A Guide to Thu Dau Mot and Binh Duong Province, Vietnam
Thủ Dầu Một (pronounced Too Yow Mot) is about 20 km north of Ho Chi Minh City — straight up the QL13. It’s the capital of Bình Dương province. In 1996, the Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) was officially launched in the province. A cooperation between the two countries, the industrial park is a 500 hectare (1235 acres) industrial area that is equipped to hold over 200 manufacturing plants. They offer ready-built, modern factories that are fully equipped for foreign investors. The project brought a lot of attention to Binh Duong province.
By 2005, Vietnamese officials decided to build a new city in Binh Duong province. Appropriately, they called it Binh Duong New City. With help from 3 foreign consulting companies: CPG (Singapore), Kume Sekkei – KDA (Japan), and the Cox Group (Australia), it’s currently on its way to becoming a modern, environmentally-friendly hub for politics, administration, and manufacturing in the province. In 2006, VSIP opened a second industrial park, VSIP II in New City. Businesses, apartments, and institutes popped up quickly in the next few years. By 2014, the Integrated Political-Administrative Center was opened.
Thu Dau Mot, being the largest city amongst all of this growth, grew rapidly. In 2012, it was officially upgraded from a town to a city. Currently, it’s becoming more and more popular as a home for expats: Westerners teach at the various schools in the area — mainly Eastern International University and Singapore International School; many Chinese and Koreans run nearby factories at VSIP and VSIP II; and the Japanese population continues to grow as Japan invests in the province. Becamex is a state owned company that operates hotels, schools, highways, hospitals, and many factories in Binh Duong. They are a huge supporter of Binh Duong New City. In 2012, they partnered with Tokyu Corporation (a Japanese land developing company) to make Becamex-Tokyu. Since then, Japanese owned companies have sprouted up across Thu Dau Mot and Binh Duong province. Probably the most noticeable being the Aeon Mall, which opened in late 2014. Owned by Aeon Company, the largest retailer in Asia, the mall is by far the biggest in Binh Duong province. It has about 140 shops, including a department store, grocery store, cinema, bowling alley, and “the biggest food court in Vietnam”. It’s no coincidence that the mall is located right beside VSIP, which over the years has grown to have 216 tenants including big brands like Unilever and Siemens, and is responsible for nearly 100,000 jobs. There are plans to further expand the area into a luxury residential ward that caters to foreigners, including international schools, hotels, and business offices. For English-speaking expats, this means more opportunity for work in Vietnam.
Map – Thu Dau Mot
Living in Thu Dau Mot offers a bit of a small town feel. It’s not nearly as loud as Saigon, the traffic isn’t as crazy, overall it’s a lot less hectic than Ho Chi Minh City. Of course, you don’t have as many western perks at your fingertips, but Saigon is less than an hour away, and with hotels being so reasonably priced in Vietnam, a day trip to Saigon can inexpensively become a weekend.
There are currently 4 Western-owned restaurants in Thu Dau Mot (see map above). You can find pizza, steak, pastas, tacos, sushi, BBQ, Indian, Korean, Thai, Chinese, and of course lots of delicious Vietnamese food. It’s possible to get a meal for less than a dollar.
Some of my favourite restaurants in Thu Dau Mot
- JD’s Bar and Grill – They have a full bar and a good beer selection. This is really one of the only bars in the city, complete with a pool table, darts, and a TV often showing sports. The music is great — a far cry from most of the other establishments on my list.
- Huong Rung – Is tucked away on a side street. I actually went 1 year living in Thu Dau Mot before discovering it. It serves up BBQ and beer. Who would of thought that combo would work? The atmosphere is what makes this place: Vietnamese locals downing beers and smoke pouring from every table.
- Thu Nho – There are a bunch of these around the city. They specialize in seafood. Prices are very good. Popular amongst the locals. The fried squid (muc chien) is very tasty. There is an English menu, but it seems to have been translated by a local expat who’s included notes (a couple dishes include the comment “not very good”).
- Annz Sushi – The best sushi in town. The restaurant is nice and it fills up with Japanese expats. The private rooms in the back are great for large get-togethers.
