Phạm Ngũ Lão Street is located in District 1 of Saigon, and named after a national hero. The intersection of Phạm Ngũ Lão and Đề Thám streets is the backpacker district of Saigon. This area is frequented by both locals and tourists who flock to the markets here to buy cheap clothes, DVDs, souvenirs, and war memorabilia. Many of this stuff is counterfeit, but it doesn’t stop people buying it!
The many bars and cafes in this district are conveniently located near Saigon’s city centre. In the Vietnamese language, this area is called “khu Tay ba lo” (Backpackers’ Area). The Phạm Ngũ Lão area is known for its affordable guest houses and “love hotels” as well as the availability of tourist agencies which primarily cater to budget tourists, similar to Khao San Road in Bangkok and Pub Street in Siem Reap.
Getting used to Vietnamese food is something we all have to do when we travel around the country, as western comforts are few and far between, at least when compared to areas in Thailand or in the Philippines. I had some good experiences with Vietnamese cuisine, and some bad experiences, but luckily the good ones seemed to outweigh the bad. I had my first ever taste of com tam in Saigon, which is broken rice and I had this with grilled chicken. It was delicious!
Also during my exploration of Phạm Ngũ Lão Street, I came across a few things I didn’t like. For one, Vietnamese Iced Tea just tasted horrible. This is served everywhere, and sometimes you don’t even get an option of Coke or water – so be warned! Regarding food, well, Bun rieu (crab noodles) was absolutely disgusting! It was my fault really, as I knew I didn’t like crab much (the meat’s ok, it’s just the crabby broth that tastes foul) from my time in Singapore. I had hoped for uncovering a new amazing dish here in Vietnam with this bun rieu, but alas it wasn’t to be; NEVER AGAIN! Finally, the little cakes known as banh khot, which I thought would be similar to Khanom khrok from Thailand, were also not to my liking, and in fact they didn’t taste – or feel – anything like their Thai counterparts.
As opposed to the Old Quarter in Hanoi, which is the main place I went to there for my Vietnamese street food, Phạm Ngũ Lão Street in Saigon has a wider array of restaurants and larger cafés. Even though Saigon is much busier than Hanoi, my personal experience was that – for the most part – cafés were not busy here, and this is mainly due to their enormous size and efficiency of waiting staff. Some cafés were almost empty, but this did not bother me as a solo traveller, as I just sat back, purchased a yogurt-style drink called Che (think Lassi from Indian cuisine, or I guess even a Cendol drink from Indonesia), and inhaled the dirty exhaust fumes from Saigon’s roads! Ah, nothing quite like backpacking in Vietnam, eh?!