Our second weekend in Saigon we planned two days in the touristic District 1, to explore the area and have some fun.  It's a super interesting area, you won't get bored there! It's very touristy, since it's where the main monuments and must see places are located, but you can also find less crowded spots. 

If you are not staying in the centre, you can go by taxi, motorbike or bus. We took the bus for the first time. We thought it was going to be like the buses in Morocco or India (slow, very hot and without free seats) but it was just the opposite! They have a/c, there was plenty of seats and it was faster than Google Maps thought! And only 6.000 VND per person, per ride (about 0,23 cents!).  In terms of the bus being fast and spacious, it depends on which bus, what time and from where you take it of course, the locals told us that it can get very crowded at peak hours (like anywhere else in the world) but we had good experiences with the two trips we took!

In the bus

We tried to see and do less touristic things, and we found some gems amidst the crowd.

So here is our list of things to do in D1: 

1. French architecture: Post OfficeNotre Dame Cathedral and Opera. These places are usually surrounded by tourists and Instagram models taking cool pictures. It is true that the buildings are very beautiful and look wonderful on the photos, and it's an interesting contrast with the typical Vietnamese buildings. The French Colony started in 1861, when France occupied Saigon, and it lasted until 1945, and there are many french style buildings from that period in Saigon. 
Check this post from Culture Trip to learn more about the influence of French culture in Vietnam. 

What can be more cute than a group
of Asians posing for a photo?

The Cathedral has English mass every Sunday at 9:30am

Outside and inside the Post Office, designed by Alfred Foulhoux in the late 19th century

The Opera, built in 1897

2. Bookshop street. Right next to the Cathedral and the Post Office there is a pedestrian street that has nothing but bookshops, a dream for any book lover! In Vietnamese is called the Nguyen Van Binh. It's a street full of trees and a very peaceful ambiance. There is a bus and a bus stop to read, a park for children, cafés and, of course, all the books you can imagine in Vietnamese and a few in English. 

Children in their zone

3. The Craft House Shop. Very cool shop with art made by Vietnamese and sustainable/plastic free products. You can find all kind of things to buy as a different souvenir or as a gift for yourself to follow the Plastic Free way. There are two shops in District 1. 

And if you bring your own bag you save 3000 VND!

4. Ben Thanh Market. Very touristic, that's for sure! We went in to have a look at all the things they sell (anything you may need, basically) and to find a watch band for Manuel. It's a bit overwhelming, all the vendors try to sell their things as you pass by, some of them a bit insistently. The prices are touristic too (still cheap for Westerns, but more expensive than other shops in HCMC). There are also places to eat that serve local food, but again, very persistent putting the menu in front of your face. 

5. Mariamman hindu temple. Very close to Ben Thanh maket, this temple is dedicated to the goddess of the rain Mariamman and was built in 1950 by an Indian man who wanted a place to worship and follow his religion. Nowadays Hinduism is still practiced in Vietnam, where more than 50.000 Indians live. 

6. A walk through Nguyen Hue. This long avenue became a pedestrian walkway in 2015, giving the place a more relaxed atmosphere and becoming an enjoyable walking place for the locals and visitors. It is flanked by some beautiful French colonial buildings, shops, restaurants and big hotels. You will find families walking happily or couples enjoying a romantic time. At night it becomes a show of water and lights. On one side of the avenue there's the People's Committee Building (another French colonial building) and on the other side there's the Saigon river.

7. September 23rd Park. Long and narrow park divided in two parts because the railway passed by in the IXX Century. There is an underground shopping centre with restaurants and a supermarket. It seems like the park has an interesting nightlife. We went there right after a big rainy moment, so it felt specially green and fresh. 

8. Thien Hau Pagoda. A beautiful and peaceful temple a bit apart from the crowd, dedicated to the goddess Thien Hau. We really enjoyed it, it was very calm. The entrance is free and the people there received us with a smile :) The huge spiral incenses are very impressive! We wondered how long do they last, maybe months?

9. Le Van Tam Park. We saw it when we were inside the bus, and I saved the location to visit it. It's a big park with many benches to sit and enjoy the pleasure of observing the locals walking, dancing and playing badminton, or just escape from the noisy and hectic District 1 streets. Check the trees to see tiny squirrels running!