- Hoàng Cung – serves up traditional Hue food in a gorgeous setting. It’s a bit of a hidden treasure. The restaurant is mostly outdoors and is really quite beautiful, while the food is delicious and reasonably priced.
- Huong Viet – Located across the street from the Becamex Hotel, it’s a convenient location and the food is quite good. I really love the tofu wrapped in tin foil with vegetables and seafood. Their ribs are also very good, but I can never find them on their English menu, so you might have to ask for them specifically (the owner speaks a bit of English). They now have a second location that’s literally within a stones throw of the first one.
- VitaBBQ – Located in the Becamex tower. The tables have built in grills where you cook your own food (or you can get the waitress to do it for you). This place is great if you have a fair-sized group. The bo pho mai (beef wrapped around cheese) is to die for. They also own a beer club just across the hall that offers great views, but usually loud music.
- Mimi’s – Across the road from the Becamex Hotel, this popular expat spot serves delicious Indian food.
- Billy’s – I don’t actually know the real name of this place, but the owner’s an American named Billy. They probably have the best steaks in town.
- An Tuong Cafe – this cafe/restaurant is owned by a European who offers hard to find dishes like goulash. They also have maybe the best pizza in town. The garden setting is relaxing and the prices are good. Maybe the best part, they’re open for breakfast and serve western options.
There are a ton of cafes in Thu Dau Mot. They range from stands with plastic stools, to quiet garden-settings, to indoor air-conditioned Starbucks-style venues that serve lattes and espresso. Vietnamese coffee is delicious and very addictive, but be careful, it’s spiked with sweetened condensed milk, so there are a lot of calories in it. Recently, Korean/Taiwanese-style tea cafes have become quite popular with the Vietnamese youth. They serve delicious cups of sweet fruity tea and milk tea that can be ordered a variety of different ways.
My favorite cafe is L3 Coffee, located on the north-side of Phu Loi street (see map). They serve espresso, mochas, lattes, and a cappuccino that would be too pretty to drink if it wasn’t also very tasty. The owners, a young married couple, will always greet you with a smile. I come here so often that they painted me on the wall.
The Vietnamese are big beer drinkers. It’s available at almost any restaurant. Don’t be surprised if you sit down in a restaurant and the waitress brings a whole case of beer to the table, pouring it into your glass faster than you can even drink it. Wine is available at only some restaurants. If you prefer mixed drinks, head to JDs Bar and Grill, Mimi’s, Billy’s, or one of the hotels.
Popular activities in the area include: shooting pool (there are pool halls everywhere), seeing a movie at one of the four cinemas, window shopping along Yersin street, singing karaoke, going to the gym or to a yoga class, playing tennis, going to a spa for a massage, getting manicure/pedicure, golfing, and going to one of the nearby water parks.
Thu Dau Mot is a relatively safe city. It’s also less likely that you’ll be taken advantage of when negotiating prices. In Ho Chi Minh City, westerners will often pay more at the market or at a bike mechanic. The people in Thu Dau Mot don’t have nearly as much exposure to westerners. They don’t see you as a way to make extra money, or even as a tourist. If you’re in Thu Dau Mot and you’re a westerner, it’s likely because you live there. You will probably get more smiles and waves from people as you walk down the street. Of course, don’t go down any dark alleys waving money around or anything. Use your common-sense and you should be fine. Be extra careful when you’re driving a moto-bike late at night. There is a lot of drinking and driving in Vietnam.
Thu Dau Mot is best traversed via scooter. At first, driving in the city will seem next to impossible. The rules of the road are difficult to figure out, but it’s not nearly as chaotic as it seems. Generally, you can go at your own pace, driving close to the curb, but leaving a bit of space for people coming towards you who are driving the opposite direction that they should be.
