Cafe Terrace on the newly madeover Level 1, Saigon Centre
Saigon Centre (one of the city’s few ‘malls’) has had a makeover. Gone are all the baby shops on the first floor (to the dismay of all the parents), along with the handy little supermarket and not so handy pet accessory store, and in their place, a level devoted to fashion. Joining the sole original fashion store Mango are other international chains like Nine West, Kookai, La Senza, dermalogica and French Connection, along with outlets of local fashion heroes Valenciani and SONG. It’s shiny and new and there are funky chandeliers adorning the well-designed shops. It’s very chic and very un-Saigon. But I kind of like it.
American cafe chain The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has also recently opened shop in Saigon (with the latest branch looking right across to Notre Dame Cathedral) and shoestore Aldo is on its way, currently under construction on Dong Khoi Street. Which makes me wonder – is the influx of western brands and chain stores a good thing for Saigon? Or does it erode its character?
Vietnamese people appear to embrace such brands with a passion and surely, these are signs that Saigon is progressing and modernising. For expats, modern conveniences are a plus too, meaning trips home or at least to Bangkok or Singapore may no longer be in order to stock up on all these ‘essential’ things. But some people may yearn for old-world Asia in Saigon – a city of cyclos and crumbling colonial buildings and quaint old coffee shops and an abundance of food carts (actually, that sounds like Hanoi). There are of course still pockets of all of these things in Saigon and probably always will be.
Personally, I think a dose of modernity would tarnish the old world feel of places like Luang Prabang in Laos, but in Saigon, newness is much more fitting. Construction here is unrelenting and if it’s all about the new then I may as well embrace it – so here’s my wishlist for future Saigon openings: Kinokuniya, iberry, Oportos, H&M, Forever 21, Zara & Zara Men, Muji, MAC, Kiehl’s and Lindt. And an exact replica of Siam Paragon (best Bangkok mall) if that’s not too much to ask!