We met the delightful Miss Audrey Tran and her warm smile at her groovy shop, Saigon Kitsch, when I was scouting shops for the magazine story we were working on in Ho Chi Minh City.

The 26 year-old French-Vietnamese Audrey told us that she had started Saigon Kitsch just six months earlier, after leaving her home in Paris to move to Saigon to live with her grandmother.

“I came here for a holiday two years ago and I never left!” she tells us, as we admire the retro-cool gifts in her shop — notebooks, coffee mugs, scented candles, mouse pads, and purses — all boasting vintage designs from the French colonial period and familiar Communist propaganda images, and all designed by Audrey.

Located in one of Saigon’s typical ‘tube’ buildings, Saigon Kitsch shares the shophouse space with four hip little businesses, including Dogma (see this post), another boutique, and an art gallery. “Rents are going up all the time now…,” Audrey tells us, to explain the existence of the pseudo-collective.

“Saigon rents are almost as expensive as Paris!” Audrey complains, yet she clearly loves the city all the same. Otherwise, why else would she and the many other returning immigrants we keep meeting over the course of our few days in the city, be re-settling in Saigon?

“The atmosphere here in Saigon is very dynamic. There’s a happy mood. The majority of the people are young and very creative, in fashion and design,” Audrey explains. “Over the last five years the atmosphere has changed quite a lot towards accepting Western influence. There is more culture being expressed through shops, restaurants, bars, and through design. Many of the changes that have occurred have been due to foreign businesses, education, and the young Vietnamese generation.”

We ask Audrey what she most loves about Saigon. “The lifestyle, the music, and the food. But most of all, the people,” Audrey says. “People in general are very welcoming and sociable. This makes me feel comfortable to live here to work.”

Passionate and optimistic about her new home, and enthusiastic about sharing tips with us, Audrey was an obvious candidate for the Saigon edition of our Local Knowledge series…

Q. What do you most love about your work?

A. What I love most about my work is being able to interact with visitors from all over the world. I love to be able to create a memorable souvenir that people can take home that will remind them of Vietnam.

Q. Why should people come to Saigon?

A. For the experience of the generosity and love of the Vietnamese people and their culture. Also, Saigon is becoming much more traveller friendly, which is making it easier for foreigners to get around the city.

Q. 3 words to describe Saigon?

A. Lively, passionate, and irresistible.

Q. 3 ways to describe the people of Saigon?

A. Friendly, hard working and generous.

Q. Your top recommendations for visitors to Saigon?

A. Enjoy the colonial houses influenced by the French culture, the famous Ben Thanh Market, the history on display in the War Remnants Museum, the exciting nightlife, and also shop at Saigon Kitsch (which you can read about here). Those who love to shop should also, visit the new Vincom Shopping Centre. Because these things will provide insight into what Vietnam was and is.

Q. Best souvenir from Saigon?

A. The lacquerware that is made here is practically the best in the world and it is still a real bargain. It makes the best souvenir. T-shirts are also abundant and very cheap and are a good souvenir as well. If your friends at home are coffee lovers, then Vietnamese coffee is among the best in the world, and very inexpensive here.

Q. Must-do eating & drinking experiences?

A. For their first time in Saigon, people must eat at the famous restaurant, Pho Hoa, which from generation to generation has operated from a very old house. It attracts visitors from all over because of its famous Vietnamese beef soup “Pho Thai” and its warm welcome. Quan Ngon has beautiful architecture and a very nice ambiance with traditional Vietnamese food with many different kinds of dishes. At night, I also like The Deck bar, set on the water, where you can relax with a cocktail.

Q. An essential thing to know before coming to Saigon?

A. The most important thing to know is how to say: “hello!” (xin chao), “thank you!” (cam on), and “see you!” (tam biet), in the Vietnamese language, because knowing some of the language is necessary to survive!

Q. Most important phrase to learn in Vietnamese?

A. “This is how much?” (Can i la bao nhieu tien) and “discount?” (bot di). When foreigners come to Vietnam the first thing that Vietnamese people will do is to give them higher prices for their products to take more money, so they have to learn what things cost.

Q. Any other advice?

A. Only take Vina Sun and Mailin taxis!

 

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