The Insider’s Guide to Luxury in Ho Chi Minh City

Whether you are backpacking, on a business trip or looking for a citybreak, having a weekend to refresh is always needed, Ho Chi Minh City is one of the best places to do so. However, not knowing where to go, what to do or having the time to find out can really put you off.

District 1 has great choice of luxury hotels, bars, and restaurants with some of the best chef’s in the country.

With a little help from an insider, you can have a weekend of luxury without breaking the bank:  I’ve put together some of the best spots in the city to satisfy all your needs, discover some hidden gems, great nightlife and moments of bliss.

 

Where to stay

Little Saigon Boutique Hotel

With its central location, this hidden gem really gets it, with just the right amount of intimacy and attention to detail that makes your stay memorable. Here, you’ll be at the very centre of District 1, with immediate access to some of the most famous attractions and the best restaurants and bars in the city. With just 18 rooms, the hotel does not have a pool, but I’ll get that covered for you soon.

 

Location: 36 bis/ 2 Le Loi Boulevard, Benh Thanh

Other options:

  • Cinnamon Hotel Saigon – 74 Le Thi Rieng, Benh Thanh

 

Where to eat

 

Quan Bui

This traditional Vietnamese restaurant is one of my personal favourites. The décor takes you back in time: ‘60’s tiles, ceramics, dark wood and pictures of old Saigon that are typical of the more local café’s and restaurants in the city. The menu is combination of old and new, with an entire page for vegetarians and a surprisingly good wine list. Some dishes have rather interesting flavour combinations, but there is nothing to fear with these guys, their chef is phenomenal; just try it!

 

Quick tip: lunchtime is peak time, you may struggle to get a seat. Evenings are advised.

Alternatives:

  • Spice Bistro – 2 Thi Sach,
  • The Fish Sauce – Rooftop floor 6, 41 Le Duan
  • The Old Compass Café – Floor 3, 63 Pasteur

 

 

Things to do during the day

 

The best spas in the city

You can’t have a weekend of luxury without a day of being pampered. Ho Chi Minh City is packed to the brim with spas, making it difficult to set apart the good and the bad. One of the more accredited spas is Miu Miu, known for it’s excellent services, professionalism and above all, quality. All you need to do is choose your pampering style and forget about the world. Booking is strongly recommended.

 

Location: Miu Miu, 4 Chu Manh Trinh

 

Alternative:

  • Jolene, 193 Ly Tu Trong, Ben Thanh

 

Hotel pools

Forget about paying extra for a hotel with a pool when you can pay as little as 7$ to go to a top hotel and use theirs. Unless you are a seasoned pool-crasher, this may not have cross your mind previously, but when humidity is part of your day to day life, this is the sort of information you hunt for.

Choose from the following hotels:

  • Renaissance Riverside Hotel – 300,000VND for a day pass.
  • New World Hotel – 300,000VND for a day pass.
  • The Rex Hotel – 175,000 VND (includes sauna access)

 

The City Nightlife

 

Bars in Ho Chi Minh City

 

Once known for only really having lager beer or rice wine to offer, Ho Chi Minh City now has a great range of cocktail bars and an unmissable craft beer culture that is spreading across the country. However, finding some of these places can be difficult if you’re not familiar with the city. I’ve whittled the extensive list down, along with some helpful tips to finding the best bars hidden in the alleyways and on the rooftops of the city.

 

Rogue

An open-plan craft beer bar next to the river overlooking Bitexco and downtown Saigon, this is a great place to see the city lights while sampling some of the best beers in the country from the ever-growing beer scene.

Address: 13 Pasteur (quick tip: Look out for the small sign and a staircase)

 

The Rex Hotel Bar

Dawn your best dress for this place. Recommended only for one, unless you visit during happy hour (17:00 – 19:00), here you can look onto Nguyen Hue’s buzzing nightlife in the city’s financial district.

Address: 141 Nguyen Hue

 

Broma Not-A-Bar

Hidden at the top of a staircase, past a small cafe, this bar is popular among the expat community and locals a-like. Broma hosts live bands and DJ’s on a regular basis and is great during the week for a relaxing evening with a cocktail in hand.

