Aug 7-27, 2018
Rediscovering the Cafe Tradition of Ho Chi Minh CityLocation: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Currency Rate Exchange: US$1 = ~VND23k
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The cafe culture has globally propagated with trendy cafes taking over the hipster scene in the world's major capitals. Way ahead of the game is Ho Chi Minh City as it pushes the envelop of its cafe culture into uncharted ground. I would often tell my cafe-owner friends to visit Ho Chi Minh City to get a fresh perspective on how a cafe scene can evolve into. Most often, cafes follow the Starbucks template. In the end, they all look like a Starbucks-wannabe. Here at HCMC, they shred away that template to create one that is unique, innovative, cutting-edge and sometimes, pure genius!
Long before the chique cafes, coffee has long been a tradition in Vietnam. This tradition was never eclipsed by newer trendy cafes. They co-exist. One traditional and unpretentious cafe would have the outdoor seats facing the streets where you see older people doing business, housewives in household clothes sharing gossip, or a lone denizen busy on his phone. Coffee price remains affordable from VND12k up.
More trendy cafes would have younger people with laptops or their ubiquitous phones. The irony is, a cafe is where you go to have a conversation with a real person across the coffee table. But nowadays, groups of people go to a cafe and never talk to each other as they become too immersed in their phones. I was told that often, they would have an online chat with the very same person they are beside with! Huh??? I can't pretend to understand that...sorry.
I was at Urban Coffee Station when I saw a lady meet up with her partner (they had that special look between them) who was already there. They smiled at each other as the lady took her seat. The guy continued on his phone while his partner took out her phone. And that's how it went. I never saw them say anything to each other! I hope they make up from all that non-talk when they have sex... even it's just heavy panting followed by a long gratifying groan...seriously! In this disconnected world, that would pass-up as conversation!
I had an AHA Moment about cafe and English but I haven't broached this to a cafe owner. Vietnamese want to learn English but reluctant to practise by themselves. They also love the cafe scene. So, what if a cafe owner puts up an "English Corner" in his cafe where people who sit on the big circular table speak English and only English? It would be a safe place for them to practise without being judged. And what if I make myself available at specific times of the day (2pm-3pm?) to moderate the talk and guide as well? for free! What's in it for me? Maybe there would be some who would like a one-on-one tutoring. I can make a little money with that. What's in it for the cafe owner? More people might come because no other cafe offers that. It's a thought.
After a Banh Canh Cua dinner, Alice and her friends, Duk, Hang and Tan moved to an interesting cafe nearby - The.1985. Normally, a cafe in any city is gender-neutral - sometimes masculine with a bad-boy motorcycle theme. But I've noticed a few feminine cafes here in HCMC. The.1985 was definitely feminine. The laminated all-picture menu page showcasing all the offerings in pastel overtones with offset layout on pricing was ultra feminine. The decor and theme had the Zen-like feel of medieval Japan. The cups used were ornate and cafe art on the foam was impeccable. You could sense the owners' passion in the cafe. This is another case of HCMC leading the way in cafe evolution.
The biggest and most pleasant difference I noticed on this visit is that people no longer smoke in air-conditioned cafes (or any air-conditioned premises). I don't know what happened in the last 3 years, but before, they would smoke everywhere - hospitals, air-conditioned restos, a/c buses with children, etc. This is a huge evolutionary step, if you ask me.
Figuratively speaking, there are more cafes in HCMC than anyone can visit in a lifetime! So this is by no means a comprehensive narrative about the cafe scene - perhaps just a glimpse of the iceberg's tip. I just take it as it comes...and that's already plenty. To anyone visiting HCMC, just get lost in the myriad of cafe offerings - every street corner, street alley and fashionable lane has plenty to offer.
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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
Next stop: Pho Beef Soup Exploration of Ho Chi Minh City
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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