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SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT FINE CHOCOLATE DESSERTS IN SAIGON
These propositions were last checked in June 2022. If you notice something to be improved, please send us your details. Thanks.
We’ve searched high and low for the best chocolate desserts in Saigon
• Vietnam’s premier chocolate
• Chocolate gelato
• Chocolate birthday cakes
• Chocolate art
• Chocolate doughnuts & freakshakes
Studies have shown that chocolate (mainly the dark kind) eaten in moderation has many health benefits. Full of nutrients such as iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese, it is a powerful source of antioxidants, may improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, may reduce the risk of heart disease, improves brain function, and even aids to protect our skin from the sun! Most importantly though, chocolate in all its glorious forms, shades, and delectable flavors is oh-so good for the soul.
We’ve searched high and low for the best chocolate desserts in Saigon, created by true chocolate artisans that are passionate about bringing a satisfied smile to the face of many, one sweet tooth at a time.
Maison Marou Chocolate
Open: Monday – Thursday 9:00 am – 10:00 pm | Friday – Sunday 9:00 am – 11:00 pm
To write an article on chocolate without mentioning Maison Marou Saigon would be a sin. The closest thing we have to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory lies just within their teal and gold framed glass doors.
From the fresh roasting of Vietnamese grown cacao beans to spinning vats of melted chocolate, the intoxicating smells from the open kitchen and the smorgasboard of chocolate bars and made to order desserts on display are enough to make any sweet fiend feel like they’ve just died and woken up in chocolate heaven.
Marou’s best selling dessert, the Chocolate Mousse Mug, consists of a generous serving of light and airy milk chocolate mousse with strong toffee notes, encased in an original thin chocolate biscuit sponge. Developed by the French mastermind behind all of Marou’s creations, Head Pastry Chef Stephanie Aubriot, the dish was inspired by the strong hot chocolate culture of Switzerland, where Stephanie was based for several years.
This splendid dessert is the perfect balance of sophistication, innovation and whimsy. The caramelised cashews and cacao nibs are a superb textural break from the freshly whipped chantilly cream and surprisingly, after scraping the plate clean, you’ll find yourself ready for more as the Chocolate Mousse Mug cake is not as heavy, rich or sweet as expected.
As with all their in house delights, all dine in desserts served at Marou are made to order, ensuring freshness, optimal flavour and ultimate beauty. Stephanie proudly serves up the Chocolate Tiramisu, a gorgeous tower of mascarpone cream, chocolate sponge and La Viet espresso coffee which is incredibly delicate and light in the mouth as she avoids using any gelatin.
With the strong coffee culture inherit in this country, it is no surprise that Marou’s Tiramisu, with its heavenly marriage of coffee and chocolate, is the most popular dessert among their Vietnamese clientele.
Head Pastry Chef Sara Wu originally hails from Jilin, China. She studied pastry in Malaysia and relocated to Saigon only one and a half years ago. The petite chef is bright and bubbly behind her large framed spectacles and works tirelessly with her small team in her kitchen to produce signature choux pastries, single serve and larger sized cakes, as well as catering packages.
For the ultimate chocolate lover’s cake, the Choconana Rum Birthday Cake from BAKES hits all the sweet spots. Layers of incredibly dense chocolate mud sponge are soaked in rum syrup, generously slathered with banana pastry cream and banana rum jam, and beautifully frosted in thick milk chocolate ganache.
The top of the cake is decorated with giant chocolate curls, kumquat filled chocolate truffles, candied walnuts and dried rose petals. For all its bells and whistles, a slice of the decadent cake tastes surprisingly clean to the palate. After demolishing a generous serving, you’ll be left feeling surprisingly energised and not burdened by the usual sugar coma of other rich chocolate cakes. Able to feed 10-12 people, the cake is sure to bring the WOW factor to your next special occasion.
Open: Tuesday – Friday 11:00 am – 8:00 pm | Saturday – Sunday 11:00 am – 9:00 pm | Monday CLOSED
Since opening in November 2018, Ivoire has become the talk of the town for making the prettiest sweet treats to have ever graced Saigon. A signature pastry of theirs which has been with Ivoire since day one is the Black Mandarin.
It is impossible to resist the siren call of the adorable pastry orange sitting proudly atop the highly reflective glossy surface of the dark chocolate glazed confection. Bursts of fresh mandarin fruit shine brightly through the layers of burnt manadarin creme, orange marmalade, cocoa sponge, 55% dark chocolate, passion fruit gelee and chocolate mousse.
For lovers of everything hazelnut, Ivoire’s Chocolate Marvelous is an absolute dream. The impressive dessert displays a sophisticated, well thought out balance of flavours and textures. Layers of light hazelnut dacquoise and airy gianduja mousse reveal a surprise pocket of thick hazelnut paste and a rich chocolate cremeux. The addictive toasted flavours of crushed roasted hazelnuts and deep caramel praline add a satisfying crunch that will have you reaching for another spoonful.
Open: 7 days 10:00 am – 10:00 pm
DOSH is famous for serving up instagram worthy doughnut delights that sell out fast every day. They pride themselves on producing 100% handmade doughnuts from scratch, with no premade mixes or industrial mass production machinery. The team at DOSH have created over 100 unique flavours to date with doughnuts made fresh every 8 hours (two doughnut batches per day, one at 7am, and one at 1pm). As impressive as their doughnuts are, it is their freakshakes that stole our chocolate loving hearts.
The Iced Chocolate with Toasted Marshmallow Cream is made from homemade chocolate ganache sauce and finished with a generous crown of irresistibly thick, creamy, sticky, toasted marshmallow cream. This good looking creation will have you reminiscing of happier times, of guilty pleasures savoured over childhood campfires.
DOSH is one of the first stores in Saigon to bring the iconic ‘Freakshake’ made famous by Australia and the United States. The Chocolate Madness Freakshake is truly a heart stopping sight to behold. Sweet, creamy, chocolate thick shake is topped with an enormous homemade chocolate brownie, lashings of whipped cream, chocolate dipped marshmallows, and a generous handful of chocolate buttons. We always encourage our readers to ‘treat yourself’ but this naughty beverage you may want to consider sharing.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT LGBTQ-FRIENDLY party VENUES IN SAIGON
These propositions were last checked in June 2022. If you notice something to be improved, please send us your details. Thanks.
Vietnam doesn’t legally allow gay marriages, it doesn’t criminalize the community either.
In fact, it’s one of the most LGBT-friendly countries in Asia. This inclusive society has provided Vietnam, and Saigon’s gay community the freedom to love, without any fear of getting into trouble. Therefore, it’s only natural for the community to have their preferred hang-out spots, as well as dedicated events for them to meet and mingle.
Although there are currently no establishments entirely devoted to the community, there are venues that are gay-friendly, or regularly host gay-themed events. This article used to feature some of the popular spots, unfortunately, due to the “pandemic”, most places have closed, and we kept only the one that is still running, as well as related events to look out for.
Gay-Friendly Bars and Clubs in Saigon
Another establishment just a short walk down the road, at 224 Đề Thám Street, Thị Bar attracts a mix of young and trendy international and local patrons. The two-story LGBTQ-friendly venue tends to get packed, mainly due to the excellent live music performances that happen almost every day of the week.
On Fridays and Saturdays, the venue hosts themed gay parties that attract a sizeable crowd, with happy hour offers before 9 p.m. Although it can be quite a bit of a squeeze due to its size, online reviews generally praise the venue for its positive experience, excellent live music, and a very friendly and inclusive crowd.
Frolic Bar Saigon
A gay-owned bar on De Tham street, a popular backpackers vicinity in downtown District 1, Frolic Bar draws large crowds thanks to its affordable drinks, regular promotions, vibrant atmosphere and fun-loving guests. Just like many other popular venues on our LGBT+ guide list, Frolic Bar knows that local and foreign bar hoppers love DJ and music performances—be sure to follow their Facebook page for the latest updates about upcoming events, disco nights and more.
Located in deep District 1, The Observatory is one of Ho Chi Minh City’s most prolific DJ and late night spots. Sporting a patio-style outdoor lounge area that serves cocktails, mixed drinks and draft beers, most of the venue’s architecture is inherited charm from Saigon’s pre-war heydays. The indoor dance floor of The Observatory see some of the most talented local and foreign DJs especially on weekends. As a venue that has hosted LGBTQ events such as Genderfunk, Vietnam’s premier drag and pride show, we promise that you’ll feel at home at The Observatory.
Twist Cafe & Bar
Cafe by day and bar by night, Twist Cafe & Bar is one of Saigon’s LGBTQ community’s favourite gathering spots in Thảo Điền, the city’s most expat-dense enclave. With vibes built on a combination of neon-lit scenes and street-style seating, Twist Cafe & Bar actively works with new talents to host open mic night, live music performances and drag shows. A great spot for fellow-minded individuals to make new friends and expand their social horizons over casual drinks and entertainment.
One of HCMC’s first queer-owned cafes, Pride Coffee literally prides itself for its great coffee, food and chill atmosphere. Pride Coffee might also be one of the few LGBTQ+ friendly venues in the city that hosts regular drag brunches that combines free-flow savoury food and desserts with appearances of the city’s freshest drag faces. To help the LGBTQ+ community in Vietnam grow, Pride Coffee also organises workshops and trivia nights with a purpose in mind. Come for their colourful cakes, drinks and leave with feeling revitalised about inclusivity. Located in District 1 near to Saigon’s famous Phạm Ngũ Lão area.
Indika is a District 1 ‘gastro chill-out spot’ that’s famed for its warm vibes, regular events, and amazing Napoli-style pizzas. Vegan-friendly options are also available for most styles of food at Indika since the kitchen is run by a forward-looking Italian chef. The venue’s open-minded guests and crew make it one of the most celebrated nightlife and dining venues for LGBTQ travelers. Indika’s popular open mic session every Monday night is strong testimony for that claim. Don’t forget to check out Indika’s Facebook page for the latest updates on upcoming events that range from comedy to indie music.
Dulce De Saigon
Serving up some of the most delicious cheesecakes and cookies in town, Dulce De Saigon is a treat for anyone that’s remotely has a sweet tooth. The owners believe in inclusivity and the LGBT-themed sweets and confectionaries at Dulce De Saigon are very popular amongst the community and offered as special orders, while also available for the general public on special occasions such as International Pink Day. Dulce De Saigon’s store is also a cafe so you can enjoy lattes with your favorite desserts until 6 pm daily.
