Introduction | Best Hidden Cafes | Map | Video | Images If there’s one thing khổng lồ rival food in Saigon (Ho Chi Minc City) it’s coffee. With the queues outside the city’s first Starbucks outlet all but gone, it’s time to lớn have a look at Saigon’s thousands of independent coffee shops. Hidden down narrow alleyways, tucked away in forgotten colonial villas, or concealed in enigmatic old apartment buildings, there’s a whole sub-culture of ‘indie’ cafes in this city. These coffee shops offer a quality kind of ambience, décor and intimacy that the ever-increasing number of international coffee chains in Saigon can never compete with. In a city bursting with coffee shops these are my 15 Best ‘Hidden’ Cafes in Saigon.

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Hidden: Saigon's 'indie' cafesBEST ‘HIDDEN’ CAFES, SAIGON
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Vietnamese have a love sầu of cửa hàng café sân vườn, which means ‘garden café’. Trầm Café is the perfect realization of this concept: a lush, hidden, tropical world in the middle of Vietnam’s biggest, busiest city. Multi-leveled và labyrinthine this coffee cửa hàng is a genuine oasis where you can swap the roar of motorbikes for the trickle of water & rustle of leaves. Outside seating, under the canopy of trees, remains cool in the dappled sunlight of even the fiercest of dry season days. Raised wooden walkways lead from one ‘tree house’ khổng lồ the next & stepping stones guide you through tasteful water features, adorned with reclining Buddhas, giant earthenware vases & faux classical busts. The walls, pillars & windows are dripping with foliage, and lanterns hang from branches and trestles, swinging gently in the breeze. Inside seating is cosy, cushioned và softly lit lượt thích a plush, first class dining car on a Victorian train. Hundreds of other garden cafes in Saigon alặng for the same aesthetic, but most of them miss the mark and over up straying inlớn the kitsch and the sentimental. Trầm Café is the only one that manages to convincingly keep up the façade of a natural, peaceful environment despite being a man-made one in the middle of a concrete đô thị. On the downside, the coffee is expensive sầu (40,000VNĐ/$2) & blvà, & awful pop music – totally at odds with the general mood of the café – is sometimes played indoors.

2. MOCKINGBIRD CAFÉAddress: 4th Floor, Old Apartment Building, 14 Tôn Thất Đạm Street, District 1: Opening Hours: 9am-11pm dailyContact: | www.facebook.com/mockingbirdcoffee

Cool, hip, and hidden Mocking Bird is what all independent cafes should be. Up four flights of dark, dank concrete stairs in a run-down apartment bloông xã that looks lượt thích it’s slated for demolition in downtown Saigon’s financial district, Mocking Bird is an unexpected ‘eagle’s nest’ with views over the ‘soviet-gothic’ architecture of the State Bank of Vietphái nam, which itself looks as though it’s been abandoned; sculpted busts of Lenin and Uncle Ho are just about visible through gaps between heavy, dusty, drawn curtains.

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The entrance to the café is off a dark corridor with the distinct smell of dog pee. But don’t worry, once you enter through the wooden doorway – decorated with a pine branch intertwined with bare light-bulbs – Mocking Bird’s trendy, diminutive space is another world. With flowery, hippy dresses on coat-hangers, concrete walls decorated with chalk and paper murals, wooden tables và chairs on cold tiled floors, naked light-bulbs hanging from the ceiling, and a few brooding fashion snaps plastered here & there, it feels like entering the dorm of a creative student from 1960s Britain, or being backstage at a small-scale but exclusive sầu fashion show. It has the cosy intimacy of a study, and the space is just about chaotic enough khổng lồ feel ‘lived in’.Amy Winehouse and some soulful classics suit Mocking Bird’s cool but mellow space well, and the coffee is good but small. Alcoholic cocktails are also available, and the little, leafy balcony with fairy lights makes this a good place to bring a date. Prices are between 30-50,000VNĐ ($1.50-2.50).3. THINGS CAFÉ

