Ms Skinnyfat

A Food & Travel Blog from Singapore

I love Ho Chi Minh City. I love the laid back vibe, the strong coffee, the cheap local food and really affordable and delicious French food. I like that there is nothing much to do or see (in terms of tourist attractions). Roaming the streets aimlessly and chilling out at cafes is my kinda traveling.

If all you want to do is escape for a bit, 48 hours is just about perfect for HCMC or Saigon as most affectionately know it as (provided you skip the touristy Cu Chi Tunnel). So here's my perfect Saigon weekend escapade itinerary. 
Here's the flight plan. Jetstar has the best timing to HCMC (budget is perfectly fine for a 2h flight). Depart Friday night out of SIN at 7.35pm and take the return on Sunday night 9.15pm flight home. You'll reach Singapore slightly past midnight but it's perfectly ok! Nothing like a strong coffee to keep you up on Monday right?
Our choice of luggage- Rimowa and rimowa mini!
Pack light. You may need to leave from the office. You only need a hand carry since there's not much shopping to be done (unless you're interested in knockoffs at Ben Thanh Market, which i disapprove.). Check into your choice of hotel in District 1, a 30min cab ride away from the airport. The backpackers' area near the Market has many cheap but comfortable options e.g. Beautiful Saigon (about 25usd/night) and the likes. Grand Silverland Spa is also not bad too (love their freshly prepared pho at breakfast). Or if you'd rather the Dong Khoi area, Oscar Saigon is comfortable and they have yummy croissants at breakfast. And of course there are the more expensive ones like Park Hyatt, InterContinental, Nikko etc.
Put down the bags and head out for supper. Tuck into a bowl of piping hot and savory Pho Bo at Pho Quynh 323 Pham Ngu Lao, an unpretentious hawker stall that is recommended by the locals. I find it better than the chain pho stores e.g. Pho 24, Pho 2000 etc.
With so many other local food happenings, i have neglected my Vietnam posts so here is another. There are still other awesome food places that i've tried but have yet to share. Will try to update on them. La Fourchette (French), The Sushi Bar (Japanese), Temple Club (Gourmet Vietnamese).. And some really bad ones like Augustin (French). Check out my other favorite Viet cafes under Eat Saigon.

Enough about food, this post is about finding/restoring my inner peace. I mentioned in a previous post about this mysterious yoga school which was the highlight of my trip. This place is none other than Soham Yoga. I guess Destiny bought us together. I was toying with the idea of continuing with my practice on the trip (hence i brought my gym attire) but wasn't set on any particular yoga school. It was that particular day when I was feeling quite tired and upset (due to a particular event that occurred) that i randomly did a search on the Internet for a school. And everything was history.   

Soham is located at Tran Dinh Xu in District 1 which was only 1.6km away from my first hotel, Beautiful Saigon 3 Hotel. I could have walked there, it wouldn't take too long but my first class was at night and i didn't think it'd be that safe considering i've never been there before. It's located in a 2 storey shophouse, and it was love at first sight for me. Nhu Y (the owner who is also an instructor) took my first class and i went away filled to the brim with positive energy. I thought that was the last of our meeting as Z and i were headed to Phu Quoc but there was a turn of events and we headed back to the city shortly after! And Yoga was the only thing on my mind. 

As you can see from the pictures, it's a very small and cosy place. Even though there aren't the fancy air-conditioning or fully mirrored walls like my studio in Singapore (read about it here), or the lack of a hot yoga studio, it really didn't matter. This is exactly the kind of place i would like to practise at. The instructors were all very positive. Nhu Y is an extremely confident, patient and friendly instructor (much unlike my boot camp-ish instructors at Real). She taught me how to do my first headstand in Sivananda class and even though i didn't managed to do a full headstand the first time, she was extremely encouraging. The class was very intimate and we laughed at ourselves and at each other when we do something silly. I went away with a smile on my face and in my heart after each session.

