Saigon Nightlife: The Best Bars and Clubs

By: Thibaud

Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s definitive party city, with its hundreds of bars and clubs to choose from for a proper night out. However, the age-old quality vs quantity argument might not be necessary here as the city’s nightlife scene is quite possibly one of the most diverse in the region. Whether you’re into eardrum-crushing vinahouse music, a low-budget night out for some cheap beers or some good, dark underground techno, there is something for you here.

Welcome to our guide to Saigon’s nightlife!

Backpacker Nightlife in Saigon

Backpackers usually stay and drink in the Pham Ngu Lao District area, along Bui Vien Street.

A slightly subdued version of the infamous Khao San Road in Bangkok, you won’t find a lot of stylish places here. However, many are inexpensive and great for meeting new people.

Bui VienBui Vien Street

Although popular with tourists, the Pham Ngu Lao area also masquerades as a slightly low-key red light district, with its countless hostess bars and massage parlours with “extra” services. Just take a walk down the street and if you see an increasing number of pretty ladies smiling at you as you walk, high chance you’re in “that area”.

The most popular (or unpopular) bar in the area is probably Go2 Bar, famous for staying open until morning. It is one of the few after-hours clubs in Saigon although its one-star rating on TripAdvisor might be an indicator that it may not necessarily be the safest option. T & R, a popular tavern along Do Quang Dau road is probably one of the best bars to check out. With an old-school American-styled interior, the ability to play the type of music you like thanks to its open keyboard option and a crowd that’s made up of regulars, it’s a great place to make new friends even if you’re going solo.

Alternatively, you can have a beer at The View in Duc Vuong Hotel, famous for being the most affordable rooftop bar around, or at the quaint Vespa Sofar Bar where you can drink cheap beers while putting together a custom playlist on YouTube.

The ViewThe View

Backpackers with style go to Whiskey & Wares on De Tham to indulge in Saigon’s vibrant craft beer scene or some of the fancier liquors without leaving the area.

Generally speaking, there are three kinds of expats in Saigon: those who love the backpacker district, those who hate it and those who pretend they hate it but inevitably end up there every weekend. The second group will prefer more exclusive clubs and bars, which can also be popular with Viet Kieus (Vietnamese who’ve grown up abroad).

Where the Hipper Crowd Goes Out

The Observatory is back! Like so many other indie clubs, bars and cafes in town, they’ve had problems lately in the course of Ho Chi Minh City’s redevelopment campaign but have overcome the worst. The Observatory remains a venue that attracts a hip and music-conscious crowd. Both a rooftop bar and a nightclub, the new location at Cach Mang Thang 8 in District 1 is spacious and boasts an excellent sound system. They routinely host foreign guest DJs who usually play minimal, deep house or world music. Be sure to visit The Observatory later on in the night: the crowds only start to arrive after midnight.

More quality party spots for lovers of underground music include The Lighthouse in District1. Boasting both a lounge space and a chillout area on their roof, they tend to attract a more relaxed and less affluent crowd than higher-end places like Chill Skybar or Glow Skybar.

The Lighthouse is also the spot to check out Saigon’s roster of extremely talented DJs playing with international acts with increasingly-popular events like Heart Beat, TripWire and HRBR.

Bar SaigonThe Lighthouse

Vibes, located along Bui Vien provides an option for the budget-conscious raver with a taste for underground music. They regularly host techno nights, featuring notable international and local artists.

Another newly established venue for those who really love underground electronic music is Arcan. Located in a residential zone on Binh Thanh District, the establishment features a restaurant and lounge called the ArcanStone that’s open during the day. The sound-proofed club on the second floor comes to life after dark with a generous array of music you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Asia with genres such as psytrance, raggatek, drum&bass and many others.

You have several bars and clubs where you will meet the same groups of people. The most popular are Broma in District 1, which also hosts the popular Vitamin D after party that starts every Saturday and Sunday morning up to mid-day; Saigon Outcast in District 2 is another eclectic venue which hosts a flurry of activities all year. Colloquially known as “Outcast”, it’s a must-visit for anybody staying in the city longer than just a few days. They organise all kinds of events, have regular movie nights, open mic/DJ nights, farmers’ markets on the weekends, shows and live theatre… and a climbing wall! However, it takes about 20 minutes by taxi to get there from the city centre.

Bar SaigonSaigon Outcast

If you’re looking for a similar atmosphere that’s more centrally located, go for Indika, central Saigon’s unofficially official indie bar. It’s tucked away in a backyard off Nguyen Van Giai in District 1, but meandering through two restaurants to get there is half the fun. Reasonable prices and frequent live events make this the perfect place to start your night (but not to end it, as this bar closes at midnight). Their free flow of craft beer for a mere VND 200,000 from 8 to 11 p.m. on Friday nights is a really good deal if you know how to make it worth it...