Coffee is creativity at this quaint little specialty coffee joint. From nitro-cold brews to oddities such as coconut americano and oolong latte, Cokernut is a popular meet-up spot for the LGBTQ+ community in the well-to-do Tân Định ward of northern District 1. A great place for anyone to chill out, meet friends or even just burn away a quiet Sunday afternoon over caffeinated drinks.
Popular LGBTQ Events in Saigon
There are an increasing number of LGBTQ events being organised in Saigon and although not exhaustive, this article will feature the most popular LGBT event organiser in the city that attract a healthy mix of locals and foreigners. They are also extremely fun, entertaining and open to anyone regardless of sexual orientation. The keyword here is fun
Without a doubt Vietnam’s most sought-after series of drag shows, Genderfunk was started by British-born Ricardo Glencasa who sought to create a performance space for like-minded friends and talents of the LGBTQ+ community. Because of this commitment to one of Vietnam’s fastest growing group of people, Genderfunk has spiced up the hottest venues in Ho Chi Minh City and introduced new concepts such as drag king appearances for even more diversity. A typical Genderfunk performance sees hundreds of enthusiastic fans. Follow them on Facebook the latest schedule and updates.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT FINE DATE NIGHTS IDEAS IN SAIGON
These propositions were last checked in June 2022. If you notice something to be improved, please send us your details. Thanks.
Dating in Saigon is hard enough without the headache of finding where to go.
• Romantic rooftop drinks
• An intimate speakeasy lounge bar
• Quiet coffee date
• A local Vietnamese outdoor experience
• Tropical riverside views
• Climb your way to the top
• A relaxing escape
• Quality craft beer
• Hot & steamy dance session
Our list of Best Date Night Ideas in Saigon will make it a little easier for you. Dating in Saigon can be tricky. If you’re one of the rare people in an actual real-life couple (congratulations and you make me sick), date night is an integral part of maintaining a healthy relationship. If you’re riding the Tinder rollercoaster like most of us, and you successfully finesse a person worth meeting, kudos! In either situation, success may be short-lived if you can’t find the perfect place to have your next date.
The perfect date in Saigon is elusive though. Perfect is subjective, and there are thousands of places to choose from in Ho Chi Minh City. Plus, in this changing social climate, a boring dinner and movie date isn’t going to cut it. While some like the traditional rom-com date night, others may want to do something that’s going to have that Instagram feed popping. Lucky for you, dear readers, our dedicated dating researcher compiled a list of varied date spots for every sensibility and budget.
Social Club Saigon
MGallery – Hôtel des Arts Saigon, 23rd and 24th Floors, 76-78 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 3, HCMC / Website / +84 28 3989 8888
Open: 7 days 9:00 am – 1:00 am. Perfect for: Rooftop city views & dreamy sunsets.
Perfect for: Rooftop city views & dreamy sunsets.
Impress your date with a night out at one of the most beautiful sky-high restaurants in HCMC – Social Club Saigon. Romance abounds with expansive views of the city skyline, comfortable seating, custom-crafted cocktails, and gourmet dining with excellent service. On select nights, they even have a DJ or live jazz band to get your toes tapping. Social Club Saigon is the perfect place to get cozy with your date, with one of the best vantage points to watch the sunset in Saigon.
The Library at Shri Restaurant & Lounge
Open: Selected Saturdays 7:00 pm – Late
Perfect for: Secret themed parties in an instagrammable speakeasy.
On select Saturdays, enter the secret room at Shri Restaurant & Lounge for The Library – a unique concept party series in Saigon. DJs, performances, specialty cocktails and elaborate decorations swirl together for an upscale party experience that isn’t stuffy or pretentious. Get a few drinks and cut a rug with your date among the trendiest party goers in HCMC. Or take a few IG-worthy photos with the eclectic decor. When you need a break, be sure to take in the spectacular views from the 23rd floor rooftop restaurant
“Top of the Tunnel”
Area: Thu Thiem Area, District 2, HCMC
Perfect for: Low key Vietnamese hangouts with a view.
A typical and authentic Vietnamese pop-up arrangement of plastic chairs and street food vendors, this place makes our list for the picturesque unobstructed views of Saigon River. It’s located in the Thu Thiem area of District 2 near the Thu Thiem Tunnel, just across from Empire City. This isn’t a fancy spot by any means, but it’s the charm of true local Vietnamese living that makes it so much fun. Enjoy a few snacks and some cheap beers while gazing into the eyes of your date alongside the romantic riverfront.
Schiller River Club
Open: Tuesday – Friday 5:00 pm – 11:00 pm | Saturday 5:00 pm – 12:00 am | Sunday 5:00 pm – 11:00 pm | Mondays CLOSED
Perfect for: Chilled-out river views from a tropical oasis.
Schiller River Club is the spot for fresh air and lush green space on your next date. It’s located just 20 minutes north of District 2 in Thu Du City. Chill out on a blanket in the courtyard by the river or lounge on the comfy sofas and cushions on the patio. Order some drinks and make your own wood-fired pizza while you enjoy the slower pace just outside of the city. Schiller hosts events regularly, too! From music festivals to holistic markets to international headliner concerts — you can choose to go when there is entertainment that both you and your date will enjoy.
Saigon Climbing Center
Open: 7 days 9:00 am – 10:00 pm
Perfect for: The actively inclined.
If you’re the fit type, why not take your date on an activity that is challenging, somewhat competitive, and loads of fun? Saigon Climbing Center in District 2 fits the bill. There is an array of climbing walls, ropes, rings to impress your date with your strength and stamina. Or, it could be a great way to check out your date’s muscle definition from various vantage points. Defy gravity and get your blood pumping with a fun and active date at Saigon Climbing Center.
Open: Thursdays 8:00 pm – 10:00 pm | Free
Perfect for: Netflix and Chill, for real.
Saigon Outcast transforms into an outdoor cinema on Thursday nights, screening different classics every week under the stars of the District 2 sky. Entry is FREE, with full bar and food menu options available. Thursday Outdoor Cinema nights start at 8:00 pm at Saigon Outcast. Grab your date, snuggle up, and enjoy an ice cold beer whilst watching your favourite film up on the big screen.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT FINE COFFEE SHOP WORKSPACES IN SAIGON
Everyone would know by now that Saigon is a coffee paradise with loads of cafes, street vendors, coffee chains, international coffee franchises and, well, you will always be able to get a cup no matter where you are in the city.
However, beyond the beverage, coffee places are also excellent places for work, especially for freelancers or those looking to set a business meeting outside the office. Excellent Wi-Fi, no loud music, a relaxing ambience and of course, great coffee with local and foreign brews will help towards a conducive working environment.
Although the cafe is small and a little narrow, it features a very relaxed ambience thanks to its decor and is a very good place for the creative professional to get inspiration thanks to its cosy atmosphere. Origami models of koi fish, black pine walls and a glass wall with plenty of natural light give the place a rather homely feel.
The items on the menu are affordably priced and delicious. You can sit on a couch if it’s available, or at a table and there are sockets available should you need to plug in your laptop or charge your phone.
Location: 21 Phan Ke Binh, D1
Ambience: Cosy and feels like a simple roadside cafe in Japan
Variety of Coffee: Espresso, cappuccino and if you’re feeling exotic, a matcha latte will do the trick.
Food Options: Plenty of desserts to choose from. They also have pancakes, toast and ice-cream.
Thinker & Dreamer
On the 4th floor of the iconic 42 Nguyen Hue building, Thinker & Dreamer could come across as a hipster joint with a neat Instagram page with plenty of followers. However, the establishment was set up as an artistic space for customers to think, relax and daydream.
Another go-to spot for the creative professional, the decor oozes inspiration and although a tad small, the layout is well-planned to create pockets of space that allow your mind to wander. The staff are also really warm, approachable and friendly.
Besides the usual coffee, they are also famous for their flowerpot cakes and most items on the menu are really affordable, considering its location. This is one of those places where you could spend hours in and not even realise it. Kind of like a home away from home.
Location: Level 4, 42 Nguyen Hue, D1
Pricing: VND 50,000-VND100,000
Ambience: Cosy yet roomy with pockets of space
Variety of Coffee: Espresso, Cappuccino and their own creations called Mr Dreamer which contains soymilk and Mr. Thinker which features a secret recipe.
Food Options: Snacks such as pastries and cakes.
Work Saigon Cafe
Pricing: VND 40,000-VND100,000
Ambience: Spacious and very quiet
Variety of Coffee: Standard fare from ca phe da to long black
Food Options: All-day breakfast, pizzas, sandwiches and main-course dishes like pasta.
Probably the most aptly named establishment on this list, Work cafe was created for the purpose of … you guessed it, customers to get their work done away from the home or office. Located off Dien Bien Phu in District 3, this place is primarily a co-working space with the upper floor hosting office spaces for actual companies whereas the bottom floor remains open to public.
A sprawling layout with open tables and plenty of power sockets, this is also the quietest venue on the list, to the point where the silence might just seem a little tense. All you need to do is make your order, pick a table and it’s all yours and you’ll hardly get disturbed. Perfect for the introverted freelancer or the hermit who likes working in peace. There is also a free swimming pool that nobody actually uses, and a resident dog that walks around offering a pleasant distraction every now and then.
Hoang Thi Cafe
Ambience: Cosy and bohemian
Variety of Coffee: Lattes to Americanos, featuring local and foreign beans.
Food Options: The cafe doesn’t really serve food although it’s surrounded by really good street food stalls.
This entry might be a little debatable for some. Unlike the other establishments, it doesn’t have air-conditioning and its open-door concept means you get quite a bit of noise from the road. However, this is an ideal spot if you’re a writer, musician or artist.
Perfect for those who have just moved to Saigon and are working or looking for opportunities in Saigon’s burgeoning arts scene, this cafe was opened by an artist and is frequented by artists. Featuring a very local clientele, on a typical day you would see someone writing tunes with an acoustic guitar, and another person engrossed in writing an article on her laptop. It’s colourful, inspiring and addictive so you might keep coming back.
The woody interior and vintage decorations give the whole place a very artistic yet cosy vibe, but the biggest selling point would be that this is a decent place to work, but a great place to find a collaborator or maybe even a creative partner.
Ambience: Classical, and the top floor feels like a lounge.
Variety of Coffee: There’s a diverse menu of ‘special’ brews such as Kenyan, Laotian, Red and Yellow Bourbon, Sidamo and others.
Food Options: Cakes, cookies and tiramisu.
