Saigon’s Hidden Cafes

Introduction | Best Hidden Cafes | Map | Video | Images

If there’s one thing to rival food in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) it’s coffee. With the queues outside the city’s first Starbucks outlet all but gone, it’s time to have a look at Saigon’s thousands of independent coffee shops. Hidden down narrow alleyways, tucked away in forgotten colonial villas, or concealed in enigmatic old apartment buildings, there’s a whole sub-culture of ‘indie’ cafes in this city. These coffee shops offer a unique kind of ambience, décor and intimacy that the ever-increasing number of international coffee chains in Saigon can never compete with. In a city bursting with coffee shops these are my 15 Best ‘Hidden’ Cafes in Saigon.

Hidden: Saigon's 'indie' cafes
Hidden: Saigon's 'indie' cafes

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BEST ‘HIDDEN’ CAFES, SAIGON

Vietnamese 'filter' coffeeAfter visiting dozens of coffee shops over the last month I’ve come to realize four things. Firstly, Phú Nhuận District is Saigon’s unofficial ‘indie’ cafe area. Secondly, these cafes are less about the coffee, more about the environment. Thirdly, Saigon’s ‘indie’ cafes are not just daytime hangouts; the majority are open late into the night, and many have live music performances. And lastly, most independent cafes fall under one of these three categories: garden cafes, nostalgia cafes, and ‘modern’ cafes. Garden cafes try to recreate the peace and serenity of rural Vietnam. Nostalgia cafes focus on the past – whether it’s 1960’s Europe or medieval Southeast Asia. ‘Modern’ cafes often have a theme: an artistic or architectural movement, a famous band or person, a nation or religion. All of the following cafes have Wi-Fi, and you could quite easily spend the whole day working, socializing or relaxing in any one of them.

Click on any café from the list below to read my review of it and see some photos, or click HERE to watch my video of Saigon’s hidden cafes, or click HERE to view my map:

  1. TRẦM CAFÉ: 100 Trần Huy Liệu, Phú Nhuận District
  2. MOCKINGBIRD CAFÉ: 14 Tôn Thất Đạm, District 1
  3. THINGS CAFÉ: 14 Tôn Thất Đạm, District 1
  4. BANKSY STUDIO CAFÉ: 14 Tôn Thất Đạm, District 1
  5. VỪNG ƠI, MỞ RA CAFÉ: 17 Ngô Thời Nhiệm, District 3
  6. NGÔI NHÀ SỐ 7 CAFÉ: 7 Ngô Thời Nhiệm, District 3
  7. THE FIG CAFÉ: 15 Nguyễn Thị Huỳnh, Phú Nhuận District
  8. NGÀY XƯA ẤY CAFÉ: 525/5 Quang Trung, Gò Vấp District
  9. THE TIBETAN COFFEE SHOP: 307/31 Nguyên Văn Trỗi, Tân Bình District
  10. GHẾ ĐẨU CAFÉ: 28 Hoa Mai, Phú Nhuận District
  11. CÔI XƯA CAFÉ: 55 Tân Canh, Tân Bình District
  12. MIỀN ĐỒNG THẢO CAFÉ: 221A Nguyễn Trọng Tuyển, Phú Nhuận District
  13. DU MIÊN CAFÉ: 48/9A Hồ Biểu Chánh, Phú Nhuận District
  14. ĐỜI ĐÁ VÀNG CAFÉ: 162/4 Trần Kế Xương, Phú Nhuận District
  15. POUND CAFÉ: 259 Phan Xích Long, Phú Nhuận District

Related Articles: Cà Phê Bệt: Saigon’s Street Coffee Scene | Top 5 Rooftop Cocktails, Saigon | Alley Walks, Saigon | Street Food Week, Saigon

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1. TRẦM CAFE

Address: 100 Trần Huy Liệu Street, Phú Nhuận District: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 6.30am-11pm daily

