Published on December 7th, 2016 | by Ozlem Avcioglu

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Saigon Guide: Discover the Changing Urban Scene of Indochina

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Saigon or with its new name Ho Chi Minh City -renamed in 1976- is buzzing with energy.. The city is a thrilling melange of old and new: lean, lofty Vietnamese-designed apartments and wet markets, such as Bến Thành, stand by ornate heritage buildings like Central Post Office, the rose-colored Notre-Dame de Saigon cathedral and restored French colonial villas..The city’s creative scene is flourishing. There’s the fashion renaissance who have setup camp around Dong Khoi street with a mix of edgy, luxurious boutiques, artisanal cafes, bohemian bars, and exhibition spaces and young diaspora chefs are returning to Vietnam and exploring their culinary heritage, resulting in French-Vietnamese and other fusion restaurants. A chaotic whirl, the city breathes life and vitality.

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Where to stay?
Park Hyatt Saigon : This French colonial-style hotel enjoys a prime location in central Ho Chi Minh City, overlooking the Opera House on Lam Son Square. Only 100 metres from Dong Khoi Shopping Street, it offers a 20-metre outdoor pool and the pampering Xuan Spa. The hotel also features the modern and popular Lam Son bar and the elegant Park Lounge, which offers afternoon tea in a casual setting. Guests may also enjoy rejuvenating wellness treatments utilizing traditional Vietnamese rituals and ingredients at Xuan Spa.
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An Lam Saigon River Hotel : The hotel was once Mr Lam’s private home: you’ll be wishing you lived here too, thanks to green, leafy gardens, river-watching rooms and zingy Vietnamese food. This quiet Saigon sanctuary has peaceful nooks with rattan chairs and bright cushions to relax in, and the hotel’s speedboat will whoosh you to the city centre in just 15 minutes.The boutique hotel has only 15 rooms furnished with rich wood and Vietnamese silks.

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Where to eat?

Cuc Gach Quán: Serving a modern take on traditional Vietnamese fare, it’s the brainchild of architect and designer Tran Binh and his French-Vietnamese wife Thai Tu-Tho who restored a French colonial villa. Built around a small courtyard, the architect paid homage to the original design: tables are nestled in nooks and enclaves, in a large sitting room or what was once the home’s library. Antique furniture, 1960s maps, a cherry blossom tree, and a day bed swathed in billowing, gauzy fabric sets a dreamy atmosphere from another time. The restaurant is dedicated to his grandmother, who ran a street-side restaurant stall. Like his grandmother would do, chopsticks come in a kitsch, old tin milk can, while quirky glasses are mismatched and uneven.

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Ly Club Saigon: Ly Club Saigon takes its name from the 11th century Lý Dynasty. Set in a sculpted, neo-modern garden featuring sett paving and an infinity fountain, the classic French colonial-era Ly Club Saigon villa has arches, original French staircase, classic modernist furnishings and refined natural colors imbue an atmosphere of relaxed yet cultured elegance in the lounge and dining areas. The delicate Western-Vietnamese innovative menu is crafted by Executive Chef Dessi De Vries who combines the techniques of classical French cooking with unique local spices and tropical ingredients.

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L’Usine: Part cafe, part boutique, part gallery, L’Usine is a great spot for a coffee or a light lunch or a relaxed dinner – and a chance to mix it with Saigon’s young creative set. This lifestyle emporium is housed in an airy, light-flooded first floor Dong Khoi Parisian-style apartment. Antique swivel chairs, grand sweeping arched windows, and long glossy wood tables evoke the Indochine of Catherine Deneuve’s era but married with a modern, industrial look owing to lots of exposed steel and polished concrete flooring . The front of the space is dedicated to fashion and homewares,  racks of silk dresses designed by L’Usine owner Tib Hoang’s sister or frocks featuring traditional Hmong embroidery . In the next door there is a bistro and cafe which serves modern bistro fare.

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Temple Club: This classy establishment, housed on the 2nd floor of a beautiful colonial-era villa decorated with spiritual motifs and elegant Chinese characters, offers a huge selection of Vietnamese dishes alongside a spectrum of spirited cocktails. Design firm Noor renovated the building which dates to 1880, styling the restaurant with Vietnamese, Chinese, French and Khmer furnishings.

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The Refinery : A go to place for the international Saigon expats, The Refinery is a classic French style bistro and wine bar located in the old Opium Manufacture of Saigon. This court yard setting feels totally continental, and paired with a glass of white wine and tuna tartare, you get a touch of Paris in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City,

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The Deck : The Deck is situated on the banks of the Saigon River, a short 15 minute journey from the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. It is the city’s most modern Pan Asian cuisine. They have a global menu incorporating a sharing contemporary Pan-Asian experience by the river on The Deck. It is modern and exciting, with weekly menu changes. Its the only restaurant in Saigon where you can arrive by your own private speedboat.

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Where to Shop ?

Mai Lam : Australian-Vietnamese Mai Lam’s eponymous store sells her exquisite embroidered shirts and avant-garde military jackets and its the best designed boutique of the city. A continually evolving boutique underneath Saigon’s Hotel Continental, Mai Lam features pieces made with passion and dedicated to her family and the history of Vietnam. The designer is inspired by her culture and background along with the energy of Ho Chi Minh City. 

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About the Author

Ozlem Avcioglu

Each city has its own light, identity and color ️Traveler photographer writer owner of Haaz design. Based in Istanbul and NY, live around the world.



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