Ho Chi Minh City’s answer to Bangkok’s Khao San Road, Pham Ngu Lao Street boasts dozens of affordable guesthouses, cheap pubs, and backpacker-focused restaurants. In fact, Saigonese know it simply as the backpacker district. Despite the noise, traffic, and chaos, Pham Ngu Lao is a mecca for travelers looking to experience Saigon’s unfiltered energy.
In the heart of District 1, within walking distance of Ben Thanh Market and the War Remnants Museum, Pham Ngu Lao is a favorite destination for travelers on a budget. Even if you’re not staying here, you might find yourself visiting for the cheap-beer stalls, high-energy backpacker nightclubs, or affordable international fare.
Most Ho Chi Minh City tours eschew the charms of Pham Ngu Lao Street. Thanks to the quantity of accommodation here, however, it’s a stop on HCMC hop-on hop-off bus tours.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Visiting—or staying in—Pham Ngu Lao Street is a great way for younger, solo backpackers to meet other backpackers.
- Drive-by bag snatchings can be an issue on Pham Ngu Lao—don’t use your phone close to the sidewalk edge, and walk holding your bag on the side away from the road.
- The best way to help Saigon’s street kids, who are often trafficked, is to donate to a charity that looks after them, such as Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.
How to Get There
Pham Ngu Lao Street is in the center of Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1, close to the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, and other attractions. The 109 shuttle bus stops at Pham Ngu Lao Street on its way from the airport, about 6 miles (9 kilometers) away. It’s about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the train station, a journey best made by taxi or motorbike taxi.
When to Get There
Lively street life coupled with pavement cafés and bars give Pham Ngu Lao its energy, so you’re best off visiting during dry season, roughly November through April. That’s particularly true if you’re staying in the street’s budget guesthouses, as Pham Ngu Lao Street accommodation tends to have extremely limited communal space.
The Original Pham Ngu Lao
Pham Ngu Lao may be a byword for backpacker misbehavior and curbside drinking nowadays, but it takes its name from a Vietnamese hero. The original Pham Ngu Lao (1255–1320) was a Vietnamese general who beat back the forces of the Mongol and Chinese emperor Kublai Khan. He’s worshipped as a god in some parts of Vietnam, and most cities have a street (or two) named after him.