Address: 41 Nguyen Hue

 

Anan Saigon

Recognisable by a small glowing sign in the middle of a busy market street, Anan shot to stardom with a great reputation for food (a $100 banh mi, in particular) and drinks and a fantastic marketing campaign. Here, you’ll get a real idea of the city’s nightlife, looking onto one of the oldest markets.

Address: 89 Ton That Dam

 

Snuffbox Speakeasy

Hidden in one of the city’s few remaining ‘shopping apartments’, this is a great spot if you are partial to a cocktail. A lot bigger than it seems at first, the bar hosts DJ’s regularly and is open to the early hours at the weekends.

 Address: 14 Ton That Dam (1st floor, parking attendants will guide you)

 

Khoai

I was introduced to this ruin bar in its early days, now it’s one of the more popular bars in the city among expats.

Hidden down a street that is fast becoming the next Japantown, the bar is inspired by Budapest’s infamous ‘Szimpla’ ruin bar, famed for it’s graffiti covered walls and rustic, organised clutter look.  If you are keen to try the craft beers of the world, their selection can only be compared to beer houses in Europe, and for a great price too.

 Address: 89 Pham Viet Chanh, Binh Thanh

 

Need help getting around?

Here’s a map of District 1 with all of the above mentioned locations to help you get around.

Luxury Map

 

Have I missed something?

Add your best finds in Ho Chi Minh City below.

 

 

Edinburgh Art Festival: 5 Must See Exhibitions

­A celebration of all that contemporary art is, Edinburgh Art festival keeps growing every year, with this being the biggest yet.

Spread across the city centre, the art festival expands their repertoire of unique venues every year, with each location carefully selecting and curating artworks perfectly suited to the environment.

Among those occupying the spaces are international emerging artist’s and the well-known faces of Scottish art: appealing to the feminist, the Millennial, those who are LGBTQI and the critics of society.

This year festival go-ers have been able to participate in events for early risers, night owls and those dying to know more about the processes of contemporary art. With talks, performances and workshops for all ages, the last few weeks have been jam-packed with artistic events.

Alongside the fringe, it can be a lot to take in, trying to see everything can be a stressful situation. To give a reasonable over view of what’s in the art festival, here’s my cream of the crop:

Crimea – Roger Fenton

Sent as a campaign photographer to the Crimean Peninsula, Roger Fenton’s unique depiction of the aftermath of the Crimean war changed the face of war photography at a time when capturing form was in its infancy. Fenton’s photographs are not just fine uniforms and sleek-haired soldiers, but a true depiction of trauma, of a mourning period after battle. Eerie fields lined by tents and the desolate open land, littered with bombshells where so many died.

Fenton’s work is being shown at The Queen’s Gallery, Holyrood Palace until the 26th of November.

Daughters of Penelope

The result of a collaboration of female artists, Daughter’s of Penelope draws on the traditional use of tapestry as a form of storytelling. Each piece has a unique and intimate background: from the history of tapestry in Dovecot studio, to women’s integral role in the process, with a personal touch from each artist.

A celebration of sisterhood, the title Daughters of Penelope’ itself sets the scene of the exhibitions intricacies: a history of perseverance and organisation that runs in tandem with textiles and a reflection on contemporary society.

Daughters of Penelope can be found on the bottom floor of Dovecot Gallery until the 20th of January 2018

To Those in Search of Immunity’ – Patrick Staff

As many were, I was introduced to the artworks of Patrick Staff during the British Art Show 8, last year. Staff’s guide to Calton Hill reaches new levels of intimacy, at a time when the site is littered with tourists. The audio piece talks you through society, nature and how we approach life, with an overt intertwining of sexual encounters, of the dampness (which you will naturally be feeling having just climbed up the hill) that becomes sensually vulgar and personal.

Staff has an innate ability to be explicitly inclusive in his work, thoroughly engaging the viewer and putting them at the centre of the artwork. This comes with no exception, in this interactive piece.

