Best Venues For Live Music in Saigon

By: City Pass Guide

Whether you’re a DJ junkie, a clubbing fiend or a lover of live music, Saigon after-hours is a maze of musical possibility.

As a city that never sleeps, Vietnam’s commercial centre and one of Southeast Asia’s top backpacker hotspots, it’s no wonder that Ho Chi Minh City is home to such a diverse number of top music venues and artsy people. There is no excuse for staying home here - Saigon has something for everyone.

Are you a bit of a slower-moving night owl? Ok relax - chill out at one of Saigon Outcast’s evening music jams. Or are you more of a cigar puffing lover-of-all-things-unique? You hipster, you. Don your leather shoes and red lipstick and get yourself to Broma.

But what if you’re more of a wiggler? Like to party? Dance the night away at Lush nightclub, or shake it in the flashing lights of Saigon’s Chill Skybar.

And finally, are you a fan of a good honest classic? Well why not enjoy "a bottle of white, a bottle of red, perhaps a bottle of rosé instead?" as you kick back in Acoustic Bar’s smoky interior and thank the lord for Billy Joel.

Honestly, no matter what your nighttime music scene is Saigon surely has the answer. There are just so many great places to spend an evening in this city, and as a bunch of party animals, rock music whiskey sippers and guitar strumming hippies, we would like to recommend:

Sax’n’art

28 Le Loi, D1 | 0288 3822 8472

If jazz is your weakness, if saxophones make you giggle, if a room with red wine, good people and cozy low lighting is your idea of a top evening, then the Sax’n’Art Jazz Club is definitely your kind of place.

musicImage source: facebook.com/saxnart

Come and tap along to the Sax’n’Art band jamming on saxophonist Tran Manh Tuan’s own charts, a fusion of contemporary jazz and traditional Vietnamese music, and get soulful with the classics from the legendary Charlie Parker to jazz icon Sonny Rollins. You can find out more about the Jazz Club at their website.

Thi Bar

224 De Tham, D1 | 028 2210 2929

Thi Bar is not only conveniently located - slap bang in the middle of Saigon’s tourist strip - but it also happens to house a quality cover band and a crowd of friendly, chilled out staff. Although beer is offensively expensive compared to the VND 10,000 draft just around the corner, it’s worth every zero for the raucous good time you will find inside. The bar also has an excellent ‘buy two get one free’ happy hour special for beer and cocktails from six to nine p.m., which continues all night on Wednesdays.

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Join the cheerful band and crowd of beery expats, backpackers and the odd Vietnamese for a night of good, honest fun.

YOKO

22 Nguyen Thi Dieu, D3 | 028 3933 0577

Founded nearly two decades ago, YOKO is one of Saigon’s most respected and established live music venues. This is a place for musicians to meet, perform and share their creative ideas. Most evenings artists put their own twists on classic songs, but other nights YOKO plays host to some unique international artists.

musicImage source: i.ytimg.com

Purple Jade

InterContinental, Corner Hai Ba Trung & Nguyen Du, D1 | 028 3520 9099

Chic, romantic and cosy, Purple Jade is one of the quieter music venues. If you want somewhere to sip an expertly crafted cocktail while enjoying the occasional saxophone or piano performance, this place will delight you. The appetisers are huge, so if you want a quick snack with your cosmopolitan, the bar snacks are well worth a look.

musicImage source: citypassguide

Chill Skybar

AB Tower, 76A Le Lai, Ben Thanh, D1 | 093 882 28 38

If you’ve been to District 1 in Saigon and your ears work as they should, you’ve probably heard the distant pumping of Chill Skybar’s well-known DJs as you wander the streets below. And if you have a pair of closed-in shoes and long pants, you may have even ventured up to this rooftop slab of flashing lights and futuristic decor to spend far too much money on a beer, and on one of the best views in Saigon.

To be honest, the views and the quality of the drinks here make all that spending worth it.

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Chill Skybar is home to Saigon’s classiest of clubbers and is known as the party spot to visit when you come through the city. Inside is a sleek lounge and bar area which flows into a wide balcony from which you can marvel at the sheer expanse of Ho Chi Minh City and watch its ceaseless glimmering lights. Invest in a cocktail and sip it like the queen as you smile at the attractive people around you and wonder if you might start dancing soon. Chill Skybar is definitely more of a nightclub than a relaxing after-hours venue, but don’t let its confusing name stop you - wear something flashy and get on over to the party.

Blanchy’s Tash

95 Hai Ba Trung, Ben Nghe, D1 | 090 902 82 93

Blanchy’s has only been open since 2011, but it’s got such defiant class that you’d think it had been open forever. DJs play the best charting hits and all your favourite dance classics, and the bar itself serves top-notch drinks. Blanchy’s works with local acts and international artists, from Grand Master Flash and D Ramirez to Bob Sinclar and Sebastian Gamboa. With a global market in mind, this stylish after-hours hub strives to cater to a more internationally integrated crowd, competing as an evening and music venue on the world stage. The most important thing to wear here is a smile, and the most important thing to do is enjoy.