A quaint and classical-themed cafe, [a] Cafe is at Dakao ward in District 1 and feels more like a home than an actual establishment. It was actually a home before it was refurbished into what it is today. With two levels available, the bottom floor features long, flat tables with upright chairs while you get a more lounge-like experience upstairs with comfortable seats and a chilled-out atmosphere.
This is where you get a slow-drip coffee and get a seat and then let your creative juices flow. If you’re feeling hungry, there’s a limited food menu but there is a banh mi stall just a short walk away that offers a pretty neat banh mi bay ho every afternoon. Although there is some music that fills the cafe, it’s mostly classical music at a moderate volume that’s loud enough to be heard but not loud enough to distract you.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT FINE CRAFT BEER BREWERIES IN SAIGON
The craft beer scene in Ho Chi Minh City is booming.
A quick search on the internet will yield fascinating results: the craft beer scene in Ho Chi Minh City is booming in a previously unimaginable way. Vietnam is en route to becoming the champion of alcohol consumption in Asia, defeated only by the Koreans based on an annual per capita alcohol consumption paper that was published by the Who Health Organisation in 2017.
In Vietnam, when it comes to alcohol, beer is king—some people even describe the beer as an alternative to soft drinks. The massive popularity of commercial beer in Vietnam has also enabled semi-commercial and non-commercial artisanal brews, otherwise known as craft beer, to flourish.
Along with the chugging of beer in local beer halls and the downing of rice spirits, people who live in Vietnam are increasingly turning towards the more complex flavors of beer made in craft breweries all over Vietnam. Craft beer is best enjoyed fresh out of the keg. Our extensive list focuses on the best craft breweries in Saigon so that you can enjoy fresh off-the-tap craft beers without having to travel far from home.
This list includes both craft breweries with their very own tap rooms as well as brewers who distribute their beers to venues.
BREWERIES WITH TAPROOMS IN SAIGON
Pasteur Street Brewing Company
Address 1: 144 Pasteur Street, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1
Address 2: 144/3 Pasteur Street, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1
Address 3: 29 Thảo Điền, Thảo Điền Ward, Thu Duc City
Opening Hours: 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. daily / Facebook page
One of Saigon’s greatest craft beer pioneers, Pasteur Street Brewing Company’s brews have achieved shining accolades abroad. The Cyclo Imperial Chocolate Stout (13% ABV, 55 IBU) made using award-winning MAROU cacao pods achieved the gold award at the World Beer Cup in 2016. Paster Street currently has four tap rooms in Ho Chi Minh City and one tap room in Hanoi and distributes its beers to approximately 150 locations in Vietnam—a testimony to their amazing taste.
Other must-try beers: Jasmine IPA (6.5% ABV, 50 IBU), Passion Fruit Wheat Ale (4% ABV, 15 IBU)
East West Brewing Company
Address: 181 – 185 Lý Tự Trọng, Bến Thành Ward, District 1, HCMC / Facebook
Opening Hours: 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m. daily
If drinking a glass of rich, smooth craft beer brewed on location is your thing, East West Brewing Company is an excellent choice. It’s been a few years since it’s inauguration and East West is already distributing its beers to more than 400 venues. The creative brewery also schedules an interesting seasonal brew on a monthly basis. A Christmas Tripel is usually available for the festive season.
Must try beers: East West Pale Ale (6% ABV, 32 IBU), Summer Hefeweizen (5.9% ABV, 20 IBU)
Heart of Darkness Craft Brewery
Address: 31D Lý Tự Trọng, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1, HCMC / Facebook
Opening Hours: 11:00 a.m. 12:00 a.m. daily
Run by a self-described “Dark Army” of brewers, Heart of Darkness Craft Brewery has created more than 150 distinct beers since their inauguration in late 2016. In fact, you’ll find their beers well beyond the shores of Vietnam in cities such as Singapore, Tokyo and Taipei. The brewery also hosts special events on a regular basis—trivia night, comedy night…you name it. The brewery offers unique and never-released brews every Thursday for their ‘Fresh Tapped Thursdays’ specials, a major reason to visit again and again!
Must try beers: The Kurt’s Insane IPA (7.1 ABV, 102 IBU) is one of the most intense and hoppiest beers in town. Other favourites like the lighter Sacred Fire Golden Ale (4.5% ABV, 28 IBU), which is described by the Dark Army as a “gateway to craft beer” and their Excited Magpie Irish Stout (4.2% ABV, 34 IBU) are a great place to start your craft beer journey.
Belgo – Belgian Craft Beer Brewery
159A, Nguyễn Văn Thủ, Đa Kao Ward, District 1, HCMC / 2 Lê Ngô Cát, Phường 7, District 3, HCMC / Facebook
Opening Hours: 10:30 a.m. – 11.00 p.m. daily
Take your first step into Belgo and you’ll be greeted by three replicas of Manneken Pis, Brussels’ infamous urinating little boy. Gert, the resident brewmaster of Belgo, has been brewing with friends in Belgium since the age of 16. His love for beer’s magic component, yeast, has spurred him to create some of the most well-balanced beers in Saigon. The Belgo Blond (5.9% ABV, 19 IBU) is a hit amongst the ladies; it’s secret lies in two different kinds of malt, two varieties of hops and a top-secret herb!
Must try beers: What our team truly loves at Belgo is the Belgo Black (6.9% ABV, 21 IBU), which shouts chocolate and a lingering bittersweet citrus flavour. The Belgo Royale (7.6% ABV, 24 IBU) with notes of pineapple, peach and banana is also deceivingly easy on the palate. Most of Belgo’s beers are very low on IBU, great for people who love alcohol but can’t stand the bitter!
Winking Seal Beer Co.
Address: 50 Đặng Thị Nhu, Nguyễn Thái Bình Ward, District 1, HCMC / Facebook
Opening Hours: 3:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. daily
Winking seal needs little introduction. Their adorable mascot and emblem is literally a seal, one eye closed. Most, if not all, beers at Winking Seal Beer Company are irresistibly smooth and stunningly creative. The Năm Năm Năm Cream Ale (5% ABV, 16.3 IBU) is light, floral with hints of fruit…and the low alcohol content makes it great session beer in our opinion.
If you’re looking for something even fruitier, we bet you’ll love the Dragon Fruit Pale Ale (4.6 ABV 11 IBU) that’s made with local red-fleshed dragon fruit. The crisp and refreshing tropical fruit aftertaste makes it irresistible.
Biacraft is unique in a magnanimous manner. They brew their own beer yet also distribute it. Biacraft has one of Vietnam’s largest selections of craft beers and ciders. We counted almost 20 different breweries and more than 50 taps. Beyond local brewers, top American brewers such as Stone Brewing and Melvin Brewing are also well represented here. The extensive food menu, which sports hard-to-find items such as SPAM fries and Viennese schnitzel is also interesting.
Must try beers: Biacraft’s own brews beat everyone else on the list for having the darndest names: The ‘F*cked if I know’ Double IPA (8.8% ABV, 81 IBU) is a potentially deadly combination of fruity flavours and relatively high alcohol content. Fancy something lighter? The ‘Let’s get naked’ Wildberry Wheat Ale (4% ABV, 16 IBU) seems apt.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT FINE ROOFTOP BARS IN SAIGON
Compiling a list of the best rooftop bars in Ho Chi Minh City is not as easy as one would at first think. This wonderful Southeast Asian city is a crazy mix of old and new, cheap and expensive, traditional and quirky. Many hotels and bars have taken to the rooftops to sell their wares. Of course a personal view of what makes a great rooftop bar is exactly that, personal. However, there is no doubting that if you want to get “high” in Ho Chi Minh City, there are no shortage of venues.
Sipping cocktails as the sun goes down on one of the best cities in the world need not be beyond most people’s budget. Try a similar experience in London, Paris and New York and you’d be breaking the bank, here just about everyone can afford it. From modern glass towers to history laden French colonial buildings, Ho Chi Minh City offers a fantastic choice for rooftop bars and restaurants.
Social Club Rooftop Bar – Hôtel Des Arts Saigon
Go to Social Club Rooftop if you’re looking for a panoramic view of the sparkling Saigon skyline, top-notch cocktails and some of the hottest DJs in town. Social Club Rooftop, designed by the highly sought after Japanese design team Super Potato, mixes the feeling of a modern beach resort (the rooftop infinity pool is out of this world) with the kind of glamourous good looks you might find along the French Riviera. Saigon’s hippest glitterati crowd is there every night to dance the night away under the stars. Don’t miss the party.
Air Saigon Sky Lounge is the newest addition to the Capella Entertainment family. The venue has a more adult vibe about it and a more laid back atmosphere, making it an ideal after hours hangout for white collar professionals. The view is outstanding, and the drinks are inventive and enjoyable. The multi-level setup ensures that you won’t easily get bored as you navigate from the sky deck to the bar area to the stylish lounge. A pool level is available for private parties.
Shri Restaurant & Loundge
Perched high above the Saigon traffic and chaos, Shri sits on top of the modern Centec Tower on one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares. The location is just outside the very middle of the city, so therefore the views are spectacular. It is worth booking an outside table if the weather suits, you won’t be sorry. It sits slightly towards the higher end of price range as one would of course expect.
Last Call Rooftop Bar
Opening Hours: 4pm–Midnight daily
Featuring a creative menu of speakeasy-style cocktails, LastCall is a rooftop bar located at the heart of Ho Chi Minh City—right beside the metropolis’ historical and scenic turtle lake park. With a great urban green canopy lake view and breezy under-the-moonlight lounge-style seating, bring both small and big groups for alcoholic drinks crafted by its team of seasoned mixologists. This and other thirst-quenching delights such as mocktails and house-pour Hoegaarden beer make for a memorable occasion, especially with the tasty gastropub-style bar food that LastCall has to offer. Check out LastCall’s Facebook page for amazing daily events and promos.
The Rooftop Garden Bar
If it’s history that you are looking for, the rooftop bar at the Rex Hotel was the venue of what became known as the five o’clock follies, during the Vietnam War. This was the place from where foreign journalists held their propaganda laden press conference. It’s a high end smart restaurant bar with terrific views of the very heart of the city. Live music and good service help to provide the unique ambience of this most famous of all rooftop bars.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT HOW SAFE IS LAUGHING GAS?: BALLOONS ON BUI VIEN
With a constant influx of young travelers eager for adventure and excitement, Bui Vien is notorious for its debauched, chaotic, and often messy nights. Every night of the week the strip of bars along Bui Vien and neighboring roads De Tham, Pham Ngu Lao, Cong Quynh and Do Quan Dao transform into a swamp of drunken tourists, grizzled ex-pats and countless locals all reveling in the mayhem of Saigon’s strangest and most libertine hot spot.
