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Saigon coffee culture

Discovering Saigon's Cafe Culture Nov 9 - Dec 17, 2014

Discovering Saigon's Cafe Culture

Location: Saigon, Vietnam

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 | | 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.

entrance to Cafetram is through stone steps on koi pond silhouette shot to the old house across the street hipsters with their laptops...strong wifi 2nd level boasts of movie memorabilia from a bygone era
high ceiling, wall poster and pin lights you can mistake Cafetram for a fine-dining resto...but's really a finely appointed cafe drop-down ceiling lamps, shelves and wooden tables coffee bar on the far end
brick wall with a·vant-garde layout wall-sized mural in the backdrop of coffee and smoothies  

Hao Cafe
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.

scale, Roman blinds, high ceiling,subdued lighting open concept, Saigon-sized coffee tables and chair, Vigan-tiled floor cozy corners, coffee jars, roasting curios, off-white wall huge wooden framed windows that open up to the street
coffee bar area with suspended wooden beams chilling-out and shooting the street breeze perfect place for meeting friends

Hub Book Coffee
18A Cong Hoa Str., Ward 4 Tan Binh Dist., Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam | | +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.

Hub Book Coffee is shaped like a long rectangle with glass windows on one side study area on the 2nd level...sound is kept to a minimum the quiet room on the 2nd floor...students do their homework or study here coffee bar with menu board
the other side is a row of books like a library
faux brick wall cafe center unlike most cafes with loud music, Hub Book Coffee keeps the soft music in the background

Ending Thoughts
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.

--- TheLoneRider

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.

Saigon cafes
Chuoica Phe Nguyen Chat Cafe outdoor cafe famous outdoor cafe...always full of people, day or night An Nhien Cafe
Street Talks Cafe sidewalk cafe Cafe Guitar Saigon morning coffee on the sidewalk
cafe with tree canopy genius! this coffee guy put up his ad-hoc coffee stand below the huge sign of Highlands Coffee Cafetram Hub Book Coffee
Hao Coffee Pho Street Coffee Mien Dong Thao Cafe Cafe V
Cafe Nguyen Chat Caffe Tieu Ca Phe Phin wall illustration

Saigon Cost Index

Budget price in budget places (US$1 = Vietnam Dong VND 21,300 = Php 44)

  • 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

FYI / Tips

  • Vietnam establishments will not accept US dollars, unlike Cambodia. You have to use Vietnam Dong.

How to Get around Saigon

  • unlike most destinations in Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam, Saigon 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 Saigon is unlike riding anywhere else in Asia!

Saigon Travel Info:

Vietnam FYI / Tips / Dos and Don'ts

  • 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.
  • only Vietnamese Dong is accepted as legal tender (change your dollars into Dong)
  • 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
  • refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so

Vietnam Blogs by TheLoneRider

Coffee Tips

  • 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

Coffee Blogs (or coffee related blogs) by TheLoneRider

  1. Exploring the Cafe Scene of Tagbilaran datedate
  2. Discovering the Neighborhood Cafes of Singapore Aug. 8-22, 2016
  3. Exploring the Emergent Cafe Culture of Penang Jun 18, 2016
  4. Discovering Saigon's Cafe Culture Nov 9 - Dec 17, 2014
  5. Coffee Review: Himalayan Java Coffee Dec. 18, 2013
  6. The Perfect Brew Feb 13, 2008
  7. Homemade Bread Breakfast Aug 1, 2006
  8. Alamid Coffee Jul 9, 2006
  9. Communal Forest with a Newbie May 4, 2006
  10. Mount Cristobal Mar 11, 2006
  11. The Afternoon Coffee Ritual Dec 12, 2002

Facebook Users

Reader Comments:

Agnes CafeAgnes 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 CoffeeHub 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

Nov 9 - Dec 17, 2014

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