Saigon's top 10 cafés
First published 6th May, 2007
Ho Chi Minh City may look like an unforgiving urban jungle, but resting just below the surface are dozens of wonderful hideaways, where an ice cold fruit blend, a sumptuous salad and a sparkling cocktail create a welcome distraction from the world outside. Our man in Saigon, Jon Hoff, twirled the caffeine dial to 10 and delivered this list of his top ten spots to chill out in Saigon.
La Fenetre Soliel
Probably Saigon's ultimate lounge lizard spot, having a variety of agreeable lazy-chairs, sofas and even a double bed to sprawl across. The small establishment, reminiscent of a living room in an aging French chateau, has two large windows that allow light to spill in across the wood beam floor, while the exposed brick walls rise up to meet the high ceiling. The menu boasts a fare which matches the atmosphere -- light and airy. A wide range of fruit juices and shakes accompany salads, sandwiches and crepes. Don't be put off by the decrepit staircase that leads up from La Fenetre Soliel's discreet entrance.
This chain has a number of locations through Saigon, though perhaps the most comfortable is found on Nguyen Du, in the shadow of the Saigon Trade Centre. While this location, is perhaps not best for chilling out at lunchtime due to the crowds, come the evening it's a far more sedate scene. The modern interior offers plenty of sofas and armchairs for you and your mug of coffee and the outdoor wooden decking is a relatively quiet spot which provides some fine people watching. The fare is contemporary Asian and Western cuisine -- the usual assortment of drinks is meliorated by a tasty range of Italian sodas.
Another popular Ho Chi Minh City coffee chain, founded by the Italian Illy, is the aptly named Illy Café. One particular branch sits adjacent to the Lion Restaurant in Lam Son Square. Despite its central city location the courtyard outside is surprisingly secluded -- and the comfortable indoors area moreso. Find here ambrosial cold coffee drinks laced with amaretto, almond and other alluring ingredients, all starting at 39,000 VND, along with an extensive Italian based menu, including a good value set lunch. WiFi available.
Café Park Bach Dang
For an altogether less pretentious experience, take residence in a deckchair down by the Saigon River. The Café Park Bach Dang provides basic outdoor seating, with a view across the river to Thu Thiem. Seemingly a world away from the trendy bars and stylish cafes which sit just down the road, this is the perfect spot to amble through a few pages of novel whilst taking in scenes of daily life. None of the items on the bare-bones menu will set you back more than 15,000 VND. Ca phe sua da, a traditional Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk, is our favourite.
Le Petit Café
The predictably-sized Le Petit Café proffers an enclosed ground floor, an atrium complete with water feature and a first floor balcony. While no food is available come the evening, a small Vietnamese breakfast and lunch menu will keep the hunger pangs at bay while the sun still shines. The upstairs area, littered with cushions and low tables could make for a perfect afternoon siesta, but unfortunately word is out and you'll rarely have it to yourself.
Three-level Juice serves surprisingly excellent juices, shakes and smoothies, starting at around 30,000 VND and wheatgrass shots for 20,000 VND a pop. The bill of fare here has a health focus and the selection of delicious salads is refreshing. Each floor of Juice has comfortable seating and WiFi connectivity is available throughout. The sofas on the top level were designed for afternoons lost in a book or surfing the web. Located in the heart of District One, Juice is a good place to drop the shopping bags or guidebooks for a couple of hours.
Secreted in a beautiful colonial building tucked away just a few metres off Pham Ngoc Thach St, Hideaway encourages slobbery with an ample supply of sofas and soft seating throughout. The complex consists of a small outdoor courtyard and two interior areas, including a pleasant dining area. While Hideaway is a great spot to chill out, the prices may jolt you from your slumber -- their drinks are super pricey, starting at 25,000 VND for a Coke and smoothies for 60,000 VND. The food is also on the pricey side, but is mouth-wateringly good, including pastas, salads and hot and cold sandwiches.
I Box Café
The venerable I Box Café is a bit of a Ho Chi Minh City institution, and while it sounds like you might go there to play computer games, the opposite is the case. Possibly the most enigmatic café in town, its lavish decorations, plush seats, eclectic music and ambient lighting all come together to create an intimate atmosphere unlike anything else you'll find in Saigon. The wide-ranging carte compliments an original drinks selection, and the fantastic ice cream concoctions will have you keeling over in sugar bliss. Not only a great place to drift off in a daydream, it also has WiFi.
Café Song Me
An inclusion to recognise the fact that Vietnamese coffee shops can be awesome hang out spots, Café Song Me is well worth a look in. Nary a brash roadside monstrosity in sight, Song Me is set back from the street in a shady, secluded corner, with ornate decorations and plentiful green leafy plants to re-oxygenate your pollution-weary lungs. A little hard to find, take Hoa Hung St off of Cach Mang Thang Tam St in District 10, and turn off left roughly halfway along. Famed for its water-features, customers can sit on tables completely surrounded by water, as small troughs weave their way along the floor. Alternatively, skip across the pools to reach somnolent sofa areas. Food is average, so stick with the reasonably priced drinks.
Creperie & Cafe
Creperie & Cafe gets a mention as a Saigon chill out joint due to its fantastic street-side seating area. It's hard to believe that you're in the heart of Saigon yet the traffic is but a distant rumble. Shaded under large parasols and gazing over swaying trees, Creperie & Café counts Notre Dame Cathedral, Le Duan Park and Reunification Palace among its neighbours. If that doesn't impress you, the food certainly will -- mains range from 70-180,000 VND, but the specialty are the savoury crepes, ranging from 60-90,000 depending on the filling.
Café Park Bach Dang – 10B Ton Duc Thang St, next to Bach Danh Ferry Terminal, District 1. Daily 24 hrs.
Café Song Me – 125/2 Hoa Hung, District 10. T: (08) 865 2075. Daily 07:30-23:00.
Creperie & Cafe - 5 Han Thuyen. District 1. T: (08) 829 911. Daily 07:00-11:00.
Hideaway – 41/1 Pham Ngoc Thach, District 3. T: (08) 822 4222. Daily 08:00-Late.
Highlands Coffee – Saigon Trade Centre, 37 Ton Duc Thang, District 1. T: (08) 910 5689. Daily 07:00-23:00.
I Box Café - 135 Hai Ba Trung, District 1. T: (08) 825 6718. Daily 07:00-23:00.
Illy Cafe - 11-13 Lam Son Square, District 1. T: (08) 827 5946. Daily 07:30-23:30.
Juice - 49 Mac Thi Buoi, District 1. T: (08) 829 6900. Daily 07:30-22:00.
La Fenetre Soliel – 135 Le Thanh Ton, District 1. T: (08) 822 5209. Daily 10:30-24:00, Sun 10:30-19:00.
Le Petit Café – 189 Hai Ba Trung, District 3. T: (08) 827 7868. Daily 06:30-24:00
Story by Jon Hoff
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