Ruben Luong finds spots for the body, mind and soul on this District 3 street. Photos by Sarah Joanne Smith.
Cao Thang is in District 3, and based on that fact alone, it is home to exclusively Vietnamese neighbourhoods not yet overwhelmed with western establishments. It has, however, changed dramatically as a physical road. Buildings are bookended with the occasional boutique or independent lifestyle shop worth visiting during the day, but surrounding stalls make Cao Thang a suitable street to visit in the evenings for its prized street food. It is a reliable street to navigate between the one-way Nguyen Dinh Chieu and Dien Bien Phu streets, and it only takes a few trips up and down its bustling path to become familiar with the interesting places it has to offer.
103 Cao Thang
As the hot and rainy season returns, skincare can become aggravating. Korean beauty chain Nature Republic supplies collections of skincare products that will inspire a healthy touch of vanity. Rejuvenating foam cleansers, peeling gels, advanced cell-boosting toners and other cool products are fuelled with Miracle of Medication Water, specially formulated water with exotic ingredients like Korean Actinidia arguta sap or hot spring water from Israel’s Jordan River. Try the 92 percent Soothing and Moisture Aloe Vera Gel (VND 159,000) to alleviate sun exposure.
Banh Cuon Hai Nam
11A Cao Thang
Banh cuon, a Vietnamese stuffed pancake made from rolls of steamed rice paper, is a dish that is eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is certainly one of those dishes you want to eat all day, especially at Banh Cuon Hai Nam, a small and narrow eatery that would be easy to pass by if it weren’t for the scrolling neon lights above its storefront. Plumes of smoke rise from large pots where steamed mushrooms, prawns and rice paper are prepared in the foyer. Farther inside, locals sardine themselves between foldable tables to enjoy full and delicious platters of banh cuon (VND 35,000-40,000). Each plate comes with two steamed rolls drenched in chilli and fish sauce and topped with two slices of cha lua, or Vietnamese pork.
110 Cao Thang
This fairly new yoga centre is housed inside the NAHI office building. Take the lift past the garage to the third floor, where Satwa’s bright and clean space welcomes members to two yoga classrooms (sala) that accommodate around 15 to 20 people. First-timers can sign up for three free test classes with yoga masters, which includes Dr Ashish Tripathi, the centre’s managing director. Tripathi, a doctor of yoga and natural medicine, combines ancient yoga with modern medicinal science to strengthen individual health needs. Hour-long sessions run every day starting from 6.15am and the last class of the day starting at 7.30pm, offering beginner, intermediate, multilevel and advanced levels. Price varies depending on peak and off-peak hours, but start at VND 1,200,000 for a one-month membership. Satwayoga.vn.
Duc Phat Bakery
71 Cao Thang
This bakery has been around since 1984, and it’s still popular among locals. That’s because beloved Vietnamese pastries can be bought in droves for any occasion, whether saved as midnight snacks or gifted as sweet treats for friends and housemates. A convenient pit stop for those riding along Cao Thang, Duc Phat is an emporium for small Asian pizza buns, different varieties of mung bean cakes, sticky rice and sesame seed pies, stuffed bread coated in strings of dried pork, and countless more traditional goodies, averaging VND 11,000-20,000 for each. Custom or pre-made Vietnamese sponge cakes average VND 300,000.
Banh Canh Ghe
31 Cao Thang
Kick back with a beer and a satisfying bowl of banh canh ghe (noodle crab soup) after work. Each bowl, served small, medium or large (VND 45,000-65,000), comes with an entire small crab swimming in thick white noodles under a spicy, yellow curry-based broth that will make you sweat in glory. You’ll have to crack the crab limb from limb, but don’t be intimidated; mini baskets at each table are convenient for discarding all the unnecessary parts. Moreover, nibbling to find pockets of tender crab meat is a welcome and entertaining challenge in between active conversations with friends or coworkers. If you’re not feeling the crab, plates of grilled squid or snails also make good plates for sharing over cold beer (VND 50,000).
Banh Trang Nuong Da Lat
53-57 and 61 Cao Thang
Around 5pm, the sidewalk across from the Tam Tong Mieu Pagoda becomes filled with young locals that gather for Da Lat-style banh trang nuong (VND 10,000-21,000), or grilled rice paper, eggs and chives prepared and served in what resembles a thin and crunchy Vietnamese quesadilla. It’s a popular spot for the dish, so much so that it occupies two separate stretches of the sidewalk. The menu is only in Vietnamese, but you should opt for the banh trang trung bo (egg and beef), trung ga xe (egg and shredded chicken) or trung hai san (egg and seafood). They may not be filling enough for dinner, but they make a good appetiser. Of course, each slice, cut up with scissors, should be eaten with hot sauce.