Another hip place, tucked away in an apartment building on a street off the famous Dong Khoi in District 1, is Layla. Their playlist is more varied than those of other places, as they add some light rock and funky beats to the usual techno-driven musical monotony. If you’re more into talking than listening, escape the loud music in their little green courtyard. Be sure to take a cocktail with you, they’re delicious here!

Lastly, is craft beer still underground in Saigon? Certainly not. The craft beer scene is blowing up in Saigon, Choosing your own cup of beer at Pasteur Street Brewing or East West Brewing Co. Here and in other craft breweries like Rogue Saigon Craft Beer, Heart of Darkness, BiaCraft, The Winking Seal and Belgo you’ll find the same kind of people as at the venues mentioned above, along with our next category: the fancy party people.

The Best Places in Saigon for a Fancy Night Out

Rooftops are everything in Saigon. And the kings of rooftop bars are: Chill Skybar or Glow Skybar.

Chill Skybar is without a doubt the most exclusive rooftop bar in Saigon. On the 26th floor of the AB tower, it attracts an eclectic crowd of international business people, socialites, tourists, expats and wealthy Vietnamese. The view might be the best in all Saigon, especially when the sun sets, which, fortunately, is also the time when they have happy hour with 88,000 VND++ with kinds of drinks.

Bar SaigonChill Skybar

If you can afford it and if you can get past the strict door policy, it is a recommended place for a classy drink or a date. The music starts to get louder on weekends after 11:00 p.m. and you’ll see people dancing in the bar area until 2:00 a.m.

Note: Though Chill Skybar is expensive for Vietnam’s standards, a typical drink will cost you just above US$10.

Glow Skybar remains a favourite for fancy expats and tourists, as it is even advertised at the airport. It is also a rooftop bar and shares some great features with Chill Skybar: danceable music, a nicely designed open-air area, stunning views and an upscale crowd. The prices don’t differ much from Chill Skybar, either.

Social Club Rooftop Bar on top of the Hotel des Arts Saigon is another rooftop venue of the like, not far from the Turtle Lake in District 3. The music has more of a mainstream feel to it. Drink prices are not cheap, but it definitely gives you a good impression of what typical Saigon nightlife is like.

Bar SaigonSocial Club Rooftop Bar

Now, what about the ground-floor venues in Saigon? Qui is the currently most trendy place to spend your money in style. Its assets: good music, often paired with little dance interludes by professional dancers, and a great location in Saigon’s always-fun Japanese area. You better dress up some to get in here. Plus, they have a great selection of party drinks.

Other options are the classics Xu Bar and the recently-reopened Blanchy’s Lounge, one next to the other and centrally located on the arterial Hai Ba Trung avenue. They will not be too crowded during the week, but on Fridays and Saturdays you can expect a full house and a very lively atmosphere. The music is generally more mainstream than at other places but Xu especially has some great drinks to offer. Beware the Oyster shot though.

Last but not least, Envy Club caters to both Vietnamese and foreigners and is probably the most spectacular party spot in town with its Las Vegas-style bling-bling decor and staggering acrobatic performances.

Bar SaigonEnvy Club

The “I Just Wanna Dance All Night Long” Places

Lush is probably the city’s most famous nightclub among foreigners. It is known to be a good pick-up place for both girls and guys. In particular, Lush’s ladies’ night every Tuesday is one of Saigon’s best events for single people. Don’t even think about sipping on a free ladies’ drink here though – they have quite a strict policy!

Bar SaigonLush

The infamous Apocalypse Now, often referred to as the oldest nightclub in Saigon, attracts a diverse crowd of late-night revellers, expats, tourists, and – be warned – many freelance sex workers. The music includes popular hits from the past 20 years. The averagely priced drink menu makes it a cheap option for late-night party people; however, best stick to beer here – the cocktails are not recommended.

Piu Piu is a much more recent addition to this category. Sitting right behind the Saigon Opera House, this club boasts two floors with different music styles. The DJs on the lower floor mainly play hip hop, while their upper-floor counterparts put on everything from Michael Jackson to “I Will Survive”.

There are also a roster of events that happen during the week, including the increasingly popular Mid-Week Crisis series every Wednesday which is perfect for those looking for an intimate, yet subdued night out with a beer or two with great music.

Bar SaigonPiu Piu

Hostess Clubs and Bars

Saigon’s hostess bar (or, colloquially, “girly bar”) scene attracts a mix of office workers, business tourists and flirtatious husbands. The majority of hostess bars in the city are pretty innocent compared to those in the rest of Asia. These will usually have 5-10 young waitresses in sexy dresses chatting with customers in exchange for drinks. Bars of note include Elixir Lounge and Voodoo. Be careful though: some places are actually disguised prostitution joints with private rooms upstairs, particularly on Hai Bai Trung and in Saigon’s Little Tokyo on Ngo Van Nam Street.

