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THE MANY FACES OF SAIGON CAFÉS

One of the first things accross people' mind when it comes to Vietnam is its coffee. Ca phe phin is a must-try drink.

Cafés are now the big thing in Saigon’s youth scene. You want to meet your friends? Okay, let’s go for some coffee. You want to be alone? Go for some coffee. You want to actually get some work done? Okay let’s go for some coffee. You want to feel hip and involved? Coffee is the answer. Literally every social problem of Vietnamese people can be solved over a cup of coffee, the same way the British do with their tea. If you’re a foreigner, there’s good chance that you don’t need that kind of problem solving when looking for a café in the city. Whether what you need is the taste of authentic coffee, a place to relax, or just a place to hang out, this is the list of cafés for you….

For relaxing: Cat café: Oromia

Address:  193A/D3 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, District 3

Airy and elegant and with  a touch of greenery, this is one of my favorite hideouts within the city. When you walk in, you will soon find yourself in a lush space, predominantly white and completely putting you  at ease. On the second floor, you can even play with their cats. Service is nice and as civil. Various drinks are offered, and taste quite good too, though the actual coffee is not what I would recommend here if you want to have a cup of traditional coffee. The pricing is not outrageous, but it is still pretty high compared to standard coffee places. The only minus for this place is the location. It is in an alley, and though it is quite near the city’s downtown, this is not a place along common tourist paths, so make sure to have your tour guide take you there!

SpaceServiceDrink qualityLocationPricing
8.788.0 (wide variety, and tastes good too)6.0 (kind of hard to find and not really central)6.9
                                       Oromia’s garden with lush trees and a cute pathway in between the stream
                                                                   And its seating area, which is full of natural lights

For a taste of traditional coffee: Cheo Leo Café

Address: 109 alley, Nguyen Thien Thuat street, Distrrict 3

This 79-year-old coffee shop was once the place that Vietnamese artists stopped to have a chat. This café is still using the technique that was traditional in Saigon, which is using a racket to put the ground coffee in, and then boil it, with the racket acts as the tea bag. This technique is rather old fashioned and extremely rare, even in Saigon’s café scene, due to  the import of fancy coffee machines and the more modern, single filter technique.

A meticulous and intricate process, to make the best coffee in this way, first tap water must be stored in a large cylinder for 3 days to get rid of the smell of sterilizer. Water and temperature have vital roles in producing the best coffee possible. The water must be boiled to a certain temperature, if it is too high, the coffee burns and gives an unfavorable sour taste, but if it is too cool, the best of the coffee can’t be released and the coffee won’t be flavorful enough. Coffee made by this technique is not as dense as the one made by single filters, but surely is the winner in term of flavor and fragrance. The shop may look strange and intimidating to tourists as  there is almost no sign to give out that this is a coffee shop.  There are no servers, just the two women making coffee, no other tourists, only middle aged Vietnamese men (and if their homes are nearby, they can be shirtless too!) . But, if you want to taste the authentic flavor of Vietnamese coffee and don’t mind a little adventure, then this is the place to be.

SpaceServiceDrink qualityLocationPricing
68.38.5 (for coffee, they only offer coffee here)6.0 (in an alley and not really popular with tourists)8.6 (super cheap, only 8.000 – 13.000 VND)
                                                                                               The shop’s humble facade …
                           Guarding its unique old style of making coffee. This thick liquid is pure coffee…
                                                                                 She pours this into a racket to strain it….
   And this is what you get in the end! A perfect Iced Milk Coffee!

For Instagram-worthy photos: Buihaus Coffee & Workshop

Address: Floor 7. Nguyen Hue Street, District 1

Hip and cool, this tiny little café is one of the most sought after for a Instagram worthy view of the most opulent street in Saigon, Nguyen Hue. Though the space is rather small, the café is very well kept and decorated with minimal details, so it doesn’t look very confusing. In rush hour, about 6-9 pm the place gets very crowded though, so it’s perhaps best to choose other hours to visit. One thing I really like about this café is that it has a small balcony that provides  a nice look down at Nguyen Hue below (but maybe not for those afraid of heights). The drinks are nothing special in my opinion, but with the location and the price, you do get added value.

