In the old neighbourhood of Pham Viet Chanh in Ho Chi Minh City’s Binh Thanh District, a Japanese community has rapidly emerged in the masses over the past three years. The once forgotten area between District 1 and District 2 has flourished into a special blend of Japanese and Vietnamese culture.
Binh Thanh is full of maze-like alleyways that are bisected by large overhead highways. Any bridge from District 1 will lead to this intricate neighbourhood referred to as “The Japanese Ghetto” by some locals. Since rent prices are relatively low compared to Districts 1 and 2, many Japanese expats have come here to build new lives as well as open new businesses.
An evening walk in Binh Thanh will likely exhibit grandmas playing their grandchildren, cockfights, monks on their way to Buddhist temples, and unruly outdoor coffee joints that block the way of passersby.
At a closer glance, several hidden-in-plain-sight bars and restaurant lure its fellow Japanese and Vietnamese neighbours in like moths to open flames. These hubs and dive bars have given Saigon’s uniquely named district a whole new surge of life.
In this aptly named Binh Thanh Triangle – there are (you guessed it) three bars.
First up, Lozzi at 85/1 Pham Viet Chanh. This step-back-in-time wine bar, owned by Yuka Nakagawa, is filled with Japanese customers every night who proudly call Binh Thanh, home.
A few doors down at 80 Pham Viet Chanh, another local haunt is Birdy. Founded by a Japanese man, it is currently managed by a Dutch contemporary artist, Andy Woortman.
According to Woortman, the bar has a communal aspect not much different from a typical tra da place.
Lastly, there is an old ruin bar named Khoai, 89 Pham Viet Chanh, named after the northern Vietnamese slang for “difficult”.
When owner, Thanh Hai, got the idea to create a ruin bar, he had already came up with the name. Hai explains that transforming a ramshackle place into something beautiful is something that’s generally unheard of – therefore, perhaps “difficult”.