Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City (“HCMC”), is divided into 24 Districts (Quậns). District 1 is the central urban district of the city and is where most visitors to HCMC spend their time. This is for good reason. District 1 is dense, exciting, most of the tourist sites are here, there’s a good mixture of new and old Vietnam, and there’s lots of great food too.
My wife and I spent most of our time in HCMC in District 1, and really loved it, however the parts of the city that we enjoyed the most were District 3, which borders District 1 and District 4, the smallest of HCMC’s districts, which is located on a small island directly south of District 1, just across the Bến Nghé canal.
Having heard that the early morning dishes being sold by the food vendors dotted along Tôn Thất Thuyết were well worth sampling, we caught a short 15 minute taxi ride into District 4. The street food was amazing, and I’ll talk about it in more detail in an upcoming post.
When we arrived at the start of Tôn Thất Thuyết, we instantly noticed some contrasts between District 4 and District 1. The streets were busy, but not quite as busy, and there were a lot less modern buildings. Another obvious difference was that there was nothing like the spread of Western retail brands that existed in District 1.
Hoa Hanh was where we got our first meal of the day. It was full of locals, and despite nobody speaking English, it was easy to decide what to order – 2 bowls of the noodle soup dish that was on most people’s tables. It was very tasty.
Vendors with carts can be found throughout the streets of HCMC. They sell everything from fruit and vegetables, to freshly cooked meals, to household tools.
The conical hat or leaf hat (nón lá) is very popular in Vietnam. It provides great protection from the sun, and can be used as a container when flipped upside down.
The ubiquitous scooter is used for more than just personal transport. The guy delivering Heineken below had a relatively light load packed compared to the loads that I saw some people driving around with.
As a tourist in District 1, you aren’t much of a novelty. There are enough tourists wandering about, and you’ll occasionally get asked if you want to purchase something by a wandering vendor or if you would like to be taken on a bicycle rickshaw tour of the city.
In District 4, you’re much more of a novelty. The look on the faces of people notice you is one of “why have they come out here?”. This look isn’t a bad look in the vein of “they don’t belong here” but more a look of curiosity. I found the people of Vietnam to be very friendly and welcoming in general, and this was even more apparent in District 4.
My wife and I walked into a coffee shop that had a few deck chairs under a shaded area. The owner, below, was sitting down having a cigarette when we walked in. He didn’t understand English but we got there in the end. 2 Vietnamese coffees, cold, with condensed milk. We were given some complimentary iced jasmine tea too.
This family was just chilling out. The woman in blue was extremely boisterous and photogenic, moreso than some of her family!
This man was delivering plantains from a boat on the river to a nearby small shop which sold nothing but plantains. The District 1 apartment complex on the other side of the river is part of the new Vietnam that he will likely never experience.
This photo turned out blurry unfortunately, as I somehow managed to focus on the smiling guy in the background instead of the actual subject. The man doing the thumbs up was wearing an Australia hat and when he found out that we were from Australia he was so excited. First he gave us an “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi”, and then he started doing Kangaroo jumping motions. He clearly had an affinity with Australia and was so happy to meet us and have a chat.
Throughout HCMC, many shops and businesses have one or two security guards posted outside. Generally they are sitting down and appear very chilled and are chatting amongst themselves or with a customer. I was reminded of the Seinfeld episode where George bought a seat for a security guard at a shop, who proceeded to fall asleep on the seat during a robbery.
Despite being seated and appearing casual, you can tell that guards are still alert, and are completely aware of their surroundings and what’s going on. If anything was to go down, I’m sure they’d be right onto it.
This man was just sitting down, chilling out and watching the world go by. We had a little chat with him and he gave us some tips on things to see and do in the area. Unfortunately we were pressed for time so couldn’t explore as much as we would have liked.
These 2 guys were very chatty. They were very curious about why we had ventured out to District 4 and were very proud of their little part of HCMC. They also had lots of suggestions about things that we might like to see in HCMC. There was another friend with them, but he was camera shy.
There were a few assorted people fishing or chilling out by Bến Nghé canal. This couple were just relaxing. They seemed very happy together.
The owner of this electronics shop was outside having a cigarette. Understandably, whenever someone posed for a photo, one of the first things that they would do was to put out their cigarette.
Walking through District 4 was one of those experiences that really reminded me why I love to travel. Despite the language barriers that arose at times, it was still possible to have conversations with the locals. My belief that most people on this planet are inherently decent and just want to be happy and get along with their fellow humans was reinforced.
Unfortunately my wife and I only visited District 4 on the morning of the day we flew out of HCMC. We both fell in love with District 4 and will be sure to explore it in more depth the next time we visit HCMC.
District 4, Ho Chi Minh City. Come for the food, stay for the people.