Contact: 09 09 511 095 | www.facebook.com/tramtranhuylieu

An oasis: Trầm CafeVietnamese have a love of quán café sân vườn, which means ‘garden café’. Trầm Café is the perfect realization of this concept: a lush, hidden, tropical world in the middle of Vietnam’s biggest, busiest city. Multi-leveled and labyrinthine this coffee shop is a genuine oasis where you can swap the roar of motorbikes for the trickle of water and rustle of leaves. Outside seating, under the canopy of trees, remains cool in the dappled sunlight of even the fiercest of dry season days. Raised wooden walkways lead from one ‘tree house’ to the next and stepping stones guide you through tasteful water features, adorned with reclining Buddhas, giant earthenware vases and faux classical busts. The walls, pillars and windows are dripping with foliage, and lanterns hang from branches and trestles, swinging gently in the breeze. Inside seating is cosy, cushioned and softly lit like a plush, first class dining car on a Victorian train. Hundreds of other garden cafes in Saigon aim for the same aesthetic, but most of them miss the mark and end up straying into the kitsch and the sentimental. Trầm Café is the only one that manages to convincingly keep up the façade of a natural, peaceful environment despite being a man-made one in the middle of a concrete city. On the downside, the coffee is expensive (40,000VNĐ/$2) and bland, and awful pop music – totally at odds with the general mood of the café – is sometimes played indoors.

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2. MOCKINGBIRD CAFÉ

Address: 4th Floor, Old Apartment Building, 14 Tôn Thất Đạm Street, District 1: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 9am-11pm daily

Contact: [email protected] | www.facebook.com/mockingbirdcoffee

Cool, hip, and hidden Mocking Bird is what all independent cafes should be. Up four flights of dark, dank concrete stairs in a run-down apartment block that looks like it’s slated for demolition in downtown Saigon’s financial district, Mocking Bird is an unexpected ‘eagle’s nest’ with views over the ‘soviet-gothic’ architecture of the State Bank of Vietnam, which itself looks as though it’s been abandoned; sculpted busts of Lenin and Uncle Ho are just about visible through gaps between heavy, dusty, drawn curtains.

Mockingbird's trendy, small spaceThe entrance to the café is off a dark corridor with the distinct smell of dog pee. But don’t worry, once you enter through the wooden doorway – decorated with a pine branch intertwined with bare light-bulbs – Mocking Bird’s trendy, diminutive space is another world. With flowery, hippy dresses on coat-hangers, concrete walls decorated with chalk and paper murals, wooden tables and chairs on cold tiled floors, naked light-bulbs hanging from the ceiling, and a few brooding fashion snaps plastered here and there, it feels like entering the dorm of a creative student from 1960s Britain, or being backstage at a small-scale but exclusive fashion show. It has the cosy intimacy of a study, and the space is just about chaotic enough to feel ‘lived in’.

Amy Winehouse and some soulful classics suit Mocking Bird’s cool but mellow space well, and the coffee is good but small. Alcoholic cocktails are also available, and the little, leafy balcony with fairy lights makes this a good place to bring a date. Prices are between 30-50,000VNĐ ($1.50-2.50).

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3. THINGS CAFÉ

Address: 1st Floor, Old Apartment Building, 14 Tôn Thất Đạm Street, District 1: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 9am-10pm daily

Contact: 08 66 786 205 | www.facebook.com/thingscafe

Things: one of Saigon's 'nostalgia' cafesOn the first floor of the same run-down yet intriguing apartment building as Mockingbird, Things Café has a similar trendy, bohemian feel to it. Tiled floors, wooden furniture, table lamps, chess boards and Murakami books lying around create an extremely mellow mood. As with many of Saigon’s ‘indie’ cafes the theme appears to be nostalgia: old to antique items abound, from brass taps on the sinks to Singer sewing machines and creaking ceiling fans. Various artworks hang on the walls next to famous quotes from Uncle Ho chalked up on blackboards. Again the atmosphere is that of a studio, study or student dorm. Indeed, this whole apartment block is riddled with these fascinating, enticing cafes, and the building itself exudes a certain bygone era charm: the winding staircase has floral wrought iron banisters suggesting it might once have been rather grand, and the shaft between the stairs was once an elevator of the kind that you had to manually prise open the doors. You could spend a whole day café-hopping in this magnificent yet dying apartment building in District 1. Things Café is a great place to while away a couple hours with a book or some friends. Coffee, served in big, thick mugs, is 40,000VNĐ ($2).

