About Rachel H
Lives in San Francisco, California
Since Sep 2010
25-34 year old female
I’m a San Francisco native, writer, and travel hound who has spent the last several years living, working, studying, and traveling through California, Hawaii, France, and beyond. My travel style? Going local, and delving deeper.
Flea & Street Markets
Sacred & Religious Sites
Bars & Clubs
Many tourists don't go beyond Ben Thanh Market. If you’re feeling adventurous, head to Chinatown for Binh Tay Market, a big, busy wholesale market that’ll give you a good feel for local culture and lifestyle. Covering two stories with more than 600 stalls, this is the spot where locals stock up on their goods. Prices here are slightly cheaper than at Benh Thanh, and stall owners are generally friendly and don’t hassle you like they do at the touristy places. You can find everything from clothes and accessories to fabric and home decor — plus food vendors with fresh produce, meats, and seafood.
Though not a destination temple like Cao Dai, Chua Ba Thien Hau, Chua Vinh Nghiem, and Quoc Tu Pagoda are, this local Hindu temple is worth a visit if you’re in the area. Situated near Ben Thanh Market, Mariamman Hindu Temple is open to devotees and tourists from 7:30am onwards. Managed by a family, it has an intimate, small-scale feel — a good place to seek some peace, meditate, and watch locals practice their faith away from the city hustle-bustle (though it can get busy with worshipers and curious passers-by).
The quintessential Vietnamese dish is pho, and there are pho restaurants literally everywhere around the city. But a lesser-known specialty is 'bun bo hue,' a variety of soup deriving from its namesake city, Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. Made with lemongrass, chili, paprika, annatto oil, and fermented shrimp paste, the broth renders a citrusy, tangy flavor that’s delightfully light and refreshing; then rice noodles and layers of meat perfectly balance spicy, sour, salty, and sweet flavors. Dong Ba, a bustling, bright restaurant, serves only bun bo hue, so ordering is made easy.
Since Tao Dan is one of the city’s most popular parks, the secret to experiencing the real thing is going in the early morning, when many locals convene to exercise and do tai chi, and bird-keepers come to show off their birds. Located in the heart of the city, this lovely little oasis has treelined walkways perfect for strolling, and benches that invite you to pause, people-watch, and admire the flowery gardens, animal sculptures, and temple replicas.
It’s not a little-known sight, but the Mekong Delta offers a rugged, scenic escape from the chaos of the city. Vietnamese rural life thrives just an hour or so southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, and these famous waterways are dotted with serene mangroves, fruit orchards, fish farms, and local villages. The biggest draw is the famous floating markets, such as Cai Rang and Cai Be, where local merchants sell their goods directly from their boats. The canals are brimming with colorful produce, herbs, and flowers you can smell from a mile away.
A local hotspot made famous by master chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain, Banh Xeo 46A is rumored to be the place where 'bahn xeo,' a Vietnamese rice-flour pancake, was invented 70 years ago. Tucked down an alley, the al-fresco restaurant is not easy to find, but it’s worth the effort. It's still run by the same family (three generations later), and the cooks in the street-side kitchen tirelessly whip up some seriously good banh xeo, stuffing bean sprouts, prawns, and pork into the crispy pancake shells. Wrap your bahn xeo with fresh herbs and lettuce, then dip into a tangy sauce, and you’ll be eating like a local in no time.
When it comes to nightlife, many tourists opt for swanky rooftop bars or Western nightclubs. If you’re in the mood to rub shoulders with locals, expats, and adventurous visitors, make your way to Acoustic Bar, one of the best spots in town to catch a live show. This vibrant performance venue is regularly packed with an excitable crowd, and musicians offer entertaining renditions of popular songs, plus original tunes with a distinctly Vietnamese flare.
If you really want to go behind the scenes of Ho Chi Minh, arrange a guided tour on a motorbike — the true way to get around like a local. Different from standard tours that center around tourist areas, Saigon Unseen lets you discover the city’s nooks and crannies for a glimpse of authentic local culture and lifestyles. Navigate coiling lanes and backstreets, stumble upon hidden treasures, and embrace the chaos that are the Saigon streets. You'll get to peek into homes, cruise through busy markets, find tucked-away restaurants, and meet local people.