SpaceServiceDrink qualityLocationPricing
7.5 (small but nicely decorated though)7.3 (can be slow on certain hour)7.3 (wide array, but not really good)7.9 (too…many…stairs)7.0
                                                           Buihaus’s modern designs
                       Its balcony offers one of the best view down Nguyen Hue pedestrian square

For Instagram-worthy photos: Sài Gòn Ơi Cafe

Address: Floor 5, Nguyen Hue Street, District 1

With a little less effort required  to climb the stairs in comparison to its building companion, I present to you Sài Gòn Ơi Café. This café is actually rather big for a  coffee shop on Saigon’s “golden” street,  and it is decorated in (kind of) rustic Vietnamese style in fusion with other modern furnishings. It also has a nice balcony to see the busy street too, but I prefer Buihaus’s balcony to this. I came here on two occasions with my friends, but I wasn’t really satisfied on both occasions. The first time here I had a mixed berries lassi, it was too sweet for my taste, and the second I had pandan and peppermint ice, and  it didn’t have any flavor. But the review of its coffee from my friend is quite good, so it would also be a nice place to drop by. The pricing is not very expensive, and on a cool afternoon, this can be the perfect place to watch the city from up high.

SpaceServiceDrink qualityLocationPricing
7.96.96.77.96
                  A lovely corner in the balcony
                                                Sai Gon Oi!’s design features traditional in fusion with trendy style

Have it like a native: Sidewalk Café

Address: Either at the Notre Dame area or Thu Thiem park area

These kinds of cafés are everywhere nowadays, but as I observed, the most prominent location for this kind of coffee service is concentrated around the Notre Dame Cathedral and along the river bank where the city skyline is easily within view. The equipment is not much, and you may even not have a proper seat–just a mat–and that’s it, and that will be a unique experience, I can assure you. These kind of cafés are endearingly called in Vietnamese as “ca phe bet”, which means the café where you have to sit with your butt touching the ground. Interesting name for a type of café, right? The taste of coffee in most of these establishments doesn’t differ much, and I would say that it’s normally quite good in my opinion. The real pleasure in this experience is the feeling of venturing into the lives of the Vietnamese youth. Who knows, maybe you can make some friends out of them, exchange culture, and maybe sing some songs together if one patron has a guitar (as many often do).

                                                        All we need is an old piece of paper and a cup of coffee…
       And we can make it into an open cafe! This sight is not uncommon in the area around Notre Dame

For a taste of traditional coffee: Racket Coffee

Address: 330 Phan Đình Phùng, Phú Nhuận Dist

Another prominent racket coffee place, though not as old as Cheo Leo Café, but also worth mentioning is Racket Coffee.  If you fancy an authentic café but with a little better space than the aforementioned Cheo Leo café, this is for you. Owned by an old couple with a recipe dating back to French Colonial days, this café is now a popular address for people who still cherish the art of Vietnamese coffee making. With less than 15,000 VND, you can get the artisan’s sweet devotion to and appreciation for this dying art, intertwined harmoniously with the somewhat bitter taste of the coffee itself.

SpaceServiceDrink qualityLocationPricing
7.0 (pretty vintage
if you ask me)
7.58.06.5 (is not in the downtown, but not really hard to find)8.1
                                                             Vietnamese Style: You don’t even need a table for coffee

For quick break from the city: Du Miên Garden Café

Address: 7 Phan Văn Trị, P. 10, Gò Vấp dist

Deep in a quiet valley of a non-central District, I was invited to this enormous café by Miss Vi. The place struck me as the most beautiful and opulent place I’ve ever been. Spacious and airy, this place is mostly for the very wealthy and a very small presence of tourists. This is basically a big garden combined with an enchanted forest.  It has a big tree and a big treehouse, with a pretty pond slowly flowing underneath the steps, filled by a mini waterfall. The price for drinks here is kind of high for my purse though, but the service and space are undeniably nice, so it does seem to be justified.

SpaceServiceDrink qualityLocationPricing
87.06.57.4 (far from the city center)6
                           Du Mien is one of the pioneers of the term “Garden Coffee” in Saigon

After this article, we hope that you can find the most suitable cafe to your taste in Saigon. Head to your favourite coffee with your travel mate, or with us.

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