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4. BANKSY STUDIO CAFÉ

Address: 1st Floor, Old Apartment Building, 14 Tôn Thất Đạm Street, District 1: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 7am-11pm daily

Contact: 0169 999 0003 | www.facebook.com/BanksyCafe

Stylish Banksy Sudio CafeNamed after the famous British street artist, Banksy cafe is a colourful, stylish little place that’s very different from the other coffee shops in this aging apartment building. Books about Banksy line the shelves and there are some Banksy-related photographs and canvases on the walls. Psychedelic murals and snazzy seat covers attempt to create a ‘graffiti’ environment. I love the concept of this café but it could have been better executed. For example, it would be great to see some Banksy-inspired Vietnam-related street art on the walls here, or even just some reproductions of Banksy’s own work. Western-style espresso coffee is available and prices are between 30-50,000VNĐ ($1.50-2.50).

 

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5. VỪNG ƠI, MỞ RA CAFÉ

Address: 1st Floor, 17 Ngô Thời Nhiệm Street (alleyway 17), District 3: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 9am-10.30pm daily

Contact: 08 22 157 813 | www.facebook.com/Vừng-ơi-mở-ra-Café

Cosy: Vừng Ơi CafeAnother of Saigon’s well-hidden cafes Vừng Ơi, Mở Ra is on the first floor of an old, decaying French villa on a street known for its many cafes near the city centre. Accessed off a dead-end alleyway, through a street-kitchen and up a narrow staircase, this is a very private, cosy café not far from District 1. The ceiling is hung with undulating strips of patterned material like the interior of a kasbah. Walls are adorned with prints, etchings and sketches depicting anything from historical figures and events to movie stars. The tiled floor and walls are left deliberately grubby for that ‘artist studio’ look. There’s plenty of seating on cushioned chairs and the coffee here is chocolatey, rich and smooth (35,000VNĐ/$1.50). During the daytime, when the cafe is quiet, you’re free to pick up any of the instruments and have a go. Live music nights by candlelight are an intimate experience with piano, guitar, vocals and violin filling this small café.

 

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6. NGÔI NHÀ SỐ 7 CAFÉ

Address: 7 Ngô Thời Nhiệm Street (alleyway 17), District 3: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 8am-10pm daily

Contact: 0947 770 810 | www.facebook.com/ngoinhasobay

Bright & youthful: Ngoi Nha CafeEven further down the same alleyway as Vừng Ơi Café – and even more hidden – is Ngôi Nhà Số 7. On the ground floor of yet another fading French colonial villa, Ngôi Nhà is accessed through a backyard full of domestic clutter leading onto a tiny wooden door. Inside it’s bright, quiet, comfy and convivial. Vietnamese students at leisure – gossiping, reading or working together on university projects – sit on cushioned benches at small tables made from planks of brightly varnished wood. There’s a raised mezzanine level running along the walls where you can sit on cushions on the floor. The owners have made this small room into an airy, bright space that, during the daytime, has the feeling of a glass conservatory or converted loft. At night there’s live music on the small stage at the centre of the café. Coffee is good (35,000VNĐ/$1.50) and service is friendly.

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7. THE FIG CAFÉ

Address: 15 Nguyễn Thị Huỳnh Street, Phú Nhuận District: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 8am-11pm daily

Contact: 08 22 113 544 | www.thefigcafe.net

Stylish & low-key: The Fig CafeOn a quiet street in Phú Nhuận District’s ‘café triangle’, The Fig is easy to miss because of its concealed, low-key entrance. This district, north of the high-rises of downtown Saigon, is where many small private businesses have their offices, tucked away down narrow alleyways. Dozens of comfortable, stylish yet business-like cafés have opened to cater to the young professionals who work in the area. The Fig is the best of them. Outside seating is in a green garden on a wooden deck around a pond with a contemplative-looking statue of Buddha in the middle. Inside, the décor is a good mix of modern and traditional: tiled floors, soft seats, fancy lanterns, and contemporary furniture. Music here is mercifully soft and the choice is ‘anodyne-ambient’ rather than the sentimental pop that many other cafes choose. Coffee, of mediocre quality, is 30-40,000VNĐ ($1.50-$2). Unusually for most cafes on this list, The Fig offers a wide range of alcoholic drinks, including many wines. It’s also worth trying one of the tasty and inventive desserts here, many of which are a kind of Vietnamese-Western fusion.

