Pham Viet Chanh Street and Ward 19 in Binh Thanh District has emerged to become one of the coolest neighbourhoods in Ho Chi Minh City. This up-and-coming area next to District 1 could be described as the Brooklyn of Saigon.
Ward 19, Binh Thanh District, HCMC
Travel readers would be familiar with the annual “best of” travel listicles put out by the likes of The New York Times and Lonely Planet. Time Out has come out with what is probably a more useful guide with their list of coolest neighbourhoods in the world. In their first annual post in 2020, they listed Binh Thanh District in Ho Chi Minh City.
[Binh Thanh District featured in Time Out Magazine.]
Binh Thanh is a big district though (1 of 22 in a city of nearly 10 million people), and each district is further subdivided into wards (phuong). It is Ward 19 that has become one of the “coolest neighbourhoods in the world”, with Pham Viet Chanh Street being the epicentre of this neighbourhood.
[Pham Viet Chanh bar street.]
Ward 19 is on the Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe Canal that separates District 1 from Binh Thanh District. It wasn’t that long ago when the canal was lined with informal houses on stilts, with the canal serving as a wastewater dump. Once the canal was cleaned up, the areas along the canal began to flourish.
[Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe Canal. Saigon Zoo District 1 on left, Ward 19 on right.]
All the houses that were built above the water were cleared, and canal walls were built and walking paths and trees were put in their place.
[Truong Sa Street, Ward 19.]
Next to the Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe Canal is the Thi Nghe Market. These smaller markets are usually named after the ward they are in, and I have seen some buildings that reference themselves as being in Thi Nghe. Perhaps if the ward had a name instead of a number it would be more brandable.
[Thi Nghe Market.]
If you want to see a Vietnamese market in action, then come and visit Thi Nghe Market.
[Thi Nghe Market on the canal side.]
Ward 19 is bordered on its eastern side by another canal, and here you can see the future metro line. When the first canal was cleaned up they built high rise apartments to house those displaced from the cleanup.
[Metro line in canal.]
The streets are narrow and not laid out in a grid like District 1, and in peak hour traffic you will experience Vietnam moto mayhem at its finest.
[Traffic on Huynh Tinh Cua.]
Its proximity to District 1 meant that it was only a matter of time before this area was to experience an urban renewal, starting with the arrival of the new Japantown.
The New Japantown
Saigon has an established Little Tokyo/Japantown in Le Thanh Ton Street in District 1. The small tube houses in the alleys off Le Thanh Ton are an ideal place for restaurants and bars to recreate a Japanese street scene. The area though is in a central location and not far from a future metro station. A nearby block is also being redeveloped into a large commercial area, and rents have been going up faster than the average Japanese curry bar can manage.
At some point in the mid-2010s, another Japantown started emerging in nearby Binh Thanh District. The cheaper rent in an area close to District 1 made it an appealing location for businesses to move to.
It’s interesting to watch a neighbourhood emerge into a new hotspot. All it takes is one or two restaurants to establish a beachhead, and from there other businesses start accreting into a new neighbourhood.
[14 Pham Viet Chanh.]
Soon enough word-of-mouth kicks in. I recall some friends telling me about this new Japantown that I should check out. Then it gets mentioned in local lifestyle sites, and the growth continues.
At the time of this post in mid-2021, the Japantown of Pham Viet Chanh is now a fully-established alternative to the original in District 1.
The action has also spread beyond the vicinity of Pham Viet Chanh, which is why I refer to this scene as Ward 19 rather than just the street. One of my go-to ramen bars in the original Japantown has opened a branch on Nguyen Cong Tru Street, at the northern end of Ward 19.
[Daiichi Binh Thanh.]
In addition to the New Japantown of Pham Viet Chanh, the area has also become a neighbourhood of cool bars frequented by Western expats. It’s unusual to see two distinct neighbourhoods merge into one so quickly. For example, the Japantown in District 1 is almost exclusively Japanese, and there is a Koreatown in District 7 that is mostly Korean.
A bar that has bridged the divide between the two is Birdy, which is a small bar serving Japanese beers and cocktails. Birdy was established in 2016 by a Japanese man, and it has become popular among Westerners. The bar is very distinct from the bars in the old Japantown, where a Westerner would feel out of place. Old Japantown is made up of hostess bars and massage parlours with aggressive touts, who latch onto single men walking by.
