We all know how to use TripAdvisor and find the best ranked places to have a meal or an attraction to have fun. Although, those top rated places often quickly become tourist traps or overrated kind of attractions you don’t really want to stick around at for long. After spending a bit of time in Vietnam in August 2017, I want to share my favorite authentic places of Ho Chi Minh City with you.
Where to get a haircut in Saigon? At Liem Barber Shop!
There are many places to do a haircut in Saigon, but this one really stands out for both professionalism and authenticity. It is a very trendy barber shop, called Liêm Barber Shop.
This place opens at 11 AM on weekdays and when I turned up at 11:15 there was already a line of about 20 people in front of me. You have to get your ticket from a machine and wait until your number is called up. The numbers are called up in Vietnamese, so you might need to ask someone near for help. But in my case the guy calling out numbers was looking at the tickets as well to make foreigners’ lives easier.
I am not to judge if this is a best barber shop in Saigon, but surely it must be one of the trendiest!
Location: 79 Nguyễn Sơn Hà, phường 5, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Hours: Mon – Fri 11AM – 7PM, Sat 9 AM – 7 PM, Sun: 9AM – 4 PM
Where to drink Vietnamese Coffee in Saigon? At Cafe Ride!
Vietnamese coffee is certainly something special. Before coming to Vietnam I didn’t even realise that coffee culture exists there and it has something unique to offer. Coffee is prepared by pouring water through a drip filter and takes about 3-5 minutes for water to go through the coffee. But it’s not all. The coffee can be either with or without milk. And it’s not the milk we all are used too in the West. We’re talking about condensed milk here. Coffee could also either be iced or not.
And while in the villages this is the only way to prepare coffee, in Ho Chi Minh City there are more and more places with espresso machines and they serve coffee the way we are all used to it. By Asking for Vietnamese coffee at such places, you’ll just get an espresso or cappuccino made from coffee that was grown in Vietnam.
However, there are still many cafes where you can get your coffee done the authentic way. One of such authentic spots is the Ride Cafe. Not only they serve good coffee, but the decorations are quite stunning, you feel like you’re in a garage with old cellphones nailed to the wall and old artifacts hanging around.
This place is family owned and they don’t speak much English. Just ask for ca phe da (iced coffee), ca phe sua da (iced coffee with milk), ca phe sua nong (hot coffee with milk), ca phe nong (black hot coffee) and you’ll get your coffee.
Where to have a lunch in Saigon? At Poke Saigon!
I’ve never heard of Poke until recently. Turns out it is a quite trendy dish nowadays, originally coming from Hawaii. This is essentially a bowl of goodness that you build yourself. Base is usually a few scoops of fish (tuna or salmon are particularly popular) and rice or salad. Then you add a variety of add-ons which range from beans and avocado to pineapple and nori, topped by tobiko (flying fish roe).
So I first tried this dish in Ho Chi Minh City at a place called Poke Saigon and was delighted beyond belief. We ended up coming back here a few more times and each visit has only reinforced our love to it! This Gem is literally hidden. You’ll have to enter an unpretentious building through the bike parking and climb up to the second floor. There you will find this small, but very clean and neatly organized space.
Friendly staff will greet you and take your order. It will really be hard to refrain from including just everything you see into your bowl :).
If I only could have one meal in Saigon, Poke Saigon would certainly be on top 3 of my list.
Where to eat Sushi in Saigon? Shushi Rei or Ichiba.
While in Saigon, I really wanted to try some sushi there. Not that there are no sushi restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, but I expected to see more of them. Although, let’s turn from quantity to quality.
There are two places, which are fantastic choices, depending on your budget or occasion. First is Ichiba Sushi Vietnam. This place has thick menu and serves fresh and quality sushi. We ended up going there a few times, since price/quality ratio was not bad at all. Salmon sashimi was delicious!
Second place is quite special. It is called Sushi Rei and is hidden down the alleyway without even a sign, a little bit away from Saigon’s tourist center. It was designed by a Japanese architect now living in Vietnam and what makes this place special are ingredients, imported fresh from the famous Tsukiji market in Japan and carefully prepared by a skilled Japanese Chef. Even water here is from Japan! And of course, the rest of the staff too :).
Sushi Rei is a rather exclusive and expensive by Vietnamese standards place. Although, a comparable experience somewhere in the USA would cost you at least 2-3 times more. There are only 8 seats and a private room for 6 and despite its high price, this restaurant in Saigon is usually busy, so make sure to book ahead. If you really love sushi, this is the best choice in Ho Chi Minh City.
Location: Sushi Rei
Where to have a desert in Saigon? At Sul Bingsu!
This is indeed a heaven for a sweet tooth! In case you’re not familiar with Bingsu, it is a popular Korean dessert, consisting of shaved ice and different (often fruit) toppings. I’ve tried it at the place called Sul Bingsu and it didn’t disappoint me.
Beware, as portions are huge and it often is a true sugar/calories bomb! I wish we had ordered just one portion for two people instead of having one each.
This is it for my list. And what were your discoveries for the hidden gems in Saigon?