The locker and changing area
The classes that i went for had a maximum of 7 students so there were plenty of space. I like that there is a lot more interaction between the instructor and the students (not so commercialized). Paul (another instructor) shared his story about how he was so stressed out and unhealthy before he started on Yoga and how it changed his life. It was the interaction that helped me look beyond the nitty gritty affairs that i was fixated on previously and to adopt an open mind towards exploration of alternatives that would make me happier as a person. There is also a lot more meditation which really helped to calm my nerves.
The studio at Soham
I also like the little touches such as applying a soothing aromatherapy essence on the student's shoulders while we are resting in the Savasana position. It's very uplifting at the end of each session. Hot tea, water and cookies are also offered at the lounge and students are always welcomed to sit around after class to chat with the instructors. We had some really good times discussing yoga and life, exchanging experiences.

It was also at Soham where i met Daphne who is a fellow Singaporean! She has been teaching Yoga in Saigon for 2 years. She's one gungho lady who is very adventurous (from what i heard about her travels). According to her, you can spot a Singaporean from afar in Saigon because we wear more expensive stuff. :P I don't think it's the Singlish because i didn't speak it at all (i take pride in that!)
Happy me in my yoga outfit
I walked to yoga on most days after we got back from Phu Quoc. We stayed at Oscar Saigon which was right smack in the downtown area. The traffic was crazy and the walk was further (2.4km). I had to navigate across the Ben Thanh market traffic which was impossible but my road crossing skills were superb and i survived the 30mins walk to school. It was pretty nerve wrecking though. Made a video about crossing the road but i can't stand the sound of my voice on it so it's not gonna be posted.

So yea, this is my happy place in Saigon. I really miss the practice and the people. Somehow after the experience here, everything else in Singapore seems to fall short. It just feels more like a workout now. Sigh. So yea, if there's anything i'll go back to Saigon for, it'd be for Yoga and Cupcakes. :) If you ever drop Saigon, this is a must do activity. Trust me. It has changed my outlook on life. 

The first trial class is 5usd and it's free if you buy a class pass or sign up for membership. I got the 5 classes pass for 45usd. There is a mix of beginner to multi level classes so not to worry. They offer Vinyasa, Power/Power Flor, Sivananda, Yin Yoga and also African Dance.

Soham Yoga
84T/4 Tran Dinh Xu, Dist 1 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: +08 39 205 813

My Vietnam trip was practically a cafe hunting trip. What best way to enjoy a holiday with lotsa nice coffee and desserts/pastry and simply zen out. Since i didn't do any research before i left, i basically counted on Lonely Planet for some of food options and i think Sozo was on it. Since it was along the same main street as my hotel, i decided to walk there to check it out. 
Sozo is unique from other cafes in the sense that it's mission is to help underprivileged Vietnamese families and their children to break the cycle of debt. Sozo has been providing training for employment for these families since 2005. Food is such an amazing thing because it provides sustenance and more. To me, food brings me joy (not because i'm greedy) and eating is a big thing at home since forever. Food brings family together- the preparation, the cooking, the feasting, the hanging out after and then more eating. So yea, great idea to use food to help these disadvantaged folks. 
The space is quite amazing (as all shops in Saigon are). The first time i popped by the store i thought it was just the ground floor but it turns out that there's more sitting space upstairs. Anyway, there is quite an array of baked goods such as muffins, cakes and cookies. They also do breakfast food (both Vietnamese and American) but i didn't try that.

I like the alfresco space upstairs- little balcony that looks out to the main street. Somehow it is just really quiet and serene upstairs despite the bustling traffic on the road. Feels like i'm chilling out at somebody's place.

This was breakfast before i left Saigon for Phu Quoc. Ice Blended Vietnamese coffee which was awesome. Boy that was some kick start to my hyper-energy for the rest of the day. The left is a Caramel roll which was nice when warmed up (absolutely bad when it's cold because it turns rock hard). The right is a carrot cake which is fabulous.

I like a good carrot cake but i seldom order it for desserts, simply because a lot of places don't make good ones. A good carrot cake should be very moist but dense at the same time. The cream cheese frosting is also very important to the entirety of the cake. At first glance, it may seem like there's too little frosting but the amount was just right, since the cake isn't very tall. The cake tastes very fresh as well and you can sill see and recognize the carrot bits in it, totally unlike what we usually see in Sg. Most of the time it looks like oxidised carrot (i don't think carrots oxidise but they always look like they do somehow).
So yea, great concept, great place, simple and hearty food that comes from the heart. Please support them!

