Nov 9 - Dec 17, 2014
Discovering Saigon's Cafe CultureLocation: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Currency Rate Exchange: US$1 = ~VND23k
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Vietnam's Social Habit
Aside from the swarm of motorbikes in Saigon, another unique thing I noticed was the proliferation of cafes. This coffee culture however, is not unique to Saigon only. I've seen this phenomenon all over Vietnam, from Phu Quoc Island in the West to Da Lat in the north. Every street in every district has its fair share of java nook from sidewalk vendors to upscale coffee chains. Vietnamese love their coffee, but more than that, they love to be with friends and get together in cafes - it's a lifestyle choice and a social habit. It's not unusual to see them on an outdoor table with their drink anytime of day...from sunrise to sundown. What's special about their caffeine addiction is the culture trending out of it. Independent cafes develop their own unique concept that make it stand out with inspired styling and innovative design. It's unique, it's bold and it's definitely worth a visit. I can't cover all these artistic places, but here's a sampling of what got my attention.
111 nguyen phi khanh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | email@example.com | 08 3820 3469
Cafetram looks more like your fine-dining venue more than a cafe. It has subdued pin-light ambience, classic soft jazz vocals in the backdrop, entrance slate blocks over koi pond and mural-sized paintings on the walls. Because the owner is an accomplished film maker and an audiofile, the concept leans of a film studio complete with vacuum tube amplifiers and vintage movie cameras on display. Perfect place for a date, to do some online activity, hang-out with friends or simply enjoy a good cuppa coffee.
148 Nguyen Cong Tru, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Hao Cafe has a defined coffee roasting theme - an old-world loft-style wooden warehouse set in an open concept. It has an industrial weighing scale for sacks of coffee beans, roasted coffee in jars, grinder, antiquated-looking book shelves, etc. It has big wooden-framed windows that open up to the street making the place feel alfresco and 'connected'. Lighting is likewise subdued by low-wattage hanging lamps. It has the characteristic low table/chair feature of a Saigon cafe.
Hub Book Coffee
18A Cong Hoa Str., Ward 4 Tan Binh Dist., Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam | firstname.lastname@example.org | +84 62771422
Hub Book Coffee has one of its long walls lined up by wooden shelves filled with books, like a library. The people who usually come here have their laptops, school work or study materials - they spend time lingering over their drinks while they pour-on the hours finishing what they came to do. For the more serious who need quiet time, the 2nd level is designed to keep the noise down. Imagine this place to be a bookstore or a library serving coffee.
Saigon's coffee culture is what I would call an addictive social habit. It is truly inspiring. I have seen cafes in many cities in the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia, mostly the big multi-national chains - Starbucks, Gloria Jean's Coffee, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, etc. But it's not what I would call a cafe culture. These big chains look the same all over the world. The independent cafes of Saigon take it to the next level - in its thriving proliferation, in innovation, in design, in its uniqueness and in its bold statement. Independent cafes in Saigon are a cultural institution.
p.s. - having said all those superlatives about Saigon's cafes, I would like to add one more - smoking is allowed and practised inside the air-conditioned section of its cafes, notwithstanding there are outside tables for such indulgence. To a non-smoker, inhaling someone else's second hand smoke is a lot of discomfort to say the least.
Reader Comments:Agnes Cafe
(Dec 19, 2014) Thanks for contacting and letting us know your story which is quite exciting. Best regards.
(Dec 14, 2014) Thank you for the mention. We much appreciate that. Have a great time traveling!
Hub Book Coffee
(Dec 14, 2014) We'll expand this place into a public library soon in 2015 and 2016. Will keep you posted. And again, thank you for mentioning us & for your visit
Next stop: Overnight in Pleiku
- if you're buying a coffee grinder, choose the burr-type instead of the blade type. The burr-type grinds coffee to a more consistent grade (a little pricey but worth it)
- coffee goes stale fast. Store it in the freezer.
- don't use boiling water to brew coffee. Wait a minute for the boiled water to cool a bit before pouring into the coffee grounds. Boiling water releases the bitter alkaloides in coffee.