Bar SaigonElixir Lounge

Other options are: Wildcat Bar and The Rock.

Live Music in Saigon

The best options to listen to live music are located inside or next to 5-star hotels. The recommended venues are Catwalk near New World Hotel and Maxim’s. You also have rock clubs like Seventeen Saloon, and Hard Rock Café attached to the Kumho Asiana Plaza.

Bar SaigonImage source: thebureauasia.com

If you want to listen to local bands, there are some alternative venues as well such as Fang, Snuffbox, MZ Club, RockFanClub and Yoko. Some years ago, we would definitely have recommended Acoustic Bar but unfortunately, they’ve changed their focus to cater to a more mainstream audience.

Vietnamese Nightclubs

Ho Chi Minh City’s nightlife scene for Vietnamese is incredibly huge, yet few foreigners seem to be interested. In District 1 alone, you have at least 15 popular nightclubs, 30 karaoke bars, and twice as many beer bars. If you dare to venture in other districts, you will discover there are hundreds more.

We are big fans of those clubs as they can be great for meeting Vietnamese people. The atmosphere is usually crazier than in more Western clubs. The way they operate is quite different than other venues, though.

Typically, you will be ushered inside by the bouncers as if you were a royalty (or promptly shooed away if it’s a “Vietnamese only” club). They will make space for you to stand at a table and summon a waiter to bring you a menu. Naturally, they expect a generous tip for their services.

Most likely, you will have to buy at least one bottle of alcohol as they won’t sell drinks by the glass.

For this reason, it is best to come with a small group, unless you’re an alcoholic. The bouncers and waiters might offer you the company of ladies/hostesses who will expect some tips as well. They may also bring you an expensive fruit platter that is best to refuse.

Bar SaigonBeer Club Saigon

Drinking is part of Vietnamese culture but you rarely see people getting seriously drunk most of the time. Many do overindulge at venues like 030 Club, 212 Club or FOX beer lounge, though, so think twice if you want to join their drinking games.

The latter, however, is among my favourites in Saigon: It is a totally insane place and it should be on top of your list if you want to have a wild night out in Ho Chi Minh City. Located just a few hundred metres away from Bitexco tower, it is packed on weekends with a decadent crowd getting completely hammered in super kitschy decor.

If you are looking for more “normal” Vietnamese clubs, you can try places like Republic Club, Canalis, Play or Pandora, all located in District 1.

Note: As you are most likely to be the only foreigner inside, it is possible that you won’t be allowed entry.

Beer bars and beer gardens are another craze in Vietnam. You would need more than one liver to try all of them. Vuvuzela Beer bars (several locations), a concept most similar to Hooters in the States, are probably the most famous and popular in the city. You could also check out Kingdom in District 1 and Poc Poc Beer Garden in District 3. All of them have very loud music. For a quieter spot to enjoy a beer, there’s always sports bars such as Red or Phatty’s Pub.

As the Saigon nightlife scene is always rapidly changing, we invite you to leave comments on this page to let us know if any of the nightclubs or bars mentioned here are closed. Don’t hesitate to share your favourite spots with us, too!

Banner Image source: Air 360 Sky Lounge


Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

By: Uyen Vu

Whether it is sunny or rainy, hot or cold, or you’re busy or laid-back, young or old, it is always a good idea to refresh yourself with a cup of pearl milk tea, also known as bubble tea. Pearl milk tea is a tea-based drink invented in Taiwan – a delicious mixture of tea, milk, chewy tapioca balls (the ‘pearls’) and/or fruit jelly.
Below are our hand-picked bubble tea shops among those that are currently popular in Saigon.

1. Phuc Long

The Phuc Long brand has become very popular over the last few years. It was founded in the 1960s in Bao Loc, Lam Dong province, which is famous for its tea. The official name is Phuc Long Tea & Coffee but it is mainly known for its milk tea. You won’t find the common pearl toppings of the Taiwanese milk-tea style that is so popular in Vietnam. Don’t be disappointed because you will get addicted to it with just a little sip.

