SAIGON, VIETNAM: 100 Year Old Alley

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

One of the things S and I were able to do during our City Break was to explore the alleys in one of Saigon's districts.

We didn't have breakfast yet, and as mentioned in my previous blog entry, our itinerary for the day was quite flexible. What we had in mind however was to experience and observe the typical day of a local. So we somehow found ourselves in Cholon, located at District 5. This is basically the city's Chinatown.

We walked around and went inside the alleys. I felt it was intrusive for a while, but it seemed like no one cared enough to stop us.

We then found the 100 year old alley named Hao Si Phuong. It did remind me a bit of Binondo Chinatown back in downtown Manila, but the difference here would probably be the distinctive architectural style. One can observe the blend of both the traditional and modern styles in each home, and what makes it worth the visit would definitely be because it has been painted with lively colors. It cheers me up, I think it would cheer you up too. I enjoyed my time here, appreciating all the charming and quaint things in life.

The youth would have their photoshoots here, and we chanced upon one while we were there.

We saw a lot of old people as well. Some were out smoking, some would be with their fellow oldies, some would be washing the clothes, definitely all the mundane activities you can think of. They were all well advanced in their age. It somehow made me feel like time suddenly slowed down.

Okay, story time. Did S and I ever get to eat breakfast? Yes we did. At the end of the alley, there was a restaurant of sorts, I would say it was a family business. Everyone was there, both young and old. We stood there for a while, debating whether we should give it a try, but eventually someone stepped out and motioned for us to come in. We hesitated a bit, I looked at S, and she was giving me the look: "Let's just go!".

So we did go inside, and we got to see families eating together in one table, all sharing conversations and laughter. It made me think of how all these people living within this alley were some sort of extended family. The person who welcomed us in was asking us what we wanted (I assume she was asking that question) but we had no idea what to tell her. She then pointed at the menu:

And of course we had no idea what it meant. I re-installed my Google translate on my phone right on the spot in hopes of taking a photo then having the app translate it, but luckily, some random Uncle approached us and spoke to us in English.

"I was watching you and gave it some time for you to figure out what was written on the menu." He laughed. "I then observed you brought out your smart phone, and I thought yeah why not just step in to help these two ladies."

We laughed. It was funny, I felt embarrassed. It's not as easy as just pointing at a random option on the menu, especially because there were no photos. The Uncle then went on to explain to us what kind of dishes they served. We then eventually chose one, and then chit chatted with him a bit more. Turns out he was visiting from the US. He had children there, and now he's on vacation in Saigon to visit relatives. He was quite chatty, however he had to entertain other guests, or friends I assumed so he would disappear from time to time. He would check up on us from time to time, ask us how the food is, and even shared to us a bit about the alley we were at.

When we were done, the restaurant was getting full already. We wanted to say goodbye to him, but he seemed to have gone upstairs somewhere... I like how the businesses are really just downstairs of people's homes here.

Address: 206/17 Đường Trần Hưng Đạo, Phường 11, Quận 5, Hồ Chí Minh, 


All in all, it was a pleasant experience. It was a lovely way to start the day, away from the chaos of the city. There's much to discover within the alleys: communities, culture, a way of living... these are the layers that comprise the city.


1 comment

  1. It is interesting that you walked through a 100-year-old alley. I feel like my mom has been through here before because she lived in Saigon for a few years back in the day. It is interesting to see how the architecture is - it reminds me of New Orleans, which is based out of France. There is also a connection between Vietnam and France. Oh man, even though someone came in to help you, you were still resourceful with trying to figure out what's for sale.

    Nancy ♥