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
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
"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
"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
Bite: 65 Le Loi St (near the intersection of Ton That
Tung St), Dist.1.
This may be of interest to Japanese readers:
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 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.
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: email@example.com.
"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.
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.
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.