Phuc Long Tea & Coffee - Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

Phuc Long has a reputation for high quality coffee and milk tea. Its patrons are mostly young professionals or middle-aged people because it generally charges a higher price for premium ingredients. The three busiest shops are on Mac Thi Buoi, Nguyen Huy and in Crescent Mall. The one in Crescent Mall is spacious and well-decorated, while the other two have quite limited space and may get cramped and noisy on the weekend.
Address 1: 63 Mac Thi Buoi Str., D1
Address 2: 39 Nguyen Hue Str., D1
Price range: 35.000–40.000VND/cup
Address 3: Ground Floor, Crescent Mall, Ton Dat Tien Str., D7
Price range: 45.000–60.000VND/cup

2. Chatime

A famous bubble tea brand in Taiwan, the country that gave birth to pearl milk tea back in 1980s, Chatime im/mediately attracted lots of fans when it was introduced to Vietnam. With over 70 choices, anyone can find a mixture they like.

Chatime Vietnam - Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

Chatime’s bubble tea flavours range from strongly aromatic bubble tea to refreshing fruit, from “oriental pop tea” to modern smoothies, or as exotic as QQ Jelly (a combination of traditional ‘pearls’ and coconut jelly). The most popular topping is, of course, its home-made pearl. Chatime’s bubble tea is generally sweet but you can ask the staff to customize the sweetness to your taste.
Unfortunately Chatime is a bit expensive for student market it is trying to attract.
Address 1: Floor B2-17, Vincom B, D1
Address 2: 98 Le Thanh Ton Str., D1
Price range: 38.000–48.000VND/cup

3. Tien Huong

Tien Huong emerged on the market only two years ago but already has a number of shops across Saigon. It has quickly become a favourite among Saigon youth.

Tien Huong - Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

The flagship drink on Tien Huong’s menu is fresh milk tea with tapioca. The pronounced flavour of the tea with the sweetness of milk makes this drink really delicious. Unlike other places, Tien Huong only makes the tea when you order. Your order takes a bit longer to be processed but it’s worth the wait.
The drawback is that Tien Huong shops are often small and you may have a hard time finding a seat.
Address 1: 175B Cach Mang Thang 8 Str., Ward 5, D3
Address 2: 789 Tran Hung Dao, Ward 1, D5
Price range: 22.000–32.000VND/cup

4. Hot & Cold

Hot & Cold is probably the pioneer milk tea shop when it comes to letting customers customize their drink. The process is easy, quick and intuitive. After choosing your favourite milk tea, you proceed to pick the toppings, flavour and pudding. The two most popular combos here are Combo Hawaii Cocktail and Combo Milk Smoothie.

Hot & Cold Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

Besides milk tea, you could try a variety of skewers, such as prawn tempura, four-color shrimp-ball stuffed with taro, surimi, crab ball stuffed with green sticky rice, and swirl fries. Most Hot & Cold shops are decorated colorfully and have big, air-conditioned spaces. They are also among the cheapest in town and have become popular among teens.
The only downside is that waiters/waitresses are really slow and sometimes quite rude to customers.
Address: 100 Tran Hung Dao Str., D1
Price range: 14.000–30.000VND/cup


Can Vietnam Produce Quality Coffee?

By: City Pass Guide

Meet The Expert: Interview With a Coffee Master

On a sunny Thursday in August, we went to The Workshop, an artisan coffee shop on Ngo Duc Ke street in Saigon’s District 1, to meet with Dung, a true expert on coffee in Vietnam. The Workshop is located in the same part of the street as Tandoor, but well hidden. Only a blue sign by the entrance indicates that a pearl of worldwide artisan coffee culture can be found upstairs.

The Workshop is nicely decorated with wooden elements. It appears like a mix of modern designer café and coffee science museum, the tools of trade exhibited in shelves along the walls. In the center there is the bar, where the trained staff performs the brewing process in front of your eyes. There is original artwork on the walls and we instantly felt at home. We met Dung in the conference room adjacent to the spacious guest area. We introduced ourselves and he immediately started talking about coffee.

Dung Tuan Nguyen’s first experience with coffee was when he was two years old. His mother gave him coffee and the rest of the night he spend walking around the bed - to the very displeasure of his father who had to get up early. He really started drinking coffee when he was 12 or 13 years old. By the time he was in high school, he used the delicious brew to survive his tests.

As a trained architect it was hard to find good work in Vietnam, so he switched between project management and hotel consultancy, until he found his passion in coffee.

Working in the coffee business makes Dung feel good, and doing something that changes the fundamental thoughts people have about coffee is fun. His passion for the bean and the confident conversation that comes right to the point shows he knows as much about coffee as the second man.

[Answers are paraphrased for purposes of brevity and readability.]

City Pass: What makes coffee so attractive to people?

Dung: There are several things that make us love coffee. First the reaction of our body and mind to the caffeine. It makes us alert, excites us and makes the brain work better. Second, the cafés became an intellectual and social place for doing business or politics. And third, it tastes good and smells even better. Alone the smell of coffee makes people happy, even those who don’t drink coffee.

City Pass: Tell us about the significance of coffee in Vietnam.