10. Con Qua Den Shop. We were looking for the vegan restaurant when we found this gem! It's a second hand and vintage shop, where you can easily spend hours going though the cool things they have. There is a room full of bowls and cups, and at that moment I wished I had a house, just to buy things from there! The clothes are very interesting too, and so is the price: from 15.000VND (about 0,60 cents!). I bought 3 shirts and Manuel one t-shirt, all for less than 3 euros.  

11. And one last thing to experience in Ho Chi Mihn is... heavy rain! If you go during the rainy season (from April to October/November) the weather can change unexpectedly and you can find yourself soaked! But after the rain the sun comes again and, combined with the great Vietnamese humidity, it dries your clothes very fast. 

Where to eat vegan in District 1: 

If you are in the touristic areas (Backpackers street/Pham Ngū Lāo, Cathedral and Post Office, Independence Palace, War Remnants Museum...) the vegetarian places will be fancy and expensive, which is good too if you want something special. But if you want to eat like the locals, look for one of the Buddhist vegan restaurants; the magic word is 'Chay' (vegetarian/vegan in Vietnamese). Prices go from 15k to 40k (less than 2 euros) depending on the area; they serve Co'm (broken rice) with vegetables, tofu cooked in many different ways and vegan 'meat' and 'fish'. They also have the vegan version of Bun and Pho (rice noodle soup), spring rolls and Banh (sandwich made of french baguette). You can search on Google Maps for 'vegetarian restaurants' and go to the ones with Vietnamese names including the magic word :)

* Com Chay Chan Nhu. It's located only 5 minutes walking from the Backpackers street, but that's enough to find a local family restaurant with the traditional food for a low price (25kVND per person).

* Pho Chay Nhu.  It's right behind the Le Van Tan Park, in a small street, not far from the second hand shop mentioned above, Con Qua Den. The owners didn't speak English (a good sign!). They have Pho, Bun and rice, with all kinds of vegan meat. The price was 30.000VND each plate (round 1,5 euros).

Healthy Farm. A vegan restaurant and shop. We expected high prices, like all the other places in the city centre, but we were very surprised to see that is a very inexpensive place. The owner doesn't speak English, but the menu is in English. You can choose from the menu or make your own dish. We were craving burger, so we both had one. The burger is 35.000VND (about 1,35 euros). I have to say that the quality of the food wasn't the best. 
  * Phuc Quang ChayVegan restaurant located in a quiet street, by a Buddhist temple.  The owner is very friendly and helpful. The food was delicious, and we really enjoyed the smoothie bowl desert! We liked it so much that went back the day after to have another smoothie bowl :) Check the profile on Happy Cow to see more photos and reviews. The prices are a little bit higher than the regular 'Chay' places, but you can find different dishes, other than the typical Co'm or Pho.

The buddhist temple right next to the restaurant

Pad Thai

Broken rice with pineapple

Strawberry and chocolate smoothie bowls

There is a table with things to buy, all the money goes to a University group called I-Unity that organizes events to promote vegan and healthy diet, eco-friendly living... We bought a set of two metal straws and the cleaner.

Ganges Indian Restaurant. I know, we are in Vietnam and we go to an Indian restaurant!? After two weeks of eating nothing but rice, vegetables and tofu, it was nice to eat something different. We both love Indian food, and since I went to India I love it even more, so we really enjoyed our meal. And the staff was very friendly. They have menu and à la carte service.

* Filthy Vegan
If you are craving vegan burger or some food other than the Vietnamese typical dishes, this is your place. They have all the 'comfort food' that we all need once in a while, in the vegan version: burritos, tacos, burger, pizza, English breakfast, hot dog... The owner is an Irish/English man who has been in Vietnam for 14 years! He was very funny and friendly and he gave us the advice of escape the routine and do new things, because life goes by very fast. And that's exactly what we are doing :) The lentil burger was very good, but the very best part were the vegan deserts! They have amazing deserts and since we couldn't choose only one, we ordered all of them! hehe We tried the donut, the brownie (my favorite!), the blueberry cheesecake (amazing!), chocolate chips muffin and walnut muffin.

Donut and blueberry cheesecake

Bean burrito and lentil burger

The night we spent in District 1 we stayed in the Roseland Sweet Hotel, it felt sooooo good to sleep in a comfortable bed with soft pillow and have a proper shower! And the pool and views on the rooftop...! The hotel is very well located, it was very clean and the breakfast buffet had some vegan options. A well deserved weekend treat :) 

And that was our great weekend in District 1, doing some touristic things but also trying to find interesting off-the-grid places to go!

Let us know if you know any other alternative places in District 1!


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