With hundreds upon thousands of coffee shops in Ho Chi Minh City, it goes without saying that coffee is a way of life through-out Vietnam.
For some, it’s the highlight of their day, a break from work or a chance to catch up with friends. For others, it is a full time job and they are damn good at it.
For the average foreigner, living, working or even just visiting Ho Chi Minh City (more commonly known as Sai Gon), having a coffee can be risky business. You don’t need to spend much time in Saigon to experience a coffee hit that is not the buzz you were looking for.
What looks like a very small amount of this potent elixir can send you over the edge and leave you with horrible experience that can last up to 4 hours.
Within 10 minutes your head is pounding, you want to drink a gallon of water, your whole body is pulsating and you will probably feel like your breakfast is going to come back onto the table.
This substance we have come to know as “Vietnamese style” coffee is in fact not.
Over the last few years factories have been shut down due to the production of toasted corn that dipped in some tasty, tasty chemicals. When finished, it looks pretty similar to coffee, especially when ground up.
Although many of these factories have been traced and can no longer distribute, there is still plenty around – you know when you have some!
Needless to say, you’ll want to be avoiding it, here’s some help with that: my 5 coffee shops that won’t give you a bad trip.
Nam Muoi Muoi Lam (literally 5-10-10-5)
Located on what I like to call coffee street, this quaint cafe looks like it was designed for the Instagram fiend. It works. But other than that it’s a popular lunch spot among Vietnamese business people. It’s a good idea to go and claim your seat early in the morning. The crowds start pouring in around 11.30am.
Their coffee is smooth and fresh – the perfect level of pick me up! If it a little too late for a coffee, try their iced early grey with a little sugar.
33/72 Nguyễn Trung Trực, Quận 1 // 31 Nguyễn Thái Bình, Quận 1
This small art cafe has two wonderful locations to choose from; both in old French colonial buildings. The cafes are filled with up-cycled interiors and old-fashioned Vietnamese furniture, complimented with a local artists paintings and drawings everywhere you look.
Artists of all forms will join you here, a great spot to work or hang out for a few hours, listen to some good music and relax. Their coffee is quite light and not overly sweetened.
Sài Gòn Hẻm
15\29 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Bến Nghé, Quận 1
I stumbled upon this little beauty wondering down the alleys near my house. The cafe has three tables, two windows and two trees to sit around, so expect to make some new friends. Always packed with locals, most of the customers are really into film photography and will happily help you out if you have any questions.
A little heads up: this place is not frequently visited by foreigners, so the menu is in Vietnamese, but the staff speak pretty good English.
Their coffee is ground onsite, making it super fresh, quite fruity and very cheap as far as good brews go.
336 Trường Sa, Quận Phú Nhuận (closer to D1)
A franchise through-out Saigon and Hanoi, this coffee shop takes you a step back in time: military outfits, old fashioned interior and representative crockery?
You can choose from northern or southern Vietnamese coffee (southern being typically stronger). This is my favourite location, it’s the biggest and the furthest away from the tourist area. Looking over the canal, not far from Tan Dinh market; it’s a great spot to sit and watch the world go by.
Others are located in backpacker area and around District 1.
If you want to splash out on 60K for a drink, I would recommend the coconut coffee – you have to have it at some point!