As temperatures rise across the city, Dana Filek-Gibson seeks out Saigon’s best spots to escape the sun.
Between the intermittent downpours and an occasional cloud-covered afternoon, summer in the city has arrived. This, of course, means holidays and trips to the pool, lazy afternoons and time spent on rooftop terraces. It also means that you could fry an egg on your motorbike seat. From beneath a few layers of protective clothing or, at the very least, a glaze of sunscreen, Saigon residents are once again painfully aware of how a work shirt feels clinging to your back or that haunting sensation of skin on leather cushions. Inside, outside, before a fan, amid the air-conditioning, it doesn’t really seem to matter where we are: it’s hot.
But like any good expat will tell you, when the going gets tough, the tough get creative. Just because you spend most of the day looking like you recently showered with your clothes on is no reason to stay home. In an innovative city like Saigon, there are always new and interesting ways to beat the heat.
BCR Swimming Pool
Though it’s a bit of a journey from the city centre, BCR’s crystalline swimming pool is well worth the trek. Overlooking District 9’s Tac River, an offshoot of the Dong Nai River, two separate areas give kids a place to splash around as well as a five-lane lap pool for more serious swimmers. The infinity edge is a nice touch, giving the illusion that you’re swimming in the middle of the river but with the added benefit of chlorine. There’s also a spot for those who’d rather laze by the pool, as sleek sunbeds hover above the water with a panoramic view of the river. Entry costs VND 60,000 for adults and VND 40,000 for kids.
Khu Dan Cu Truong Thanh, D9
Tel: 09 46 66 46 16 / 09 03 03 81 00
Van Thanh Park
In a city starved for green space, Van Thanh Tourist Area remains one of the closer oases in town, a stone’s throw from District 1 and yet still blissfully secluded. While the park is often mentioned for its swimming pool, which overlooks a canal, Van Thanh is equally noteworthy for its peaceful garden, where cafe- and restaurant-goers can relax in a quiet, shaded space or tuck in to a Vietnamese meal in one of the charming thatched gazebos that hover above the water. The menu is reasonably-priced and Van Thanh, just a short turn off bustling Dien Bien Phu, is surprisingly serene for its location. In addition to a swimming pool, garden and restaurant, parents will also find a handful of games and activities for the kids.
48/10 Dien Bien Phu, Binh Thanh District
Tel: 08 35 12 30 27
Hidden in plain sight across the park from Pham Ngu Lao, The Warehouse is a cool, hole-in-the-wall downtown café outfitted in exposed brick and distressed wood-and-metal furniture. It’s also one of the only spots in Saigon to serve shaved ice cream (snow ice), a light and delicious frozen treat that makes a perfect refreshment. Each serving features a paper-thin sheet of ice cream layered upon itself, winding into some pretty impressive formations and topped with your choice of pineapple jam, raisins, bananas, passon fruit, red bean and a variety of other add-ons. The Warehouse’s signature dish runs between VND 53,000 and VND 58,000 per bowl. Flavours include strawberry, chocolate, coffee, green tea, coconut and others.
21 Nguyen Van Trang, District 1
Tel: 09 09 62 11 61
Pandora Sky Lounge
Hidden atop District 1’s HDTC building just north of Pham Ngu Lao, Pandora offers a different view of the city. Unlike the sky-high Bitexco helibar or the dizzying heights of Chill, this breezy, laid-back lounge overlooks a quieter part of downtown from the 14th floor, just high enough to catch a glimpse of Saigon’s ever-rising skyline but not so high as to feel disconnected from the city below. Pandora’s staff escorts guests up to a posh rooftop terrace replete with comfy wicker sofas, ample greenery, a trendy bar and a small waterway running through the centre of the space. Background music plays low enough that you’re able to hold a conversation over drinks, which include a range of beer, wine and cocktail options from VND 119,000 apiece. For livelier patrons, Pandora also hosts regular DJs and other more nightclub-related events indoors. However, this area is separate from the terrace so you can have your pick of both worlds here, relaxing on the roof in peace or indulging in a little late-night revelry inside.
HDTC Building 36 Bui Thi Xuan, District 1
Tel: 09 38 22 23 24
Cat Moc Spa
From the moment you enter its small storefront on the southwestern edge of District 1, Cat Moc Spa affords its patrons the royal treatment. Between welcome drinks in its cosy reception space, the tranquil, aromatic spa area, a well-trained staff and a healthy range of spa treatments, Saigon’s best-value spa manages to counteract your summertime stress without breaking the bank. Thai, Swedish, Vietnamese and hot stone massages feature on the spa menu, as do a range of body scrubs and several spa packages for a full day of relaxation. For a quick fix, stop in for some back and shoulder therapy or an invigorating body scrub, both of which run around VND 230,000 apiece. Full spa packages, which begin at two hours long, pull out all the stops and run anywhere from VND 548,000 to VND 1,628,000.
63 Tran Dinh Xu, D1
08 62 95 89 26