Dung: Since the French introduced the coffee plant around 150 years ago, Vietnam became the second biggest producer in the world, right after Brazil. The country is number one in growing robusta. Since 1993, the government focuses on mass production, so many arabica plantations got destroyed and replaced. Today, 99.9% of the coffee grown in Vietnam is robusta and catimor, but the quality is rather poor.

Unroasted Coffee Beans

City Pass: What is the difference between robusta and arabica?

Dung: Apart from the great difference in taste and the shape of the beans, the trees are very distinct. The arabica tree has 22 pairs of chromosomes, while the robusta tree has only 11 pairs. Robusta is, as the name already indicates, very robust and grows in lower altitudes. Arabica trees need much more attention and care. One hectare of arabica trees yields about seven tons of coffee, while the same area planted with robusta gives three times as much, but of low quality.

City Pass: What is the main constraint associated with the production of more arabica coffee in Vietnam?

Dung: People don’t care about the quality of the coffee. There is not much commitment from the buyer’s side, since they want a high production and a cheaper price. You have to go directly to the farmer and work with him. Just staying in the city and ordering the beans you want remotely is a bourgeois attitude. There are a lot of wealthy farmers in Cau Dat, but many coffee farmers of other regions of Da Lat, like Lang Biang for example, are poor and have to borrow from loan sharks to survive. At harvest time they collect every cherry to pay the interest. Farmers in debt are very common. If you really help them and be transparent about what you do, they trust you and are willing to enter a long-term relationship.

City Pass: How is coffee, especially more sophisticated specialities, perceived in Vietnam?

Dung: In Vietnam, coffee has to be thick, black and bitter. That pretty much sums it up. But I am not trying to convert hardcore traditional coffee drinkers. I rather target people who love to drink good coffee, people overseas, people who usually don’t drink coffee and expats.

Syphon Coffee Maker

City Pass: What is the greatest weakness of Vietnamese coffee?

Dung: One of the greatest weaknesses of the country is that Vietnam doesn’t have an international brand, not even international recognition when it comes to coffee despite being the second largest exporter in the world. The big brands in Vietnam just screw the people. They just want to get the cheap coffee and are obsessed with tons, even if they say they care. It is the same as with rice.

City Pass: How is the opportunity to create a brand around Vietnam?

Dung: We are at an age where quality and moral production becomes more important. In order to do that you have to be an authentic person, passionate and have a love for what you do. We have to do things properly.

City Pass: What is the most important aspect in your work with farmers and customers?

Dung: Transparency. Everything has to be done transparent. If you offer a single-source product, it is pointless if you can’t name the farm where the coffee comes from. Several companies claim to source locally and sustainably, but they don’t disclose the origin. It really is all a matter of transparency and trust.

City Pass: Tell us something about the taste of coffee.

Dung: Dark roasted coffee usually tastes bitter and burned. When you roast light, you bring out the specific types, which we divide into seven general categories: Floral, fruity, herbal, honey/molasses, acidic/wine-ish. There is a lot of fruitiness in Kenyan and Colombian beans, while coffee from Laos, Panama and Ethiopia is more floral. Vietnamese coffee is more fruity than floral. Check out the taste wheel at scaa.org to get a better idea of the flavors.

Chemex Coffee Maker

City Pass: How to create a perfect cup?

Dung: Nothing is perfect. Working with artisan coffee is a world of trying and experimenting. In the past, people thought dark roasted beans make the best coffee. The community of speciality coffee lovers discovered that roasting light brings out the best flavors. We always try new things.

But to make a good cup of coffee, you need great beans, filtered water and the right temperature.

However, the most important piece of equipment is the grinder. Invest in your grinder. You can buy a decent machine for around VND 700,000 up to VND 2,500,000. Electric grinders may be even pricier. The coffee should be ground evenly and not like dust or sand.

Conclusion:

If you crave to taste Dung’s expertise firsthand, I recommend visiting The Workshop in 27 Ngo Duc Ke, Ben Nghe, District 1 ( on the 2nd floor) yourself. Pick one of the three beans they have on the menu, combine it with your favorite brewing method and you’re ready to go.

The Workshop - Speciality Coffee in Saigon


A Chat with Cafe RuNam

By: Aleksandr Smechov


Citypassguide.com sat down with Chris Ngo, Cafe RuNam’s Chief Operating Officer, to discuss how Cafe RuNam is slowly changing locals’ minds about the concept of “pure” Vietnamese coffee. Through a meticulous selection process where only a minor percentage of beans make it through inspections, Cafe RuNam is all about consistent quality and traditional taste. It even took their Italian roastmaster months to achieve the perfect blends of Arabica and Robusta beans for the brand.