Alternatively, you can take taxis (they’re quite inexpensive), moto-taxis (you’ll have to negotiate), or use the public transit system (which might take a while to completely figure out). Buses going to Saigon can easily be caught along the highway. Bus #616 will take you to Ben Thanh Market (view the not very accurate 616 bus schedule here — it only shows the times that it leaves Dai Nam park, but from Dai Nam it usually takes a half hour to reach Thu Dau Mot). There are also more frequent, smaller buses that say “Saigon” on them. They stop at Mien Dong bus station, where you can easily get a bus to other parts of the city (bus #45 from Mien Dong will take you to Ben Thanh Market). Recently, the Becamex-Tokyu company has set up a bus that goes from Becamex tower to Eastern International University. It’s cheap, modern, and environmentally-friendly. They also have buses that go to and from the Aeon Mall, but only on Saturdays (schedule in Vietnamese only).
Other notable buses
- Bus #4 – goes from Thu Dau Mot bus station to Mien Dong bus station in Ho Chi Minh City and vice versa.
- Bus #618 – Starts at Dai Nam Park and goes through Thu Dau Mot along the main highway. It will take you to Mien Tay bus station in the western part of Ho Chi Minh City. This is convenient if you are looking to catch a bus to the Mekong Delta.
Both traditional grocery stores and markets can be found in Thu Dau Mot.
- MegaMarket – Probably the largest in size, decent meat (they sell Australian beef) and vegetable selection, free parking.
- Big C – Thai owned grocery and general merchandise store, they may have the best selection of general items but their meat department isn’t great.
- Co.op Mart – Vietnamese owned grocery and general merchandise, not many foreign items, meat counter and bakery section are small
- Citimart – Vietnamese grocery store but partially owned (49%) by the Japanese company Aeon, the smallest on the list
- Vinatexmart – owned by the Vietnam National Textile and Garment Group, also pretty small, location isn’t really ideal
- Aeon – Japanese owned, the newest and most modern, a bit more expensive I think, can find some international ingredients that you can’t get anywhere else, a bit far down the highway though.
For fruits and vegetables, the markets usually offer the best choices. There are a few big ones around the city, but I find popping in to a local stand daily is quicker and the quality is just as good. Everything is very fresh, but if it’s not in season, it’s unlikely that the market will have it. Buying meat at the market is also possible. Beef, chicken, pork, fish and seafood is always available and usually fresh. You can also sometimes find duck, dog, sparrow, and other less common meats. If meat is on your shopping list, I suggest going to the market in the morning. There’s no refrigeration, so the sooner you get home to refrigerate it, the less likely you’ll be to get sick. I’ve never gotten sick off of meat bought at the market, but some expats avoid it.
Yersin street is the shopping street in Thu Dau Mot. Clothing stores line about a 1 kilometer stretch. They’re reasonably priced, but, depending how big you are, it may be hard to find your size. There are also a few stores that sell western brands, in western sizes, for ridiculously cheap. These are not knock-off items but items that may have a slight flaw. Often it’s totally unnoticeable, or something as silly as the wrong tag sewn into a shirt. I’ve bought quality Levi shorts for $6. The only thing wrong with them was the button holes weren’t cut (a 2 minute job with a razor blade and pair of scissors).
When it comes to finding a hotel, there are a variety of options at a variety of prices. I spent a day checking out some options. Here’s a list of ones that I would recommend:
- The Mira Hotel – Thu Dau Mot’s classiest hotel, nice rooms, great views, rooftop pool, very close to Big C supermarket, possible to get a room for about $50/night.
- Becamex Hotel – The newest hotel, really nice rooms, closer to an apartment than a hotel, great view from upper floors, huge breakfast included, pool and small gym, great location, approx. $60/night.
- Hotel Long Bao Chau – nicely decorated if not a little too ornate, clean, very accommodating staff, in a great neighbourhood for restaurants, some rooms don’t have windows, about $20/night.
- Lavender Hotel – good neighbourhood, nice rooms with great bathrooms, about $20/night.
- Thien Ha Hotel – nice rooms, the staff is very friendly, great location, about $20/night.
- Kim Bang Hotel – stayed here for about a week, really nice staff, rooms were simple but nice and clean, the best budget hotel that I could find in Thu Dau Mot, about $15/night.