Alongside the cheap beer vendors and dealers peddling marijuana and hard drugs is another, conceivably safer option for inebriation. All along Bui Vien, bar owners are armed with whipped cream canisters. They use these to blow up balloons full of nitrous oxide, more commonly known as laughing gas, and often used as an anesthetic, for their tipsy customers. Some establishments even have their own medical-grade tanks of the gas, providing gargantuan doses for a buck or two.
The party animals of Bui Vien agree – everyone we spoke to said they consider the gas benign, harmless, fun, and temporary. And on the face of it, they’re right: the effects are short-lived. It’s just a minute or two of hallucinatory sedation and then… back to normal. But are there really no negative health effects of laughing gas?
As Safe as it Seems?
With its medical reputation, nitrous oxide is not stymied by the same stigma as any of the ‘real’ drugs available on Bui Vien. However, the truth is actually quite different: evidence shows that habitual use of laughing gas causes very real mental and physical health problems for many people.
Dr. Robert J. Hedaya, author for Psychology Today, was shocked by the effects of laughing gas on the psychology of users. He writes, “I was wandering around the internet last night, looking for scholarly articles on something called ‘methylation pathways’, when I came across a very disturbing article on the potentially quite toxic interaction between nitrous oxide (N2O) and certain states of B12 deficiency.”
He continues: “[…] The methylation pathway I refer to above is a fundamental biochemical pathway occurring billions of times per second in the human body. It’s like the dollar bill of our economy – it keeps things moving. Methylation plays a key role in the building up and breaking down of molecules.”
So, laughing gas can impact on B12 activity if the user is deficient in this vitamin. Dr. Hedaya goes on to elaborate on these complications. Toying with these chemicals can ultimately affect the brain processes that make us happy, sane, healthy and even youthful.
When told about the risks, most users were shocked. No one we spoke to had been warned about the effects of nitrous oxide; many swore never to touch it again and almost all were visibly angry that a drug that had been marketed as harmless had the capability to permanently affect their bodies and minds.
The reality is, even light use of laughing gas can cause damage in subtle but severe ways. Dr. Nam Nguyen Canh of Victoria Healthcare told us, “Nitrous oxide inactivates cobalamin (vitamin B12). Its use in anesthesia or its abuse as an inhalant may precipitate rapid hematologic and neuropsychiatric deterioration in vitamin B12-deficient subjects.
“Harmful effects of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) often occur from either high-level short-term or low-level long-term exposures.” And perhaps most frightening: Dr. Nam continues, “Deficiency in vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) leads to the degeneration of the dorsal and lateral white matter of the spinal cord, producing a slowly progressive weakness, sensory ataxia, and paraesthesia, and ultimately spasticity, paraplegia, and incontinence.
“Prolonged use may produce neurologic dysfunction; patients with vitamin B12 deficiency (pernicious anemia) and those with other nutritional deficiencies (alcoholics) are at an increased risk.”
Worth the Risk?
Taking part in the giant canisters of medical-grade nitrous oxide may seem like an exciting diversion, but the reality is far more risky. We spoke to bar owners who chose to keep their anonymity. They have stated that they’ve seen regular users act violently and experience noticeable personality shifts.
Anecdotally, they told us that they’ve seen even casual users have sometimes experienced anxiety, depression and hypertension. Such behaviour is consistent with the psychological damage caused by N2O abuse. Irrational and aggressive behaviour are just some of the possible symptoms that can result from a disruption to methylation effectiveness.
Laughing gas is legal in Saigon. It is easily available and there are entire bars devoted to the inhalation of N2O. It is seen as acceptable, safe and fun. The misconception of its safety is a myth that only education can defeat. Despite the risks, the selling continues unabated. Our advice is simple: Steer clear.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT VIETNAM’S FLICKERING RED LIGHT DISTRICTS
Prostitution is considered a necessary evil, or moral corruption.
In Vietnam, the mindset has always skewed towards the latter due to the country’s strong Confucian value system. But even though this may seem surprising to some, prostitution is actually still illegal in this country.
While prostitution has been made legal in about 70 countries worldwide according to the United Nations Development Program, it is still frowned upon in most societies even though there have been arguments to prove that banning prostitution doesn’t actually stop it from happening. Trieu Huy Tao, an official in the central province of Thanh Hoa said that prostitution exists “whether you recognize it or not.” He added that different agencies have spent years fighting prostitution in vain.
“Instead of fighting it, we should focus on measures to reduce the negative impacts,” he said with regard to human trafficking, sexual abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases.
The Stand Against Prostitution
Vietnam has, over the years, relaxed its stance on enforcing this ban. According to an article by VnExpress International, punishment for soliciting sex changed in 2013 from compulsory rehabilitation to a fine of not more than US$100. But in a Tuoi Tre report in 2014, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam emphasized that Vietnam will not change its stance towards prostitution. Things might change soon, however, if a new proposal to establish “red-light” areas comes to fruition.
Establishing Red-Light Areas
Phung Quoc Hien, the vice chairman of the legislative National Assembly, said that Vietnam should consider establishing regulated red-light districts in certain special economic zones at a meeting of the Assembly’s Standing Committee. This is supported by proponents of legalization of prostitution in Vietnam, who say the move is critical, as it will likely reduce the transmission of HIV among sex workers. They also claim that even though Vietnam had declared a “war on prostitution”, sex work still continues to thrive.
Khuat Thi Thu Hong, director of the Institute of Social Development Studies, said that strict prohibition could never work. “There’s a lot of evidence showing that wherever prostitution is outlawed, it will operate in secret forms that cannot be controlled,” he added. Hong also said that bringing sex services into special areas is something other countries have done, with positive results.
A Sensitive Matter
Tran Chi Dung, director of the tourism department in Kien Giang Province, told Tuoi Tre that “this is a sensitive matter.” He said the decision to open a casino on Phu Quoc Island came after many rounds of discussions, and he feels that legalising prostitution should be dealt with in the same cautious manner.
When government officials debated the ban on local gamblers, opponents of the ban said Vietnamese gamblers went abroad instead. A government-endorsed study by Augustine Ha Ton Vinh, an academic who researched Vietnam’s gaming industry extensively, pointed out that the country loses as much as US$800 million per year in tax revenues from Vietnamese gamblers who travel to Cambodia.
This resulted in an announcement last December by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc that the Politburo had granted permission for Vietnamese citizens to gamble at two casinos in the country; one being built in Phu Quoc Island and a new one to open in Van Don. However, comparing gambling to prostitution does not take the sex workers into account, many of whom currently live under the constant threat of disease and abuse.
The Other Factor
In an article by Thanh Nien News, sex workers expressed their opinion about the possible legalisation of sex work. T., a sex worker in Go Vap District, said she would not have been infected with HIV if the proposal had come sooner. She also said sex workers like her have to deal with exploitation by pimps and brothel keepers.
“I make around VND200,000 (US$9) a time and they would take nearly half. If I refuse, they would beat me and prevent me from finding new clients,” she added. She said a legal red-light district would protect sex workers from such exploitation, and save them from fleeing at the sight of authorities. The debate on legalising prostitution also introduces the dilemma of whether the country can uphold its traditional Confucian values while making way for increasingly liberal laws.
Opponents of legalisation also fear that a proper lack of enforcement could see prostitution spiral out of control, normalising it to a degree similar to the trade in Bangkok, which is cheekily referred to as the sex capital of the world. However, even if sex work is actually legalised in Vietnam, no concrete plan details how the authorities will deal with the trade.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT TOP FOUR BUBBLE TEA SHOPS IN SAIGON
This article has only two recommendations as three of our favorite places for Bubble Tea closed during the pandemic. If you have any good recommendations to share with our community, please send them over for us to check. Thanks.
It is always a good idea to refresh yourself with a cup of pearl milk tea
Whether it is sunny or rainy, hot or cold, or you’re busy or laid-back, young or old, it is always a good idea to refresh yourself with a cup of pearl milk tea, also known as bubble tea. Pearl milk tea is a tea-based drink invented in Taiwan – a delicious mixture of tea, milk, chewy tapioca balls (the ‘pearls’), and/or fruit jelly.
Below are our hand-picked bubble tea shops among those that are currently popular in Saigon.
Phuc Long Coffee & Tea
Price range: 45.000–60.000VND/cup
The Phuc Long brand has become very popular over the last few years. It was founded in the 1960s in Bao Loc, Lam Dong province, which is famous for its tea. The official name is Phuc Long Tea & Coffee but it is mainly known for its milk tea. You won’t find the common pearl toppings of the Taiwanese milk tea style that is so popular in Vietnam. Don’t be disappointed because you will get addicted to it with just a little sip.
Phuc Long has a reputation for high-quality coffee and milk tea. Its patrons are mostly young professionals or middle-aged people because it generally charges a higher price for premium ingredients. The three busiest shops are in Mac Thi Buoi, Nguyen Huy, and in Crescent Mall. The one in Crescent Mall is spacious and well-decorated, while the other two have quite limited space and may get cramped and noisy on the weekend.
Hot & Cold
Price range: 14.000–30.000VND/cup
Hot & Cold is probably the pioneer milk tea shop when it comes to letting customers customize their drink. The process is easy, quick and intuitive. After choosing your favourite milk tea, you proceed to pick the toppings, flavour and pudding. The two most popular combos here are Combo Hawaii Cocktail and Combo Milk Smoothie.
Besides milk tea, you could try a variety of skewers, such as prawn tempura, four-color shrimp-ball stuffed with taro, surimi, crab ball stuffed with green sticky rice, and swirl fries. Most Hot & Cold shops are decorated colorfully and have big, air-conditioned spaces. They are also among the cheapest in town and have become popular among teens. The only downside is that waiters/waitresses are really slow and sometimes quite rude to customers.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT FROM “DZÔ!” TO “NO!”: THE SCOURGE OF FAKE ALCOHOL IN VIETNAM
Alcohol plays an important social role in Vietnam, from bia hoi in Hanoi to the surge of craft beers and cocktails in Saigon. Its centrality is evident in how it brings people together, either via huge gatherings with the trademark “dzô!” cheers, or simply just something to share a quiet moment with someone special. After all, Vietnam is the second largest consumer of beer and liquor after Thailand in the region, and tenth in Asia overall for alcohol consumption, according to vnexpress.
