They are in our midst. They are hiding between all the modern skyscrapers. They are just waiting to be found. And we found them. The pearls of Saigon.
The city has changed. Where a market place invited people to linger a few years ago, now a huge building shows off and vie with exclusive and expensive shopping arcades for the attention of the upper class.
And then it happened quickly. In the last decade, one skyscraper after another developed Saigon’s airspace. Today they fight, like the trees in the forest, for the sunlight and for every square meter of space. And what remains are only the huge shadows thrown at the inhabitants of the city. And also the memories of the time, where on every corner a Vietnamese charm was present.
But they still exist. The small houses, in traditional construction and so typical Vietnamese, like the pho soup for breakfast. Despite the tremendous change, they have managed to survive in this jungle of modernity. Times have become hard and the pressure of change as well, but they still defy that.
From the outside you notice their age. Old and weathered are their facades. And just as the journey began at the entrance, so it continues inside. Here, no marble was installed. There is no convoy of cleaning staff running around here either. And most likely, it has been modernized here.
But these are just externalities. The intrinsic values are really what counts and they have a lot to offer. Many shopping opportunities with a focus on the conscious consumer. Small and sweet cafes with with an astonishing attention to detail. Or bars, where you want to spend the evening with friends.
And that’s exactly what we were looking for and what we have found. For us this is still the old Vietnamese spirit, which we wanted to breathe in and take home as a souvenir. We have call them The Pearls of Saigon and would like to present you our findings.
Apartment 26 Ly Tu Trong
I discovered the building during my first Vietnam visit in 2016. I was invited to the Loft Cafe to have lunch with friends there. Already on this first day, this building leaped to my eye, because it is just different than anything else.
Right on the ground floor, you will be artistically greeted by a multitude of hand-painted paintings. They catch everyone’s attention and make you forget how old and dirty the entrance area is and how daring the entire electrical installation in the up corner is. All this is now a minor matter, because one is blinded by the colors and the originality of the motifs. These works of art are not mass produced somewhere in China and then exported to Vietnam. No, they are created on the spot, in front of your own eyes. The artist sits here almost every day and works inexhaustible, so there is always enough supplies.
From here, visitors are awaited from four further floors. You can take your time, because here you can easily spend the entire afternoon. The building gives the feeling of a shopping mall, only in smaller and more original. The products range is aimed at both women and men, from underwear to outerwear, from chic to casual, everything is in stock.
The fashion here has a slight Vietnamese touch and is aimed more at young and hip people. Small and unknown labels adorn the corridors and invite the curious people to browse. And it creates the feeling that you do not buy bulk goods. Finally, no uniformity.
We immediately noticed that we were not talked into. We could move undisturbed in every shop and look around in peace. When entering the shops, you do not have to worry about getting a personal shopping assistant involuntarily right from the start, which follows you every step on your way. And when we had a question or we needed help, an employee was immediately on the spot and could help us, thanks to his good knowledge of English.
Shopping makes you feel hungry and if one wants to recharge his batteries, one does not have to leave the building. On every floor there is the possibility to join a cafe and take a break.
The Cong Cafe has become my absolute favorite cafe brand here in Ho Chi Minh City. The coffee and the smoothies convince of the taste and the price. The interior design of each store is very individual, but always treated the same theme. Vintage look with focus on old wood. But as a special feature, Cong Caphe also uses real, old books as decoration. This special mix makes you feel like you’re sitting in an old library rather than in a café.
Eugene is a label based in Saigon. This store still sits so vividly in our imaginations, especially because of its simple and light fashion paired with a touch of Vietnam. No frills, no glitter, no sequins. And definitely not uninspired The main used materials are cotton and linen, which made us particularly happy. Finally, no synthetics.
An absolute recommendation and now known by many locals and tourists. The Loft Cafe convinces with good food at fair prices. The interior reminds a bit of a canteen, but maybe it is also intended. The highlight in the loft is the round window, which has been redecorated to a huge clock. A real eye-catcher.
Apartment 42 Nguyen Hue
Nguyen Hue Street is well known to everyone who has been to Ho Chi Minh City. The street is one of the highlights of District 1 and pretty much everyone has crossed it at least once. Especially at night, the road unfolds its true beauty. Then, when the sun disappears as a natural source of light, people make use of the artificial light and bring the entire street to shine in a magnificent mix of colors.
Anyone who has passed the street at this time will have noticed a building. A special building that does not fit into it at all. A building that gives a very different impression in daylight and then you have to ask yourself if it is actually the same building that you have marked on your map the night before. We’re talking about Apartment 42 Nguyen Hue and our next Saigon Pearl.
Absolutely inconspicuous in daylight and impossible to miss in the dark. Only after sunset, several of the 48 well-formed squares turn into an eye-catcher made of lanterns and neon light. The facade looks like a night bloomer at this time, because it only blooms at night and just waits for the nocturnal people to be pulled by into their spell. This mix of creativity and light gives the building a cult status. And we hope that it stays that way for a long time.
Just like the previous Saigon Pearl, you can not expect a modern shopping mall or a tidy food court inside. Again, the building makes an old and weathered impression and a view of the courtyard does not improve the overall impression at all. But that’s exactly what makes this charm. If you travel a lot in Ho Chi Minh City, you will encounter this picture very often. And eventually you develop a kind of immunity and start to classify this condition as normal.
You can safely skip the elevator at the entrance and fight on foot through the 9 floors. In this building, the majority of the offer is clearly focused on food and beverage. The selection is so huge that maybe every Jack will find his Jill.
Especially the numerous cafes are furnished with great attention to detail. Everywhere you see the modern hipster look trimmed to the old and vintage. This makes this agony of choice and we recommend you just listen to your belly.
We highly recommend the Boo Café on the eighth floor. The café has a large terrace and probably a free space on it. From up here you have a spectacular view of all the action on Nguyen Hue Street.
Pasteur Street Brewing Company
The Pasteur Street Brewing Company may not be an insider tip anymore, but it’s an absolute must see for every beer lover. The brewery was founded in 2014 and named after the street where the first taproom took its place. Meanwhile, the brewery has grown and the beer is sold nationwide at over 200 outlets. But the first taproom exists still on the exactly same place and invites beer lovers from all over the world to try the Bia crafted in Vietnam.
But before that happens, the way inside must be found. If you walk along Pasteur Street, you will not be greeted with an attentive entrance area. Just a small round logo adorns the facade above the dark entrance area. One of many, but so elegant that it jumpes into the eye.
In the meantime, the passageway to the backyard has been lighted up and the walls have been decorated with lovingly staged paintings. Pasteur draws attention to himself with art, and apparently with success. But that was not always so. On my first visit, the area looked like a passageway to an abandoned backyard and I was worried that I had chosen the right path.
Once you have passed the entrance area and made a selfie of the paintings on the walls, you get to the actual entrance of the bar. This is divided into three areas and meanwhile the entire building is claimed for own use. Take your time and explore all the rooms. There is also something like a rooftop bar and a booth. But in the overall package, the taproom impresses with its authenticity and rustic atmosphere.
You can find here the best chicken nuggets in the town.