48 Hours in Ho Chi Minh City

The entrance to Hôtel des Arts Saigon.

The entrance to Hôtel des Arts Saigon.

With its ever-growing skyline, flourishing café scene, and a metro system set for completion in 2018, Vietnam’s buzzing commercial hub is a city to watch.

Evoking a bygone colonial era, the Hôtel des Arts Saigon blends Indochinese accents with classic French architecture and decor. Red clawfoot bathtubs in the Grand Deluxe rooms epitomize the synergy between exquisite design and simple function, as does the 1930s detailing in the 23rd-floor restaurant Social Club, designed by Japanese firm Super Potato. A member of Accor’s MGallery by Sofitel collection, the hotel also claims the city’s highest rooftop infinity pool.

For utter decadence, The Reverie Saigon has 62 suites and 224 rooms bedecked with furnishings from Giorgetti, Poltona Frau, and Visionnaire. Culinary offerings include high-end Cantonese dining at the Royal Pavilion, an Italian lounge, a French café, a delicatessen, and a thoroughfare café linking fashionable Dong Khoi with the Nguyen Hue promenade. The hotel also features a two-story spa, toiletries from Hermès and Chopard, Rolls-Royce limousines, and a helicopter pad—and with rooms starting from the 27th floor, panoramic views are guaranteed.

The open kitchen at Café-Restaurant Ho Chi Minh City.

The open kitchen at Café-Restaurant Ho Chi Minh City.

Named after Hugo Pratt’s dashing, fictional adventurer Corto Maltese, Le Corto serves French cuisine in a dark but decorous setting with ruby-red accents and a hushed drama in the lighting. Menu favorites here include veal sweetbread and pan-fried foie gras lasagna with wild mushrooms and truffle foam.

Top Chef Vietnam’s 2014 finalist Steven Long heads the open-plan kitchen at Café-Restaurant Ho Chi Minh City near Ben Thanh Market. The brasserie’s contemporary Continental cuisine includes sous-vide egg with caviar, octopus salad with advocaat dressing, and laboratory-themed cocktails. The industrial minimalism, vintage tiles, and wall painting of French physician Albert Calmette give this modern grand café a sense of history.

Opened in June behind the opera house, ’Namo Artisanal Pizzeria is a collaboration between chef Ivan Barone and fifth-generation master pizzaiolo Mario Folliero. Offering authentic southern Italian fare, ’Namo uses San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, and spicy ’nduja sausages from Calabria, all of which top the restaurant’s eponymous pizza. The extensive wine cellar comprises organic and regional Italians, Super Tuscans, dessert wines, an international selection, and eleven open bottles for wines by the glass. Visible from the street, the mosaic-tiled Stefano Ferrara oven blisters pizza crusts in less than 90 seconds.

Qui's hamachi sashimi with avocado and pomelo.

Qui’s hamachi sashimi with avocado and pomelo.

Vintage-effect light bulbs over a J-shaped bar cast a sensual chiaroscuro in Qui on District 1’s Le Thanh Ton restaurant row. Behind the bar, talented mixologist Le Thanh Tung offers cocktails aged in charred oak barrels and 13 variations of the classic gin and tonic. The lounge and attached restaurant are the latest in the rapidly expanding portfolio of Trinh Lai, the creator of Chill Skybar and upscale Japanese restaurant Sorae.

In May, Vietnam’s first artisan chocolatiers opened their gourmet patisserie Maison Marou Saigon, enticing patrons with an array of well-portioned delicacies such as tarte au chocolate alongside signature drinks including chili cinnamon, mocha, and passionfruit hot chocolates. Working directly with cacao farmers, Marou sources its beans from five provinces in Vietnam, each of which corresponds to a distinctively flavored chocolate bar. The boutique also serves as a factory tour, with machines displayed for the roasting, winnowing, grinding, conching, and tempering of chocolate on-site.

Designed by New York–based architects NBBJ, the city’s first see-and-be-seen luxury mall Saigon Centre opened in July. With 145 shops over seven floors, the mall brings 58 new brands to Vietnam including Carolina Herrera, DSquared2, Moschino, Kenzo, and Armani Exchange. Saigon Centre is anchored by a five-story branch of Takashimaya, introducing Kate Spade and Diane Furstenberg to the country. Nested within an intricate birdcage in the atrium, Ruman Boutique makes an elegant aerie from which to people-watch.




Inside the Factory Contemporary Arts Centre.

The garage-chic Factory Contemporary Arts Centre made its debut in April, providing a curated exhibition space for local and international artists in Ho Chi Minh City’s upscale Thao Dien neighborhood. Founded by artist Ti-a of luxury fashion brand Thuy Design House, the 1,000-square-meter facility seeks to invigorate the arts community—and arts in the community—by offering workshops, an arts library, film-screening area, co-working space, and an alfresco restaurant and lounge bar.

Since being pedestrianized in 2015, Nguyen Hue Boulevard has become a popular gathering place after nightfall. The wide, tree-lined expanse—billed as Vietnam’s first permanent walking street—is bookended by the eye-catching architecture of the old city hall and the banks of the Saigon River. Couples congregate at the foot of Ho Chi Minh’s statue, and the multilingual chatter among visitors gives the 670-meter-long street a particular conviviality. Watch out for subterranean water fountains that shoot up through the paving.

Vinh Dao, co-owner of Street Foodies Saigon
Young entrepreneurs are really making a mark on this city, converting decrepit apartments and villas into super-cool retail spaces, cafés, bars, and accommodation. On the second floor of a dilapidated apartment block, Snuffbox is a stylish, smoky 1920s speakeasy-themed jazz lounge and cocktail bar. Housed in a converted French colonial villa, bed and breakfast Bunker specializes in Los Angeles-inspired all-day breakfasts, American comfort food, and organic coffees from the Dalat highlands.

Stu Palmer, co-director of Sophie’s Art Tour
With the recent opening of purpose-built art spaces like the Factory Contemporary Arts Centre in Thao Dien and Dia Projects on Dong Khoi, conceptual art in the city is gaining both exposure and recognition. Exhibition directors are taking more chances with edgier works, and there are greater opportunities for Vietnamese artists to experiment and collaborate with peers across Southeast Asia. Owned by artist Hoang Nam Viet, Café Hoang Thi in District 1 is a popular artist hangout and haven for pipe smokers.

This article originally appeared in the October/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“City Guides: Ho Chi Minh City”).

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