HCMC Dining Guide

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cafe Culture

Being an English teacher in Vietnam means you have a bizarre work schedule that warps all normal perceptions of the days of the week. Weekends are dreaded, since you have to work by 7:30 or 8 in the morning. Sunday nights and Mondays, on the other hand, are relished because you get to blow off some steam after being in a classroom of screaming children for several hours on Saturday and Sunday morning. During the day most of us have nothing to do, since many schools don't start class until the later afternoon or early evening. Common weekday work hours are 5pm to 9pm, as opposed to the regular 9am to 5pm schedule many people in other careers keep. Given this abundance of free time, the days can get a little boring, and they often just run together. In order to break some of the monotony (Yes, I realize I live in a very different and exotic country, but that doesn't mean every day is exciting and new.) I've recently taken a dive into Saigon's cafe life.

Back in the U.S. I was never really a fan of cafes. The soulless chains like Starbucks and Caribou were overcrowded and overpriced, and I was too lazy to seek out the quieter places. Plus, I hate coffee and all of the drinks related to it. Luckily, the lingering French cultural influence in Saigon means the city boasts some wonderful cafes, and the abundance of fresh juices available here means I can order something other than an $8 chocolate cappucino mocha frappe latte espresso, or whatever it is they serve at Starbucks nowadays. These cafes are great places to read, write and generally carry on like an intellectual snob, and their air-con provides a welcome respite from the omnipresent heat. Here are three of my favorites:

1) L'Usine
Hidden away up a staircase at the back of an art gallery near the Opera House is L'Usine, a cafe/imported clothing store.

The interior is exactly what I picture when I think of French cafes. Then again, I've never been to France.

One of the best things about this city are the fruit drinks. I don't care if that sounds girly. This is a watermelon smoothie.

2) La Fenetre Soliel
This quiet, comfortable cafe is nestled on the second floor of 44 Ly Thu Trong, just past Pasteur.

Avocado and Dragonfruit mixed juice - amazing

3) Casbah

Located down an easily missable alley near Notre Dame Cathedral and the main Post Office is Casbah.

The blue curtains and blue decor of this Middle Eastern-themed cafe gives this place the feel of an opium den. The hookah smoke lends itself to that atmosphere as well.

Even though it was a little expensive I simply had to get the pita & hummus offered on the menu. I haven't had that dish in months. For a drink I got a banana/milk/honey juice. Delicious.
These cafes are part of Saion's sophisticated side. I enjoy eating cheap meals at street-front restaurants whose only decor is plastic chairs and stainless steel tables as much as anyone else, but sometimes a bit more of an atmosphere is appreciated. These places are a great spot to while away an afternoon when you have nothing to do before work. Ah, the life of an Engish teacher.


  1. Hi,

    Apologies for contacting you through comments but I could not see your email address:(
    My name is Carole and I'm the community manager for a global expat website - Expat Focus. I was reading your blog and wondered if you would be willing to share your experience of life in Vietnam?
    My email is Carole@expatfocus.com

  2. chocolate cappucino mocha frappe latte espresso- if that's not a drink, it should be. it sounds like it could jump start someones heart.

    I hope you rocked the Casbah