Ho Chi Minh City with Paul Tao of IAMSOUND Records
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Originally published June 2011
Words and photos by Paul Tao
I recently spent a week in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon), Vietnam, on the tail end of a 2.5 week long Asian vacation. After family-dominated outings in Taiwan and Hong Kong, I was eager to spend some time with friends and discover a foreign culture and city with some new friends.
I stayed at the Saigon Mini Hotel in the backpacking district, which was fantastic. Free pho breakfast in the mornings and relatively nice rooms and extremely affordable rates. Fancier hotels in the city exist, but all in much more sterile environments, while the Saigon Mini Hotel was right in the middle of the action. You feel like you are really living in the city when staying here.
Food-wise, HCMC is a surprisingly premier destination for not just Vietnamese food, but for a number of other cultures too. Combine that with the EXTREMELY friendly exchange rates and it’s really quite hard to beat HCMC. I tried out a place called Warda which ended up having some of the best Moroccan food I’ve ever had, which cost about $15 including wine. Also top notch was Ty Coz, a very cute little French restaurant down an alley and up two flights of stairs in what looks like somebody’s house. We were the only customers that night, and the service from the chef was excellent and the food was pretty fantastic. A three-course fancy French meal, plus enough wine for the whole group was less than $30 a person. You really can’t beat that.
Of course, when it comes to actual Vietnamese food, there are all sorts of hidden gems, and one of my favorites was Papaya. I loved their catfish cooked in clay pot, their lemongrass beef, tandoori shrimp and banana fritters. They also had Vietnamese weasel coffee, which involves coffee beans that is literally pooped out by weasels and then roasted (after being cleaned, of course). It sounds disgusting but creates some of the most delicious coffee possible. One last food recommendation would be the mi xao noodle stall on the corner of Bui Vien and De Tham in District 1 - probably some of the best street cart noodles in all of HCMC. I was only in town six nights and I ate there drunkenly at least three times.
For nightlife, HCMC has a very active club and bar scene. Apocalypse Now is a government-owned nightclub that gets super packed on the weekends and plays great house and techno, but in space that is half dance floor, half patio. There’s also Lily, a casual street-sitting bar in the backpacking district with cheap drinks, beggar children hustling for money, and drugs for sale by the waitresses (if you know how to ask).
Yoko is one of the only music venues I went to, and it was more of a bar with a small stage than anything, but at least I was able to see some live local music while I was there. The night I was there, there was a local punk rock cover band, but apparently on Sunday nights, there is some of the best soul music in HCMC. Unfortunately I had to leave town before I could catch a glimpse.
Paul Tao lives in Los Angeles and runs the indie label IAMSOUND Records with his partner Niki Roberton.