Where I’m At: January, 2014 – Ho Chi Minh City

Greetings from Saigon. I’ve just returned to Vietnam after a few weeks back “home” in Melbourne. It was great to go back after an absence of a year and a half. I like noticing what has changed after being away for a while, and it was weird to hear the Australian accent everywhere. Wow, do I really sound like that?!

I also noticed that Australia is still terrible when it comes to public wifi. Melbourne has one of the coolest cafe scenes in the world (and I think I say that without any home-town bias), yet none of the dozen cafes I went to offered wifi. If you want to do some work you will need to buy portable wifi from one of the mobile phone companies, which will set you back about $30 a month. I didn’t publish a Nomadic News while I was in Australia as I went on a road trip without such a device, and I’m only now getting back on top of my inbox. So, my office of the week award doesn’t go to any place in Melbourne.

Eating my way around Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City has become my home-base hub; the place I go when I need to rest from travel. I have spent about a year here, off and on, in what could be described as slomadic travel (slow-nomadic travel. Groan, I know.) One thing I have noticed about returning after being away is how quickly I slip back back into old routines. Some of routines are good for productivity, like knowing where my favourite items at the supermarket are, or where to get paperwork printed. Some routines though could be classified as a rut.

I was in my studio apartment/office thinking about what to have for dinner, and it occurred to me that after being back for a week I was already revisiting the same eateries every night, usually within a two block radius of my place. So much for getting to know the city.

Identifying that the groove I was in was becoming a rut I made a commitment to visit at least one new eatery per week. Now, in Saigon you could eat at a new place every night for a year and not go to the same place twice, so one new place a week is manageable enough.

I love going on epic walks as a way to discover a city, and my method of finding a new place to eat involves looking up the excellent street food map on eatingsaigon.com.

As you can see the map is covered in dots of potential delicious noms, so my criteria for selecting a place to eat is:

– a decent enough walk from my house, thus ensuring I discover a new district.
– YUM rating (YUM YUM YUM being the highest), so I will work my way through the most highly rated eateries in the city.

The pin I randomly selected was The Saigon Cháo Lady. Sounds promising.

The location is about an hours walk from my place, which is an average days walk for me, but it involves walking along the motorbike-clogged road called CMT8 (Cách Mạng tháng Tám). It isn’t my favourite road in the city, but it’s always amusing to see this enormous roundabout.

Roundabout at CMT8 - Ho Chi Minh City

It’s a swirling mass of traffic here, yet somehow the traffic works itself out. And somehow I have somewhat mastered the art of crossing these roads.

Off the major roadways, the little laneways (called Hems in Vietnam) are usually numbered and named after the road it branches off (like the sois in Thailand). These are the little streets I love wandering in Saigon.

CMT8 Hem 285 - Ho Chi Minh City

There are streets like this everywhere among the 24 districts that make up this city of approximately 8 million people, and every time I leave my little world in district 1 I realise that I need to get out more.

I found the Chao Lady, and as recommended I ordered the súp cua as appetizer. Definitely worthy of the Eating Saigon YUM YUM YUM rating.

Sup Cua - Ho Chi Minh City
[sup cua]

I looked on my phone for what I had to order next. Chao Muc. Hmm, rice porridge soup with blood cubes. I’m not usually a porridge soup guy, or a blood cubes guy for that matter, but getting out the rut means breaking out from my usual pho and rice meals. Not the most attractive looking soup but I ended up demolishing this bowl, and I am now at the point where I no longer wince when I eat blood cubes.

Chao Muc
[Chao Muc]

Little red chairs and motorbike traffic. So comforting.

Chao Muc at the Saigon Chao Lady

Of course no wander of the city would be complete without stopping off at one of the bazillion cafes that make up this city.

Coffee break
[Vietnamese Iced Coffee (Ca Phe Sua Da)]

Going on your own Saigon food wander

When people come to visit Saigon I’m usually asked what there is to do here. The thing is, there isn’t a whole lot of touristy things to do. Sure, check out the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace, but for me this city is best enjoyed by taking in the cafe and food culture.

If you are stuck for ideas on what to eat then check out the food resources that Joe and Hai have compiled at Eating Saigon. And for a recommendation, visit Dong Hoa Xuan, which is is Hai’s restaurant. I am friends with Joe and Hai, and as Joe said it might seem like a “potential conflict-of-interest” to recommend his partners place, but after eating there myself I can personally endorse this recommendation. I suggest getting there by 11:30 as the place gets busy, and you might miss out on the Cá Kho Tộ (caramelized catfish in a claypot). Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on the caramelized catfish.

Going on a Saigon food walking tour

For those who would like to go on a small group walking tour, Jodi Ettenberg from Legal Nomads is offering Saigon food tours on a limited basis (limited on when she is in town). Tours are currently on between Jan-Mar 2014 (and other locations throughout the year) and on the tour you will get a sampling of five or so dishes from around the country that you wont find in the backpacker district.

Jodi, Hai, and Joe at Dong Hoa Xuan
[Jodi with Hai and Joe at Dong Hoa Xuan. Also pictured, caramelized catfish in a claypot.]

Office Of The Week

Kita Cafe - Ho Chi Minh City

Kita Cafe in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

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  1. Everyone can get in a rut. For me, it’s staying at home and cooking my own dinner. Maybe I should follow your lead and eat out more often, even on my own. (Have you ever noticed that women don’t like to eat out alone?)

    • Thanks Nicki. If you like cooking at home then trying new recipes would be the rut-buster. I haven’t noticed that women don’t like to eat alone, but maybe I know an unusual amount of solo women travellers.

  2. If the rut is delicious then why not stay in it? haha. Know what you mean. Looking forward to trying all these places in few months.

    How’s your Vietnamese coming along?

    • Ha, that is the “problem” with Saigon is that I have enough favourite places for every day of the week. While this is a good problem to have, I still want to try more places. And my Vietnamese is terrible!

  3. I love wandering in a new city and finding great eats, but I also love it when someone tells me about a tried and true place…best of both worlds. great post!

  4. Siagon looks amazing, can see you having lots of fun there.
    Great post

  5. Hey James.. some of that food, *especially* the dessert (I was reading through Hai’s place description) was just leaving my mouth watering. I don’t think anyone does spicy/sweet sauces like the Thai.. also the coconut sauces.. wow.

    I also wanted to make this comment just to let you know that I recreated this little bit of food wandering over at Wishbeen @ http://wishbeen.com/travelplans#!/plans/7b9702c0f31de8e1 . You can see everything on the map and I included the pictures as well. Hope you enjoy 🙂

    I wonder if you can use chicken instead of catfish in a similar dish.. hmm

  6. “Eat your way around” – I like the title 🙂

  7. The food is not only tasty but also tasteful. I like to live in Saigon. However the traffic is terrible.

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