Formerly Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest metropolis (with a population of 9 million) and the country’s business and financial center. Though glass towers now line the wide French boulevards, the city still retains a certain Gallic elegance: the Opera House, the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon and a stylish French Colonial post office (adorned with dignified busts of philosophes) recall the age and spirit of Indochine. No visit is complete without a stroll along Dong Khoi Street (formerly the stylish Rue Catinat), a shopping thoroughfare that is rapidly regaining its past élan.
All the luxury chain stores can be found in Saigon, but the city also has more-unique shopping experiences, notably its “apartment malls.” One of the most appealing to visit, especially for those interested in women’s fashion, is at 26 Ly Tu Trong Street. The building is old, but local designers showcase their wares in boutiques such as LIBÉ and Xéo Xọ, which offer very contemporary (and wearable) clothes. The building also houses an art gallery on the ground floor and some inviting cafés, like the Loft.
Vietnamese Cooking Class
The last time we was in Ho Chi Minh City we signed up for a cookery school to learn some of the basics of Vietnamese food. The HCM Cooking Class is run by Vietnamese chef Luong Viet Tan, who lived in Australia for more than 13 years. Classes are held in the chef’s “Agricultural Village,” where tours of a traditional Vietnamese medicine garden and workshops on how to grow a variety of mushrooms are also available. It’s a very professional operation and a lot of fun. Note that lessons dedicated solely to halal and vegetarian dietary restrictions are regularly offered.