Although beer is huge in Vietnam, other types of alcoholic drinks, namely spirits, are also popular in the country. From sharing a bottle of whiskey at a club with friends to sipping on a custom cocktail at one of Saigon’s many cocktail bars, alcohol is a big deal and it’s here to stay. However, there’s also a problem with this: not all alcohol in Vietnam is what you think it is.
When The Nights Ended Early
In February 2017, nine people were killed, and a hundred hospitalised, in the northern province of Lai Chau by alcohol poisoning after attending a funeral. Initial tests showed that the methanol content in the alcohol they consumed was 5,000 times higher than permitted, according to Vietnam News Agency. The incident is considered one of the country’s worst cases of alcohol poisoning.
Just one month later, an expat and three other Vietnamese were admitted to a hospital in Hanoi with two in a coma and the other two with dimmed vision—all symptoms of methanol poisoning—after they drank alcohol from various street vendors around the city, according to Tuoi Tre. Incidents like these aren’t isolated cases. According to the Vietnam Food Administration (VFA) under the Ministry of Health, 382 people have been poisoned by unsafe alcohol over the past 10 years, of which 98 have died.
Liquor and “Liquor”
The term “alcohol” encompasses a wide range of chemicals, all closely related to one another and used in different applications. “Real” alcohol, the one that we drink, is also known as ethyl alcohol, as it contains ethanol, which is absorbed directly into the bloodstream and causes intoxication.
Isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol, is the one that nurses rub on your skin right before giving you an injection; ethylene glycol is also known as antifreeze; and methanol is known as wood alcohol, because it’s a byproduct of the distillation of wood, and is primarily used to make other chemicals. It is also occasionally used to fuel internal combustion engines for race cars.
In other words, none of these, other than ethanol are fit for human consumption. Most alcoholic beverages do contain a minute amount of methanol, but the amount is too little to cause any damage. In the case of “fake” alcohol, higher-than-permitted levels of methanol are added to the beverage and then bottled, sealed and sold for a much cheaper price than “real” alcohol.
A Permanent Hangover
You may have had a couple of nights when you had one too many drinks and woke up the next day with a hangover. This is common for ethyl alcohol. The effects for methanol, however, are very different. All it takes is to ingest a small amount of pure methanol—as little as 10ml, which will metabolise into formic acid, which will then lead to neurotoxicity and organ failure. The chemical destroys the optic nerve, which can lead to permanent blindness. Other effects include seizures, kidney failure, coma or even death.
Dr. Jeremy Ostrander, family doctor at Columbia-Asia Saigon International Clinic, wrote that, “Those patients who develop serious complications from methanol poisoning rarely fully recover and many die from their illness.”
One Problem, Many Reasons
According to Dr. Ostrander, “Here in Vietnam, alcohol is heavily taxed, making the price of imported alcohol very high for bars and restaurants.” As a result, shady bar owners simply fill up real bottles with counterfeit alcohol to save on costs. This counterfeit alcohol is most likely a mixture of ethanol and methanol or one of any other chemicals. This also explains the reason why you sometimes find people selling used liquor bottles on the street. They aren’t for decorative purposes.
“To add insult to injury, only a small amount of alcohol in Vietnam is regulated appropriately, inspected, or tested rigorously,” he added. “There have also been reports of breweries or distilleries producing thousands of bottles of counterfeit liquor and distributing them.”
According to a report by dtinews last month, yeast and other chemicals with no identifying labels were being sold at chemical stores for VND40,000 (US$1.76) per kilogram. Another store in Binh Tay Market in District 6 claimed to have various types of yeast ranging from VND 40,000 to VND 70,000 (US$3.08) per kilogram, “A [kilogram] of yeast can make 40 litres of spirit. Just mix the yeast with water, whatever water you want. You can buy aroma[tic] chemicals to make it taste more like famous spirits,” the seller said.
The Department of Health has ordered related agencies to inspect restaurants and shops to take samples where poisoning cases originated. The Department of Industry and Trade, along with district and communal authorities, have also been inspecting wineries and street stalls that sell alcohol, conducting tests and delivering strict punishment to those caught selling alcohol of unknown origin. However, it’s not a problem that will go away overnight.
The Other Victims
Other than health complications for consumers, the sale of fake alcohol also has another victim: traditional spirit makers and sellers. Nguyen Nhu Hai, a traditional spirit seller, said there are four basic steps in the spirit-making process, and depending on the type of spirit, distilling can take anywhere from 30 to more than 100 days. “A traditional spirit store can only supply a few hundred litres per month, not thousands of litres like major factories,” he told dtinews. “The fake spirits have a very strong smell and will shock the consumers. It will evaporate and [quickly] lose the aroma if it is poured [on] the ground.”
How to Avoid the Fake Stuff
If you’re planning to go for a drink, only do so at establishments you’re familiar with, and avoid any drinks that have suspiciously low prices—remember, alcohol is heavily taxed here and it doesn’t make any business sense for an establishment to charge dirt cheap prices, especially on imported liquor. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
If you are planning to buy a bottle of liquor, make sure you buy it from reputable sources, such as supermarkets or well-known local stores that have been around for ages, and ensure that the bottles have labels on them. When you’re done with the bottle, damage it safely so it can never be collected and used again. And lastly, drink responsibly. Even if it’s “real” liquor, ethanol poisoning can also lead to health complications like lowered body temperatures, seizures, loss of consciousness and even death.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT Cocktails & Canopy are one at LastCall Rooftop
LastCall Rooftop Bar
Opening Hours: 4 pm–12 am… daily
Located conveniently next to historical and scenic hồ con rùa (Turtle Lake) in Ho Chi Minh City’s vibrant District 3, LastCall Rooftop Bar is one of the few rooftop cocktail bars in Ho Chi Minh City that sports both the fervor of speakeasy-style creative cocktails and charming neon-lit top-floor vibes—City Pass Guide has attempted to find a spot that fulfills both criteria in the past, but we can’t say for certain that we’ve truly succeeded… until now!
A breezy and spacious ‘gastro bar’ accompanied by a surrounding of the city’s bustling urban atmosphere and Turtle Lake Park’s lush urban canopy green, LastCall Rooftop Bar is an excellent choice for dinners coupled with apéritifs or fuss-free post-dinner chill-out sessions with friends, colleagues, and family. Best of all, its airy and spacious roof-top patio-style space fits more than a hundred guests with ease.
Inspired by multiple meanings of the catchy phrase ‘last call’ itself, be captivated regardless of whether you decide to come in early, or late in the day for a comforting sip—the night is young, and the excitement continues!
LastCall’s seasoned head bartender brings his ‘bespoke’ mixology experience to the table with signature drinks that appeal to casual and connoisseur drinkers. LastCall’s signature cocktails are based on seamless combinations of floral infusions, fruit juice, homemade bitters, and a selection of top-notch liquors. For instance, Wind Chimes is a refreshing take on Southeast Asian rose apple (water apple) juice with a tequila base, while Berry Lover accomplishes similar using the essence of dark berries—just two of many in LastCall’s diverse menu that are perfect for the city’s climate and open-minded vibes.
Besides, your favourite ‘crowd-pleaser’ cocktails are also treated with dignity at LastCall. This is a place where your love for whisky sours, margaritas, and century-old classics such as the blue-hued Aviation gets rejuvenated with ease.
Unforgettable mixed drinks with Vietnamese-inspired bites
When it comes to the bites, LastCall Rooftop Bar embellishes on an amalgamation between east and west—choose from bar classics like barbecued ribs to Vietnamese modern favourites such crispy chicken tendons topped generously with savoury chicken floss. Other classic Vietnamese drinking dishes such as bò lúc lắc ‘shaking beef’ with French Fries triggered kindred memories of our first visits to the growing metropolis in the early 2010s which made us converts to the country’s ‘Bourdain-approved’ flavours.
In other words, every dish on the modest menu follows an identifiable philosophy—intended as perfect pairings with LastCall Rooftop Bar’s ‘house pour’ Hoegaarden pints, cocktails, and delicious non-alcoholic mocktails. Make LastCall Rooftop Bar both your choice of dinner spot and the place to extend a night that needs to go on.
Breezy venue perfect for parties and events
Accommodating at least 150 visitors with different styles of seating, bask under the starlight with the best cocktails in Ho Chi Minh City on a comfy sofa, sip on colourful cocktails at the bar counter, or pour your own pint from your own beer tower with extroverted colleagues at the dining section. Thanks to its professional and friendly crew, LastCall Rooftop Bar looks forward to hosting your birthday parties, corporate gatherings, and other private events.
Eclectic events every day of the week
LastCall Rooftop Bar isn’t just about food and beverage—it’s no secret that every great nightlife venue needs a breathtaking line-up of events to stay fun and fresh. It all starts with Salsa nights every Monday that flags off at 8 o’clock sharp. Come for the drinks and meet some of the most passionate locals and expats in town—you’ll be enticed to sway along with the beat and fine company in no time. Sip on LastCall’s signatures while you make the moonlight dance floor shine with your signature move. Wednesdays are destined for the ladies because every female visitor receives 50%-OFF cocktails. Coming in as a girl squad? Groups of 5 females or more receive a bottle of sparkling wine on the house to lighten the mood even before the ‘liquid entree’ ends.
Thursday is our favourite day of the week because we can’t wait for the weekends. Acoustic music featuring genres ranging from pop to jazz is sure to liven up your night. Depending on LastCall’s performance schedule, expect instrumentals to start at about 8 pm. Except for rare occurrences, LastCall is happy to inform visitors that there’s no performance surcharge. Expect Fridays and weekends to get wilder soon because LastCall is roping in Ho Chi Minh city’s best local and international DJs to get the party started and spice up your night.
Accessibility part of the package
Located a mere 400-metres from Saigon’s celebrated Notre Dame Cathedral that’s a location oft-quoted as the heart of District 1, LastCall Rooftop Bar is as convenient as it gets for high-quality mixed drinks and cocktails. The venue offers on-location motorbike/scooter parking, valet parking for cars, and easy elevator access to the rooftop. Be sure to follow LastCall Rooftop Bar on Facebook and Instagram for updates on upcoming promotions and events such as comedy night and pop-quiz night.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT THE DAPPER GENTLEMAN: STORIES OF THE LONDON GENTLEMEN’S CLUB
Art de Vivre lives on at Saigon Social Club vintage bar
• Learn about the origins of London’s Gentlemen’s Clubs.
• Legends and myths led to enduring traditions.
