Exploring Saigon’s Doan Van Bo Alleyways – once notorious for their criminal gangs and mafia personnel.
District 4 is the smallest district in Ho Chi Minh City. It is also the most notorious. Despite being located next to the tourist and business centre of District 1, the area is filled with a series of maze-like alleyways, some of which barely ever see sunshine. The area was once notorious for criminal gangs and illegal activities – food delivery drivers refusing to service District 4 for fear of having the food stolen, along with their motorbikes.
On my most recent trip to Saigon I ventured into District 4’s most concentrated set of alleyways – Doan Van Bo – and was subsequently chewed and spat out. I felt feelings that I haven’t felt in years while travelling: nervous excitement; total sensory overload; and at one point, (unwarranted) fear, stupidly thinking I wouldn’t be able to get out! (Once you walk in and start weaving your way around the lanes it is incredibly easy to lose your bearings.)
Don’t get me wrong: the area is safe now. But it is still totally crazy to walk around, and is as pure a travel experience as you are likely to have in HCMC. No tourists, just curious locals wondering what the hell you are doing there. An impossible number of mopeds. And storefronts that had dead baby goats in large jars, pickled in vinegar. None of the photos truly do it justice, but it was a great travel experience.