We spent our time in Ho Chi Minh City relaxing. We had tasty drinks at many cafes and bars. We wandered past (and through) shiny department stores, upscale boutiques, and an empty bus station. We crossed a metal bridge over a river of water hyacinth (an invasive species) and watched as the river was dredged. And finally, we ogled a building that was oddly reminiscent of Stark Tower.
Trung Nguyên is a Vietnamese coffee chain and supplier found all over the country. Restaurants and cafes will advertise that they serve Trung Nguyên coffee, and most Vietnamese coffee drinkers will tell you that Trung Nguyen sells the best beans in Vietnam. When we’ve ordered drip coffee (cà phê sữa đá or cà phê sữa nóng), it’s usually brought to our table in a metal filter branded with the Trung Nguyên logo. We made a point to visit a Trung Nguyên cafe in Ho Chi Minh City, and found a well-designed, upscale cafe filled with inspirational and entrepreneurial books.
The Workshop is a large cafe that would fit right in amongst Seattle’s hipster establishments. This third floor coffee shop (the run-down stairwell gave me flashbacks to the first Matrix movie) has airy ceilings with exposed black beams, warm wooden tables, and a combination of communal and individual seating. The cafe seems to be a popular spot for expats; we sat near two Germans discussing international entrepreneurship in English. And most importantly, The Workshop serves darn good coffee.
The Cafe Apartment is a large apartment block where nearly all units have been converted into cafes, boutiques, or artist work spaces. Each unit has its own particular style, which lends the facade a very eclectic look. We only had time to visit two of the many cafes in this building.
Jake and I visited the Sheraton’s top-floor restaurant one evening. As we approached the hotel, a doorman ushered us into the large marble foyer and an English man in a suit asked us where we wanted to go. I immediately felt underdressed. We were directed towards the elevator bay, and then quickly ascended to the 23rd floor and the aptly named restaurant, Level 23. The drinks and fries were delicious (albeit pricey), and the view was phenomenal. We looked down on the financial district’s big walking street (Nguyễn Huệ), and got to watch as the city’s lights gradually flickered on. The sunset was pretty excellent, too.
In my opinion, the most iconic building in Saigon’s skyline is Bitexco Financial Tower. This skyscraper has 68 stories and a large helipad that reminded us of the fictional Stark Tower. The building is visible from all over the city, so of course we took its picture wherever we could. We also got drinks one afternoon on the 52nd floor, the same floor as the helipad. Online literature suggests that affluent businesspeople will occasionally arrive for drinks at the building via their personal helicopter. I have to wonder though: how frequently is the helipad actually used? Or is it simply a status symbol for the building?
Of course, this post would not be complete without a mention of some of the food we ate. One notable restaurant is Pho Quynh, located right near the main backpacker streets. We visited this restaurant a couple of times. By the second time, I’d learned from Jake’s example and joined him in ordering phở bò kho. This was an amazing and delicious bowl of savory goodness, and in my opinion, trumped the flavor of regular phở bò (beef pho).