- have your coffee beans ground according to your brewing device. French Press, coarse. Drip coffee maker, fine. Espresso, very fine. Ibrik (Turkish way of brewing), pulverized
- use cream (the one for making fruit salad) for coffee instead of milk or Coffeemate for superior taste and texture
- ground coffee absorbs external odors - keep it insulated
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- Cafescape of Hanoi's Old Quarter, Vietnam Jan 6-24, 2019
- Rediscovering the Cafe Tradition of Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Exploring The Cafe Scene Of Tagbilaran Oct 7, 2017
- Discovering the Neighborhood Cafes of Singapore Aug. 8-22, 2016
- Discovering Saigon's Cafe Culture Nov 9 - Dec 17, 2014
- The Perfect Coffee Brew Feb 13, 2008
- Exploring the Emergent Cafe Culture of Penang Jun 18, 2016
- Coffee Review: Himalayan Java Coffee Dec. 18, 2013
- Homemade Bread Breakfast Aug 1, 2006
- Alamid Coffee Jul 9, 2006
- Communal Forest with a Newbie May 4, 2006
- Mount Cristobal Mar 11, 2006
- The Afternoon Coffee Ritual Dec 12, 2002
HO CHI MINH CITY BLOGS
- Hotel Review: Queen Ann Hotel Apr 24-30, 2019
- Banh Canh Cua Obsession Apr 23-30, 2019
- The Fascinating Peoplescape of Ho Chi Minh City Apr 23-30, 2019
- Ho Chi Minh City on a Visa Run Apr 23-30, 2019
- Nomad Travel Buddy Aug 27, 2018
- 20 Days in Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Exploring Binh Tay Market, Ho Chi Minh City Aug 26, 2018
- Pho Beef Soup Exploration of Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Rediscovering the Cafe Tradition of Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Where is the Best Banh Canh Cua in HCMC? Aug 7-27, 2018
- In Search of the best Banh Mi in Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Peoplescape of Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7-27, 2018
- Rediscovering Ho Chi Minh City Aug 7, 2018
- AO Show, Ho Chi Minh City Apr 10, 2015
- Free English Apr 1, 2015
- Teaching English to Vietnamese Apr 1, 2015
- 20 Days in Ho Chi Minh City Mar 22 - Apr 12, 2015
- Discovering Ho Chi Minh City's Cafe Culture Nov 9 - Dec 17, 2014
- Ho Chi Minh City's Fascinating Motorbike Culture Nov 18, 2014
- Exploring Ho Chi Minh City (Ho Chi Minh City) Nov 9, 2014
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ben Xe Mien Dong
Mien Tay Bus Station
Saigon Railway Station
Tan Son Nhat International Airport
Queen Ann Hotel - luxurious and modern, District 1 location, 10-minute walk to Ben Thanh Market
Sakura Hostel Cholon - 9.0 Stars (out of 10) from 24 reviews on Booking.com based on cleanliness, comfort, facilities, staff, value for money, free wifi and location!
How to Get to District 1 (HCMC) from the Airport (Tan Son Nhat International Airport)
- take the #109 Airport Bus (5:30am to 1:00am, departs every 15-20 minutes, 45 mins, 20k Dong or $1.00) Route: International Terminal - Domestic Terminal (Tan Son Nhat International Airport) - Truong Son - Tran Quoc Hoan - Hoang Van Thu - Nguyen Van Troi - Nam Ky Khoi Nghia - Ham Nghi - Le Lai - Ben Thanh Bus Station - Pham Ngu Lao - 23/9 Park
- get off at 23/9 Park to get to the cluster of backpacker hostels
Ho Chi Minh City Travel Tips
- best money changer rates in District 1 is Ha Tam Jewelry near Ben Thanh (refer to map for location)
- unlike most destinations in Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is too big for the major bus companies to provide a drop-off service with their shuttle minivans. If you are coming by bus, you get off either at the Western Bus Station or Eastern Bus Station depending on where you are coming from. From there, you can take the cheap local bus, the Xe Buyt to get you closer to your destination.
- you can get around the city by moto-taxi or rent a motorbike - but be warned that motorbike riding in Ho Chi Minh City is unlike riding anywhere else in Asia!
Ho Chi Minh City Cost Index
Budget price in budget places (US$1 = Vietnam Dong VND 23,255 = Php 53.20 as of Aug 1, 2016)
- VND 10-15,000 baguette sandwich (banh mi)
- VND 25-30,000 noodle soup (pho)
- VND 10-15,000 black filtered coffee
- VND 5,000 sugar cane juice (nuoc mia)
- VND 8-10,000 fresh coconut
- VND 10,000 one beer bottle
- VND 10,000 1.5 liter drinking water
- VND 80,000 bicycle rental, 24 hours
- VND 80,000 cheap lodging
- VND 10,000/kg laundry
- VND 8-10,000/km but flag-down starts at 20,000 motorcycle ride
- VND 20-35,000 rice meals (com tam)
- VND 100-140,000/day motorbike rental
Vietnam FYI / Tips / Dos and Don'ts
- Hanoi Grapevine HCMC Update - for the latest events in Vietnam
- Vietnam establishments will not accept US dollars, unlike Cambodia. You have to use Vietnam Dong (US$1 = Vietnam Dong VND 23,255 = Php 53.20 as of Aug 1, 2016)
- Vietnamese smokers will smoke in air-conditioned establishments, air-conditioned buses packed with people including women, children and babies. They also smoke inside hospitals with no smoking signs.
- Vietnam ranks almost the same as Thailand and Cambodia for cheap price. Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia cost more
- internet speed is generally fast and reliable but during important events like Tet holiday, election, etc., it slows down
- Vietnamese generally do not speak or understand much English. It will be a challenge.
- best to dress appropriately, not revealing too much skin (Saigon is an exception - the ladies there set the trend in very short shorts)
- remove your shoes when entering a home or place of worship
- ask first before taking someone's picture. If they say no, don't persist or offer money
- best to carry your hotel's business card with you when going out. You can just show it to the cab driver or XeOm driver if they don't understand English
- leave your valuables, passport, travel tickets, etc. with the hotel's safety deposit box
- when lying down, don't point your feet or the soles of your shoes to anyone or to a family altar
- carry only enough cash for your needs that day
- don't lose your temper in public - Vietnamese people are warm, generous and polite. They look down on people who lose their composure
- don't take pictures of military installations - you can go to jail
- refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so
Lesser-Known Vietnam Destinations
- Phu Yen Province - by the beach
- Hoa Binh Lake - locals' alternative to Halong Bay
- Ninh Binh - Trang An Grottoes, Tam Coc, Mua Caves, Bai Dinh Pagoda, Van Long Nature Reserve
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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