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On the first floor of the same run-down yet intriguing apartment building as Mockingbird, Things Café has a similar trendy, bohemian feel khổng lồ it. Tiled floors, wooden furniture, table lamps, chess boards & Murakamày books lying around create an extremely mellow mood. As with many of Saigon’s ‘indie’ cafes the theme appears khổng lồ be nostalgia: old khổng lồ antique items abound, from brass taps on the sinks khổng lồ Singer sewing machines & creaking ceiling fans. Various artworks hang on the walls next khổng lồ famous quotes from Uncle Ho chalked up on blackboards. Again the atmosphere is that of a studio, study or student dorm. Indeed, this whole apartment block is riddled with these fascinating, enticing cafes, and the building itself exudes a certain bygone era charm: the winding staircase has floral wrought iron banisters suggesting it might once have been rather grand, & the shaft between the stairs was once an elevator of the kind that you had lớn manually prise open the doors. You could spend a whole day café-hopping in this magnificent yet dying apartment building in District 1. Things Café is a great place lớn while away a couple hours with a book or some friends. Coffee, served in big, thichồng mugs, is 40,000VNĐ ($2).

4. BANKSY STUDIO CAFÉAddress: 1st Floor, Old Apartment Building, 14 Tôn Thất Đạm Street, District 1: Opening Hours: 7am-11pm dailyContact: 0169 999 0003 | www.facebook.com/BanksyCafe

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Named after the famous British street artist, Banksy coffe is a colourful, stylish little place that’s very different from the other coffee shops in this aging apartment building. Books about Banksy line the shelves và there are some Banksy-related photographs & canvases on the walls. Psychedelic murals & snazzy seat covers attempt to lớn create a ‘graffiti’ environment. I love the concept of this café but it could have sầu been better executed. For example, it would be great to lớn see some Banksy-inspired Vietnam-related street art on the walls here, or even just some reproductions of Banksy’s own work. Western-style espresso coffee is available and prices are between 30-50,000VNĐ ($1.50-2.50).

5. VỪNG ƠI, MỞ RA CAFÉAddress: 1st Floor, 17 Ngô Thời Nhiệm Street (alleyway 17), District 3: Opening Hours: 9am-10.30pm daily

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Another of Saigon’s well-hidden cafes Vừng Ơi, Msinh hoạt Ra is on the first floor of an old, decaying French villa on a street known for its many cafes near the đô thị centre. Accessed off a dead-end alleyway, through a street-kitchen and up a narrow staircase, this is a very private, cosy café not far from District 1. The ceiling is hung with undulating strips of patterned material like the interior of a kasbah. Walls are adorned with prints, etchings and sketches depicting anything from historical figures & events lớn movie stars. The tiled floor & walls are left deliberately grubby for that ‘artist studio’ look. There’s plenty of seating on cushioned chairs và the coffee here is chocolatey, rich & smooth (35,000VNĐ/$1.50). During the daytime, when the cà phê is quiet, you’re không tính phí to lớn pichồng up any of the instruments và have sầu a go. Live music nights by candlelight are an intimate experience with piano, guitar, vocals and violin filling this small café.6. NGÔI NHÀ SỐ 7 CAFÉ

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Even further down the same alleyway as Vừng Ơi Café – & even more hidden – is Ngôi Nhà Số 7. On the ground floor of yet another fading French colonial villa, Ngôi Nhà is accessed through a backyard full of domestic clutter leading onkhổng lồ a tiny wooden door. Inside it’s bright, quiet, comfy & convivial. Vietnamese students at leisure – gossiping, reading or working together on university projects – sit on cushioned benches at small tables made from planks of brightly varnished wood. There’s a raised mezzanine level running along the walls where you can sit on cushions on the floor. The owners have made this small room inlớn an airy, bright space that, during the daytime, has the feeling of a glass conservatory or converted loft. At night there’s live sầu music on the small stage at the centre of the café. Coffee is good (35,000VNĐ/$1.50) và service is friendly.