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8. NGÀY XƯA ẤY CAFÉ

Address: 525/5 Quang Trung Street (alleyway), Gò Vấp District: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 6am-11pm daily

Contact: 09 38 383 526 | www.facebook.com/pages/Cafe-Ngay-Xua-Ay

Museum of nostalgia: Ngày Xưa Ấy CafeFar from the city centre, Ngày Xưa Ấy Café is worth the effort it takes to get here. Down a narrow alleyway off one of the burgeoning roads behind the airport in Gò Vấp District, this trinket-filled coffee shop is a tribute to yesteryear. Whether it be Asia or Europe this café focuses firmly on the past, and the result is a fascinating museum of nostalgia in a city that’s charging towards the future. The pretty, gated entrance leads into a tight, leafy courtyard dotted with stone mandarins, potted plants, clumps of bamboo and twittering caged birds hanging from branches. But inside is where the treasure lies. Attractive antique wooden tables and chairs sit under an old ceiling fan, rotating slowly, blowing the dust off traditional Asian stringed instruments, old clocks, incense burners, ancient portable T.Vs and telephones, gramophones and records players, paraffin lamps, typewriters, soldiers’ canteens, coffee grinders and teapots, busts of Buddha and sculptures of mandalas, larva lamps, toy trains, pith hats, antique cameras and abacuses. It’s a small space jammed full of memorabilia, but it doesn’t feel cluttered. Up a very steep stairway there’s a cosy loft – filled with dolls and watched over by a portrait of Uncle Ho – where seating is on cushions on the carpeted floor. The coffee is cheap (19,000VNĐ/$1) and has a fuller, richer flavour than in most other cafes. I’m told live music here on the weekends is very good too.

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9. THE TIBETAN COFFEE SHOP

Address: 307/31 Nguyễn Văn Trỗi Street, Tân Bình District: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 8am-10pm daily

Contact: 08 38 301 470 | www.facebook.com/pages/The-Tibetan-Coffee-Shop

Plush: The Tibetan Coffee Shop[Note: this cafe recently changed location (to the address given above) and I haven’t yet had a chance to visit the new space: the following review is of the old location, but hopefully the new one is in a similar style. For the time being, I’ve removed the marker from my cafe map] Down an interesting alleyway in District 1, just a short walk from the backpacker area of Phạm Ngũ Lão, The Tibetan Coffee Shop is full of trinkets, photographs, and artwork with a Tibetan theme. It’s a plush café with ambient, soft lighting, pastel-coloured walls, carpeted floor, drapes and blinds over the windows, and even a Tibetan altar upstairs. The menu includes some interesting South Asian items, such as, traditional Tibetan tea and Masala ‘chai’ tea, however, the latter tasted more like a very milky English Breakfast tea than the subtly spiced drink it’s meant to be. At an average of 40,000VNĐ ($2) prices here are quite high. I once visited a beautiful Tibetan tea house inside the Tibetan Government in exile complex in McLeod Ganj in northern India, and this coffee shop in Saigon goes some way to reminding me of that one, so it must be doing something right.

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10. GHẾ ĐẨU CAFÉ

Address: 28 Hoa Mai Street, Phú Nhuận District: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 7am-11pm daily

Contact: 08 35 173 636

Wooden stools at Ghế Đẩu CafeOwned by the same people as the popular Mộc Hi-End Café on the opposite side of the street (which is also a good place for a coffee in cool, retro surrounds) Ghế Đẩu, which means ‘stool’ in Vietnamese, is a shady, leafy outdoor café occupying a crescent of concrete on the corner of two residential streets. Seating is exclusively on low wooden stools of the kind that has become extremely popular and trendy in Saigon over the last few years. In a casual atmosphere under a tropical almond tree and three small Bodhi trees this place attracts a young crowd, especially in the evenings when it’s a hive of well-dressed youth chattering together or consumed by various portable technologies. At this time of day it’s irresistible; you can’t help but want to be a part of it. During the day time it gets busy with local businessmen and older men playing mahjong. The coffee (10,000VNĐ/$0.50) is pretty good, but most people choose from the extensive list of fruit shakes and smoothies (sinh tố).

