Within a few days of being in Ho Chi Minh City we realised there was an immense cafe culture here. It seems young Vietnamese love nothing better than drinking an iced tea in a cool cafe with their friends at any time of the day. Whilst Saigon may feel like it lacks ‘things to do’ sometimes, it certainly is a very social city with cafes and bars spread along it’s streets in the thousands! Every time we see a new cafe open, we still think how on earth do they all have custom, but every single one is teaming with new and regular customers all the time.
We’ve been here five months now and have certainly adjusted well to the cafe culture – most days you’ll find us in a cafe with our laptops. In the beginning, we said to ourselves we would aim to try as many coffee shops in Saigon as we could, but after a couple of dodgy wifi cafes we began to stick to a selection we loved the most for working in. Don’t get me wrong, we still venture into new cafes at least 4-5 times a week (yes we drink a lot of tea) but we have our favourites for when we need to knuckle down with good wifi in a nice environment that serves great drinks, and of course, where they don’t mind you hanging out for hours with your laptop! Here’s our top ten in District 1 in no particular order…
1. ben coffee house
Affectionately known now as ‘Ben’, we’ve fallen in love with this cafe because of it’s large local presence. We prefer to be surrounded by locals when working, rather than expats, as we find it’s easier to work when you don’t get drawn into listening to other people’s conversations – we all know we do it! Ben also do an amazing combo all day which is several Vietnamese dishes with a drink (milk tea, milk coffee, lemon tea etc) for 70k! You can also upsize your drink to large for an extra 10k. It’s a big draw for the locals working close by which means from 11.30am – 1.30pm it is super busy, so we often avoid these times or get there towards the end of lunch unless we want to eat. The interior is standard with a mix of stools and chairs, but it’s bright and you have the option to sit in or outside. The food is also really good, the staff are lovely too. We go so often that they now just direct us to our favourite spots (close to the plugs) – a little sad but we like it!
2. I.D. Cafe
I.D. is a really cosy cafe where we like to go and have hot drinks whilst we work – which we often don’t do because of the heat. Being British though, I crave a comfy seat and a nice cup of hot cocoa feeling like I’m back home in the cooler temperatures of their aircon. ID has a huge drinks list with everything from smoothies and speciality coffees to cocktails and wines, and their food menu is a extensive too full of traditional Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. Sometimes the wifi can be a little dippy, but it depends what you’re asking of it – I’m often just writing for work or my blog, and Glen uses several websites at once which sometimes means he gets frustrated.
It also has a downstairs which is open air looking out on to the street, the seats aren’t as comfy but it’s good if you’re not staying too long and like to people watch while you work!
So we drove past ID on the way back from the gym the other day (end of March 2017) and there was a huge group of (honestly quite scary looking) local men and a couple of security guards which we thought was strange but didn’t think much of it. Then today we went to go there and work and basically the roller door was down blocking the entrance to the upstairs (the best part) of the cafe, and the bottom part (the open air bit) was full of local men doing weights. Yes, literally, stood there with music blaring with dumbells. So we have no idea what’s gone on there but I don’t really want to take it out of the blog as it’s such a great cafe for working in usually and I’m really hoping this is just a temporary blip/change of hands. If anyone knows anything of this, please email me as I’m so intrigued as to what’s gone on! I’ve added a new bonus cafe at the end of this blog (#8 Running Bean) to compensate – it’s a new one just opened but it’s good for working in!
3. want tea
We only recently discovered want tea when we drove past their sign and couldn’t believe our eyes that most of their drinks (albeit only tea, but a huge range of it at that) were between 15-30k. Plus everytime we go in they seem to give us 5k off drink vouchers, so we end up always paying 12-20k for a drink each time which really cuts the costs for us. Want Tea is just a small open cafe with fans, no A/C but it’s cool enough. The wifi is strong and the staff don’t mind how long you stay, plus there is a food place next door that does claypot fish dishes for 25k which they will deliver to you whilst you work! Win win for us.
Katinat is a cute cafe just off Nguyen Hue with nice decor and a balcony to overlook the street. It has the best of both worlds with a balcony and inside area that is fan-cooled, and an additional room with air/con. It also has a cute cubby hole for 6 people only half way up the stairs where you have a window seat view of the street below. They don’t do food but they do do cakes and the drinks are all yummy and very reasonable.
5. boo coffee
Boo Coffee sits at the top of the nine storey coffee shop tower on Nguyen Hue – possibly the most instagrammed building on this street and also one of my faves in Saigon. We’ve worked our way through this coffee shop tower after discovering it in our first week and found that we loved Boo Coffee the most, it has one on the 9th floor and one on the 8th floor, both are great working spaces, inside and out (out can be a little hot though, but the views are good).
Lầu 9,, 42 Nguyễn Huệ, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh
6. leo coffee
Leo has become a favourite as it’s close to home for us, it’s got strong wifi and serves diet coke – one of the few coffee shops we’ve found that does, which is great for us when we are all ‘tea-d out’. You can sit inside in lovely aircon or outside undercover with fans and seats that all face out on to the street. We usually check the pollution then decide which one – the only thing with inside is that sometimes, with the locals smoking and vaping inside it can get a little choking. They don’t do food but they do do instant noodles and allow you to bring your own food in and they have a big drinks list.
It has two entrances – one off Bui Vien and one off Tran Hung Dao (we prefer the latter side).
7. the coffee house
There are a variety of these spread throughout the city, we like the one off Nguyen Trai in District 1. It’s a two storey coffee shop which is bright and spacey with plugs plentiful and lots of people working away on laptops. It’s a good working environment but if you’re not craving coffee, the drinks list isn’t the best (see my fluorescent ‘apple soda’ below) so that’s the only thing that puts us off going too often; however they do sandwiches and they look yummy!
8. the running bean (bonus!)
I’ve just recently discovered this cafe as it hasn’t been open long. I found it on a inspiration walk I was taking as a break from working in Ben Coffee House. Since, I’ve worked there a couple of times and really like the environment, it’s a big open space (so not loud at all) with nice light decor and big windows so it doesn’t feel like you’re stuck inside – there’s also outside seating but no fans. All the seats inside are really comfy and almost everyone in there is either working or sitting with friends – plus there are plugs galore! This is close becoming one of my new favourites!
As well as to work in, most of these cafes are nice to just check out for a little coffee and maybe a little read – that’s how we discovered most of the by just popping in ones we liked the look of. I’ll do a follow up blog soon about all my favourite cafes in Saigon (not just the ones we work in).