Pham Ngu Lao’s alleys are rabbit warrens. Barely wide enough to walk through, they are a bustle of activity. They are also the backpackers alleys, where guesthouse upon guesthouse can be found. Ho Chi Minh buildings, typically are one room wide and packed in here, one guesthouse after another. Cars cannot drive down here but scooters and motorbikes still try, despite the lack of space and the various vendors selling in the morning and early afternoon.
These vendors are not selling tourist stuff, but rather food for locals. Raw meat on a board close to the ground greets us as we leave our place every morning. Vegetables and fruit or ready-made pho and spring rolls abound. They pack up when the rush is over and sweep the alley behind them. They Pham Ngu Lao alleys are also a great way to see how people live in this area because everyone’s home is open. The ground floor, obviously where the entrance of the house is located, is usually two gates that are closed and locked if no one is home, but if occupied, these rabbit warrens are open to any nosy onlooker like myself. Let’s just say they make Tokyo apartments look palatial in size.
Some of these ground floor rooms have about as much space as a large dining room table. In there, you may see a small bed or someone napping on a tiled floor, always a television, perhaps a small shrine for their ancestors. Some of them have even less space. There is one place close to ours that is the size of a closet with water bottle crates stacked up high on both sides of the wall where a man sites on a chair in between the two stacks, watching a wall mounted TV. A small ladder goes off to the left for access to the upper floors. Other times you might see the tiniest kitchen (even by my Tokyo standards!) It really is amazing, the utilization of small space. I’m not sure what they do with the other rooms above but I assume they are for family and the bottom floor is essentially a sitting room. Of course the guesthouses have a much larger ground floor with space for their family to meet, eat dinner and watch TV. I havent been able to get very good photos of these alley ways without being intrusive but hopefully you will still find it interesting and hopefully visit yourself some day!