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11. CÔI XƯA CAFÉ

Address: 55 Tân Canh Street, Tân Bình District: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 7am-10.30pm daily

Contact: 08 38 448 622 | www.facebook.com/CaPheCoiXua

Côi Xưa CafeIn a very affluent-looking area full of villas and small businesses, Côi Xưa is a garden café in the style of a crumbling traditional Vietnamese rural home. Varnished bamboo furniture, wooden shutters, water features, lanterns, and half-ruined brick walls help to create the impression of an old house in a romantic state of decay. The open courtyard is leafy, shady and cool. Unfortunately, the mood is tarnished slightly by sugary pop music. Coffee (30,000VNĐ/$1.50) is pretty good with a strong, sharp, bitter taste like dark chocolate. Côi Xưa is also a popular place for local businessmen to lunch, so the food here is pretty good.

 

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12. MIỀN ĐỒNG THẢO CAFÉ

Address: 221A Nguyễn Trọng Tuyển Street, Phú Nhuận District: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 7am-11pm daily

Contact: 08 38 451 357

Miên Đồng Thảo CafeThis sprawling, multi-leveled café is built around a man-made stream with trees and ivy growing up around it. It’s big, popular and leans towards the kitsch, but it occupies its own quiet corner of the city and I like the constant bustle of customers – from families to young couples to businessmen – throughout the day. It gets pleasantly busy in the evenings when fairy lights illuminate the ‘stream’. A regular Vietnamese iced coffee is 35,000VNĐ and they also have European-style espresso coffee for a steep 55,000VNĐ. A wide variety of good quality meals and desserts are also served.

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13. DU MIÊN CAFÉ

Address: 48/9A Hồ Biểu Chánh Street, Phú Nhuận District: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 7am-11pm daily

Contact: 08 38 443 054

Kitsch: Du Miên CafeDown a small, quiet alley in a residential part of Phú Nhuận District, Du Miên Café opens up into an unexpectedly spacious and green retreat. Unlike most of the cafes in this list Du Miên has a thoroughly modern look. While the ‘soulless’ new furniture and dominant right-angles don’t really appeal to me, this sprawling café is saved by a large amount of greenery and several big water features; the most prominent of which is a 15 foot high waterfall with a group of sculpted deer at the bottom. Yes, it’s rather kitsch, but Vietnam does kitsch better than most. The coffee, which includes European-style espresso, is OK, but for these high prices (40-60,000VNĐ/$2-3) I’d expect better quality.

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14. ĐỜI ĐÁ VÀNG CAFÉ

Address: 162/4 Trần Kế Xương Street, Phú Nhuận District: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 6am-9pm daily

Contact: +84 90 897 908

Local: Đời Đá Vàng CafeOn a narrow lane in Phú Nhuận District this small café is almost invisible from the street behind all the foliage that surrounds it. A deliberately half-built brick structure with broken wooden shutters under a bamboo and palm-leaf roof, Đời Đá Vàng is in the style of a traditional rural Vietnamese home. Indeed, the structures and houses either side of this café look as though they’d be more at home in a provincial village than the middle of Saigon. Đời Đá Vàng is a more ‘local’ café than the others in this list. It’s particularly romantic at night when paraffin lamps are lit and – with the sound of cicadas in the hedges – it really does feel as if you’re in the countryside. Coffee is strong and cheap (15,000VNĐ/$0.75).