“The Club, in the general acceptation of the term, may be regarded as one of the earliest offshoots of man’s habitual gregariousness and social inclination.” – Club Life in London, 1866. Mystery, intrigue, and a palpable sense of refinement shrouded the earliest, most exclusive Gentlemen’s clubs in 18th-century London. Originally for aristocratic and upper-class gentlemen only, the Gentlemen’s Club grew into a rich tradition of camaraderie, belonging, and brotherhood for discerning husbands, fathers, and bachelors alike.
A Gentlemen’s Club was more than a luxury establishment, with posh interiors and the finest amenities; it was a place of gathering, of emotional support, of merriment and revelry, of delights and comforts, of heated discussion, and of laughter; it was, all in all, a community of the most cultured and worldly men of society.
A Cherished Escape for London’s Elite
You can imagine a dapper gentleman from this era dressed in a well-fitted waistcoat and specially-tailored pantaloons, a carefully-tied white white linen neck cloth, a top hat, polished black boots, and perhaps brandishing a cane whimsically with every step. Though gentlemen’s fashion changed gradually over time, the ethos and purpose of a Gentlemen’s Club remained constant through it all, and the spirit of refinement that captured the earliest of London’s clubs carried over into the 19th century and beyond.
While gentlemen of class typically took great care of their external appearances, many felt burdened from the pressures of politics, work, and family life. Men with notable standing in society, whose reputations faced constant scrutiny from the press, needed a place that encompassed all the comforts of home, but out of the public eye—somewhere they could relax and unwind, and perhaps regale their friends with the latest current events in a time when news often travelled by word of mouth.
It was out of this need for sophisticated comforts that the Gentlemen’s Club was born. Truly, for these dapper gentlemen, the clubs served as a home away from home. By the end of the 19th century, Gentlemen’s Clubs reached peak popularity as hundreds of them had been established in London alone, as well as hundreds more throughout the British Commonwealth.
The Birth of a Legend
Numerous legends and myths arose from these Gentlemen’s Clubs, with one particular tale paving the way for a grand tradition still enjoyed to this day. It is the story of the mysterious delicatessen merchant Mr. Marcel, with origins rumoured to be French but with an accent no one could quite place. He lived opposite one of these Gentlemen’s Clubs in 1930s London, and every so often would bring his fine meats and cheeses over to the club where his old friend, the club owner, would pair them with premium beverages and wines.
To the delight of all who attended, this night became an enduring tradition started by two old friends: Delicatessen Night. It was as much a celebration of fine food and drink, as it was an opportunity for people to gather and share stories and, if they were lucky, to learn more about the mysterious and enigmatic Mr. Marcel.
An Enduring Tradition
At present, Gentlemen’s Clubs serve a niche crowd, and few of them retain the character, elegance, and tradition that defined those legendary gathering places of a bygone era. Most of these clubs remain on the streets of London, though many of them have come and gone, with only avid art collectors and museums left to preserve their memory.
There are, however, some unlikely corners of the globe where the spirit of the London Gentlemen’s Club lives on in the grand old tradition. One such place is none other than Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. MGallery’s Hôtel des Arts Saigon contains an authentic Gentlemen’s Club atmosphere, made possible through the furnishings of an entire heritage London Bar won at auction and carefully transported halfway across the world to this exotic destination.
The Saigon Social Club vintage bar not only looks the part—its very substance comes directly from the source of the grand old tradition of London’s Gentlemen’s Clubs. A live jazz band provides the perfect, timeless soundtrack to what feels like a portal to another era.
Best of all, the spirit of Mr. Marcel lives on in the iconic Saigon Social Club vintage bar every Wednesday night. Delicatessen Night at Hôtel des Arts is a celebration of fine food and drink, sourced from the finest modern farms and producers from all over the world, with a wink and a nod to the storied tradition that came about on the streets of London in the 1930s.
Art De Vivre: The Art of Living! At Saigon Social Club Vintage Bar
Art de Vivre—or the Art of Living—is what defines the character of London’s finest Gentlemen’s Clubs, and this art form endures at Hôtel des Arts Saigon and the Saigon Social Club vintage bar. It endures in the celebration of sumptuous and tasteful interior design.
It endures in the proud traditions of the London Gentlemen’s club, carefully replicated with authenticity and reverence for the old ways, yet thoughtfully adapted for the latest modern comforts. It endures, most vibrantly, in the men and women who gather together in spaces that celebrate, above all, the fine art of living.
The Gentlemen’s Club is, at its heart, a celebration of the convivial and social nature of humankind. Few expressions of art de vivre are more prestigious, grand, and legendary than the spirit of the Gentlemen’s Club, and its spirit lives on at the Saigon Social Club vintage bar Delicatessen Night. The soulful sounds of the live jazz band add to the brilliance and warmth in the room that combines with the authentic furnishings and delightful libations for an incomparable experience.
To those familiar with the storied traditions, walking into the Hôtel des Arts Saigon and the Saigon Social Club vintage bar will feel like greeting an old friend. To the newcomer, the delightful atmosphere and infectious, jovial aura carried over from the spirit of the London Gentlemen’s Club, made manifest by the unmistakable authenticity of a genuine London heritage bar, will perhaps mark the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT FINE COFFEE SHOP WORKSPACE IN SAIGONSTAND-UP COMEDY IN SAIGON
A law student, a Hanoian and a group hawking something called “chicken beer” walk into a bar. No, it’s not the set up to a joke. It’s a real encounter: a standup comedy contest at Yoko Bar in November. It was not only the place for local entertainers to prove themselves as Saigon’s best comics. It was also the culmination of years of work by Ben Betterby and others who’ve worked closely with Saigon’s comedy scene creating what is today a blossoming segment in the local arts scene.
Class Clown to Trained Performer
Trang Hoàng Phúc started his set at Yoko as he’s started many previous sets: introducing himself by name, “Berk Mark, but that’s a fake name,” and inviting the audience to make fun of him for wearing what he unashamedly reports are his dad’s clothes.
Trang boasts about his 8.0 IELTS score on stage—“which is the Asian way of saying I’m better than you”—and has the breezy cleverness of the casually brilliant.
“I was kind of a class clown already,” Trang said, recounting his first foray into comedy in late 2016. He messaged Adam Palmeter, an established Saigon comic, for more information about the comedy scene.
“And he said…there’s a comedy open mic happening that night.”
he fact that Trang had no formal training as a comic and no apparent raison d’être in the craft beyond just wanting to try it, is evidence of how big the tent of comedy is, Palmeter said.
“The cool thing about the expat comedy scene is that people from all walks of life end up here,” he said.
Palmeter, an entertainer who has in the past taken roles as a beatboxer in New York and a comic in Korea, hosts many of the city’s open mic events where comics perform. He said the city’s willing and able talent combined with a generally welcoming stage make for fertile grounds in which to grow Ho Chi Minh City’s comic talent.
“I think it’s unique because there is a… revolving door” of personnel from people coming as audience members and eventually coming on board as performers," Palmeter said. “That kind of creates a... 'loose’ isn’t a best word.”
For performers honing their craft, “It’s a fantasy setting. It’s almost like a sleepaway camp.”
Unprepared though Trang was, he went and did eight minutes—for comparison, new comics who complete months of training in Comedy Saigon’s workshop get five minutes—of jokes about his family killing a rat.
“[Attendees] were obviously horrified by it,” Trang said.
One year later, he’s moved to his first compensated comedy show. Before the Yoko show, Trang had opened for travelling Scottish comic Phil Kay at Game On Saigon Sports Pub, his first paid show.
“It was very overwhelming” being paid, Trang said, adding, “It was like 10 bucks.”
Even wearing his dad’s flannel and a ruthlessly bored expression—or maybe because of it—Trang said he’s been told his work is unique, that “there’s not a lot of people out there that are doing what I’m doing right now.”
Saigon’s Comedy Scene Is…Big?
If there’s anything wrong with Saigon’s comedy scene, it’s that it can be a little stagnant. “There’s not a lot of shows to do,” Trang said. “So you have the same kind of audience…over and over again.” Trang said since the audience is the same, I have to bring new jokes to keep them entertained.
But “by doing that you kind of fall into the trap” of presenting unrefined, half-formed ideas created out of necessity to keep things interesting. Trang said his mentors told him “you should work on your old material.” Small though the local comedy scene may be, new Saigon comic Vu Minh Tu—who performs as “Tu”—said it’s still venue-rich compared to Hanoi.
“In Saigon, we definitely have more open mic and more opportunities for comedians to sharpen their skills,” she said.
After performing at Game On Saigon Sports Pub, Kay flew to Hanoi to perform with Tu as his opening act. Overall, Hanoi doesn’t compare to the number of Saigon’s open mics—“maybe once a month” in the capital, she said—nor does the sister city have nearly as many working comics.
New Talent Proving Itself Early
Tu began telling jokes after she took the Comedy Saigon workshops in August. The training courses culminate in a comedy showcase. Tu and other graduates got to step on stage for the first time then and, “I just never stopped.” Since August, Tu has been on stage 16 times, the last being her appearance at the Yoko comedy contest where she tied for first.
The Saigon comedy scene seems to draw an overwhelming number of men. The balance is better in Westerners to Vietnamese, but still skews to foreigners. Tu’s an uncommon figure demographically, but “I need to make it clear that I’m not very local,” the Hanoi-born, Singapore-educated comic said. And “I’m not a typical female.” Tu’s candour translates to a searing openness on stage. Her jokes deal with her dating failures, making fun of men’s facial hair and various onanism-related accounts. Tu tends to eschew the contemporaneous and the political. “I try to write jokes that are universal,” she said. “I write about myself.”
Palmeter observed that “[c]omedy is always going to be a heavily straight, white industry,” but that Tu has “been stealing the show lately.” He said seeing more successful Vietnamese comics like Tu will be critical to deepening its presence in the city’s art scene. Tu’s work is important because audiences and would-be performers need to “see people like her on stage.” “She’s not just a funny girl, but a really funny comedian,” he said. “I think it’s an inspiration.”
A Little Startup
When Comedy Saigon owner Betterby was approached by Rooster Beer — or “Bia Ga” in Vietnamese, which is “chicken beer” in English — the similarity of his project to theirs was what seemed the most germane to him. Like the craft brewer, “we’re like a little startup too,” he said.
Saigon comedy has come a long way from its comics practising material in karaoke bars.
When Betterby was doing standup comedy in 2012, he said you could count the number of comics on one hand. Betterby said the open mic shows during those years were rough because “the audiences didn’t know what we were doing. We were going up between singers. They just wanted to hear songs.”