Patrick Staff’s audio piece is available for download from Edinburgh Art Festival’s website or, you can rent an iPod by giving over a few details and something you will want back in the Collective exhibition space at the top of Calton Hill. The piece is accessible until the 27th of August.

Thought Collider – Mike Thompson & Susana Camara

A piece in the puzzle of a long term project, the duo creates space to induce a meditative state: a room to clear the mind. Touching on phenomenological ideas, the installation is a space to draw on your own ideas of life and reality, to find peace of mind; a moment of reflection.

The philosophically influenced environment is an experimentation of metabolic processes, a play on how we experience the world by engulfing the viewer in their own mind through space and sound.

You can enter this space from Wednesday to Sunday until the 27th of August at the City Art Centre.

The Slave’s Lament – Graham Fagan | Black Burns – Douglas Gordon

Graham Fagan brings part of his artwork from the 2015 Venice Biennale to the National Portrait Gallery, using a fusion of reggae and classical music to create a consuming video piece: inducing a state of hypnosis, drawing to reflection.

Taking on a Burns poem, Fagan’s choice of tempo matched with the repetition of the piece brings out desperation in a time of diaspora; of fleeing by boat. Suddenly the otherwise friendly, relaxing rhythm is discomforting: irritable.

On the theme of contemporary Burns, just around the corner from Fagan’s artwork, Douglas Gordon’s takes you to the darker side: Black Burns, hung, drawn and quartered.

The sculpture opposes its pearly white doppelganger; drawing on ideas of yin and yang, of the alter-ego you want no-one to meet. However, they are lying on the floor in front of you. Tapping into ideas of the self, of the Other; with fragments of beauty in shimmering granite. Gordon’s piece is a brutalisation of innocence, often ignored.

Fagan and Gordon’s work will be shown at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery until the 29th of October.

 

Leith: Culturally & Creatively Free

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Edinburgh over the last few years, then you’ll know Leith is where to have your business right now.

10 years ago you’d be scared to walk down Leith Walk at any time of day, never mind at night. But recently, Leith Walk has become host to a lot more than a cosmopolitan approach to grocery shopping.

 

‘The TrainSpotting days are disappearing.’

 

Before Leith Walk came onto the social scene, Leith was only known for ‘The Shore’:(that’s actually the name of the street, it leads onto the Forth) an area that brings together fine dining experiences such as ‘The Kitchin’–internationally renowned Scottish chef, Tom Kitchin’s restaurant–alongside cruise ship eateries, fancy restaurants with a pub feel and nice bars. Of course, the old man pub was still an option.

‘The Shore’ soon expanded into it’s quirky, cobbled streets. The area was on the rise, with kitsch bars and restaurants such as Sofi’s and The Roseleaf, that together provide ‘a down the rabbit hole’ experience. The latter rolling with this as their main concept.

 

Then came Leith Walk.

When you say you are from Scotland to anyone from another country, they usually say “Oh, Braveheart!”

Leith Walk was more: “Nah mate, think Trainspotting.

However, the TrainSpotting days are disappearing. Leith Walk has always been a testimony to the multi culturalism Edinburgh takes pride in, with the street offering food from all corners of the world, proudly made by local people. Now, Leith is growing its own wings, with up-cycle shops, and an ever-growing selection of cafe’s and unique bars, accommodating to all ages, genders, musical preferences and artistic endeavours.

Had Leith not had it’s rocky past, the Walk would be  rammed with tourists and branded tat.

This is what’s so great: it’s not.

 

Most recently, Leith has become host to a growing arts scene, with new galleries, art studios and festivals: bringing creative people and their business to the area.

The cultural, spirited, creative freedom of Leith is what makes it such a unique place.

 

Over the summer period, Leith Walk showcases its creative talent with events such as Leith Late. Originally a one-off event, Leith Late is now a mini festival, taking on niche crevices of the street (think a book shop and the laundrette) to bring exhibitions, live music and talks.

Then we have the newbie, Hidden Door festival: still in its infancy as far as Edinburgh festivals go, but going from strength to strength each year. The week long festival most recently took over Leith Theatre, a derelict and unused building next to Leith School of Art, and transformed it into an creative haven.