176 Bui Vien, District 1,Ho Chi Minh Ciy, Vietnam 
Tel: 095 870 6580 or 0909 306 971

Daily: 7:00am - 10:30pm

Au Parc is another one of my favorite hangouts in the town area. I went there 3 times during my stay in Saigon. It's located in a colonial french shophouse with high ceilings (i love these shophouse features), full of light and life and of course good food. 
Like many restaurants in Saigon or Vietnam, Au Parc does a Mediterranean as well as some French food and some American/English. This is typical of most cafes in Saigon in order to cater to the expats working in Saigon. 

There are 3 different spaces for dining. The ground level is bistro-style. You can watch the preparation of your food along with the madness of the service stuff during rush hour. That or take a seat outside, al fresco style and watch the world scoot by (literally). 

The 1st floor has a Mediterranean section. Really cosy space and very Middle Eastern. What i love about this space is the natural light that falls in from the roof and how it reflects off the yellow walls to create that warmth that envelops the space. Bright and cheery. :) It's amazing how all the contrasting designs, patterns, colors, shapes and textures come together so well. Love the mosaic tiled table tops! 
Happy us with our freshly squeezed juices and breakfast!
The bagel is the best i've ever had and this trumps anything we have in Sg. Seriously we've been eating crap all these while. Starbucks bagel is like a rock compared to this. I honestly have no idea how they can create such an airy texture and yet maintain the chewiness of a bagel. Even the ones i had in NYC weren't like that. I'm not too sure what exactly should the texture be- dense and chewy? Or light and chewy? Any bagel expert out there please do enlighten us.

Anyhow, they are so generous with the cheese and it's really good and light cream cheese with a tinge of sourness and saltiness. Beats the lousy Philadelphia cream cheese that we usually get. We had a side order of jam and it's made from mulberry. How exotic right? Fragrant and with the right amount of sweetness. It's certainly not as sour as the usual fresh raspberry or blueberry jam.

This would be a perfect place for a wedding luncheon. This is what i'd call a positive space.
Went back a second time for lunch after visiting Cu Chi Tunnels. I wanted to try their quiche but they didn't make any the day i went. So it was a different sorta bagel for me. Bacon with melted Camembert and rockets. This is absolutely awesome. I was surprised at how full i felt after a half of my bagel even though it is really small.
So what do you do when you eat alone? You entertain yourself with lots of silly pictures of yourself eating. :) You can still have fun when you are dining alone! Tested and proven. :))

After a glass of fresh mocha and my bagel, i decided that i should still stuff myself with desserts! This is the only downside to dining alone- there's no one to share my food with and i can't have a variety of dishes for tasting! :(( Anyway, i didn't try the Nemesis Chocolate Cake (it looks like a chocolate truffle block) but it comes highly recommended by Z and i trust her taste in desserts since we essentially have the same tummies.
The cheesecake looks fabulous too but certainly too rich for my overly expanded tummy.
I chose the Earl Grey Creme Brulee because it looks small enough and i love tea/coffee desserts. It certainly didn't disappoint. Very thick pudding, creamy too. I'm not sure what is the perfect texture because i'm not a Creme Brulee fan but it tastes ok to my picky tongue. :P

Z and i went back on the last day of our trip for lunch. Gave the dip a shot because it has spinach and blue cheese and some other cheese in it! Yums. I love the pungent and saltiness of blue cheese but this isn't too overpowering. I was surprised by how refreshing the dip is. 
My drink was practically a dessert in itself. It's a Strawberry banana muesli honey smoothie. High calorie drink! 
The apple crumble is to die for. Extremely soft and melt-in-your-mouth apple slices (not chunks) accompanied by the buttery and crispy crumble and real vanilla ice cream! Vanilla ice cream is only real if they come with vanilla beans. The ice cream is a tad too sweet though but well desserts are meant to be sweet.
I was craving for some toasted focaccia and this satisfied my taste buds. Ham cheese and avocado sandwich. The saltiness of the ham is complemented by the creamy avocado and this made in heaven pair is sandwiched between the buttery focaccia. -sighs in contentment- Ok now i'm craving for this. Think it'd have to be Toast for breakfast.  
I would really love to be back for the quiche. I'm sure they do their pastries well. The menu is pretty extensive and it'd take at least 2-3 weeks to taste everything? Or perhaps longer since i already have my favorites. Do check it out if you are in Saigon.

