All photos by Aaron Joel Santos
Growing up in Ho Chi Minh City gave me a different perspective. New people come in every day, new businesses open every day, you’ve got this energy of striving forward, of trying new things.
I love the excitement of the city. A few years ago, I studied overseas and what I missed the most was the craziness, the colourful life in Asia. Ho Chi Minh City’s got that, but at the same time, there are so many modern things going on. That’s what I love about it: the excitement, the energy, the craziness.
One of my favourite places in Ho Chi Minh City is Thien Hau Pagoda. To get there, I have to go through all the traffic that leads to District 5. When I arrive there I find myself really calm, quiet and peaceful, in the middle of the city. It’s really typical Ho Chi Minh City to me: You’ve got this noise and energy out there, but at the same time you find little corners that are calm enough to look at yourself and your thoughts. You arrange everything, and then come back out striving again.
The one thing that is really interesting about Ho Chi Minh City is the people. They come from everywhere. You’ve got people from different provinces and countries who live and work here, so you see the excitement and the diversity. Ho Chi Minh City really gives people this positive energy. People here are generous, outgoing, and welcome new ideas.
I cannot get through a day without my coffee. One of my favourite coffee places in Ho Chi Minh City on Pham Ngoc Thach, in District 3. It’s in this alleyway and the owner sets up little chairs so you can sit and hang out with your friends, after breakfast before work. You can talk to your friends, come up with new ideas, exchange stories -- and the coffee is amazing.
Originally, cơm tấm means ‘broken rice.’ After the harvest they’d choose the best grains to sell to people. The badly shaped grains, the broken rice, were hard to sell. So, people in the countryside put together these ingredients, broken rice and then pork chops, some cucumber, tomatoes, onions -- and that’s the history of cơm tấm. That’s how it’s always been served, and it’s become one of Vietnam’s finest combinations of food I think.
I would advise people to take their time in Ho Chi Minh City. Find a really local market. Wake up early, go down to the market, just for an hour, and you’ll see the city coming to life. Talk to people. Everyone has their own story and favourite food place.
For coffee, one of my favourite local places is called Phin and Bean, a specialty coffee place. After dark, I go down to the snail fish street in District 4 -- in Vietnamese it’s called Vinh Khanh. You’ve got this flame and smoke coming up. It’s really fun, and noisy. For rooftop bars I like Lighthouse in District 1, in the centre of the city. It’s not too high, so you have a tucked-into-the-city kind of view.
When I was younger Ho Chi Minh City was changing a lot. A lot of new things were going on: new businesses and events happened every week. It gave me that energy too, of always being excited. After growing up I realized Ho Chi Minh City also carries so many older values. Day by day, somehow those values get left behind.
So now, as a grown man, I think one of my duties to the city is to preserve and remind people of those values. We strive for new things, new ideas, but at the same time we don’t forget the older stories, the authenticity.