So Betterby and other comics started organising dedicated shows, some of which he describes as “pretty bad” because of a lack of performers and original material. In 2014, Betterby started meeting comics at karaoke bars around Saigon to try out their material, the first iteration of what would become the Comedy Saigon courses. Over 200 individuals have graduated from Betterby’s workshops.
Where You Can Find Funny People
As Vu said, Saigon’s comics have a wealth of places to try their stuff around town. Here’s a roundup of a few places that host comedy shows. Look for events there via Facebook or give them a call.
Heart of Darkness
This District 1 brewery is one of the most centrally located venues where you can catch comedy. The craft beer vendor’s second floor is an event venue with a bar on side and a wall of glass on the other looking out over Ly Tu Trong street. A stage hosts an open mic known to draw out the city’s performers.
The DIY feel of Indika extends to its stage. Surrounded by tagged and stickered walls is a stage rising a seat’s height from the floor. Sometimes, they put a comedian on it.
Centrally located, Piu Piu is part of a network of venues that regularly host comedians. The vibe is a little like Indika, although the place is quite a bit smaller. Be nice to the performers, you’re seated close so they can probably hear you breathing.
Maybe it’s Yoko’s polished charm or it’s larger seating area, but this tends to be the place that attracts the biggest crowds and the strongest comedians. The bar was recently the site of a comedy contest finale, but often hosts Comedy Saigon’s standup workshop graduates to give them a taste of the big time. This isn’t the most frequent site of comedy shows, but the ones that do appear there are not to be missed.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT BEST CRAFT BEERS IN VIETNAM
Good Craft Beer is available in Ho Chi Minh City
d You’re thirsty and you want to go out with your friends tonight. Do you want to drink a beer? Or do you want to drink a craft beer? Some might consider craft beers to be slightly pretentious, the high-nosed brother of its Saigon Red and 333 counterparts but twice as expensive for a lot more head and not much else. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
The modern craft beer movement, hailing from Western countries and, in particular, the United States in cities like Denver, Colorado, and Portland, Oregon, emphasizes a few things above all: beer brewed in small batches, with quality ingredients and just done well. After spending nine years in Portland, I couldn’t help but get drawn into the scene, where some pretty incredible things were being done to the wholesome hoppy brew. When I moved to Vietnam, I thought one of the many life changes would be to get used to a watery Tiger at the end of the workday.
Imagine my delighted surprise when I found out that craft beer is on the up-and-up in Saigon. What do I value in a good craft beer?
1) It’s suitable for the weather of HCMC. It’s hot outside. Who wants to drink a thick, creamy stout better suited for a cold winter’s night elsewhere? I like a beer that knows where it’s being served.
2) It’s unique. For me, the fun of craft beers is that they’re doing something different. We’re in Vietnam, so why not make use of the abundance of ingredients this fine country has to offer?
3) It delivers on what-if offers. If beer is labeled as a “cream ale” and tastes more like old tires, that beer has definitely not done its job.
After a thorough search of Saigon’s thriving craft breweries, here are my personal favorites. Cheers!
Pasteur Street Brewery’s Passion Fruit Wheat Ale (4.8% ABV)
I’ll just get this one out of the way because (spoiler alert) it’s my favourite craft beer in the city. Pasteur Street Brewery is probably the most well-respected beer establishment in HCMC at the moment, and with good reason. The epitome of their process can be found in the Passion Fruit Wheat Ale.
They use real passion fruit in this nectar of the gods to make it tart, but not too tart. Here you’ll find a glass filled with beer the colour of wheat, with a smooth texture and just the right carbonation to complement the passion fruit… This is a beer one would be lucky to imbue in any country in the world.
Where you can get it: Besides Pasteur Street’s tap room (144 Pasteur, D1), you’ll be happy to know that these beers can be found on tap in over 80 outlets in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Here’s a tip: go to their website; they have a very handy “beer finder” map that lets you know exactly where you can wet your whistle.
FURBREW’s Bia Phở (4.6% ABV)
Notice this article isn’t named, “The Best Craft Beers in HCMC”. It had to be expanded to accommodate this magical beer, made by the fine people at FURBREW in Hanoi. Apparently, this beer was made as a challenge: make a beer that tastes like phở. They accepted that challenge and I, for one, am certainly glad they did.
They describe this treat as having an umami taste, but I didn’t get much of that when I tried it. There’s a good amount of sweetness provided by the cinnamon, star anise, cardamon and coriander seeds imbued. Apparently there’s also a note of chilli, though I didn’t get much of this, either. Instead, I was treated to a spice-heavy, intoxicating drink with enough hoppy kick to remind me it’s a beer. I couldn’t drink this all night, but one glass was terrific.
Where you can get it: If you don’t happen to be in Hanoi (and if you are, their tap room is on 8b/52 To Ngoc Van in Tay Ho), this can be tricky. I spoke to one of the brewers at a recent festival, and he seemed a little evasive about telling me where it can be found in HCMC, simply because the locations keep changing. You might get lucky and get a pint at Bia Craft, but other than that, keep these guys in mind the next time you’re up north.
Winking Seal Beer Co.’s Nâm Nâm Nâm Cream Ale (4.5% ABV)
Although this beer doesn’t have any specialised Vietnamese ingredients involved, I’m making an exception for this guy. Why? Because it’s the perfect beer for this balmy Saigon weather. Its description indicates that it has fruity notes, but these didn’t come through for me. It isn’t particularly ‘creamy’, either. Just obscenely light and refreshing. When I professed my love for this beer to the bartender at Winking Seal, he said, “It’s not the best we have, actually.” So, I’ll definitely be back to find this out for myself.
Where you can get it: Two places in Saigon have got you covered. First of all, the Winking Seal taproom (50 Dang Thi Nhu, D1), unsurprisingly. Plus, Bia Craft usually has Winking Seal on tap, and if they’re smart they’ll keep the cream ale around for a long time.
Saigon Cider’s Hot Chili Cider (6.5% ABV)
Yep, I know this article is all about craft beers, but leaving this gem off a list celebrating craft beverages in Saigon would just be a crime. The main reason I love this chili cider so much is because it’s so controversial — some people (like myself) adore it, and some people can’t stand drinking a spicy cider.
The main thing to realise is that when they put “chili” in the title here, they mean it. It’s not an undertone flavour — it is the main flavour. The beautiful thing about drinking a glass of this fine brew, however, is that the flavour actually changes as you sip it. It’s a refreshing cider at first, and then it hits you at the back of your throat. The heat of the chili comes through, and it’s not subtle. Hannah Jefferys, the owner of Saigon Cider (and the only female founder of a craft beverage company in the country!) said that while it’s not the most popular cider on the roster, it’s definitely the most talked-about. I can see why.
Where you can find it: I usually get my fix of this unique creation at Rogue (13 Pasteur, D1). They don’t have a tap room yet — I hope this will change — but they also do home deliveries and distribute to bars, restaurants and cafes all over the city. Just keep an eye out for the chili variety.
C-Brewmaster’s Lemongrass Ale (4.5% ABV)
This playful little number joined the list because, as you sip it, you can tell it’s special. As much as I love American-style craft brews, you can always tell them distinctly from other brew styles. C-Brewmaster’s Lemongrass Ale is all Vietnamese. Although this brewery made their name in Hanoi, they just stepped into HCMC about a month ago, and they seem to be doing well here so far.
Nguyen Van Cuong, the brewmaster, holds the honourable title as the first Vietnamese craft beer brewmaster, and he practices this title well. Another notable brew on tap is the Ginger Ale, but do not be fooled — this one is much better. Light and refreshing and very lemongrass-forward, it’s a good beer to start off your night.
Where you can get it: It seems like C-Brewmaster is still finding their footing in the HCMC beer scene, so be sure to go to their taproom (52B Nguyen Binh Khiem, D1) to get the good stuff. Alternatively, Cuong says you might also find some bottles at Rogue and Rehab Station (27/6 Nguyen Binh Khiem, D1).
LAC Brewing Co.’s Mango IPA (5.5% ABV)
No craft beer list would be complete without a beautiful IPA to round it off. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been a big fan of IPAs. They’ve always seemed to place hops before flavour. However, LAC’s masterful addition has (somewhat) changed my mind Dark orange and with a foamy head, you can clearly taste the mango, but it’s not overpowering. It’s floral and surprisingly delicate for an IPA, and it just so happens LAC uses mangoes grown in Phan Thiet. You can tell.
Where you can get it: You’ll always be able to find one or two offerings at Bia Craft, although it you want to play it safe, definitely head to their brick and mortar venue. Take a trip to 169/7 Nguyen Duc Canh in D7 for a very positive beer experience.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT CHÈ-SING THE BEST: A GUIDE TO CHÈ IN SAIGON
Che Sing is a Vietnam sweet not to be missed
You may have wandered around Saigon, passing by stores or pushcart stalls selling plastic containers filled with multi-coloured beans, nuts, and other things you can’t really identify at first glance. Some of them look soupy, some look like pudding; some are hot and some are cold; and some contain basil seeds that look like little frog eggs which can be a pretty fascinating sight for some. However, they all fall into the same category: they’re all Vietnamese desserts called chè.
So what exactly is chè? And how do you differentiate between the different kinds of desserts available? There is an endless list of different combinations and varieties of Chè that originated from different parts of the country. The phrase “no two chè are alike” might seem plausible although it can’t be entirely verified (yet) but here’s a list of some of the different kinds of chè you can find, differentiated by their primary ingredients, and some places where you can find them in Saigon.
The Ones With Rice and Tubers
Because the word “chè” usually appears as a prefix, the easiest way to categorise them is through the ingredients they are made from. Here are some of the more common Chè you can find made from rice and tubers like potatoes, cassava and tapiocas.
- Rice: Chè hột lựu, is made with rice paste that is cut into little pieces; chè cốm is a dish that is made from young rice and chè lam is made from ground glutinous rice. All three are usually served with various secondary ingredients depending on where you are and what you prefer.
– Tubers: There are a variety of chè that are quite similar to each other. They use different tubers as their base ingredient. chè khoai tây, a cream-coloured, congee-like dish is made from potatoes and chè khoai lang is the sweeter variant of this dish, in the sense that it uses sweet potatoes instead, and chè khoai môn makes use of taro.
Speaking of taro, chè môn sáp vàng originated from Hue, and also uses a type of taro that is grown in the city.
