Every morning, Saigon’s streets fill with a heady mix of ambling cyclists, farmers arranging fragrant produce, carts dishing out pho and incense trailing from hundreds of pagodas. It is the city’s golden hour. Over many weeks, Gemma Cagnacci photographed parts of the city she has called home for three years just as dawn was breaking. Here is her guide to the best carts, stands, stalls and markets for your next trip with PRIOR.
District 2 residents socialize by the Saigon River before the heat of the day kicks in.
A quiet moment with two bicycles against a wall near a market area in District 1
In the cool of the morning, most Saigonese are up and exercising in parks and along canals that run throughout the city.
District 5 is famous for its markets of varying sizes and specialities, which all come alive as the sun comes up.
Prawns from the Mekong Delta, just a few hours south of the city
Fish, prawns, crabs and cockles—seafood is a big part of Vietnam’s cuisine due the country’s concentrated river delta systems. Here, a fishmonger at Hoa Binh market
While markets are usually located in a central building in each ward, they often also spill out into surrounding streets and alleyways.
Ben Tre province, just south of Saigon, is rich with coconuts.
A vendor in District 2 prepares fresh coconut juice, a popular drink in the city.
The Jade Emperor Pagoda in District 1
Settled by Chinese traders, District 5 home to medicinal and herb shops as well as a relatively large concentration of pagodas. Here, a woman burns incense at Thien Hau Pagoda.
Lotus flowers, ready to be given as offerings at the Jade Emperor Pagoda in District 1
Pho is a breakfast staple and probably the most famous of Vietnamese dishes. Many, many pho stalls dot each district, and each has its own recipe—and set of loyal customers.
At Pho Tai Lan, the beef is stir-fried before being added to the broth.
A traditional food cart from Cho Lon, District 5, the historical Chinatown of Saigon
Another breakfast staple, banh mi is probably one of the best examples of how French and Vietnamese cuisines have come together: baguettes are filled with barbecued pork, ham, pate, chilis and fresh herbs. Here, a banh mi cart in District 1
A cart in District 2. Normally, scooters are queued up in the morning, as banh mi makes for a good takeaway breakfast.
Durian fruit, a delicacy in Southwest Asia, sold on the roadside in District 1. Durian season is usually between May and September.
Two boys eat pho in District 2.
At peak traffic hour, scooters rush past the General Sciences Library of Ho Chi Minh City, one the most uniquely Vietnamese modernist buildings in the city.
Gemma’s guide to Saigon’s best carts, stands, stalls and markets:
Click here to save this map for your next trip to Saigon.
Gemma has lived in Saigon for three years after relocating from Sydney, Australia, with her husband and two boys—a dream come true after first falling in love with Vietnam in 2006. She has since started her own business, Simply Saigon, an ethically and environmentally minded swimwear and activewear manufacturing studio. In her spare time, Gemma photographs the city, capturing the pulse of the place she now calls home.