[Birdy Bar, Pham Viet Chanh.]
As regular readers of this site know, I don’t drink, so I’m not here to advise you on what is the best bars in Pham Viet Chanh. I have met friends here though, and I watched them drink while asking them about the scene here. One place we went to was Nong Trai Khoai, which has the atmosphere of a Budapest ruin bar.
Here some other bars in the area, including 3 Monkeys.
Movers And Shakers.
When you see a windowless bar like this, you can assume it is a Japanese bar. This is Nos Bar.
Houses in connected alleys have also made the most of their location by opening up bars. Down the end of this alley, a house has been converted into the Crazy Horse Bar.
The bar scene has spread beyond PVC as well, with more bars on Nguyen Cong Tru. Here is Aviation Cocktails And More.
Quan Black Coffee And Beer is a rooftop bar on Ngo Tat To – the street that forms the northern boundary of Ward 19. This street is a chaotic narrow through road that is benefitting from the Pham Viet Chanh cool factor.
[Quan Black Coffee And Beer on the rooftop.]
For further reading, The Bureau has made a great profile on some of the bars in the area, giving you a feel of the nightlife there. Follow them for updates on places to visit in Saigon.
While the bar scene has flourished here, the hipster cafe scene has not arrived here yet. Most of the cafes here are of the local variety serving Vietnamese-style coffee (no espresso). Some of the best cafes in Saigon have branched out into other districts, but for some reason, none of them has ventured into Pham Viet Chanh.
I like Co Cafe near the canal for its wild greenery outside.
There are some garden cafes in this area as well, such as CaRo Coffee.
Tartine is a bakery cafe that specialises in sourdough bread.
I like the smoothies here.
[Smoothie at Tartine.]
A good indication of how undeveloped this area still is can be measured by the lack of chain stores. I’ve walked about the entire area and there is just one chain cafe (The Coffee House) within the perimeter of Ward 19.
[The Coffee House on Ngo Tat To.]
Food in Ward 19
I love Japanese food and I am a regular in District 1 Japantown. When word got out about the new Japantown I started making visits here as well. The first place I visited was Hajime to try this Osaka-style okonomiyaki.
Walking through the doors of Hajime was like stepping through a portal to Osaka, and the okonomiyaki was as good as I could have hoped for.
Japanese curry at Izakaya Tonsho is the perfect meal on a wet rainy season night.
And here is the ramen at Daiichi Ramen.
Sushi Nhi has seats for the queue outside because it’s always busy.
The prices here are much cheaper than anything on offer in District 1.
Sushi Go is another popular sushi place.
Sushi You And Me have gone beyond the main street to set up shop in a hidden alley.
I haven’t been to Chokotto, but I am curious about it because it serves Japanese-style Chinese food.
It’s not just Japanese food here either. Tacos Fuego offers Socal Mexican food. It wasn’t that long ago when there was only one Mexican restaurant in the city, now there are several with different styles.
Next to Tacos Fuego is Chuck’s, who is one of the OG burger joints of Saigon.
Oliver’s Pizza sell “Al Taglio” style pizza slices baked in large rectangular trays.
Captain Phook is another hole-in-the-wall bar that also has an attached kitchen. They serve an amazing traditional fish and chips.
Bombay is a takeaway Indian restaurant. I’m waiting for the day that they move somewhere to offer dining in.
There is even Thai food now as well, with Malee Thai Kitchen in a shophouse on Nguyen Cong Tru.
I realised that Ward 19 had become the Brooklyn of Saigon when I saw this Photine – a cross between pho and poutine. This crossover event that you didn’t know you needed has already been tried in Saigon before with pho burgers, but this is a whole other level of hipsterdom.
I had to try it, and it wasn’t bad. Basically, a pho soup broth is reduced down to a thin gravy, which is used as the poutine gravy. The gravy is not as thick as a poutine gravy, and according to the creator, the important ingredient of cheese curds is just too expensive and hard to get in Vietnam. I enjoyed it for its creativity.
[Photine at Pho Chao.]
And of course, there is an abundance of Vietnamese food in this area. After walking around everywhere, I think it is one of the best areas to eat because there are so many options so close to each other. It’s also very cheap, especially if you are used to paying a District 1 premium. The prices here are more in line with the rest of the country. You can still find a bun rieu for 30,000 VND ($1.30 USD).
