Le Loi Ho Chi Minh City is a street every visitor will likely walk down, Le Loi has gained a reputation for being a place for tourists. But among the touts and souvenir shops, Ruben Luong discovers some spots well worth visiting.
Flanked by historic landmarks, Le Loi understandably continues to be a commercial avenue for visitors roaming the city centre. On the left side as you leave Ben Thanh Market, tourist commodity shops are sardined along the street, crammed with aisles of knick-knacks, jade figurines, Saigon-branded merchandise, and gold jewelry. On the right, Saigon Centre and Saigon Square are congested destinations for clothing and accessories.
Small businesses continue to pop up and contribute to the tourist landscape, laced with cool cafes and food chains that serve as quiet resting stops from the commotion of Le Loi. Despite the transient vibe, there are still some shops for those of us who are settling in for the long haul.
90 Le Loi
The host outside Achaya Café greets passersby with enthusiastic Japanese salutations, escorting guests to sit at one of the cosy tables inside the open entrance. The two-storey eatery is deceptively small and narrow, with sleek, minimal décor delicately arranged in a manner only contemporary Japanese interiors seem to truly master. The tables near the entrance are a prime spot for people watching. The upstairs is dim and serene, home to a set of elegant booths lining the left wall for intimate meals. Treat yourself to a brisk glass of the cafe’s signature iced maacha tea (VND 70,000), also available as a float (VND 80,000) or ice-blended (VND 85,000). Achaya’s fusion menu boasts hearty lunch sets that range from VND 50,000-VND 170,000, including a US-beef hamburger steak for only VND 120,000. If you’re not that hungry, try the tofu cheese (VND 105,000), or sweet potato fries (VND 60,000).
36 Le Loi
Some might be initially surprised to see American pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s on Le Loi. But the Pennsylvania-based pretzelmonger has been dishing out their dough since 1988 and now has more than 1,400 locations in over 25 countries. The company plans to open 30 units over the next eight years throughout Vietnam. The shop on Le Loi is one of four new locations so far. Inside, there is a variety of sweet and savoury pretzels, such as almond, raisin (both VND 36,000), and pepperoni-encrusted pretzels that pair best with traditional dips like cheese or marinara (VND 18,000 each). Wash down your pretzel with a cup of golden peach Dutch ice (VND 30,000). Also, don’t miss the signs for the monthly promotions.
70b Le Loi
L’Usine’s second outpost on Le Loi is nearing its one-year anniversary, but somehow the location still feels new. At times, it seems it is less frequented than the original flagship boutique ensconced within Dong Khoi Street. On Le Loi, the trendy cafe’s small exterior is easy to miss while walking. Entering the space is a stark contrast from the street clutter. The lower-level shop is impeccably merchandised, featuring the same flagship brands, but offering slightly different selections of stock. It is still the only place to get your hands on a quality Moleskine journal (VND 550,000-VND 850,000), which makes a great gift for any occasion. Afterwards, ascend the grand staircase to the cafe, which offers considerably more table space for young professionals in need of a venue for meetings. For inspiring, independent work sessions, there’s an outdoor terrace with tables overlooking all of Le Loi.
68 Le Loi
Stationed above a jewelry shop, Mekong Quilts is full of traditional household and gift items made from silk, bamboo, and water hyacinth, all sold for a good cause. The shop operates under Mekong Creations, a non-profit organisation that generates work for low-income people by employing them to create high-quality handicraft products using sustainable materials. Products at Mekong Quilts come from more than 300 women employed in rural districts in Vietnam and Cambodia. About half of every VND 20,000 spent in the shop returns to the villages. Bowls, dishes, and colourful patchwork quilts range anywhere from about VND 50,000 to VND 400,000. The shop also produces bikes constructed with bamboo from the forests of Tanh Linh, where a team works an average of 50 hours to make a bike (VND 3,600,000-VND 8,700,000). If you’re curious, expats and tourists can inquire about the shop’s free bamboo bike rental offer, a unique way to explore the city.