Citpassguide.com: What does “RuNam” mean?

Chris: Ru is understood as a lullaby song for a child, Nam stands for Vietnam, of course, since this is a Vietnamese brand. RuNam is “the lullaby of Vietnam”, the spiritual baby to be flourished with love, care and affection, bringing the best Vietnamese coffee to the world.

CPG: Who is behind Cafe RuNam?

Chris: Mr. Nguyen Quoc Khanh and his wife Mrs. Ly Q. K. Trinh. Mr. Khanh, Chairman of AA Corporation, an established construction company specializing in premium interior design, is taking care of the basic construction and designs of RuNam restaurants while Mrs. Trinh is the soul of the brand, a perfectionist. Her personal touch and exaggerated expectations are shown in the little details of our cafes.

CPG: How do you roast your beans?

Chris: We have our own roasting facility and coffee testing lab located in Binh Duong province. Our Italian Roastmaster has been researching for suitable roasting methods for Vietnamese coffee blends. There are several blends of Cafe RuNam differentiated by the percentage of arabica and robusta in the mix and roasting timing according to specific temperature adjustment. There are also many different types of each bean, so the entire process of finding the right method of roasting this mix was much more complex than simply roasting one type of bean. The difference of a perfectly roasted coffee and a burned coffee is the matter of seconds.

CPG: How are you bringing “pure” coffee to Vietnam?

Chris: What locals often drink in streetside cafes is not necessarily coffee. So introducing a pure coffee, without additives or artificial flavors like caramel, soybeans, corns was a crazy idea at first. From the locals’ perception, this is not real coffee, but we patiently change that perception by introducing the highest quality blends from our homemade production, from highly selected fresh green beans to monitoring the roasting process to crafting each coffee cup under consistent training procedures, as well as regular system audits from RuNam barista artists. Therefore we believe the culinary marriage of Vietnamese coffee beans with Italian roasting techniques works well. As a result, we currently have a large number of loyal customers and fans who love our coffee and the soul behind it.

CPG: Do you have additives in your coffee?

Chris: No. We use 100% coffee beans. That is the most challenging factor we’ve faced in the first several months of preparations before introducing our blends to the market. In the beginning, most Vietnamese coffee drinkers didn’t like the taste. This is something really new for them. We started to explain to our customers the reasons behind the taste and how it’s different with what they usually have. If they still don’t like it we can change the beverage or give them their money back.

CPG: Do you have a secret ratio for your blends of arabica and robusta?

Chris: Actually, this depends on the roastmaster. Depending on the season and the beans and the taste, he decides what is best suitable according to our blend guidelines and standard SOPs.

CPG: Do you import any coffee beans?

Chris: No. We use 100% Vietnamese beans. Although it’s very difficult to find good arabica here in Vietnam. The coffee growing conditions in the highlands is challenging for producing good arabica. Our roasting master has to occasionally sample different sources of beans from different plantations in order to keep up the quality and consistency of the coffee blends.

CPG: What are your best sellers?

Chris: Our ca phe sua da, ca phe da and cappuccino. These three have been the favorite of our customers. We received numerous compliments for our coffee drink menu. I have been tasting different Vietnamese coffee or cappuccinos whenever I travel or during my free time, I couldn’t find anything like it. The ambassador of Italy came to Vietnam in early 2015, and she first came to Cafe RuNam to have a cup of cappuccino, which was recommended to her by the previous ambassador. She loves it.

CPG: How did you personally get into coffee?

Chris: I got to learn about coffee when I was with KFC Singapore when we started to launch KFC breakfast. Before joining Cafe RuNam I was the Training and Development Manager for The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I was sent overseas for barista training. I was a barista judge for some competitions. I was trained again with the RuNam roastmaster. The company sponsored me, some key managers and key baristas for Espresso Italiano Experience Seminar by International Institute of Coffee Tasters (IICT – Italy branch) to get myself ready for Cafe RuNam.

CPG: Have you created a signature Cafe RuNam coffee drink?

Chris: We have Madam RuNam, an iced latte with condensed milk and some secret ingredients. Also Sand Dune: a very unique coffee alcohol drink with Kahlua, Bailey's and some in-house ingredients. Besides those, we have many delicious in-house creations coming soon.

CPG: Who are your customers?

Chris: Café RuNam’s customers are comprised of following target groups: affluent local residents, middle to upper class tourists, local business people, the young at heart.

This depends on our store locations. In the South, it’s mostly Vietnamese and Việt Kiều. In the Center, it’s mostly tourists. And in the North, it’s like in the South - mostly Vietnamese and Việt Kiều.

CPG: Have you started exporting your beans?

