With the start of the new academic year this month, Saigon’s international school community welcomes a fresh intake of teachers, parents and students. The first few weeks after arriving can be a difficult time for newcomers, particularly those with families in tow, when even something as simple as finding a decent hairdressers can involve a long and stressful trek around town.
Having now spent two years in the city, AsiaLIFE’s deputy editor, Simon Stanley, runs through the five places he wishes he’d found sooner, each one guaranteed to make life a little easier for those new to the city. Photos by Vinh Dao.
Getting a Haircut
Even the security guards were laughing as I stepped out of the salon. I’d been in town for just a few weeks and had stumbled into a very shady-looking hairdressers near my apartment. After showing the staff some photographs of how my hair used to look, I was briskly ignored and given the haircut of a teenage K-Pop star. It took three more visits before I finally learned my lesson.
I stumbled across Jasmine Spa after a recommendation from a friend. Their stylish salon area is bright and comfortable, with good English spoken and extremely friendly staff. My partner and I are now regular customers. A cut and style for men starts at VND276,000, VND368,000 for women, and kids are just VND161,000. Be sure to ask for a shampoo and blow dry at the end (VND150,000). The included head massage is sublime.
Manicures, pedicures and waxing are also available, and are equally well recommended by my lady-friend, with affordable massages and beauty therapies providing yet more reasons to spend an entire day there.
Jasmine Spa is at 45 Ton That Thiep, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Purchasing electrical goods
If you’re from the USA, you may have already learnt that the voltage here is double what you (and your appliances) are used to. If you’ve still got the burnt-out hairdryer to prove it, or need any other kinds of electrical appliance that wouldn’t fit into your suitcase, a shopping trip may be on your immediate agenda. But until amazon.vn arrives, you’re going to have to go out and get it yourself.
Electrical goods retailer Nguyen Kim, close to the Bui Vien backpacker area in District 1, boasts several storeys of essential appliances and non-essential gadgetry, including TVs the size of IMAX screens, hairdryers and grooming products, kitchen appliances (large and small), fans, water-coolers, cameras, phones and all of those little accessories and cables you forgot to pack.
For those in District 2, Metro and Big C, both located on the Hanoi highway heading out of town, are also worth a look.
Nguyen Kim is at 63-67 Tran Hung Dao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Tatses of home
It can be as easy as finding the brand of cereal your kids knew and loved back home to turn homesickness on its head. While stores like Annam Gourmet and An Phu Supermarket in District 2 provide many of the names you may be used to, the best range of imported goods can be found at two neighbouring stores in the heart of District 1, on Ham Nghi Street, right by the Bitexco tower (the curved one with the helipad). Australian Vegemite? Got it. French jams? Yep. American Betty Crocker cake mixes? Oh, yes. Heinz baked beans in a variety of flavours? Definitely, and surprisingly affordable too, as are most things in these two treasure troves of homeliness.
A range of fresh vegetables and fruit can also be found here, making them one-stop-shops for many expats in the city. Head upstairs in either shop for baking supplies and cookware, and if there’s anything you can’t find, their knowledgeable staff will be happy to help.
Phuong Ha and Thai Hoa (‘the import shops’) are at 58 and 60 Ham Nghi Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
It’s no secret that getting clothes tailor-made in Saigon is quick, easy and affordable, but with a range of options comes a spectrum of quality and reliability. It’s a hit-and-miss game really, until you find the tailor that suits your style and understands your needs. One definite ‘hit’ for my partner and I (and many of our friends and neighbours) is Thu Ha Tailor in District 1.
Away from the tourist-friendly-tailoring hotspots surrounding Ben Thanh Market, Thu Ha’s prices are reasonable and geared to suit the local market rather than the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ travellers looking to have a three-piece suit made in 24 hours.
Its owner speaks good English and is a great help if you are unsure about exactly what it is you need. While she doesn’t make men’s suits, she does make shirts, along with women’s formal and casual wear, jackets, coats, shorts, dresses, skirts and pyjamas. The row of fabric shops opposite nearby Tan Dinh Market, on Hai Ba Trung (plus the fabric vendors inside the market itself), will probably be your first stop, although Thu Ha does keep a small supply of her own fabrics.
Thu Ha Tailor is at 25 Nguyen Van Giai Street, Dakao, District 1.
Open Monday to Saturday, 8am – 12pm & 2pm to 8pm.
There are plenty of decent and respectable places to get a massage in Saigon, with prices so low compared the the UK, US, or Australia, for example, that getting the knots of life rubbed out of your tense muscles can become a regular pastime. Moc Huong Spa has two locations in District 1, and offers the ultimate pampering experience. Sure, there are cheaper massages in town, but with a sleek interior, male and female changing rooms, complete with steam room, sauna, hot showers and private lockers, Moc Huong is the place to go when you need a bit of luxury.
The spa menu offers a mix of standard, and not-so-standard treatments. Facials begin at VND550,000, and a Swedish body massage starts at VND360,000 for 60 minutes. Their signature massage (also VND360,000) is my favourite, featuring a blend of techniques from Thailand to Sweden, and Vietnam to Japan. For something a little unusual, go for the Hawaiian massage (VND360,000 for 60 minutes), which combines long flowing strokes in a dance-like rhythm. Feeling decadent? The six-hand massage is like nothing you’ve ever experienced, priced from VND1 million (for 90 minutes).
Moc Huong Spa is at 9c Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1, and 2a Chu Manh Trinh Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City