Walking Tour of Cho Lon, Saigon’s Chinatown
A lot of people are quick to write-off Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown.
Why would I go to Chinatown in Vietnam?
Those same people are probably staying in the backpacker district. In Vietnamese, this area is called Khu Tây Balô, which basically means Westerner Backpack District. It’s the equivalent to Chinatown but for backpacking westerners.
In Vietnamese, the Chinatown area is called Cho Lon, which means great market. This is because it’s the home to the largest market in Saigon, Binh Tay. Cho Lon sort of straddles district 5 and 6. It was once its own city, settled by the Hoa people in 1778. Eventually, Saigon expanded and the two cities merged.
I seriously love Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown, so I hope you take the time to visit it, and I hope this walking tour helps you appreciate this unique area of Saigon.
To get the most out of this day, I suggest staying overnight in Cho Lon.
A very good place to stay would be Truong Giang Hotel. A basic but clean, inexpensive and friendly hotel that’s located right in the area you want to be.
If you don’t want to move hotels, it’s easy to get to Cho Lon by bus. I suggest heading out early because the first stop is an amazing breakfast.
From the bus station across from Ben Thanh Market, take bus #1, which should come every 8 minutes. Bus stops in Saigon are sometimes tricky. They don’t announce the stops, and, if there doesn’t seem to be anyone about to get on, sometimes they don’t even stop. Your stop should be at 274 Trần Hưng Đạo B — about a 30 minute ride. When you get off, head in the direction the bus is going and take your first right on Phu Dong Thien Vuong. Continue on this street after a small zig-zag on Nguyen Trai. Take your next left on Ky Hoa. On the right is your dim sum breakfast.
If want to make it easier, take a taxi from district 1 for about 100,000 VND. Just give the driver the address: 18 Ký Hoà, 11, Quận 5
Cho Lon Walking Tour
Your tour starts at my favorite breakfast/brunch spot in a city that’s filled with amazing early day meals.Tien Phat Dim Sum (18 Ky Hoa – open from 6AM-12PM) will surprise you. First off, you might have to climb a few flights of stairs to find a seat – it’s that popular. The food is great. As is the Italian coffee. Make sure you try their bbq pork buns, and treat yourself to an egg tart.
After breakfast, it’s time to walk off that amazing meal.
This walking tour should only take a few hours. The walking time is approximately 35 minutes.
Start by turning right out the dim sum place to the end of Ky Hoa.
Take a left and then the next right at Lao Tu.
These streets are the location where South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan shot the Vietcong officer Nguyen Van LemYour. If that doesn’t sound familiar, the iconic Eddie Adams photo will remind you of the incident. See the graphic photo and read more about it here.
Just 50 meters down Lao Tu, on the right, is Quan Am Pagoda. This active temple is named after the Goddess of Mercy. Her statue can be found in the rear courtyard. The temple doesn’t require too much time, but it’s a nice place to explore.
When you’re done, continue down Lao Tu until it ends, then take a left on Phùng Hưng. About 200 meters south, you’ll reach Trần Hưng Đạo. Turn right and you’ll be in Soái Kình Lâm, the Fabric Market.
Even if you aren’t into clothing and fabrics, this area is visually appealing and worth snapping a few photos. The vendors here work everyday selling meters of fabric to various shops and workshops across the city. Hard to find materials can be found here. If you want to get an article of clothing made for dirt cheap, your best bet would be to buy the material here and have it made at a tailor somewhere else. That being said, I don’t have a clue how much you’d need, how much it would cost, and how much of a pain that would be.
At the end of Tran Hung Dao, turn left onto Học Lạc. After 2 blocks, turn right on Hải Thượng Lãn Ông, which will shorty turn into Tháp Mười. About 350 meters down the street on the left is Binh Tay Market.
Binh Tay was built by the French in the 1880s. It’s managed to survive a few wars and it’s a great place to explore. During the Vietnam War, it was a popular place for American soldiers to make black market trades. On the main floor, at the back of the building, you can find food. Other than that, I can’t really tell you how the market is organized, so if you’re looking for something specific… happy wandering. Spend a good chunk of time looking around, getting lost, and maybe bartering for some items.
When you’re satisfied, head out the back entrance and take a left onto Duong Phan Van Khoe.
After a short while, you’ll have to do a quick zig-zag (right on Van Tuong, then the first left on Trinh Hoai Duc). This area has a lot of cool machinery shops. You’ll see piles of engines, tire stores, rolls of steel, plus some nut and spice shops.
Eventually, you’ll pass under the bridge and have to take another quick zig-zag – this time left then the first right (Trần Tường Công), which leads to Triệu Quang Phục (the street that Truong Giang Hotel is on).
This pretty much ends the tour, but if you want a good lunch recommendation:
Places to eat in Cho Lon
- Cơm Gà Đông Nguyên map
If you head up to Hai Thuong Lan Ong and turn left you’ll hit a roundabout. Turn right on Chau Van Liem. After 2 blocks you’ll take a left on Nguyen Trai. Com Ga Dong Nguyen will be on your immediate left. They serve chicken rice, a seemingly simple dish that surprises you with its flavor. The non-English menu is filled with various options, but you should go for their specialty: Cơm Gà Đông Nguyên. For a bit more money you can get it with heo quay (roasted pork).
- Pho Le map
Arguably, the best pho in Saigon. This popular place would be about a 20 minute walk from Truong Giang Hotel, but it’s a short and cheap taxi ride. Some say they use too much MSG, but maybe that’s why it’s so good.
- Cà Ri Dê Ấn Độ map
Even further away, but 100% worth it, is this curry goat place. If you like spicy food, this place will knock your socks off. I’m not usually a fan of Vietnamese curry (it’s too sweet for my liking), but I’m pretty sure this place was started by an Indian guy. It’s hidden away in back alley, but the locals flock here in the evenings, putting down tables wherever there’s space. You can get an order of curry with banh mi (Vietnamese baguette) or rice, and be sure to order up some beers. They go well with the meal, plus you’re going to need something to cool your mouth down with.
- Bánh Bao Thọ Phát map
At pretty much all times of the day, it’s possible to get a tasty snack at this place. Banh bao is a stuffed steamed bun. In Vietnam, it’s usually filled with ground pork and a quail’s egg. This place has those, but they also do some Chinese versions including xa xiu (BBQ pork), and some dessert versions (coconut, green tea, and a sweetened egg yolk).
- Bột Chiên Không Tên map
Right on the Hai Thuong Lan Ong roundabout is a bot chien stand that is pretty awesome. Most bot chien is. Bot chien is kind of a rice flour cake that’s chopped into chunks and fried up with egg. It’s a great late night, stuff-some-food-in-your-face, kind of snack. Unfortunately, the stand doesn’t open until around 4PM.
- Panda BBQ map
Vietnamese BBQ is always a lot of fun, and quite delicious. This place is about a 15 minute walk from the hotel. At 4:00PM, it opens and soon after gets lively with people grilling up meats right on their table. Try the bo nuong phomai, slices of beef wrapped in cheese.