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On a quiet street in Phú Nhuận District’s ‘café triangle’, The Fig is easy to lớn miss because of its concealed, low-key entrance. This district, north of the high-rises of downtown Saigon, is where many small private businesses have sầu their offices, tucked away down narrow alleyways. Dozens of comfortable, stylish yet business-like cafés have sầu opened to cater khổng lồ the young professionals who work in the area. The Fig is the best of them. Outside seating is in a green garden on a wooden deông xã around a pond with a contemplative-looking statue of Buddha in the middle. Inside, the décor is a good mix of modern và traditional: tiled floors, soft seats, fancy lanterns, and contemporary furniture. Music here is mercifully soft và the choice is ‘anodyne-ambient’ rather than the sentimental pop that many other cafes choose. Coffee, of mediocre unique, is 30-40,000VNĐ ($1.50-$2). Unusually for most cafes on this list, The Fig offers a wide range of alcoholic drinks, including many wines. It’s also worth trying one of the tasty và inventive sầu desserts here, many of which are a kind of Vietnamese-Western fusion.

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Far from the city centre, Ngày Xưa Ấy Café is worth the effort it takes khổng lồ get here. Down a narrow alleyway off one of the burgeoning roads behind the airport in Gò Vấp District, this trinket-filled coffee cửa hàng is a tribute khổng lồ yesteryear. Whether it be Asia or Europe this café focuses firmly on the past, & the result is a fascinating museum of nostalgia in a đô thị that’s charging towards the future. The pretty, gated entrance leads into a tight, leafy courtyard dotted with stone mandarins, potted plants, clumps of bamboo & twittering caged birds hanging from branches. But inside is where the treasure lies. Attractive antique wooden tables & chairs sit under an old ceiling bạn, rotating slowly, blowing the dust off traditional Asian stringed instruments, old clocks, incense burners, ancient portable T.Vs and telephones, gramophones & records players, paraffin lamps, typewriters, soldiers’ canteens, coffee grinders & teapots, busts of Buddha and sculptures of mandalas, larva lamps, toy trains, pith hats, antique cameras & abacuses. It’s a small space jammed full of memorabilia, but it doesn’t feel cluttered. Up a very steep stairway there’s a cosy loft – filled with dolls và watched over by a portrait of Uncle Ho – where seating is on cushions on the carpeted floor. The coffee is cheap (19,000VNĐ/$1) và has a fuller, richer flavour than in most other cafes. I’m told live sầu music here on the weekends is very good too.9. THE TIBETAN COFFEE SHOPAddress: 307/31 Nguyễn Văn uống Trỗi Street, Tân Bình District: Opening Hours: 8am-10pm daily

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<Note: this coffe recently changed location (to the address given above) và I haven’t yet had a chance lớn visit the new space: the following reviews is of the old location, but hopefully the new one is in a similar style. For the time being, I’ve sầu removed the marker from my coffe map> Down an interesting alleyway in District 1, just a short walk from the backpacker area of Phạm Ngũ Lão, The Tibechảy Coffee Shop is full of trinkets, photographs, và artwork with a Tibetan theme. It’s a plush café with ambient, soft lighting, pastel-coloured walls, carpeted floor, drapes và blinds over the windows, and even a Tiberã altar upstairs. The menu includes some interesting South Asian items, such as, traditional Tibetung tea và Masala ‘chai’ tea, however, the latter tasted more lượt thích a very milky English Breakfast tea than the subtly spiced drink it’s meant khổng lồ be. At an average of 40,000VNĐ ($2) prices here are quite high. I once visited a beautiful Tiberã tea house inside the Tibetan Government in exile complex in McLeod Ganj in northern India, và this coffee shop in Saigon goes some way to lớn reminding me of that one, so it must be doing something right.10. GHẾ ĐẨU CAFÉAddress: 28 Hoa Mai Street, Prúc Nhuận District:

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Owned by the same people as the popular Mộc Hi-End Café on the opposite side of the street (which is also a good place for a coffee in cool, retro surrounds) Ghế Đẩu, which means ‘stool’ in Vietnamese, is a shady, leafy outdoor café occupying a crescent of concrete on the corner of two residential streets. Seating is exclusively on low wooden stools of the kind that has become extremely popular and trendy in Saigon over the last few years. In a casual atmosphere under a tropical almond tree và three small Bodhi trees this place attracts a young crowd, especially in the evenings when it’s a hive of well-dressed youth chattering together or consumed by various portable technologies. At this time of day it’s irresistible; you can’t help but want to be a part of it. During the day time it gets busy with local businessmen and older men playing mahjong. The coffee (10,000VNĐ/$0.50) is pretty good, but most people choose from the extensive danh mục of fruit shakes and smoothies (sinh tố).11. CÔI XƯA CAFÉ

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In a very affluent-looking area full of villas và small businesses, Côi Xưa is a garden café in the style of a crumbling traditional Vietnamese rural home page. Varnished bamboo furniture, wooden shutters, water features, lanterns, and half-ruined briông chồng walls help khổng lồ create the impression of an old house in a lãng mạn state of decay. The open courtyard is leafy, shady & cool. Unfortunately, the mood is tarnished slightly by sugary pop music. Coffee (30,000VNĐ/$1.50) is pretty good with a svào, sharp, bitter taste like dark chocolate. Côi Xưa is also a popular place for local businessmen lớn lunch, so the food here is pretty good.

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This sprawling, multi-leveled café is built around a man-made stream with trees và ivy growing up around it. It’s big, popular và leans towards the kitsch, but it occupies its own quiet corner of the đô thị and I like the constant bustle of customers – from families to young couples to businessmen – throughout the day. It gets pleasantly busy in the evenings when fairy lights illuminate the ‘stream’. A regular Vietnamese iced coffee is 35,000VNĐ & they also have sầu European-style espresso coffee for a steep 55,000VNĐ. A wide variety of good quality meals & desserts are also served.13. DU MIÊN CAFÉAddress: 48/9A Hồ Biểu Chánh Street, Phụ Nhuận District: Opening Hours: 7am-11pm daily

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Down a small, quiet alley in a residential part of Phụ Nhuận District, Du Miên Café opens up into an unexpectedly spacious & green retreat. Unlike most of the cafes in this menu Du Miên has a thoroughly modern look. While the ‘soulless’ new furniture và dominant right-angles don’t really appeal lớn me, this sprawling café is saved by a large amount of greenery và several big water features; the most prominent of which is a 15 foot high waterfall with a group of sculpted deer at the bottom. Yes, it’s rather kitsch, but Vietphái nam does kitsch better than most. The coffee, which includes European-style espresso, is OK, but for these high prices (40-60,000VNĐ/$2-3) I’d expect better chất lượng.14. ĐỜI ĐÁ VÀNG CAFÉAddress: 162/4 Trần Kế Xương Street, Prúc Nhuận District:

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On a narrow lane in Phụ Nhuận District this small café is almost invisible from the street behind all the foliage that surrounds it. A deliberately half-built briông chồng structure with broken wooden shutters under a bamboo and palm-leaf roof, Đời Đá Vàng is in the style of a traditional rural Vietnamese trang chính. Indeed, the structures & houses either side of this café look as though they’d be more at home in a provincial village than the middle of Saigon. Đời Đá Vàng is a more ‘local’ café than the others in this các mục. It’s particularly lãng mạn at night when paraffin lamps are lit & – with the sound of cicadas in the hedges – it really does feel as if you’re in the countryside. Coffee is strong and cheap (15,000VNĐ/$0.75).

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15. POUND CAFÉ

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Cheap, cool, small, trendy Pound Café is minimally furnished with low wooden stools in the same vein as Ghế Đẩu Café. Housed in a single bare-brichồng room with a tiled floor that’s open khổng lồ the street, customers generally sit on benches along the walls và use the tiny stools as tables. Another option is to sit around the small well/pond near the roadside & use the circular briông xã structure as a table. Popular with young locals and their laptops, the coffee here is sweet và smooth, but most of all it’s cheap (15,000VNĐ/$0.75). This simple place is more of an espresso bar than a coffee shop – the kind place where you pop in for a quichồng injection of caffeine và a chat or lớn send an tin nhắn. The name refers lớn the pound sign, which pops up all over the café.


Chuyên mục: Khu vui chơi