Au Parc
23 Han Thuyen
Saigon, Vietnam
Tel: +84 3829 2772, +84 3822 3080

L'usine is what i would consider my ideal cafe. It is tucked away on the 2nd storey above a Vietnamese arts gallery. As i walked through the alley, what greeted me was a motorcycle parking garage which was kinda dodgy. Up the stairs i went and immediately i fell in love. This is quite similar to PS cafe but with a little more quirkiness.
High ceilings, open and airy space. Perfect place to while the afternoon away.  Notice the similarities to PS? This is more relaxing i feel, people just leave you alone to do your own thing unlike in Sg where the servers make you feel you've overstayed your welcome. 

I love the long benches in the different sections of the cafe. Perfect for gatherings. Doesn't matter if you are sitting next to strangers. Who knows if they may become friends right? 

Quirky wallpaper. Z thought it was a picture of some gentleman. I thought it was quite disturbing the first time i saw it. Then we realized it's actually Sun Wu Kong in a suit! This is not something i would have in my house though. Imagine those monkey eyes following you wherever you go. Shudders.
L'usine also has a retail space within the cafe. It feels very much like UO and looks exactly like an old warehouse. Love the natural light that filters in through the huge window panes and the little red bird cages from the wooden beamed ceilings. I bought a rubber watch (O clock) from italy and another foldable sports glasses from Sunpocket. Super cool stuff!
Finally onto the food. I can't say that i've tried much but their baked goods are out of this world. My favorite? CUPCAKES! The cupcakes are by Sweet + Sour and they are the moist-est thing you can find. I am no cupcake fan but i've fallen in love. Even the little cupcake place S brought me to in NYC couldn't beat this. I doubt Magnolia is as good. :P Great flavors- Chocolate, black and white, vanilla, choc-cinnamon etc. This is me eating my favorite flavour! Choc-caramel! 

This is the S'mores flavored one. Chocolate based cupcake with melted marshmallow top which is really creamy and light and not overpowering in sweetness. It has a hidden secret inside- graham swirls!!! How wonderful is that?

This is chocolate mint if i'm not wrong. Cute. But i'm not a choc mint fan so didn't try this.
The berry muffins are good too. Crusty muffin top with a moist interior and icing on top.
Cheese platter. Not sure what sort it is but both Z and i prefer soft cheese better. So creamy it spreads like condensed milk on the crackers. Yums. Z likens the biscuit to 'Chicken in a biscuit'. Could try that for a cheese platter next time!

The red velvet is not very consistent though. The one time i tried it was dry but Z's was moist. Cream cheese frosting was good though. 
I was so hooked on the cupcakes i had to have them for desserts after dinner so we packed them. Our second hotel in Saigon was at Oscar Saigon and L'usine is just around the corner from there. Yay!

About my favorite choc-caramel- look carefully at the center! There's a chunk of melted caramel inside. It's like a kinder bueno. Love searching for treasures and surprises and the center is my favorite part. :))
Enjoying my cupcake in the comfort of our room. I finished 2 cupcakes on my own. Z didn't get much. :P 
This is how Bliss looks like. Or Contentment. Or maybe Gluttony. A bit unglamorous but honestly the tummy was doing a song and dance session right there and then. :)) If there's a reason why i'd fly to Saigon for a weekend trip it would be for the cupcakes. 

So if you are headed there, pop by L'usine. And get me a cupcake when you come back? Tyvm!!

Et la cafeteria de l'usine
151/1 1st Floor, Dong Khoi Street
District 1
Saigon, Vietnam