of them. And the price is fair, between VND 65K and VND 80K.
You’re so stylish! Where do you go to buy clothes?
That depends on everyone’s individual style. Personally, I love second-hand clothes shopping, and vintage stuff. I usually look around on Instagram to find a place. When I first came here I was especially fond of trips to the area around the Vincom Center, and stores like The New Playground and LIBÉ.
As I grew more confident, I discovered stalls in old markets selling used clothes. At first, with them all piled up, it looked intimidating. But soon I was digging around like the locals there.
How about shows? Any good performances to check out?
I’d recommend the A O Show. It’s something like a Vietnamese Cirque Du Soleil. There are three venues nationwide for it. One in Hanoi, at the Tuong Theatre, in Hoi An, at the Lune Center, and in Saigon at the Opera House. I really like the Opera House show because you get to check out the magnificent French architecture of the venue.
Finally, can you describe your Saigon in one sentence?
Every corner is my café!
Photos by Nghia Ngo and edited by David Kaye.