The area to the south of Pham Ngu Lao Street, referred to for the rest of this article as simply Pham Ngu Lao, is the part of Ho Chi Minh City with the highest concentration of backpackers. The similarities between Pham Ngu Lao and the Khao San Road in Bangkok are many: lots of cheap hostels for younger travellers; restaurants serving Western food with English menus; tour agents selling point to point bus services to popular destinations in Vietnam; a largely young Western clientele frequently bars of a type you won’t generally find elsewhere in Ho Chi Minh City.
Side street in Pham Ngu Lao
Pham Ngu Lao is loved and hated by travellers to the city, often dependent on their age and their expectation. What most foreign visitors to Ho Chi Minh City would agree, however, is the Pham Ngu Lao is the most ‘accessible’ part of the city for first time visitors particularly younger travellers with little previous experience of coping in a major South East Asian city.
About Pham Ngu Lao
Pham Ngu Lao Street itself is often described as being the backpacker area in Ho Chi Minh City. This isn’t really true. Pham Ngu Lao Street is a busy major throughway with just a few backpacker oriented busy located there, such as travel companies whose bus services pull up roadside to pick up customers without the motivation to make their own way to the bus station for a much cheaper ride to wherever they are going next.
The roads around Pham Ngu Lao are busy
The main concentration of backpacker oriented restaurants, bars and guesthouses are on the roads south of Pham Ngu Lao Street: Bui Vien, Do Quang Dao, Duong Te Tham, Cong Quyhn and and the narrower side streets leading off these roads.
There are many bars in the Pham Ngu Lao area
There are guesthouses, bars and restaurants pretty much all over the Pham Ngu Lao area, many offering much the same thing. This is a part of Ho Chi Minh City where you will have no trouble walking from where you are staying to somewhere where you feel as though you would like to eat and drink. There are lots of ‘foreigner friendly’ places to choose from.
Pham Ngu Lao at night
Another advantage of staying in the Pham Ngu Lao area is that you are easy walking distance to some of the city’s major attractions such as Ben Thanh Market and the wonderfully relaxing green oasis that is Tao Dan Park.
Corner of Bui Vien and Do Quang Dao
This disadvantages of staying in the Pham Ngu Lao area are that its relatively poor value for money, there is lots of low level crime (such as pick pocketing and drug dealing) some of which is committed by foreigners as well as locals, and very little in the way of authentic local culture. The locals in this area are clearly jaded when it comes to dealing with streams of drunken tourists and they way they interact with foreign visitors reflects that. Expect some rude and aggressive service from many of the people working here who have become a bit fed up with the antics of foreign tourists, in rather the same way that local people in that other backpacker mecca, Koh Phangan in Thailand, have a short fuse when it comes to foreigners causing even minor problems. This said, if you behave well you are likely to be treated well. I have never had a problem there.
Indian food at the Bollywood Restaurant on Bui Vien Stret
If its your first night in Ho Chi Minh City and you just want somewhere to stay, and eat nearby, whilst you get your bearings in a new country, but you are aren’t sure where to stay in the Pham Ngu Lao area then we suggest booking a room in the inexpensive, but pleasant, Ha Vy Hotel on Do Quang Dao which runs south off Pham Ngu Lao Street and going for an Indian meal at the great value for money Bollywood Restaurant on nearby Bui Vien Road, which has outdoor seating set slightly back from the frenetic road in front.