Chris: Yes, we already have partner restaurants in several countries. However, the production at the moment is pretty tight since getting quality beans is difficult right now. We have a list of potential domestic and international customers who proposed to be partners with Cafe RuNam, but we’re not ready for this at the moment.

CPG: What’s the future of RuNam?

Chris: We’re in the process of spreading our brands to all the big cities in Vietnam where our main target customers are located. We already have our focus on the premium coffee market. Therefore selecting distribution partners or cafes needs a proper process of brand evaluation. We send barista trainers to the partner facility to train them on brewing, crafting and displaying coffee products according to Cafe RuNam standards. For long term, we plan to bring the best of Vietnamese coffee to the world.

CPG: How many cups of coffee do you drink every day?

Chris: About four to nine cups [laughs]. On some days I can’t even open my eyes without going to work getting a coffee. And when I’m on holiday, well, those are hell. I try to drink other brands, but nothing comes close to what I want. I usually have cappuccinos, ca phe sua das, espressos. I must have two to three cups of cappuccino and/or cafe sua da a day, at least! That’s just my life. Do you want another cup of coffee?

CPG: How do you educate yourself about coffee?

Chris: I read about it. I research about it. I sign up for quality coffee courses. I practice crafting coffee whenever I can. Recently, I started writing about it. Besides coffee knowledge, my writing also includes how coffee became a part of my life, my search for answers about the coffee industry and culture, and how coffee got me where I am standing today. I share what I write with my team. I may publish it one day when I am ready for the fame it may get me. For now, I want to stay focus flourishing my spiritual RuNam baby.

CPG: Do you like to drink any other coffee in town?

Chris: I actually check around every day to try different coffee. If I know any new coffee shop that just opened I check out their coffees. Traveling to any new city, I try the coffee there. Coffee is mostly my life, having a good cup of coffee everywhere I go, for me, is a way of indulging in life.

CPG: Anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t covered?

Chris: We are promoting not just coffee but Vietnam’s traditional aspects to our customers. One of the distinguishing symbols of Cafe RuNam is the art of the coffee filter (phin). For the foreign friends, if you come in a small group, and you want to learn more about the coffee phin making process, we have well-trained barista artists (or you could simply ask for me, I am usually based in Ho Chi Minh City) to personally present the uniqueness of the Vietnamese coffee filter culture for you and your guests.


Meet the Expert: GM of Starbucks

By: City Pass Guide

We went to Starbucks on 76 Le Lai street, Ben Thanh, to meet and interview Patricia Marques, General Manager of Starbucks Vietnam about living in Vietnam, opening new markets and the strengths of Vietnamese coffee beans.

CityPassGuide.com: How long have you been in Vietnam and what holds you, personally, here?

I arrived five years ago, and just three days later I knew that I wanted to stay here. I lived in many countries before and for me it’s easy to adapt to other cultures. However, Vietnam instantly felt like Latin America. The traffic, the chaos and the reason behind this chaos, it really feels like home.

CityPassGuide.com: What is your greatest pet peeve in Vietnam?

At work? Punctuality is really an issue.

CityPassGuide.com: You brought Starbucks to Vietnam?

I have been here for five years, but yes, I started the Starbucks Vietnam adventure almost three years ago. Myself, I started my career around 11 years ago as a barista in San Mateo, California. At that time, Starbucks had “only” 400 stores worldwide.

CityPassGuide.com: What draws Starbucks to Vietnam?

The Maxims Group in Hong Kong and Macao had a license for Starbucks in Vietnam and we felt the market was ready. In most other Asian countries we had already opened branches; Vietnam, as the second largest exporter of coffee in the world, was the next logical step.

CityPassGuide.com: What were the main obstacles of expanding to Vietnam?

Believe it or not, establishing a big brand faces obstacles in every country around the world. In Vietnam the issues were just of a different nature, that’s what made it our unique Vietnamese experience. But in a way it was easier to establish the business in an existing coffee culture like Vietnam. In other Asian countries you need to convert the tea drinkers first, but here you are just another player.

CityPassGuide.com: Speaking of other players, Highlands Coffee, Phuc Long and others have Vietnamese coffee on the menu, why not Starbucks?

First, we have. There are in fact two Vietnamese-style items on the menu. Asian Dolce Latte and Dolce Misto are inspired by ca phe sua da, done the Starbucks way. But adapting completely to the Vietnamese taste would take away our uniqueness. Many of our customers are used to Starbucks from other countries. When they come to Vietnam, they want to visit a Starbucks.

CityPassGuide.com: What is the most popular beverage in Vietnam?

From the cold section it’s the Green Tea Frappuccino. Especially people who are not used to drinking coffee are drawn towards this beverage. Among the hot drinks, it’s definitely the Latte.

CityPassGuide.com: Are there differences in consumption between the South and the North?