Since Hidden Door took over in June, the theatre has become host to creative groups from across Scotland, hosting events for the first time in years. The festival successfully revived the theatre’s activity as a creative space, with The List putting it up there as one of Scotland’s best new music venues, should some renovations take place.

The cultural, spirited, creative freedom of Leith is what makes it such a unique area, although a little rough around the edges, it has charm and potential. This is what separates Leith from other expanding areas, and what stops it from being gentrified to a point where cultural and creative freedom are no longer possible. The quirky edge and micro-national pride is what makes it so appealing: you won’t find anywhere else like it.

 

 

Arts in education: connect the dots

Broadly diverse, the arts offer something for everyone.

Yet, when I think of how the arts are approached in education; I see creative teachers and a big book of what they should do.

Children are taught a restrictive skill set, with bureaucratic expectations of what art should be. Creative subjects, just like every other subject, are to be measured and quantified.

When I decided to go to art school, I found out that smaller schools don’t have the facilities or opportunities to teach the varied art practice required to get into college.

This has nothing to do with the teachers, but highlights that those who create the ‘curriculum of excellence’ don’t acknowledge the importance of visual art in education.  Rather, they see art as ‘hobby’ to be taken on at a child’s leisure.

Across the globe, the UK is known for harnessing creativity as a necessary and valued part of the education system. International schools following the British system benefit from a broad range of equipment to offer students, along with thematic and interesting topics for the students to engage with. But ,of course, these are private schools.

With this in mind, you have wonder: why do we see arts to be the first to go when faced with cuts in public schools?

Let’s think about the kids here.

With out knowing about the diversity of the arts, a child is not only limited in creative freedom, but are constrained in what and how they learn.

In working with a range of materials, a child can develop essential problem solving skills, develop intuition, and confidence.

Yes, that’s right; those ‘transferable skills’ that get you employed.

 

The left and right side of the brain need to work together:, yet public school education systems encourage one side and not the other.

Practicing the arts allows your brain to think freely and creatively: letting the brain digest information while you work. For arts education to be effective, and beneficial to a childs education, it cannot be marked objectively; but subjectively.

When teaching a creative subject, it’s worth acknowledging the Montessori approach (that is to allow a child to teach themselves) to establish an effective means of how art should be integrated into the education system and into a child’s life.

Creativity is about exploring materials and subjects to discover what works for you; be it writing, drawing or playing the trumpet.

Finding an effective means of expressing yourself let’s the brain connect the dots between everything else. Creative subjects are a chance to make and develop at the child’s own pace and become independent, while reaping the benefits the life skills that come with it.

 

 

 

5 Ways to Stay Creative.

Art school is an absolute dream.

A studio space, workshops, technicians, creative people: it’s an artist paradise.

In reality, that’s not what life as a creative is like.

Life after art college is tough: no space to make big artworks, no facilities, no time, no money.

And with all this: no motivation.

As creative people, making things is really important. That much is obvious, right?

So remind yourself of these 5 simple things to keep your creative juices flowing:

 

It’s okay to downsize

There is nothing worse than throwing out something you’ve spent weeks on because you can’t take it to your next destination. Do yourself a favour and don’t make this mistake: I did!

Downsize and compose for a later date when you have somewhere to store or sell your artwork.

In the meantime, get all your favourite materials and a sketchbook or two and have them close by to capture your ideas as they come.

 

Focus on small projects

Harness those ideas and put them into something meaningful.

One big turn off when it comes to being creative is feeling you don’t have anything to make.

Challenge yourself to learn something new, revive that project you ditched years ago or brush up on some old skills that you wish you had paid more attention too.

Remember that concepts are not always necessary.

Make it simple and focused, so you don’t run out of steam or become afraid of making something that’s not great.

Focus on experimentation.

 

Get out and see some art

This one is really simple, you only have to use your feet and your eyes.

Checking out what’s going on around you regularly can really give your creativity some momentum.

Seeing other artworks is a great inspiration. Or suggestion of what not to do, but you can be the judge of that.

 

Be wild: apply for residencies

Big talk, I know!

But why not?

Dedicate some well deserved time to your practice.

