|Saigon based jewellery maker Yim Bader
Saigon is a city of contrasts, of old meets new, of rich versus poor, of west up against the east. So, here is a mini guide to what makes this city unique. Meet the H to K of Saigon.
It’s easy to fall idle while enjoying a cold beer on a hot day, but when you’re ready to peel yourself off the plastic bar stool, there are a range of different activities that you can try your hand at. Jewellery making is a fun option for the nimbly-fingered. Jewellery designer, Yim Bader offers a range of classes that use semi-precious stones, water pearls and glass beads in the jewellery making process — US$35 buys you a two-hour class with all materials provided and a free starter tool kit. Or try the earring basics class for US$25; (www.yimbaderjewelry.com).
Taking advantage of the abundant Vietnamese dining options is easy, and so is bringing that experience to your own kitchen with cooking classes now available around town. Choose from six-week courses to one-day taster sessions, with some offering trips to the market where you are guided through the process of sourcing your own ingredients. It can be a real eye-opener into this unique cuisine. There are many classes to choose from – browse our Arts & Leisure listings for a starter.
Another good option to put that eye and hand coordination to use is behind the camera. This country offers up a feast for the lens, so take some photography lessons with the pros. Better Digital Photography Workshops(www.bdpworkshops.com, Tel: 0902 208813) is run by regional travel photographer Peter Stuckings or you can book an individual lesson with photojournalist Rico Gonzales (www.enricogonzales.blogspot.com, Tel: 0933 991467) who has worked with international news agencies around the region.
Image – in Vietnam the likes of Diesel is regarded as a premium brand
So you want to social climb and look the part? Saigon is the perfect place for you, but first you need to kit yourself out a bit.
Rule number one is to make sure you have both the right phone and the perfect phone number. So, an iPhone 4G runs high on the list as does a mobile phone number starting with 09 and having lots of 7s, 8s and 9s in it. You could always go for an HTC Desire or the HTC G2. A top-of-the-range Nokia or Blackberry is also acceptable, but remember, you need to spend at least VND10 million here to make sure you fit the bill. For all your phone needs check out Gia Kien(352 Ba Thang Hai, Q10). They can even pimp you out with an iPad (a top-end café necessity) or a Samsung Galaxy Tablet. Another option is the all important MacBook Pro or MacBook Air (go to Thuan My, 90 Nguyen Cu Trinh, Q1), perfect for those hours whiling away in the cafes around Turtle Circle (Pham Ngoc Thach, Q3).
Now comes the clothes. Ideally they need to be purchased in Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, somewhere that shows you have the funds to travel. Then they need to be branded — Diesel and Burberry, those love affair brands so endorsed by Chavs, are all the rage here these days. So, if a quick AirAsia flight overseas is out of the question, head down Nguyen Trai, Dong Khoi or to Vincom Centre, but avoid Saigon Square and Ben Thanh Market. Fakes are not an option here.
Finally, once you’ve got your hair cut to the latest non-Korean style (Korean is old hat if you’re past your teens), you need to hang out in the right places. This means top-end bars and nightclubs such as Lavish (5 Nguyen Sieu, Q1), Velvet (26 Ho Huan Nghiep, Q1), Tokyo Club (26 Tran Tuan Khai, Q5), Fuse (3B Ton Duc Thang, Q1) and, of course, Lush (2 Ly Tu Trong, Q1).
Make sure you’ve got a few million dong handy to pay for the top-end spirits bill to complete your image.
Saigon is a great place to by junk
Junk in the Trunk
If you live by the adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” then get ready for a treasure hunt.
First, head over to Pho Duc Chinh in District 1. This street has long been a makeshift flea market for sellers who want to offload old sunglasses, used belts and wallets, second hand timepieces and just about every bric a brac that they can possibly get money for. Be prepared to barter on everything.
Nearby on Le Cong Kieu are a set of blocks known as Antique Street. This is the best place to go antiquing where you can find genuine artifacts such as cameras, coins, statues and more; but be aware of copycats too. A lot of the stuff is reproduction.
Another hot spot when in search of relics from the past is Dan Sinh Market (also called the Military Market, pictured above) at 104 Yersin, Q1. Almost every battle curio can be found under this canopy, from rusty mess tins, silver razors and dog tags to compasses, flasks and helmets.
Also on the treasure map are shops scattered around 60 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Q1 (pictured right). You can buy old school boom boxes, speakers and walkmens here, a great way to bring the 1980s back. This is also a good place to get worn down devices mended for a cheap fee. Second hand computers and all sorts of accessories are equally easy to come by in the city, just head over to Ton That Tung to investigate.
Bling and kitsch – a mainstay of Vietnamese style
Kitsch it Out
When it comes to gaudy and kitsch, Saigon does its best. Saigon Kitsch (43 Ton That Thiep, Q1) is a great place to pick up traditional Vietnamese propaganda artwork that has been turned into brightly lit retro pop art. There are dozens of neon-hued interpretations of everything from the Vietnamese flag to Communist banners on notebooks, mouse pads and coffee mugs. One floor up at the same location is Dogma. They’re known for propaganda poster reproductions on silkscreen, clothing and bags.
An Dong Plaza (18 An Duong Vuong, Q5, pictured above) takes the concept of kitsch further. This four-storey indoor market is heavy on the bling and tack, with shiny sequence-encrusted baseball caps, faux-diamond rings and flip-flops with oversized plastic grapes glued onto them. You can spend a whole afternoon here admiring purple-coloured knock-offs of Leonardo’s David statue and possibly even contemplating purchasing one of those huge plastic cats that waves its left paw up and down. Tasteless fun at its best.