Shopping in Saigon: Malls, Markets and My Favorites

Last week I made a long walking tour in downtown Saigon and looked back to the days I spent here as a tourist, one year ago. What if I had only some hours to do shopping here and to find nice souvenirs and gifts to my family? Where should I go to spend those few hours as effectively as possible?

Saigon is the shopping capital of Vietnam. You find everything here, from luxurious shopping malls to traditional street markets. I will make a review of the main shopping spots in District 1 and list some of my own favorite stores for souvenir shopping.

Shopping Malls

There are two big malls and at least three department stores in District 1. They are nice places to escape the heat, and they also have good, clean toilets and big food courts!

If you are looking for Vietnamese products and souvenirs, you will not find them in these malls or department stores. They are full of international brands and fast fashion chains. Also Japanese and Korean brands are well represented. The prices are very high compared to average Vietnamese price level.

Vincom Center, 70 72 Le Thanh Ton

Zara, Marks & Spencer and H&M are here, as well as other Western brands and stores. In the upper floor, there is a movie theatre, which shows also latest Western movies with Vietnamese subtitles. A huge food court and a grocery store VinMart are located in the lowest floor.

In the second lowest floor, in the far corner, there is a bookstore, which sells also books in English: travel guides, bestsellers and books about Vietnam.

Saigon Centre, 65 Le Loi

This is the most modern shopping mall in downtown Saigon. Even if you are not interested in malls, go and check the decorations in the main entrance hall. Before Christmas and the Lunar New Year (Tet), they are fabulous!

Saigon Centre has, among others, Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Gap and Mango. In the ground floor you find a gourmet grocery store. The fourth floor hosts several home decoration and kitchenware stores, and also a bookstore with a good selection of books in English.

Department Stores

In my opinion, department stores in Saigon are quite boring. They sell Western and Asian high quality brands, sales persons are really polished and interiors are beautiful. But there is not much that would interest me.

Takashimaya, Saigon Centre

This Japanese department store is full of beautiful and high quality items in many floors.

Parkson, 35-45 Le Thanh Ton, next to Vincom Center

Diamond Plaza, 34 Le Duan

Markets

Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh is often mentioned as a number one shopping place in Saigon, and one of the main tourist attractions. Well, it really is a matter of taste! It is true that Ben Thanh Market is a must-see place for a traveller, but I think it is far too crowded, noisy and hot to be a nice shopping place. And there is nothing there, which you cannot find in many other stores and markets in Saigon. All the common souvenirs are found also in stores along Dong Khoi street.

Tanh Dinh, Hai Ba Trung (Official address 48 Ma)

This is a smaller, local market place, not a tourist trap. When you go there, you also have a chance to visit the famous “Pink Church” which stands on the opposite side of the Hai Ba Trung street.

Saigon Square, 81 Nam Kỳ Khoi Nghia (neighbor of Saigon Centre)

If you need anything to wear from underpants to winter jacket, or a bag or a watch for a very low price, go there! This place could also be called as “Fake Heaven”. All those fake brand products are sold very openly, which confuses me a lot! This is very common all over Vietnam.

Russian Market, 328 Vo Van Kiet Street

This market is specialized in warm winter clothing and sportswear.

My favorite shops

When shopping, I try to avoid all hassle, heat and crowds. I like shopping in smaller stores that have fixed prices. I appreciate wandering around a store without any pushy salespersons following me. These are my recommendations for nice and relaxed souvenir shopping. All these shops have fixed prices.

Ginkgo Concept Store, 92-96 Le Loi

Ginkgo has 11 stores in Vietnam. The concept is based on high quality materials, eco friendliness, creative designs and well arranged stores. The collection includes t-shirts and other easy-to-wear clothing, bags and mugs. Prices are much higher than at street markets, but the quality is at a totally different level, too.

Ginkgo designs are widely copied and sold cheep in several markets. This is unfortunately a very common phenomenon in Vietnam. If somebody develops something new and extraordinary, it doesn’t take much time for the copycats to have their low-quality products on the market.

Duy Tan, Saigon Artisan, 74-76 Le Loi

This cute shop is very close to Ginkgo Concept Store. The entrance doesn’t have big signs and it is too easy to walk by and not notice the shop at all.

Their selection includes many kinds of handcrafts made by local artisans and products made of recycled materials. The items are well crafted and unique – there are many products that you can’t find anywhere else in Saigon.

Mekong Quilts, 68 Le Loi, upper floor

This shop is in the same block than Ginkgo and Duy Tan. That part of Le Loi Boulevard is very interesting and worth visiting!  Mekong Quilts sells products made by poor women in rural areas in Cambodia and Mekong Delta area.  The main products are quilted bedspreads and pillow covers, also for children’s room. One specialty is bamboo bikes!

L’Usine, 151 Dong Khoi, 19 Le Thanh Ton, 70B Le Loi

This is a fashionable lifestyle concept store with three locations in District 1. There is also a nice café or bistro under the same roof.

Saigon Kitch, 43 Tôn Thất Thiệp

This is actually a quite ordinary souvenir shop, but the atmosphere is nice and the store is well set out.

TRI Books, 158ED Dong Khoi Street

It looks like a bookstore, but it’s much more than that. You can’t see it from outside, but the store is big and has a good selection of souvenirs, too. Here you can find Vietnamese dictionaries, cookbooks and photo books as well as English novels.

 

Cu Chi Tunnels: a half-day tour from Saigon

Cu Chi Tunnels are one of the most impressive tourist attractions in Saigon area and in Vietnam. The underground tunnel area is located about 70 kilometres north-west of Saigon. This over 120 kilometres long tunnel network served as a base of communist guerrilla troops, Viet Cong soldiers during the Vietnam War – or the American War as the locals call the war. There were living spaces, kitchens, meeting rooms, hospitals and storage rooms in the tunnels. From here Viet Cong organised and started the attacks to Saigon, also during the Tet Offence fifty years ago at the end of January 1968.