If you are a lady, we recommend a visit on Wednesday evening to make the most of lady’s night - free mojitos from 10 p.m. to 12p.m.!

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Hard Rock Cafe

39 Le Duan, D1 | 028 6291 7595

Ho Chi Minh City’s successful outlet of this well-known international chain is a favourite among expats and locals alike, and is our recommended go-to if you’re craving a bit of hearty Western cuisine, or some of their tasty Western-Vietnamese creations. Think burger and chips, and a bottle of iced larger.

True to its name, the Hard Rock Cafe in Saigon’s Kumho Asiana Plaza in District 1 has the last word on quality covers of your favourite American and British rock’n’roll classics in Ho Chi Minh City. A resident band plays nightly, and make sure you keep a look out for the bar’s regular guest artists both from the local and an international sphere.

Catwalk

76 Le Lai, Ben Thanh | 028 3824 3760

Catwalk is one of Saigon’s top karaoke venues, nightclubs and live music joints - all rolled into one. A classy city venue, this popular spot is frequented by the businessmen and higher end revelers of Ho Chi Minh City society, and regularly hosts parties, karaoke events and music acts.

Catwalk houses 14 private karaoke rooms, a spacious dance floor and a stage for the club’s Cuban and Vietnamese bands that perform international hits, with the skill of musicians who honestly love what they do.

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One of the biggest attractions of this place is its female staff members, perhaps unfortunately, who give Catwalk an added allure to further stand out from the crowd. Smiling Vietnamese ladies will sing karaoke with you, beat you in pool, chat with you and serve you drinks.

Maxim's

13-15-17 Dong Khoi, D1 | 0909 771 925

Cozy, warm and ambient, Maxim's Club has been a highlight of Saigon’s after-hours scene since it opened in 1925. It is a popular spot for Saigon’s elites, and a live music favourite where the beautiful and wealthy of Vietnam’s commercial center dance the night away together in their glittering heels. Open from 7pm, a variety of musical genres are featured from the sultry Tango to the Rumba.

Downstairs, late night revelers whirl on the spacious dance floor, and upstairs the less energetic of Maxim's patrons relax in the Vintage Lounge or the Fine Dining Restaurant. Sip at one out of 10 delicious cocktails, and let the evening unfold.

Lush

2 Ly Tu Trong, Ben Nghe, D1 | 091 863 07 42

For the bright lights and blurry adrenaline you would expect from a quality nightclub, Lush is your Saigon number one. Featuring two levels - a crowded lower dance floor and a slightly less populated upper gallery - Lush is home to the members of Saigon’s most dedicated party scene. You will be squashed because that scene is surprisingly large, but we think that’s all part of the fun.

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Lush prides itself on its range of quality international and local DJs, and is popular among tourists, locals and expats alike. Tuesday nights are ladies’ nights, with free drinks from 10pm to 12 pm for Saigon’s women, but the club is typically full of dance music revelers every night of the week. The upstairs gallery is usually less crowded but sometimes reserved for private parties. 

Cuba la Casa del Mojito

91 Pasteur St, D1 | 028 3822 7099

If you don’t mind the tight quarters, Cuba la Casa del Mojito hosts Spanish musicians the Mosquito Band every Friday and Saturday night at 10 p.m. The cozy bar resembles a freight car in both shape and the amount of personal space you’re afforded. If you can get a good seat, you’ll be getting pretty intimate with the band’s sonorous guitars and bold voices. Space be damned: there’s plenty of dancing, perhaps due to a menu heavy in tequila. Reservations are recommended but not required.

musicImage source: i.ytimg.com

Indika

43 Nguyen Van Giai, D1 | 012 2399 4260

One of Saigon’s newer venues, Indika is a delightfully weird bar/restaurant experience. With a broad and eclectic variety of musicians performing every week, and superbly crafted theme nights, special events and chill-out parties, Indika has become the hangout of choice for Saigon’s hip creative scene. The Sunday afternoon sessions in particular are well worth checking out.

musicImage source: anyarena.com

Acoustic Bar

6E Ngo Thoi Nhiem, D3 | 090 3787 685

At the end of an alleyway behind a rustic wooden exterior, Acoustic Bar offers the best of Saigon’s covers and original music. A resident band plays all your favourite hits every night from 10pm until midnight, and before that a number of different local bands and acts play their music and their versions of popular songs for an audience of locals, expats and the musically minded traveler.

musicImage source: mtrend.vn

Inside the bar it’s smoky and dim, the ideal tavern feel for those with a nose for after-hours grunge, and its friendly atmosphere and cheerful MC make this notorious Saigon live music venue the ideal place to relax with a good honest beer. Or perhaps a mojito!

Saigon Outcast

188 Nguyen Van Huong, Thao Dien, D2 | 090 236 57 80

Resting in the heart of District 2’s famed Thao Dien ward, Saigon Outcast is the resident “cool kid” on the music venue block. This open air venue, constructed from repurposed shipping containers, holds both intimate music gatherings and large festivals, and is known as one of the top live music spots in Ho Chi Minh City. It also sells home-brewed cider which, let’s be honest, seals the deal.