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15. POUND CAFÉ

Address: 259 Phan Xích Long Street, Phú Nhuận District: [MAP]

Opening Hours: 5am-10pm daily

Contact: 090 361 0904 | www.facebook.com/pages/Pound-Coffee

Cheap, cool, small: Pound CafeCheap, cool, small, trendy Pound Café is minimally furnished with low wooden stools in the same vein as Ghế Đẩu Café. Housed in a single bare-brick room with a tiled floor that’s open to the street, customers generally sit on benches along the walls and use the tiny stools as tables. Another option is to sit around the small well/pond near the roadside and use the circular brick structure as a table. Popular with young locals and their laptops, the coffee here is sweet and smooth, but most of all it’s cheap (15,000VNĐ/$0.75). This simple place is more of an espresso bar than a coffee shop – the kind place where you pop in for a quick injection of caffeine and a chat or to send an email. The name refers to the pound sign, which pops up all over the café.

 

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MAP


View ‘Saigon’s Hidden Cafes’ in a LARGER MAP

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VIDEO

A look at Saigon’s hidden cafes:

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IMAGES

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Selected Resources for Travellers & Expats:  What's this?

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30 Responses to Saigon’s Hidden Cafes

  1. David Zee says:

    Hi, thanks for such a cool blog. I was wondering which cafe the photo at the top of this article is from ? (Single window with two thin tied white curtains….). It looks exactly my kind of reading spot. (*_*) Thanks.

  2. Asia says:

    Wow, this article is exactly what I was looking for! Had an amazing afternoon at Things Cafe. Good job! Thanks!

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  7. Michelle says:

    Banksy Cafe changed its name to Snuffbox and is now a bar.

  8. Vy says:

    Hi Tom,
    I’d like to recommend Thủy Trúc cafe: 180 Bùi Thị Xuân street, Tân Bình District. It’s near Cơm tấm Ba Ghiền. This is a garden cafe follow Hue’s garden house style. It’s very quite and tranquil because If customers make noisily, the boss will ask them to leave. :)
    Here, you can heard old Vietnam songs that are composed from Vietnam war. Coffee and service is very good (28.000 VNĐ)
    Opening hours:
    16:00 – 22:00 Tuesday – Sartuday
    7:00 – 12:00 / 16:00 – 22:00 Sunday
    (off on Monday)

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  10. LU.TA says:

    Hi guide,
    I want to review a bit about Bansky cafe (1st Floor, Old Apartment Building, 14 Tôn Thất Đạm Street, District 1)
    Well, I’m agree with topic’s writer that Bansky is one of the hidden coffee in SG.
    The decoration is pretty cool to be a studio. However, it is a coffee shop also thus, I just want to share my experient for you guide :)
    I came to Bansky in the end of April 2015, the space is quite because they don’t have any guest in that early morning. After I ordered a drink, they started to turn the music on, but it a kind of dance music so it strong and seem like terrible for my peacefull morning. I ask that: Could they turn it lower or change another music.
    But Bansky’s owner said: “I CAN NOT do that, the coffee shop have to turn that kind of music”.
    Well, I don’t wanna waste my time for him so I ask for the bill. And he said to the staff that make drink to take away for me. The coffee is not a pure coffee. The soda with color like illustration image (look like fake color not a real one).
    My friends also told me that when he came here, the staff brought drink for him like throw it on the table. They want the spoon. My friends ask for it, the staff brought it out and put it on the table (basicaly, they have to put the spoon on the dish or give directly to the guess)

    It enough for me to build my prejudice about this coffee shop ==”

  11. Penguin says:

    I love Cưới cafe. That is a beautiful place, very romantic. But it’s very difficult to go there because of the address: 466/49 Le Van Sy. We can go by 420 Lê Văn Sỹ, go to the end of the alley,

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  17. Thuan Tran says:

    I think no. 6 is Ngôi nhà số 7 not Ngồi nhà số 7, because ‘ngồi’ is different from ‘ngôi’
    And yayyy,The fig is my favorite one. I love it, I’ve been there alot.
    Thank you alot for this great article.

  18. Mikie says:

    There are two other quite nice coffee place on the same street as Du Mien, Pergola and S Cafe. Have you checked those out? Pergola used to be my favorite. S cafe is rathernice too.

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