How to get there?

My husband and I have always been interested in history and for us the Cu Chi Tunnels were a must-see attraction. We made this excursion one year ago, in February 2017.

There are dozens of tour operators in Saigon and it may be difficult to choose between them. I recommend that you don’t choose the cheapest one. Read some reviews in TripAdvisor before making your decision. We bought the trip package from Kim Travel, a tour operator, which had its sales booth at our hotel. We chose the “Go by Luxury Speedboat, back by Bus” –package. The price was around 40 euros per person, including lunch.

The bus arrived to pick us up at 8 in the morning and took us to the pier by the river. The boat trip took about an hour and was a perfect beginning for a very interesting day! It appeared to be a very good choice:  we arrived at Cu Chi well before the buses and crowds.

What is there to see and to do?

The walking tour in the Cu Chi area was made in a tight group. Our tour guide took care that no one was left behind. It is actually not even allowed to walk around there just on your own. Our guide was a nice and fellow – just a right kind of a person for a job like this! His English was good and his stories were very interesting and lively, in some cases perhaps too funny. There is nothing funny in the history of this area. On the contrary – life in the tunnels during the wartime was dangerous and the conditions were just terrible. It was hot and humid, there were many diseases, poisonous animals and continuous fighting against the enemy.

Today, the area is a well maintained, very popular tourist attraction. All the activities are effectively organised. There can be several hundreds of visitors at the same time, but the area is large and the tour guides know when and where to take their groups to avoid the biggest crowds.

There are several tunnels, which have been widened for tourists to walk – or actually crawl! I strongly recommend a short walk underground to get a better picture of the conditions. However, going into the tunnels is not compulsory at all. You can visit, explore and experience the area without getting into the tunnels. The pathways in the area are easy to walk.

There are also many interesting exhibit areas with pictures, films, booby-traps, weapons, typical clothes of the guerrillas etc. There are also at least two restaurants or cafes with souvenir shops and toilets. After the tour we had lunch, which was included in the price.

We returned to Saigon by bus, which was also a very interesting experience. On our way we saw many small villages, fields and rubber plantations. We arrived in Saigon around 5 pm, so there was still enough time to relax and have dinner in the City.

This trip was one of the best trips we have made in Vietnam. For those who are interested in history, Cu Chi Tunnels are really worth visiting!

4 Vietnamese restaurants in Saigon

Saigon offers a huge selection of good restaurants, but it is not easy to find them when you are visiting the city and just walking around. Many restaurants are located in the upper floors and all you can see from a street is a modest entrance and maybe some stairs up.

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to find a nice restaurant when you already are hungry and tired of walking in the heat. I help you to avoid this by giving you four recommendations for Vietnamese restaurants in Saigon.

These restaurants are not the cheapest ones in the city and they are not the best ones for filling quickly your stomach on a tight schedule. They are nice places for a longer lunch or an enjoyable dinner after a long day of sightseeing or shopping. However, the price level is not high for a Western traveller.

When having a meal in Vietnam you enjoy it more if you know how to use chopsticks. In the most authentic Vietnamese restaurants there may not be forks or knives available at all.

Vietnam does not have a tipping culture so you are not expected to give any tip in restaurants.

SH Garden

Address: 98 Nguyen Hue, District 1

SH Garden is right in the heart of the city, in the middle of the hotel area and main sights. However, unless you know the location of the restaurant, you will probably just walk by and not notice it at all. There is a narrow entrance and stairs, and a hundred years old elevator, which brings you up to the restaurant.

This restaurant serves mostly foreign travellers and there are seldom any local customers. Service is friendly and efficient. The menu includes Vietnamese dishes with a modern twist.

SH Garden in the heart of Saigon (in the bottom left corner)

Secret Garden

Address: 158 Pasteur, District 1

This other “Garden” restaurant is very popular among foreigners, but it still has a very local atmosphere. At weekends, it is crowded and it is difficult to get a table without a reservation, even for lunch. The restaurant is worth its name – its entrance is hidden in a small alley and difficult to find even if you have the exact address in hand.

Would you believe this is the entrance of a very popular restaurant?

To get into the restaurant you have to climb some stairs to the fourth floor of an apartment building, through all kinds of stuff. But it is worth it and an important part of the overall experience!

The menu has great variety and everything looks very delicious – there are pictures of the dishes in the menu. One example of Secret Garden’s dishes can be found in the main picture of this post.

 

Com Nieu Sai Gon (CNSG)

Address: 59 Hồ Xuân Hương, District 3

There are several restaurants in the same CNSG group in the city. This one is closest to our home in D3 and has become very familiar to us during these months in Saigon.

The customers of this restaurant are mainly locals – we haven’t seen many foreign tourists here. You can get here easily by taxi from your hotel – it only takes 10 minutes from D1.

 

CNSG Restaurant in District 3

The menu is available in English. It has a huge selection of traditional Vietnamese food: fish and other seafood, frog, chicken, pork, beef, local soups, vegetarian food and some desserts. The prices are quite high for locals but still moderate for a traveller who looks for a little better Vietnamese restaurant experience.

Lâu Cá Kèo Bà Huyên

Address: 87 Bà Huyên Thanh Quan, District 3

This restaurant is next door to us and quite close to the War Remnants Museum. It is very popular among locals and almost full every night. The environment is authentic and very simple and the food very traditional Vietnamese food. The menu is translated in English, though. The personnel don’t speak English, but we have always succeeded in making our orders by just pointing the dishes that we want! So don’t be afraid to visit these local places just because you don’t have a common language!