Discover Vietnam’s Coffee Culture through Saigon’s Hidden Cafes
by Dane Luna
Saturday, October 29, 2016
Travelling isn’t always about visiting a city’s tourist spots. It’s also about getting a feel of what it’s like to live as a local in a city that isn’t your own. And if you want to know what it’s like to be a local in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, there’s no better way than by spending time in its numerous cafes.
Vietnam’s Vibrant Coffee Culture
Known for its unique coffee, Vietnam is also becoming increasingly popular among travellers for its numerous cafes. There’s no shortage of independently owned coffee shops in Saigon, visited by both locals and foreigners alike, each with its own unique concept, appealing interiors, and of course, impressive coffee. Whether you’re a serious coffee connoisseur, casual coffee drinker, café hopper, or if you just need your daily fix of caffeine, you’ll surely find a café to your liking in Saigon.
How to Find Saigon’s “Secret” Cafes
The best way to discover the many coffee shops around Ho Chi Minh City would really be on foot. Wander around Saigon’s busy streets and see where your steps will take you. But for those with a limited amount of time in the city, here are few helpful tips.
Coffee shops aren’t always at street level in Saigon. In fact, they might not even be visible from the street, requiring you to walk through tiny alleys and climb up hidden staircases.
To find interesting cafes, look up and scan the city’s numerous colonial buildings. Most cafes will have signs on their windows. Once you spot one that you want to visit, you’ll need to hunt for the staircase leading up to it.
Check out @nhacuacoffeeholic on Instagram
Nha Cua Coffeeholic curates beautiful photos of the many cafes in Vietnam. If you’re looking for coffee shops with beautiful interiors, their Instagram account would be your most useful resource. They often indicate the name and address of the cafes they feature, while everything else is written in Vietnamese.
If you only want to look through their posts about cafes in Saigon, use the hashtag #nccsaigon.
Download the Foody app
The Foody app has the most extensive database of food establishments, including coffee shops, in Vietnam. The app provides the address, menu, and photos of numerous food places around Saigon, as well as reviews by locals (though most are written in Vietnamese). With the app, you can enable the location services on your phone to find cafes near you.
Use Uber and Google Maps
Most coffee shops can easily be searched on Google Maps for specific directions. Better yet, input the name of the coffee shop on Uber and get a private car or motorcycle to drive you there for a very affordable price.
Need Recommendations? Here are some cafes to visit in Saigon:
Cong Ca Phe
Originally from Hanoi, Cong Ca Phe now has several branches around Ho Chi Minh City. Each branch is designed with a vintage vibe and a communist aesthetic. The Cong Ca Phe in the corner of Ly Tu Trong street and Dong Khoi street is particularly delightful to stumble upon – in an old building in the corner across from Vincom Center, enter the ground floor past an alley lined with numerous paintings for sale, climb up an old staircase, and find a doorway with a lighted neon “Cong” sign above it.
The café is best known for its coconut coffee smoothie, a refreshing drink with coconut cream and traditional Vietnamese coffee.
Cong Ca Phe – Ly Tu Trong branch
Lau 1, Chung Cu 26 Ly Tu Trong, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Cong Ca Phe – Bui Vien branch
127-129 Bui Vien, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Cong Ca Phe – Mac Thi Buoi branch
2 Mac Thi Buoi, P. Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Cong Ca Phe – Truong Sa brand
336 Truong Sa, Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Cong Ca Phe – Hoang Viet
26A Hoang Viet, P. 4, Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Located in the second floor, you’ll find the staircase to this café through a heavy metal door on the side of the building. Upstairs is a beautifully decorated café with French colonial interiors, exhibiting an elegant fusion of European and Vietnamese design.
At La Rotonde, pick a spot and take your time enjoying Vietnamese traditional coffee or a refreshing yogurt smoothie. They also serve a lunch buffet.
77B Ham Nghi, P. Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
A century-old shop house was rebuilt with charming interiors to become Mam Café, a quaint hole-in-the-wall along Le Thi Hong Gam street. The café is owned by two sisters who designed the interiors themselves. Find respite from the punishing Vietnamese heat by lounging on their couches and comfortable chairs. You’ll also find a small courtyard at the back of the café with tables and chairs.
Besides coffee, Mam Café also serves various set meals.
55/15 Le Thi Hong Gam Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
You’ll need to climb several flights of stairs to get to the Workshop, but the place is well worth the effort, especially for serious coffee aficionados. Like a lot of other cafes, The Workshop isn’t easily visible at street level – make sure to look up when you’re trying to find the place, or better yet, rely on Google Maps or ask a friendly local to show you the way.
The café is spacious and constantly filled with light from the tall windows that line its walls. Choose a small table by a window if you want some peace and quiet or need a place to work. Otherwise, find a spot in the communal tables or by the counter and you might just meet a new friend or two.
The Workshop has an impressive menu of specialty coffee, perhaps unrivalled by any other coffee shop in Saigon. They even have a brew bar that lets you choose the type of brewing method you want for your handcrafted coffee, providing a choice of different pour over and immersion brewers. If you’re unsure of what to order, their friendly and very knowledgeable staff will be happy to help.
Lau 2, 27 Ngo Duc Ke, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
by Dane LunaSaturday, October 29, 2016
Former cube dweller and current traveler, cafe hunter and writer. Born and raised in the Philippines, she was expatriated to Saigon and thoroughly enjoyed exploring its hidden cafes as well as enjoying Vietnamese street food. She is currently writing a young adult novel set in Seoul, South Korea (also known as her favorite city in the world).Read more at authordaneluna.com