A residency gives the quality ‘me, myself and I’ time to you and your art need. There’s no pressure to make something remarkable. Sometimes it’s nice to have the head space and physical space to create things.

See it as a creative holiday and really go for it. Be big, bold and damn right daring: it could be a while before you have that space again.

 

Finally: don’t give up

Just because it’s not your job, doesn’t mean creativity can’t be part of your life.

If making helps you to have a break from everyday monotony, then go ahead and make. It’s amazing how much happier the odd drawing or splash of paint can make you.

If it has always been part of your life, don’t let it go.

 

Away from the grime: the beauty of Saigon.

Just over a year ago I shut down my life in Scotland and went to Vietnam.

I quit my job, made a last minute trip to London to get a visa, and I was off. It’s the best thing I have done so far.

To many people, Ho Chi Minh City (District 1 being commonly known as Saigon) is a hectic, dirty place that is impossible to move around. As far as first impressions go, it’s not in my top five: it is exactly that.

Streets crammed with tacky souvenirs, over-priced food and elephant pants: the ‘backpacker district’ was once the poorest in the city, which is still quite shockingly evident today.

However, Saigon very quickly became my home: alive, thriving and filled with old buildings turned into quirky cafe’s, speakeasys and exhibition spaces. You just have to know where to look.

 

 

The People

When you are here for a while, people start to know your foreign little face. With that, comes the beauty of a friendly smile in return.

If you give a little respect, you get so much back. Vietnamese people are incredibly polite and deeply respectful (especially to their elders) just in a different way, of course.

In time, you become aware of the little, much more subtle gestures that go a long way: how a quick nod of the head can say a thousand words. It’s endlessly surprising how showing loyalty to your banh mi lady in the morning can lead to a great bit of banter that will make your day, even if your Vietnamese is not that great.

Life is quite beautifully simple here: these little interactions really make you fall in love with a city and allow you to develop a form of language without words.

 

What’s left of French Colonial Architecture

Sadly quite difficult to find, but hidden around the back streets of District’s 1, 3 and 5, there is a haven of old French-colonial buildings. Untouched, unclean and more often than not, overgrown with weeds.

This said: my favourite is right under the tourist’s nose and in perfect condition.

Not far from Ben Thanh market, as you venture up Nguyen Trung Truc you’ll find a building that could be plucked out of Hoi An’s ancient town. It’s more or less impossible to miss, standing bold in rich, golden pigment and beautifully contrasted with the soothing hue of classic Vietnamese blue.

Over 130 years old, it’s actually the People’s Supreme Court.  Well preserved, still being used and hopefully not going anywhere for a while. It’s an absolute feast for the eyes, and extremely significant to the city’s history.

 

Coffee Culture

Whether you’re stopping on the side of the street for takeaway or making a full-time job of it: coffee is an essential part of the day in Vietnam.

When you boil it down, it’s the same as any other country: a cog in the forming of social gathering, but on a much larger scale.

You can’t walk down a street in Saigon without seeing a coffee shop. At peak times of the day, it’s difficult to get a seat in the good ones.

It’s not just a casual stop off either, every coffee shop is a home from home to some who visit.

My top five are across here.

 

Endless Amounts of Food

Across the city, you can gorge on rice, noodles or mango at any time of the day. From your morning Phở to 3am Cháo: Vietnam has it covered. Fresh and packed with gorgeous subtle flavours that make you appreciate good, honest food.

Street snacks are not something to be missed, especially if working late. There are street vendors wondering the city at all hours of the day, some are infamous and known to stop by at specific times, you just have to catch them, they move fast.

Stop by, have a chat and snap up some deep fried banana, sweet potato fries covered in questionable dough-nut like seasoning or buttery corn: bắp xào tây!

There is a very good reason that Saigon is famous for it’s street food. Although sometimes a risk, I would never say it’s regretted.

24/7 city

Unlike the quiet countryside or seaside towns of Vietnam: Saigon wakes up at 5am.

I remember leaving early to travel to Nha Trang and meeting men sitting in the dark at the end of my alley drinking coffee, it was 5am. I found it bizarre, but they have the right idea; it’s the coldest time of the day.

