Noodle soup at Tan Dinh Market (the local)
I sometimes get asked by fellow Saigonites why I live where I live. Some choose to live in An Phu or Phu My Huong (expat enclaves outside the city centre), others, far-flung local districts (actually I don’t know too many people who live in Binh Tanh, Go Vap etc. but a scattering of expats do), and then there are those who choose the chaos and colour of centrally located Districts 1 and 3 (my hood!). I like living in District 1 as it’s close to the city centre (read – bars, restaurants, shops…). That’s the main reason really – it’s like preferring the inner city vs. the burbs – but here are a few more things that I love about where I live:
- There’s a general store right next door to my place that I often refer to as ‘the world’s cheapest shop’. I’ll buy a whole heap of cleaning products and the bill will only be a few dollars. The best bit is that they sell ice-cream and chocolate bars (Mars, Snickers, M&Ms..). I actually feel embarrassed sometimes that I go in so often to buy chocolate.
- The cheap, fresh produce for sale a short walk away at the local market, Tan Dinh. The walk is a bit of an epic – it’s not far but there’s a treacherous road crossing with an endless stream of cars, cyclos and motorbikes that never actually stops – I just have to do the Saigon road-crossing technique of walking out into the traffic and hoping it parts. The scary thing is that I’m pushing my baby in a stroller while doing this! The trek is worth the effort though when I come home laden with fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables that are so cheap they’re almost free
- My local coffee shop – source of gossip, ad-hoc Vietnamese lessons and inside info on what anything and everything should cost. Also a source of a never-ending stream of gifts. I then feel compelled to give something in return, they keep giving me things, and the cycle continues…I think it’s gotten to a point now that it’s not going to stop as long as I live here (gift suggestions anyone?!)
- Quirky neighbourhood characters – banana lady, pineapple lady, over-enthusiastic streetside hairdresser, tattoed-on make-up lady, friendly girl with a baby the same age as mine, sometimes bossy general store lady (‘don’t get that ice-cream, it’s for children!’) and the rest who either wave cheerily or stare like I’ve just landed in Saigon from another planet
- Cool places to discover on Hai Ba Trung, a main thoroughfare nearby. It’s jam-packed with clothing shops mixed with Vietnamese restaurants and random places like Bud’s ice-cream, (all the way from San Fransisco to Saigon), a doughnut shop, a Chinese medicine place, underwear shops, toy shops, florists, hairdressers and a new Korean restaurant that looks intriguing
- And finally, that you can actually walk to the centre of the city, if you can bear the heat and crazy traffic (ok, I’ve only done this once, but it’s nice to know it’s an option)
I enjoy living in a ‘local’ area that’s also close to Saigon’s centre – it’s like the best of both worlds (streetfood one night, Cepage the next!).