We didn’t really know what to make of Saigon. We didn’t even know what to call it, or whether the name you give the place has political or social connotations like Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland.
And it was hard to gauge the coffee scene there, too. There’s an excellent overview of cafés in the city by a blogger called Vietnam Coracle, though many of them are so hidden away that we tried and failed to find them.
We did manage to find this old block of flats that has now been largely converted into retail spaces for cafés and vintage clothes shops, although some apartments are clearly still occupied as residences, and one old woman frantically pointed towards the cafes as soon as she saw us.
I loved the idea of using such rundown residential blocks and giving them a new lease of life, but the cafés we found here were a mixed bunch, with more focus apparently on appearances than on the quality of the coffee.
Of all the venues in that particular block, we liked best of all a café called Things. Mind you, it was possibly the hardest one to find, being right up at the top of the block, round several corners and up some more steps to get to the virtually unmarked front door.
But inside, it felt like being in someone’s home – which it may well have been (it was just quite hard to tell). The coffee was good, here, though, which is why it gets our vote, and the welcome was warm.
Funnily enough, inside this whole building, Twitter seemed to be blocked, suggesting that the authorities are also uncertain what to make of the ‘alternative’ scene growing in here: from our brief visit, though, it seemed very far from being a hotbed of radical seditious thinking and the owners of Things spent the whole time we were there messing about on Facebook…
The address of that block of flats, by the way: Ton That Dam 14, in District 1.
There are a couple of cafés mentioned on the Vietnam Coracle blog in another street, which we walked up and down twice before giving up on finding them (Ngo Thori Nhiem, in case you want to give them a go yourselves).
But at the start of the same street (77 Ngo Thori Nhiem, to be exact), we did find Moc Coffee, which seemed much like the kind of coffee shop we had found in Hanoi, with customers spilling out onto the pavement, and a good cup of Vietnamese Coffee on offer.
We liked this place, especially as Mrs Cuppa got a phone call while we were there, with some very very good news. So for coffee in Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City), we’d recommend a trip to Moc Coffee.
We did manage to find Tram Café, another recommended by Vietnam Coracle.
This is certainly easier to find, with a flashing neon sign out in the street (Tran Huy Lieu). And it’s set in absolutely stunning gardens, with fountains and fish, a stepping stone walkway to the inside area, and a beautiful dimly-lit interior, the kind of place you’d go for a casual first date in Saigon, I’d say.
It is more of a restaurant than a coffee shop, though, so although we loved the place, it’s probably not a venue we’ll add to our reviews when we post them. However, if you’re in Saigon and want somewhere different for a good lunch, this is the place to visit.
And finally, tea in Saigon.
Vietnam has much more of a focus on coffee than tea. But the Royal Tea House in Pham Ngoc Thach Street was one of the nicest tea rooms we had visited for some time.
The Tiendat family has been in tea in Vietnam since 1956, so they must have seen a fair few changes in that time, and there’s surely a book to be written on their experiences as they went from post-colonial tea family to the struggles of war with America and then carrying on through the post-war Communist regime.
We didn’t get a chance to ask owner Krystal many questions, though she did take the time to talk us through some of the teas her family has produced, and would probably have been open to a longer chat if we’d had time.
But you can feel her passion for the tea that runs in her family and her pride in the tea room she has set up not far from central Saigon.
We loved this place as a cool haven away from Saigon’s stressful streets.
And with their rather nice coconut mini cakes it felt about as close to a traditional afternoon tea as we’d seen in quite a few weeks.
So our top tip for tea in Saigon has to be Royal Tea House. And if you like the tea as much as we did, you may be tempted to buy a packet; they produce black and green teas on the family plantation in Dalat, and they source other teas on the menu from Taiwan and China.
So, we’re pretty sure we found the best place for afternoon tea in Saigon.
But on the coffee side of things, Saigon remained a bit of a mystery, as it did in general to be honest. We probably missed its hidden gems, but they remained so hidden that we’re not even sure we’ll rush to go back and find them…