Definitely. First, in the North we have seasons and the consumption changes between winter and summer. In Saigon, there is no winter, so most of the hot drinks and drip coffees are consumed by foreigners.

CityPassGuide.com: What is the ratio of foreign customers?

Low, actually less than 5 percent.

CityPassGuide.com: How is Starbucks contributing to a sustainable development in Vietnam?

I believe we are an innovator. We have a very clear career path and already there are four or five stores in Ho Chi Minh City that are managed by Vietnamese former baristas. Also we build all our stores with respect to local material, with local construction partners and local artists.

CityPassGuide.com: How much coffee do you actually source in Vietnam?

Let me explain how our coffee works. There is the Starbucks Coffee Company who sources coffee all over the world, also in Vietnam. They roast, blend, package and distribute the product to all shops. Since we opened Starbucks Vietnam, they listened to us and pay closer attention to Vietnamese arabica beans.

CityPassGuide.com: What are the chances of Vietnamese coffee beans on the international market?

Vietnam sits in a golden chair, especially since it’s the largest producer of robusta beans worldwide. If we work with the farmers, we can especially push for arabica, the potential is enormous there.

CityPassGuide.com: What is the best coffee region for arabica in Vietnam?

Da Lat. The region has exactly what the arabica plants like and the cherries are especially beautiful, an important criteria for excellent coffee.

CityPassGuide.com: How much coffee do you drink per day?

One cup, drip coffee.


Top 5 Sports Bars in HCMC

By: Phuong Tran

 

Finding the 5 best sports bars in Ho Chi Minh City was not an easy task as the options are almost endless. We visited as much as we could on one liver and deliver you below our top 5 picks.

You can watch in those pubs almost all the typical international sporting events. They are usually packed on big soccer nights when Premier League, Champion's' League or World Cup matches are screened. Other popular events include the Olympic Games, UFC Fighting, Australian Football (AFL), Basketball (NBA), American Football (NFL) and Hockey (NFL).

You should note that each nationality usually favors its own sports bar. Phatty's for instance is usually most popular with Australians.

 

1) Pacharan

Pacharan is a restaurant first, but it is popular for watching sports in Saigon as well, especially with the Iberic fans. Located directly opposite the Park Hyatt Hotel in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, Pacharan Spanish restaurant is spread over four floors. Feast on dishes such as tender chorizo, marinated anchovies, chillied gambas, bean stew, parsley and garlic-sauteed baby mushrooms, white-wine clams and marinated pork skewers.

Or try authentic paella for a real taste of Spain while supporting La Roja. .

97 Hai Ba Trung, D1 HCMC

2) Papagayo Restaurant & Bar

This French Mediterranean restaurant serves pizza and onion soup, and a special discount on Tiger draught and Heineken just for the World Cup. Open for all matches until 3am.

18 Tran Ngoc Dien, Thao Dien, D2 HCMC


3) Red Bar

Red Bar is one of the most popular bar in the city and it is always a good choice when it comes to sport. Network or simply mix and mingle at Red Bar Saigon. The international menu is ever-changing, from fish and chips to chateaubriand.


The craziest thing about Red Bar? Its Happy Hour is the longest in HCMC and goes from 9am to 9pm every day! It’s also one of the only smoke-free bars in town. So, if you are Dutch or a non-smoker, Red bar is your home for watching sports in Saigon.

70-72 Ngo Duc Ke, D1 HCMC

4) Boomarang Bistro Saigon

If you are in District 7, don’t worry, you are not too far from the fun. In fact, there’s a fabulous bar in the Crescent named Boomarang where you can enjoy authentic Australian cuisine, and of course, shout your favourite football team’s name.

CR-2 3-4 107 Tôn Dật Tiên, PMH D7, HCMC

5) Phatty's

The premier hub for Aussie expats, Phatty's serves a selection of tempting Aussie burgers and BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwiches, gourmet chicken fillets and succulent steaks. When a big event is on, Phatty’s does not hesitate to pull all-nighters.

46 Ton That Thiep, D1, HCMC

Further Suggestions for the best sports bars in Saigon:


- Chill Sky Bar26th & 27th Floor Rooftop, AB Tower, 76A Le Lai, D1 HCMC

- The Alps (German), 54 Pasteur, Ward Ben Nghe, D1, HCMC

- The Cube Bar, 31B Ly Tu Trong, D1, HCMC

- Lotte Legend Saigon, 2A-4A Ton Duc Thang, Ben Nghe Ward, D1, HCMC

- The Orient Bar, 24 Ngo Van Nam, D1, HCMC

- Game On - Sports Pub Saigon - 115 Hồ Tùng Mậu, Bến Nghé, District 1, HCMC

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