Quirky and unusual, my favourite Saigon cafes are where I get most of my work done. Coffee shops are something for which Vietnam’s largest city is well known. It seem that everywhere there is a gap in a wall, or a space between two houses a cafe will spring up. Some are no more than just a few plastic seats in the streets with the dark black stuff being served from a trolley or a makeshift stand. Many others are anything from dingy back street holes in the wall to trendy establishments, what hey all have in common is good coffee and a quirky atmosphere. Finding some of them can be a job for Indiana Jones, but when you do, you are often rewarded with an absolute gem.
I was asked by Vietnamese TV Station VTC10 to visit a few of my favourite Saigon cafes for a TV show. They filmed, I wrote and was interviewed. This was an interesting collaboration, hope you enjoy it. The TV show can be viewed on youtube
So Where Are My Favourite Saigon Cafes?
Address: 58C Tran Quoc Thao, Ward 7, District 3.
Caphe Da Cost: VND 37,000
Let’s start off with a corker! One of my favourite Saigon cafes. This is so secret that without paying attention you could walk past it, never mind ride by on a motorbike without noticing it. There is no hint from the outside that this is even a cafe at all. Inside it is dark, so dark that your eyes have to adjust upon entering. It is eerily quiet, something that is unusual in Saigon Cafes. I loved the coffee here, it’s strong and dark just how I like it, and full of flavour. It is served in squat glasses and comes with the ubiquitous free Cha Da. Music is played at a low but audible volume and conversations are held in whispers. This place has a completely unique atmosphere, unlike anything else I have witnessed in Ho Chi Minh City. What artificial light there is comes from four tiffany lamps and a couple of candles.
Address: Hoang Sa, District 1
Tel: +84 937 430600
Caphe Da Cost: VND 15,000
This is a nice corner coffee shop over two floors on one of my favourite Saigon thoroughfares. The two sides of the Chieu Loc - Thi Nghe Canal provide an amazing array of coffee shops, barbecue restaurants, cafes and bars in the city. Truing Sa runs down one side of the river and Hoang Sa down the other. This is one of the nicest parts of town and is often neglected by expats. It’s green and clean during the day and delightfully lit and bustlingly busy by night.
In many ways 3T Coffee wouldn’t qualify as one of my favourite Saigon cafes, but it is such a great place to sit and watch the world go by. Get an upstairs seat by the balcony edge and enjoy the real Saigon. There is seating upstairs and downstairs and also a small area with air-con. However for me, it has to be upstairs al fresco to get the best out of this little gem. The coffee is good and strong and comes with a complimentary Cha Da, and at an reasonable VND15,000. Internet reception is pretty good as well which is a major factor for me.
Address: 299B Hoang Sa, District 1
Tel: +84 937 950 539
Caphe Da Cost: VND
Just up the road from 3T Coffee you’ll find another of my favourite Saigon cafes. You can file this one under hidden in plain sight. It’s one of those little beauties that you can ride past without giving it a second glance. The greenery growing over the front keeps it well hidden. It’s quirky in the way that the Vietnamese do best. There’s an old French Mobylette moped parked inside on the upstairs level. These bikes were very popular in the 70s and the term Mobylette became a generic term for all bikes made by the Motobècane manufacturer. The decor resembles an old garden shed and there are old TV sets lying around the place. The seating looks like it was made in a school woodworking class, but I love it. Vietnamese music plays at a sensible level and the clientele is mainly local.
The coffee is ok, a little thin for my liking but the atmosphere more than makes up for that. This really is a terrific example of the more unusual Saigon Cafes. I have to say though, in some ways the more unusual, the more normal in this amazingly quirky city.
Address: 100 Tran Huy Lieu, Phu Nhuan District.