Quite the opposite of this, you have the nightlife of the city.

Once you know where to go, Bui Vien is not your only stop for a late night on the town. Pulling up a plastic chair at a restaurant could lead to you still being there at 3am: it’s one of the charms of the city. It’s so cheap, you can’t say no.

Alternatively, you can head down to Little Tokyo: Japantown. A maze of small bars, questionable massage joints and delicious food; I’m not actually sure what time this area closes down, it might just keep on going.

It’s always easy to play it safe and go to that place with good music and the cheap beer, but venturing out of your comfort zone is the best part of being in the city.

That place with the good music and the cheap will still be there tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

#5 cafes that won’t give you a bad trip…

With hundreds upon thousands of coffee shops in Ho Chi Minh City,  it goes without saying that coffee is a way of life through-out Vietnam.

For some, it’s the highlight of their day, a break from work or a chance to catch up with friends. For others, it is a full time job and they are damn good at it.

For the average foreigner, living, working or even just visiting Ho Chi Minh City (more commonly known as Sai Gon), having a coffee can be risky business. You don’t need to spend much time in Saigon to experience a coffee hit that is not the buzz you were looking for.

What looks like a very small amount of this potent elixir can send you over the edge and leave you with horrible experience that can last up to 4 hours.

Within 10 minutes your head is pounding, you want to drink a gallon of water, your whole body is pulsating and you will probably feel like your breakfast is going to come back onto the table.

This substance we have come to know as “Vietnamese style” coffee is in fact not.

Over the last few years factories have been shut down due to the production of toasted corn that dipped in some tasty, tasty chemicals. When finished, it looks pretty similar to coffee, especially when ground up.

Although many of these factories have been traced and can no longer distribute, there is still plenty around – you know when you have some!

Needless to say, you’ll want to be avoiding it, here’s some help with that: my 5 coffee shops that won’t give you a bad trip.

 

Nam Muoi Muoi Lam (literally 5-10-10-5)

29 Ngô Thời Nhiệm, P. 6, Quận 3

Located on what I like to call coffee street, this quaint cafe looks like it was designed for the Instagram fiend. It works. But other than that it’s a popular lunch spot among Vietnamese business people. It’s a good idea to go and claim your seat early in the morning. The crowds start pouring in around 11.30am.

Their coffee is smooth and fresh – the perfect level of pick me up! If it a little too late for a coffee, try their iced early grey with a little sugar.

 

Hoàng Thị

33/72 Nguyễn Trung Trực, Quận 1 // 31 Nguyễn Thái Bình, Quận 1

This small art cafe has two wonderful locations to choose from; both in old French colonial buildings. The cafes are filled with up-cycled interiors and old-fashioned Vietnamese furniture, complimented with a local artists paintings and drawings everywhere you look.

Artists of all forms will join you here, a great spot to work or hang out for a few hours, listen to some good music and relax. Their coffee is quite light and not overly sweetened.

Sài Gòn Hẻm

15\29 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Bến Nghé, Quận 1

I stumbled upon this little beauty wondering down the alleys near my house. The cafe has three tables, two windows and two trees to sit around, so expect to make some new friends. Always packed with locals, most of the customers are really into film photography and will happily help you out if you have any questions.

A little heads up: this place is not frequently visited by foreigners, so the menu is in Vietnamese, but the staff speak pretty good English.

Their coffee is ground onsite, making it super fresh, quite fruity and very cheap as far as good brews go.

Cộng Caphe

336 Trường Sa, Quận Phú Nhuận (closer to D1)

A franchise through-out Saigon and Hanoi, this coffee shop takes you a step back in time: military outfits, old fashioned interior and representative crockery?

You can choose from northern or southern Vietnamese coffee (southern being typically stronger). This is my favourite location, it’s the biggest and the furthest away from the tourist area. Looking over the canal, not far from Tan Dinh market; it’s a great spot to sit and watch the world go by.

Others are located in backpacker area and around District 1.

If you want to splash out on 60K for a drink, I would recommend the coconut coffee – you have to have it at some point!

 

Enjoy!