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Home See & Do Your Hipster Guide to Ho Chi Minh City

Your Hipster Guide to Ho Chi Minh City

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Motorcycles race past you, horns blaring down the block. You stumble into a hidden alleyway, a faint light shining at the other end. The noise of the main street slowly recedes as you venture deeper. You spot a bar tucked quietly at the end of the street, a bartender mixing up an old-fashioned Gin and Tonic, and you get a feeling it’s going to be a good night out.

If being enthralled and swept up in a high octane, buzzing city fuels your adrenaline, then Ho Chi Minh City may just be the medicine you need to cure those vacation blues. Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a confusing one – there are districts highlighted by the remnants of the French Colonial period, industrialisation, or more recently, urban redevelopment projects. It’s a mishmash of cultural influences and historical landmarks that is quite impossible to finish experiencing all in one trip.

Buried under all of these is a burgeoning hipster culture that’s rocking the foundations of Ho Chi Minh City, attracting a new wave of travellers that will fall in love with the city like never before, from the narrow alleyways to cafes wafting with the aroma of coffee.

So, for everyone who loves the sound of this article already (I’m looking at all you Millennials out there), here’s our hipster guide to Ho Chi Minh City.

Eat & Drink

The term “hipster” is so commonly thrown around these days that you start wonder what it means anymore. Craft beer watering holes and cafes have perhaps come to best embody the concept, especially those that outfit their interiors and facades with some 80s or 90s retro look.

Craft Beer

 

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There’s an increasing rise in popularity for craft beers, with bars popping up all over town specialising in the frothy brew. To trace the origin of the craze, we have to go back to the start to Pasteur Street Brewing Company (PSBC) who has the honour of being the first craft beer bar in Saigon.

Serving up American style, multi-award-winning craft beers, PSBC is a staple in the scene, brewing a mixture of American hops, European Malt, and an exotic array of Vietnamese ingredients. Combining the classic American craft beer with Vietnamese flavours says much about PSBC’s proclivity and dedication to experiment, so it’s safe to say that PSBC isn’t afraid of experimenting with their flavours, resulting in quirky recipes like their English Pale Ale with Thai Milk Tea.

With their brews being pushed out over 300 outlets countrywide, PSBC has the craft beer world in Vietnam in the palms of their hands. If you’re looking for a bar that sells more than your typical international imports, PSBC is the place.

Cafes

 

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Repurposing old buildings with beautifully preserved colonial facades is a straight ticket to attaining hipster status.

When you’re in the city, travel to The Café Apartment where you’ll find a half-abandoned colonial-era building that houses some of the trendiest cafes. Built sometime in the mid-1960s, the building has seen quite a few tenants, from the American military officers and officials to shipyard workers who occupied it after the fall of Saigon.

Consisting of five floors, the tenants today have started leasing out their space, though it’s hardly a legal practice and you’ll see plenty of notices to shut down the various businesses. With the amount of tourism it brings however, it’s tough to say if the various shops and cafes will truly close.

Legalities aside, it’s quite an interesting experience as you traverse up and down the apartment building that is filled not only with cafes but boutique shopping and workshop spaces as well. The Maker on the third floor and Partea on the fourth floor are favourite café haunts and provide excellent views of Nguyen Hue.

The Café Apartment isn’t the sole domain for hipster cafes, however. If you’re looking for something steeped in history and historical memorabilia, Cong Caphe should be your next big haunt. Inspired by the old Vietcong days, the café is adorned with Communist propaganda posters serving up traditional Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk or interesting blends like coconut coffee.

Hidden Bars

 

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Tucked in an alley just off the famed Pasteur Street lies The Alley Cocktail Bar & Kitchen, and it is what we can only describe as a makeshift tin-hut bar. The alleyway is inconspicuous and easy to miss, so it’s definitely a place you have to know beforehand and go looking for.

Bars and pubs aren’t usually the most welcoming of places, but there’s something about The Alley with its small setting that creates an intimate but lively space for everyone. Its easy-going atmosphere marks its as a place you can comfortably spend the night chilling with your friends, or even with the family.

Vintage-style space, affordably priced drinks, live acoustic or jazz music at night – sign me up.

Things to Do

Though we often attribute “hipster” to cafes and the like, its entire nature stretches far beyond the things we eat and drink. These days, ‘hipster’ also encompasses fashion and furnishings, and the quirkier/kitsch-ier/more obscure the better. And where better to indulge your hipsterism than at flea markets and long-forgotten boutiques?

Saigon Flea Market

 

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To many, the Saigon Flea Market is the core and hub of the creative community in Ho Chi Minh City. Operating on the second and fourth Sundays of every month, people flock to the Saigon Flea Market for local hand-made artworks, clothing, and accessories.

Created back in 2011 by designer Moon Doan, the Saigon Flea Market was envisioned to be a haven for local artisans, shopaholics, and fashionistas to gather, showcase, and share their styles and ideas. It has only become that and so much more, if you’re looking for creative and uniquely designed products, Saigon Flea Market would be your best bet.

One of the first vintage and hand-made artisanal markets, the now bustling Saigon Flea Market offers a holistic shopping experience that warrants a visit if you’re so lucky to be able to catch it.

Boutique Chic Shopping

 

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Something that is quietly stirring the hipster pot are chic boutique retail shops, bringing a new dimension and competitor to the typical shopping experience in Ho Chi Minh City.

While cheap shopping and markets are inherently one of the draws for many travellers in Ho Chi Minh City, Ladan in District 1 may very well be leading the charge towards an alternative shopping experience.

But, perhaps what’s most impressive about Ladan is their implementation of Dan Lat, a traditional weaving method into the making of their bags that can form a bridge between the young today and the older generation. Ladan designs are retro but trendy, creating a look that is stylish and not outdated, so it’s not surprising to see both youths and the old donning the pretty handbags of Ladan.

Saigon Outcast

 

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Situated on the banks of the city’s river is Saigon Outcast, a large outdoor multi-purpose space that has become a comprehensive and integrated venue for the arts, music, and shopping.

Featuring converted shipping containers into bars and restaurants, Saigon Outcast has evolved to becoming a outpost indie art exhibitions, outdoor movie showings, flea markets, and live music. If you’re looking for a buzzing, creative space to hang out and chill at, Saigon Outcast is waiting for you.

Top photo by Tayla Linford on Unsplash

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