Tel: +84 9 0951 1095
Caphe Da Cost: VND 39,000
This place is quite amazing, a true hidden gem. Many coffee gardens try to create an authentic garden feel in the middle of the city, but few achieve it as well as Tram. There is water just about everywhere, running down stone features on the walls and swirling around your feet as Koi Carp swim by. As you try and navigate the stepping stones upon entrance, one slip here and you are going paddling. The ground floor consists of little half-hidden rooms, while the upstairs is more of a coffee bar setting. Brightly coloured ornaments and stone pots abound and a large tree winds in between the tables. Another tree completes the canopy and provides just enough shade to keep the temperatures down, whilst the sound of water is your constant companion, in what is a very nice ambience indeed. I love this place. An inky black, dripped, Caphe Da comes with a complimentary Cha Da and is fine, albeit a little bitter. This quirky Saigon Cafes sits on a one way street between Hoang Van Thu and Nguyen Van troi, and needs to be approached from the Hoang Van Thu end. It is a lovely place and one of my favourite Saigon cafes.
Du Mien Garden Coffee
Address: 7 Phan Văn Tri, Ward10, Go Vap District
Tel: +84 8 3894 5555
Caphe Da costs
If there’s one thing that the Vietnamese can do well it’s kitsch. Du Mien is unashamedly kitsch and as a result is incredibly popular with the locals. Stuck out on a limb in Go Vap, it is worth a drive out. It is definitely one of the favourite Saigon cafes among the locals. The theme is kind of Tarzan meets Walt Disney, with tree-houses doubling up as coffee rooms and waterfalls providing part of the audible backdrop. Unfortunately the rest of the background noise comes in the form of James Last or Avé Maria and the constant stream of flights going into Ton San Nhat Airport which is very close by. What can I say it’s cheesy, but your Vietnamese girlfriend will absolutely love it.
Address: 14 Ton That Dam, Nguyen Thai Binh, District 1
Tel: +84 128 657 5464
Caphe Da costs VND 40,000
This is one that you won’t find by accident in a thousand years. It’s upstairs in a run down old Apartment block on the edge of District 1. Up a dingy staircase to the first floor and turn right follow the crusty signs. I like it, it’s like an eccentric old cat lady’s house in England. The furniture makes little sense and the ornaments are very weird. Old Alarm clocks, a old TV, a truly antique type writer and dusty books. The coffee is good, authentic and flavoursome. There was a steady stream of eclectic customers who all seemed to know the young girl serving the drinks. A caphe da costs VND40,000 which when you add in VND10,000 for parking makes this one of the more expensive places in which to enjoy your coffee, I will, though, be coming back for more.
The River Restaurant
Address: 199 Bis Nguyen Van Huong, Thao Dien, District 2
Tel: +84 907 656 667
Caphe Da costs VND 40,000
This has been one of my favourite Saigon cafes for quite a while. It has become one of my regular “offices” as well. It’s the perfect place to relax or work. Right on the bank of the Saigon River, it is extremely picturesque. Huge tankers sail by as I sit working. Occasional long tail boats and the odd speed boat also provide an interesting break in the views. They do really good lunch deals as well. It is hard to imagine that you are in middle of a massive city like Saigon.
This is a nice spot in the heart of the backpacker district; Pham Ngu Lao. Cong Coffee serves up excellent Caphe Den Da for VND30,000 and a special mention must be made for their wonderful coconut coffee, it’s a delight. One of six locations throughout the city and more in other cities. This is a great place for people watching on one of the busiest streets in the city. Tables and chairs inside and the tiny traditional seats outside. It is easy to spend a few hours here. Another frustrating place for parking at VND10,000 but it’s Bui Vien, so you can expect it. The place is busy all the time, always a good sign, especially when half the clientele is Vietnamese.
And Sadly . . . As I prepared this piece, La Rotonde on Ham Nghi in District 1 was open and serving good coffee to a grateful clientele. . . and then it was gone. It a shame that La Rotonde has closed its doors. This was a lovely place in the heart of District 1. Quirky and in a great location it was one of my favourite Saigon cafes in which to work. In a city where endless coffee bars seem to thrive, it is surprising that this little belter could not.
So they you have it, just some of my favourite Saigon cafes. It is by no means a definitive list, it just happens to be the ones that I frequent at the moment. Give it a month and the list will undoubtedly change; there are so many. I’m sure that this is a subject that I will revisit.