Another tuber that’s commonly used in che is cassava. Chè bột sắn is made using cassava flour and the final product is a bowl of starchy goodness. Chè sắn lát on the other hand, is a dessert made with sliced cassava as its main star Chè bắp is a tapioca-based rice pudding which contains generous amounts of corn and chè củ súng is a distinct soupy dish made using water lily bulbs. Other notable desserts are chè hạt sen, which is made with lotus seeds as its main ingredient.
The Ones With Jelly
These particular versions of chè are jelly-based, with secondary ingredients thrown into the mix and can be found almost anywhere in Saigon. Agar agar, which is a popular southeast Asian speciality is the main ingredient for chè thạch Chè thạch lựu combines seaweed and tapioca pearls as its secondary ingredients and chè thạch sen is made from seaweed and lotus seeds. In other words, they almost look similar to each other which can be confusing for foreigners.
If you’ve come across chè that contains a black jelly base, then you’ve most likely encountered the sương sáo. Made from grass jelly, which is also commonly found in desserts in China, Taiwan and southeast Asia, this chè is refreshing and quite addictive. Chè thạch sen takes on a different form with its thinly prepared jellies resembling vermicelli.
The Ones That Look Like Dumplings
Just to make things really confusing, there are also versions of chè that take the form of dumplings—just not the savoury types that you’re more familiar with. They are usually created as a primary ingredient and served in a sweet, syrupy liquid. Chè bột lọc is a type of sweet dumpling made using small cassava and sealed with rice flour. Chè bánh xếp is made using green beans which are wrapped in a tapioca skin dumpling. It is usually served with coconut milk which contains small pieces of tapioca for an added crunch.
Chè trôi nước are dumplings that come in the shape of balls made from glutinous rice flour. The filling consists of mung bean paste and the balls are usually served in a thick liquid, either clear or brown depending on where you go, made of syrup and bits of ginger.
The Ones That Are Fruity
Just like most desserts in southeast Asia, you can find varieties of chè made from, or containing fruits. One of the most popular, and delicious offerings would be chè hoa quả which contains a mixture of fruits like apple, pear, mango, lychee, pineapple and watermelon and is served with milk, yoghurt and syrup.
Simpler, single-fruit varieties of chè also exist with chè nhãn which is made with longan; chè xoài which is made with mango; chè trái vải which is made from lychee with jelly included and chè lô hội which is made from aloe vera. For the more adventurous, you can look for chè mít, made from jackfruit and if you want to really test yourself, chè sầu riêng, which is made from durian and is actually really tasty.
Another notable mention is chè chuối which is made with bananas and tapioca.
The Ones That Are Just a Combination of Everything
If you are the kind of person that likes everything thrown into one messy bowl of goodness, then these particular versions of chè are for you. Chè thập cẩm, also known as ten-ingredient sweet soup is probably the poster boy of chè in Vietnam, in the sense that it’s one of the most popular forms of chè in the country. Azuki beans, black-eyed peas, lotus seeds, mung beans, coconut and trân châu (those little black balls in bubble tea), form the chewables in a concoction that includes syrup, milk and ice cream.
Chè bách niên hảo hợp, which literally means “one hundred years of a good marriage” is made with red beans, lotus seeds and water lily bulb as its primary ingredients. Another chè that is popular during the dry season is sâm bổ lượng, which is made using dried longans, lotus seeds, seaweed, red jujubes in a cold and sweet soup with crushed ice.
Another popular number is the chè thưng, which has multiple versions depending on where you go. One version is made from taro, cassava, seaweed, water chestnuts and green beans although there are also variants that include red jujube and peanuts.
The Ones You Can Also Find Elsewhere
Just like some components of its cuisine, you can find certain versions of chè in Vietnam which are interpretations of desserts from other countries. One example is the bobochacha, which is the Vietnamese version of the bubor cha cha which originated from the Peranakan communities in Malaysia and Singapore. The bobochacha is a sweet soup made from coconut milk and pandan leaves and topped with taro, yam, sweet potato and beans. The bobochacha of Vietnam however is more popular in Hanoi.
Thailand’s tub tim krob, a sweet chestnut soup is also believed to be the inspiration behind the chè thái. The main difference is that the Vietnamese version contains a mixture of tropical fruits.
Tàu hủ, a sweet soybean dessert is the Vietnamese version of the douhua, a Chinese dessert which is also very popular in Singapore and Malaysia. However unlike the Malaysian and Singaporean versions, the versions you can find in Saigon are either served cold with milk added, or served warm with lychee and coconut water.
However, there is one dessert that is popular across all southeast Asian countries. Made with similar ingredients, this dessert is easily recognisable for its distinct green colour and coconut milk taste. In Vietnam, it’s known as chè ba màu, also widely-known around the world as the cendol.
Although the roots of this dessert is still unclear, it is believed to have originated in Indonesia where traditional methods of making this dish have been, and is still being practised in Java. The basic ingredients in cendol are coconut milk; green jelly noodles that are made from rice flour with green colouring from pandan leaves; shaved ice and palm sugar. It is usually served with shaved ice in a tall glass or plastic cup.
Where Can You Get Them?
It goes without saying that chè can be found anywhere. However if you’re looking for some really good ones recommended by locals, you can try one of these following establishments.
Chè Thanh Tâm
Opening Hours: 9:00 am to 11:30 pm Pricing: VND18.000 – VND44.000
They serve Chinese-style chè and is popular among locals for their reasonable pricing and quality of their ingredients. Their black sesame chè is one of their bestsellers.
Chè Tường Phong
Opening Hours: 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm. Pricing: VND18,000 to VND47,000
Another popular Chinese-style chè establishment in District 5, Chè Tường Phong has a wide selection of chè and also known for their tau hu. Their chè thập cẩm is one of the best in the city. The only drawback to this place is their opening hours. They only operate every evening for 3 hours, which means this would be better as a takeaway option.
Chè Thái Ý Phương
Opening Hours: 10:00 am to 11:00 pm. Pricing: VND18,000 to VND33,000
This place is known for their chè thái and durian chè which locals believe is one of the best in the city. Located in District 10, the establishment is often used as a late-night chill out spot by locals.
Chè Hà Ký
Opening Hours: 10:00 am to 11:30 pm. Pricing: VND15,000 to VND33,000
Another District 5 establishment. Chè Hà Ký is another popular Chinese-styled chè stall with very affordable prices that is popular for their refreshing grass jelly-based and shaved ice desserts.
Chè Hiển Khánh
Opening Hours: 9:00 am to 12:30 pm and 2:30 pm to 10:30 pm. Pricing: VND10,000 to VND33,000
Located in District 3, this stall is for those who are looking to escape the morning heat and prefer their chè to not be overloaded with sugar. Moderately priced with some delicious offerings, the stall has been around since 1959 and they get a fair share of return customers of different ages and a visit to the store, with their vintage furniture and interior will make you feel like you’ve just stumbled a few decades into the past. Just take note that they are closed from 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT Cocktails & Canopy are one at LastCall Rooftop Bar in Saigon
Ho Chi Minh City is certainly making its mark in the creative drinks scene
Rooftop bars, up-class cocktail lounges and hidden speakeasies are continuing to pop up all over the southern capital, with a number of talented mixologists at the helm. Deep at the heart of many of these watering holes lie innovative and fresh recipes that have a good dash of Asian flair as well as traditional flavours and pairings.
The Main Drink Scene Players
There are a number of contenders, offering good quality cocktails in relaxed or lively atmospheres. Most recently, the city hosted the opening of cocktail bar The Alley on popular Pasteur Street. It serves up a selection of Mekong Delta-inspired cocktails, with a number of classics also available.
Another relatively new entrant is the swish Qui – Cuisine Mixology, which sits towards the high end of the market. This is another bar that prides itself on its Vietnamese-influenced cocktails.
“We are able to use local ingredients that only can be found in Vietnam so our cocktails are unique and different compared with the ones found in Europe,” says Qui bar manager Le Thanh Tung.
HCMC has scenery to suit every mood, whether it’s a room with a view or a secret venue that you have to hunt to find. Speakeasy The Alley is one such hidden place. Ring the doorbell to enter this little hole in the wall and you will be greeted with old-fashioned decor and chilled-out vibes. Another hidden hideout is Snuffbox, a 1920s-themed speakeasy that serves reasonably priced classic cocktails all night long in a vintage setting.
If you’re after something a little more out in the open, however, HCMC is fast becoming known for its rooftop bars with superb views.
The super-slick Anan Saigon is one such place, serving Vietnamese-inspired cocktails and food in a stylish setting. Dress to impress at Chill Skybar, a venue that has become a bit of an institution among HCMC’s elite. Boasting a high-class restaurant, private rooftop dining and an indoor VIP lounge, this is the place to drink cocktails in executive style. Shri Restaurant & Lounge, which opened its doors in 2010, is another well-established rooftop bar. Head over here to sip a cocktail with one of the best views in the city.
If you’d rather your feet were placed firmly on the ground, there are a number of other bars across the city.
Vietnamese mixologists draw from a number of different inspirations when creating their cocktails, such as local ingredients or dishes. Mekong Delta-born and raised Pham Minh Tam uses regional influences on his drinks menu at The Alley.
One cocktail on the menu, named Mekong Delta, mixes infused whiskey with the tropical flavours of banana syrup and lime leaves. Other mixologists even go so far as to base their drinks on Vietnamese dishes, like Qui’s Le Thanh Tung, who says, “70 percent of [my] cocktails are created from Vietnamese food.”
One of his cocktails, Nha Trang Calling—which is a twist on the classic White Lady—infuses gin with clams, lemon basil, green chilli, lemongrass and ginger. He then adds lime, Cointreau, smoky scotch and sea salt to get the finished result.
Subtler influences can also be found in drinks like Shri’s Old Fashioned—Saigon Style. This is made with the familiar whiskey and Angostura bitters but instead of brown sugar, Shri adds regional sugarcane juice for the sweet finish.
Flavour isn’t the only thing that Vietnamese mixologists are experimenting with.
An interesting twist on technique is the introduction of the Vietnamese brewing method, which Le Thanh Tung at Qui says is often used in HCMC. Mixologists making up cocktails that require a touch of coffee or tea may use a traditional phin filter, which sits on the top of a cup, allowing the coffee to drip through.
Typical brewing time for a phin filter takes a little longer than your average western-style machine, which can result in a richer taste. These interesting and innovative creations are getting HCMC mixologists noticed and the city is fast becoming a cocktail lover’s mecca.