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COFFEE SHOPS // vietnam


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» Buying Real Estate in Vietnam?
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Tuesday, November 24, 2010

Cafes by Numbers

The glorious colors of xoi are displayed in this rice stand, at Ben Thanh Bus Station in downtown Saigon.

THINKING UP A NAME FOR SOMETHING (OR SOMEONE) IS THE HARDEST THING, I ALWAYS WORRY THAT I AM MAKING A LAME CHOICE. Café owners in Ho Chi Minh City do not have to deal with this dilemma, because it is perfectly acceptable just to name the establishment after the street number, the address. It is not only acceptable, in fact, it is fashionable... even clichéd. Walk around Ho Chi Minh City and you will see numerous cafés with names like Café 99, Café 42, Café 88, and whatever. On the way to Chợ Lớn one weeknight back in July I passed these coffeshops, one of them called the Café (Máy Lạnh) 204, and one of them called the Café 206. Obviously they were neighbors. For more cafes by numbers in this coffee loving city, click here.

VIETNAM IS ONE COFFEE LOVING NATION, AND CONSEQUENTLY, CAFES ARE UBIQITIOUS. Starting the day with a bowl of pho soup and a glass of strong black Vietnamese coffee is the best way to go in this part of the world. And while there might not be many (or any?) Starbucks Coffee Shops to be found in Ho Chi Minh City, there are plenty of cafes which are just as good, if not better. (Hint: I am being ironic/sarcastic in that last sentence!)

Alo Tra: 2 Ton That Tung St, Dist. 1; 235 A5/7 Nguyen Van Cu St, Dist. 1.
This is a highly rated cafe according to foreigners who frequent it. Some of the beverages served here include various dimensions of tea, milk tea, soy milk, fruit juice, and yoghurt drink, all served in a distinctive red paper cup. Prices start at 6000 Dong. There are some specialty drinks costing a little more, because you have to pay for quality -- the Tra Sua Tran Chau tea costs 6000 Dong, for example. Check it out if you love your drinks on the tea side.

Bach Dan Cafe: Corner of Le Loi and Pasteur Sts, Dist. 1.
In the heart of the backpacker district. One Australian writer had this to say about this establishment: "I'm sitting at my favourite table at the Bach Dang Cafe and I'm looking out for the Winklepicker Boy. I scan the bedlam of the busy street corner and the passing pedestrians but he, his distinctive slippery shuffle and his rattling shoeshine box, are nowhere to be seen...
"The first thing I noticed about him were his shoes. While his T-shirt and shorts were just a few loose threads away from being rags, his feet were the proud bearers of one of the finest pairs of black winklepickers I'd ever seen. Long, slender and slightly dangerous, they gleamed like the Saigon River on a moonlit night.
"He told me the oversized shoes were all that he had left of his father, of his family. In the room he slept in at night with some other street boys, he clasped them tight to his heart, otherwise they'd be gone in the morning."
It is a typically Ho Chi Minh City tableau. You are hanging out in one of your favorite cafes or restaurants, watching the traffic hurl itself by crazily outside, and some kid in a bunch of rags starts pestering you for a shoeshine, or a donation, or to buy some postcards.

Bite: 65 Le Loi St (near the intersection of Ton That Tung St), Dist.1.
This may be of interest to Japanese readers:
ファーストフードと言えばKFCとロッテリアの出店競争が目立ちますが、その一方で今まで見たことのないファーストフード店がぽつぽつ誕生しています。レライ通りの西の端近くにできたBiteがそのひとつ。「Take a break... Enjoy a Bite!」
In other words, when one thinks of Fast Food one usually thinks of KFC or Lotteria (if one is Japanese that is!) -- however, there are little known alternatives to these fast food giants, and Bite is one of them! The company slogan also sounds fitting -- take a break, relax, this is one fine cafe for weary travellers. Some of the items on the menu include hotdog (10,000 Dong), fruit juice (10,000 Dong), Combo Meal (hotdog, chips and coffee, 25,000 Dong), and pho, the food/drug of a nation, available for 16,000 Dong. Inside the cafe Thai programs play on TV, arousing the suspicion that this is a Thai owned chain. These suspicions were confirmed by the discovery of chilli sauce bottles on the tables -- a dead giveaway for the Thai influence of this cafe!

Cafe Kem:.

Cafe Terrace: Saigon Center, 65 Le Loi St, Dist.1.
Open from 7am to 11pm, this cafe is located on the first floor of the Saigon Center Building. According to one Japanese site which reviewed this cafe, tables spill out on to the street. The site goes on to add: 店内は洒落たソファーや椅子が置かれ、かかっている音楽はベトナムの喧騒と別世界の音楽です。
Wireless Internet is said to be available, but according to the Japanese visitor quoted above, nobody was using it at the time of his or her visit, so that cannot be verified. The reviewer claimed that the atmosphere of the place was excellent for meetings and other activites, but a little expensive -- it costs at least 25,000 Dong to make an order! And if you don't make an order, you can't hang out -- that's the rule! Therefore, the reviewer recommends the Paris Deli cafe instead, which costs only 14,000 Dong to hang out in.

Điểm Hẹn Cafe: 3 Thang 2 St, Dist. 10. Phone: (08) 3864 1718.


This bar is open to the street on two sides on the groundfloor, offering a majestic view of the surging traffic. From this vantagepoint the road appears to be truly a force of nature, a faster version of the many Ho Chi Minh City rivers. All that traffic makes one hell of a noise, which Điểm Hẹn tries to drown out by playing pop music at high decibel. When I was there I heard Lenka at least once, reminding me of the time I had met her at the Tender Trap nightclub in Sydney back in 1996. G7 Club: 82 Bui Thi Xuan St, Dist. 1/
On the second floor there is a coffee shop, restaurant, piano bar, billiard's room, Internet space, meeting room, and even an art gallery. Business atmosphere as is reflected in the prices -- $US3 for a hot coffee, for example. A small beer is $US3 which is a lot of money in Vietnam.

Kissaten: 361/21/2 Nyugen Dinh Chieu St, Dist. 3. Phone: 832 6783. Email: kissaten@pvthcm.org.
"Kissaten" is the old Japanese word for "cafe", and this place is reputedly haunted by Japan-loving Vietnamese. It is like a little piece of Japan in Vitenam. While the cafe owner has never actually been to Japan, he/she learnt how to conduct a proper Japanese tea ceremony just by looking at photos and reading books about the matter. Properly prepared and poured Japanese tea doesn't come cheap -- in this case it costs 100,000 Dong. Ice cream costs 35,000 Dong, Orange Coffee 20,000 Dong. The place is packed with Japanese and Vietnamese on Friday nights.

Luna Cafe: 122A Pasteur St, Dist. 1. Phone: 822 6665. Email: luna@hcm.vnn.vn.
This a cafe run by and for Japanese, although I am sure other nationalities are welcome. Featuring Japanese food, Fast Food, Vietnamese food, manga comic books, and so on.

Sinh Cafe: De Tam 246.
"サイゴンのデタム通りに・る格安ツアーや各種鉄道バスなどの手配をしてくれる、旅行代理店。昔から日本人のバックパッカーなどに人気の・る老舗。日本人のスタッフもいます。De Tam通り246番地。"

Trung Nguyen: Chain cafe, outlets across Ho Chi Minh City and quite possible coming to a place near you. Website: Click here. For my full evolving guide with pictures, click here.



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