Right, maybe I’m biased as a self-confessed lover of Ho Chi Minh City, but the city is a pretty cool place to explore. Rarely do tourist say they LOVE Saigon, which I think is such a shame and its mostly because few know how to scratch below the surface of the generic tourist sites. That’s where your resident expat friend comes in (hint: that’s me, hey!). Ho Chi Minh City is filled with creativity and innovation: my favourite word to describe the city is VIBRANT. It is so so vibrant and full of life. I digress, my point being there are some really cool places where you can glimpse the energy that underpins Ho Chi Minh City, and some of my favourites to explore are the old apartments that have been converted to cafes and malls!
Never heard of Ho CHi Minh Cities apartment cafes and malls? Well that would be because they are cute boutique shops, and quirky cafes hidden behind the facade of regular apartments! I’ve stumbled upon a bunch in my time living in Saigon, mostly through searching for a specific store! I hope that if more travelers to Vietnam see this side of Ho Chi Minh City, that they will start to form the same love for it that I have!
Exploring Ho Chi Minh Cities Apartment Cafes and Malls
These ones are all in District 1 but there are buildings like them scattered throughout the whole city – filled with boutique fashion stores and the quirkiest of cafes, they are a delight to explore and the perfect way to get under the skin of Saigon (click to explore them here!).
We’re diving straight in here with the biggest and most well-known of Ho Chi Minh Cities apartment malls! 42 Nguyen Hue has become a firm fixture on many young tourists wanderlists, and so it should be on yours too!
Apparently the building was used as housing barracks and offices for the army during the Vietnam-America war, but when the war ended the building was mostly abandoned. Fast forward to the present day and the building has fallen into a state of disrepair, crumbling and full of half empty units. Luckily some innovative young artists found inspiration in the building and created pop up stores in the some of the abandoned units. The idea spiralled and somehow the eclectic mix of cafes and stores that is now 42 Nguyen Hue was born into being!
42 Nguyen Hue is full of arty shops, boutique fashion stores and an abundance of cafes! Vietnam Coracle has a floor by floor guide which you can check out, so I’ll just leave you with my favourite spots in the whole building here.
Cafes in 42 Nguyen Hue worth checking out:
Poke Saigon – one of the first quirky Poke restaurants to pop up in Ho Chi Minh City. Great spot for lunch!
The Maker Cafe – industrial style cafe with one of the balconies on the building facade. Great atmosphere for working from and they have food too!
Dosh – sweet treats! Dosh specialises in extra fancy milkshakes and donuts, they’re almost artwork in the way they are presented! And of course perfect for your Instagram (oh you’re on Instagram? PLUG: you can find lots of insider info about Vietnam on mine).
Thinker and Dreamer – refreshing spot for a coffee, bright and clean aesthetic is good for working from too.
Saigon Oi – my favourite balcony in 42 Nguyen Hue! They have the cutest wicker tables and chairs and a great view of the walking street below making it perfect for people watching.
Boo Coffee – cafe with a cute design and on the top floor of the building so the balcony has a great view over the whole of Nguyen Hue walking street
Shops in 42 Nguyen Hue worth checking out:
The Maker Workshop – a store showcasing both local and international designers and makers. The Maker Workshop sells a whole range of things, from clothing and shoes, to accessories and trinkets!
Where: 42 Nguyễn Huệ, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh
TIP: Instead of paying to take the elevator up, you can take the stairs for free!
This mall is a little bit different as it’s technically not an apartment mall but a converted underground motorbike parking lot! Of all the apartment malls in Ho Chi Minh City, this one takes the cake as the most hipster. It’s filled with really quirky fashion booths, for both guys and girls, and some random things like vintage arcade games, fun neon signs and always good music. The stores aren’t really my personal style but I still love going for a browse to see what they have new!
Where: 26 Lý Tự Trọng, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh
Time: 10am – 10pm
Right next door to the New Playground Saigon, is another apartment block that’s been transformed into a mini-mall. 26 Ly Tu Tuong isn’t as big as 42 Nguyen Hue buts it’s just as quirky. The building is also in a slight state of disrepair, but in a charming way. There is a vintage elevator running through the middle of the building and a number of cafes, restaurants and bars plus some amazing boutiques to check out.
If you’re looking to do some shopping then this one and underground playground next door are the best apartment malls to come to!
Places with checking out in 26 Ly Tu Tuong apartment mall:
Cong Caphe – a chain cafe but with a fun twist, Cong Caphe are super stylised with a vintage war theme (the Cong in the name referencing the Viet Cong guerrilla fighters). They have some tasty teas and coconut coffee, plus a balcony with a great view for watching people trying to cross the junction.
The apartment mall at 26 Ly Tu Trong is definitely the best one to head to if you’re looking for girlie shops! There are a whole selection which sell more of my style of clothing, some favourites being Libe (floor 1) and Gago (floor 2). As far as guys goes, the new playground mall is better.
This article showcases some of the other boutiques you can find in the apartment mall – It’s in Vietnamese but you can copy the web-address into google translate easily.
Where: 26 Lý Tự Trọng, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh
From the outside they might not look like much, but when you explore the apartment blocks of Ho Chi Minh City more you will uncover so many hidden gems – this is one super unassuming apartment block with a few cute stores tucked away inside it!
SoNice – a really nice store selling beautiful items like leather wallets, prints, notebooks, soaps and other things that are perfect as souvenirs or gifts.
Poke Saigon – the same poke chain that first started in 42 Nguyen Hue also opened up shop in this apartment block! This store does more than just poke bowls, but also smoothie bowls which are perfect for those like me who love to brunch. They’re closed on Mondays though.
Where: 42bis Lý Tự Trọng, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh
Exploring the quirky Ho Chi Minh City apartment cafes and malls is a great thing to do to get under the skin of Saigon!
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More on Ho Chi Minh City coming soon:
- 10 Hipster Places to Eat in Ho Chi Minh City
- Nightlife guide: Going Out Ho Chi Minh City
- Ho Chi Minh City Wanderlist