Cafes of Vietnam

Cultural Insights — By on August 20, 2011 at 7:15 am

vietnam coffeeIf you enjoy drinking coffee and hanging out in cafes, Asia may not be the first place you’d consider as an ideal destination. But Vietnam is actually a pretty good under-the radar country for coffee and cafe lovers. It may not be Paris or Seattle, but it has its charms. In a previous piece on favorite cafe cities, I had this to say about Hanoi:

The French colonial influence left a mark on Southeast Asia, most notably in Hanoi. The Old Quarter of the city is an ancient and charming maze, filled with people, produce peddlers and motorbikes. Relax with a coffee and watch the buzz of Vietnamese life. If it’s too hot for a coffee, try a fresh fruit shake, which are delicious and available throughout Vietnam.

And then I came across this article not long ago by Karin Esterhammer in the Los Angeles Times about cafe oases In Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon), which summed up the situation this way:

My husband, Robin, son Kai and I lived in Vietnam for a little more than two years. At first we found all the sounds of Ho Chi Minh City charming. Then annoying, as motorcycle engines, bus horns, loud karaoke music and construction noise erupted endlessly.

Just before our nerve endings short-circuited, our Vietnamese friends introduced us to some of the city’s coffeehouses where patrons can escape the sounds of a city of 7 million people (10 million if you include the outskirts). Cafes that serve iced coffees and ice cream are so popular in this hot, muggy city that such venues sit on nearly every corner ready to cool off weary tourists.

After Brazil, Vietnam is the second-largest exporter of coffee, in particular the robusta and arabica beans, which have a dark, rich flavor that the southern Vietnamese temper with sweetened condensed milk and then pour over ice. This combo is called ca phe sua da and is Ho Chi Minh City’s most popular beverage. I never liked coffee until I moved here. Now I’m addicted to it.

Eight coffeehouses in particular top my list of favorites because they are unusually peaceful oases. Each is tucked away in a tiny alley off a busy street. Some sit under a canopy of flowering trees with tables set next to waterfalls, koi ponds and sleeping Buddha statues. Some have soft couches with pillows and teddy bears to hug. In the evening, candles are lighted, greenery is draped with strings of miniature lights and soft music is performed. Best of all, the prices are low, and no one rushes you out.

Check out the full article for a list of the author’s eight favorite cafes in Saigon. And don’t be afraid to consider Vietnam as an Asian destination where you can get your cafe needs filled.


Photo credit: Kirk Siang via Creative Commons.

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