Another great street food to try is banh cuon nong. This was 20,000 VND ($0.87 USD).
And Bot Chien at 60 Nguyen Cong Tru.
There are good Vietnamese vegetarian options around here, such as Hue Thanh Vegetarian.
I’m a regular at Com Chay Mai Anh.
They serve hearty bowls of Vietnamese classics in vegetarian style. Bun Bo Hue Chay is the vegetarian version of beef noodle soup from Hue. 45,000 VND ($1.95 USD).
This is a residential area with no hotels to speak of yet. There are though many serviced apartment rentals on the canal front, and I know a few people that have lived here before the area became popular. The apartments on Hoang Sa have a view of the Saigon Zoo on the other side of the canal, so having a water view with greenery was always going to make this a good area.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in this area this year, getting a feel for the streets and how it is changing. There are a number of new apartments being built that are being advertised as serviced apartments. The landowners in this area are now sitting on valuable real estate, and they are cashing in on their fortune of being in the right place at the right time.
[Apartment construction on Huynh Man Dat Street.]
One that was just finishing construction was Bloom Apartments, which is a modern serviced apartment down one of the alleys.
When you see an address in Saigon with two slashes in it, then it’s in an alley off another alley, and possibly down another alley. In this case, Google Maps is your friend in trying to find this place.
City House Apartment is another prominent serviced apartment block in the area.
[City House Apartment.]
The streets are small here, so there will never be a high-rise apartment boom like in other parts of Binh Thanh District.
If you are interested in staying here for one month or longer, the best idea would be to walk around and look for vacancy signs.
Transport and redevelopment
Ward 19 is just over the bridge from District 1, so it is easy to walk to if you are in the old Japantown area of Le Thanh Ton.
[Thi Nghe 2 Bridge – Ward 19 is on the left.]
While I’ve been based in Saigon I’ve been watching the progress of the first metro line construction, and how neighbourhoods near each station will change. There is no metro station planned for Ward 19, but there will be one nearby in the next ward over. The metro runs on top of a canal that has not been redeveloped. If you want to see what the Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe Canal used to look like, stand on the bridge on Nguyen Huu Canh where the metro follows the canal. To the left is the border of Ward 19.
[Metro in the canal]
Pham Viet Chanh is a dead-end street that ends at this canal, and you can see the metro line from here.
This canal is also scheduled to be cleaned up like the Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe Canal, but the government hasn’t been able to relocate the tenants along the canal. When this canal is cleaned up there should be a landscaped walking path. If all goes to plan, you should be able to walk from the end of Pham Viet Chanh along the canal to the future metro station at Van Thanh.
[Van Thanh Station and the canal waiting to be rehabilitated.]
Here is a full article about the future HCMC Metro.
With no land big enough for high-rise apartments, the trend here will be for designer homes by modern architects. Binh Thanh House by some well-known local architects has been featured in ArchDaily.
[Binh Thanh House, image via archdaily.com.]
Future Pham Viet Chanh/Ward 19
I took most of these photos in early 2021 in the midst of the global pandemic, when Vietnam was living in a self-contained bubble and the domestic economy was still functioning. Despite international travel having been closed down for over a year, these Japanese and Western bars and restaurants are getting by, and some new places have opened up during this time.
It will be interesting to see how this neighbourhood evolves, especially when international travel resumes. I suspect that when travel fully opens again, word will get out that this is the place to go for nightlife and the street will be crowded with activity. I just hope that as many of these places can hold on until the world opens up again.
I saw one business here that is catering for foreigners living in the area, and this will be a booming service when foreigners can return.
I have written in a previous article that Thao Dien is the coolest neighbourhood in Saigon. Thao Dien is also a ward-level administrative area, and at this point, it still stands as the coolest neighbourhood. Some Thao Dien fans will probably say that Xuan Thuy in Thao Dien is also the coolest street. I think though that Pham Viet Chanh is now the coolest street in Saigon, and it’s bringing Ward 19 along for the ride.
Pham Viet Chanh, Ward 19 Map
[Map of Ward 19, Binh Thanh District, HCMC.]
Links and resources
PVC VIBE (Pham Viet Chanh Neighborhood) Facebook group posts news and deals for businesses in the PVC hood.
Phường 19 – Connla Stokes is our resident Bard from Binh Thanh, and this is an entertaining read about the joys of wandering the streets of Ward 19.