Pham Ngu Lao Street in Ho Chi Minh City is on the western edge of District 1 and is renowned as the place where most backpacking travellers stay during their holiday.
A 25-minute taxi ride from Tan Sot Nhat International Airport, it comprises numerous lanes and back alleys though the main thoroughfares include Pham Ngu Lao, De Tham, Bui Vien, and Do Quang Dao streets.
Set along these alleyways are western-style restaurants, coffee shops, and international bars, countless tour companies and kiosks, affordable motels, hostels and guesthouses (as well as many of the so-called ‘mini-hotel’ buildings usually with six to seven floors, rarely offering an elevator), internet cafes, pharmacies, and souvenir-and-craft shops.
Pham Ngu Lao Street is not limited to only low-budget travellers. Its own unique vibe draws people from everywhere due to its close proximity to prominent landmarks in Ho Chi Minh City. As there is always something going on in Pham Ngu Lao Street, many visitors prefer to enjoy local street food or people-watching while enjoying the incredibly cheap bia hoi draught beer on the roadside.
Pham Ngu Lao Attractions
Although Pham Ngu Lao has been developing fast over the past decade, there are still lots of charming colonial-era buildings as local families have been living there for generations. The street scene can seem a little crazy with hawkers selling just about everything, ranging from cigarettes to massage services.
Budget-conscious tourists also opt to stay in hotels within Pham Ngu Lao due to its convenient location nearby many city landmarks and interesting attractions. The famous Ben Thanh Market and Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum are a 10-minute walk away from the backpacker district while Reunification Palace and Mariamman Hindu Temple are less than 10 minutes away via taxi.
Pham Ngu Lao Dining
Saigon’s street eating scene is a must for first-time visitors to the city and the only risk is the ice served in your drinks which can be from doubtful sources. Reward yourself with local favourites such as banh mi sandwiches with all the fixings, banh xeo (pancakes), pho (the most common and popular rice noodle soup), bun bo hue (a rice noodle soup thicker than pho), and local coffee. Take advantage of the restaurants in the Pham Ngu Lao Area as they’re known for delicious and well-priced food. Numerous cafes selling powerful Vietnamese coffee are also prevalent, usually fitted with high-speed Wi-Fi.
Pham Ngu Lao Nightlife
Pham Ngu Lao nightlife is also one of Ho Chi Minh’s finest, with throngs of street vendors, bia hoi stalls, lively bars, and downtown clubs filling up the lively scene. Interesting nightlife entertainment spots include The View Rooftop Bar, Seventeen Saloon, Go 2 and Crazy Buffalo Nightclub as well as many smaller pubs that are known for their cheap drinks and happy hour promos. It’s also common around here to meet friendly expats who are more than happy to share a few tips about travelling in and beyond Vietnam.
Pham Ngu Lao Shopping
If your shopping list in Vietnam includes conical hats (the unofficial national symbol), handicrafts, paintings, silk products, tee-shirts, rice paper, tea, coffee, coffee containers, coconut candies and tropical fruits, you will definitely find them in Pham Ngu Lao Street.
There are plenty lively street markets and modern shopping malls nearby as well as boutique shops and art galleries within the narrow lanes of Pham Ngu Lao. Do note that while shopping here can be so much fun for most people because of the attractive prices, it’s still wise to compare prices and bargain before making a purchase.
Pham Ngu Lao Activities
If you want to immerse yourself in the local culture, we highly suggest getting up early and visit the parks within the area. It is interesting to see (and even to join in on) the elders participating in Tai Chi-like exercise sessions. Another must-do is heading to the morning markets such as Ben Tanh Market, where local vendors sell a wide array of fresh produce, household supplies, and Vietnamese street food at attractive prices.
As Pham Ngu Lao is not such a large area, it’s the perfect place to explore on foot - the best time to do this is in the morning and late afternoon as the weather can be rather scorching at the height of the day. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are also travel agencies that can help arrange for day trips within the city centre and beyond.