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Wednesday night Jameson Whiskey sponsored acoustic jams break up the hum drum DJ’s spinning in the city and invite any and all to participate. Major recurring festivals like The Melting Pot call Outcast home and help display the best of Saigon’s art, music, food, and design scene. A life drawing workshop is now offered on Tuesday nights, and Outcast also runs a monthly Urban Flea Market full of local designers, artists and entrepreneurs.

La Fenêtre Soleil

44 Ly Tu Trong, D1 | 016 6582 547

Once you find the entrance, climb the creaky wooden steps in this old French building and locate the venue’s frosted glass door, you will probably have already fallen in love with the smoky ambience of La Fenêtre Soleil. The venue dominates the 2nd floor of 44 Ly Tu Trong, and its sweeping curtains are visible from the street below.

Artist space, chic café, or music venue, “the sunny window” holds favourably in the hearts and minds of both travellers and expats in this crazy city. From relaxing jazz nights, 50’s and 60’s DJ nights and raucous rock n roll shows, La Fenêtre Soleil is a surprising and beautiful place to kick off or end your night. 

musicImage source: facebook.com/lafenetre.soleil.3

Hold your fine neat whisky in one hand and gesture with the other, as you postulate among Saigon’s bohemians in the haze of their night-time music haven.

RockFanClub

25C Tu Xuong, D3 | 090 5316 456

Two short blocks from the Acoustic Bar, the RockFanClub hosts Vietnamese rock bands with live music every night of the week. They specialise in a kind of loud, energetic rock played at full volume alongside a well-stocked bar.

musicImage source: facebook.com/rockfanclub.rfc

Hard Rock Cafe

Kumho Asiana Plaza, 39 Le Duan, D1 | 028 6291 7595

Saigon’s Hard Rock Cafe of this well-known international chain is a favourite among expats and locals, and is our recommended go-to if you crave hearty Western meals and well-mixed house cocktails. A resident band plays nightly, along with occasional local and international guests.

musicImage source: 1.bp.blogspot.com

La Habana

152 Le Lai, D1 | 028 3925 9838

Combining live music with a distinctly Spanish flavour, La Habana has built a strong reputation for quality tapas, Spanish live music and reasonably priced European and South American wines. The bands play every day except Monday, and it’s always an exciting and lively affair.

Kingdom Beer Club

3 Ton Duc Thang, Ben Nghe, D1 | 090 466 45 673

Kingdom Beer Club sounds a lot butcher than it is. The venue, fronted with glass and two silk-clad doormen, should perhaps just be called ‘Kingdom’ since the kind of guests who visit and the vibes within are far from the connotations of a ‘beer club’. No rustic wooden stools or flagons of frothy brew here.

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Kingdom is a popular local venue which attracts mainly Vietnamese patrons of a variety of local demographics. As it’s generally super crowded, we recommend that you book ahead and reserve a table with your group of friends. The bar has no dance floor and is instead one big area of high tables and the occasional stool filled with bouncing, snack nibbling, beer chugging twenty-somethings wearing skimpy skirts and smart dress-shoes. Beer is sold in large, communal vats which sit on your table and from which you can tap yourself a glass whenever you fancy. Many locals drink it with ice, and the club’s range of Vietnamese and Western snack foods are a tasty addition to an evening of partying.

Local and international DJs play a continuous set of pumping beats, and a variety of drinking competitions and special offers make a night here into a serious event. Get up and dance on the stage, or bop by your table and down a million glasses of delicious Saigon Red.

Fang Pub

17 Nguyen Thi Dieu, D3 | 090 9014 608

The Fang Pub’s rise to favourite status among the local and expatriate communities is due in no small part to its consistent live music offerings. Except Mondays, the bar hosts a rotating cast of rock musicians who play on a lowered part of the bar floor.

musicImage source: i.ytimg.com

Broma: Not A Bar

41 Nguyen Hue, D1 | 028 3823 6838

“Broma” is Spanish for “joke”, but this place has a serious offering of live music that is nothing to laugh at. The rooftop bar hosts regular musicians and DJs, where performers play under a teardrop shaped disco ball rotating for maximum effect. It also hosts an open-mic night on Tuesdays, a live band on Wednesdays and a jazz act on Thursdays.

musicImage source: vietcetera.com

The Old Compass Cafe and Bar

3rd Floor, Apt 11, 63 Pasteur, D1 | 090 3900 841

During Friday evenings, The Old Compass Cafe and Bar transforms from a quiet, classy lunch spot to a live music venue with a selection heavy in folk music and singer-songwriters. Music there ranges from the quiet, reserved musical offerings of English writer and performer Claire Robbin to more lively rock and folk acts. Saturday nights belong to the ’60s and ’70s.

MZ

56A Bui Thi Xuan, Ben Thanh, D1 | 08 3925 5258

Top quality cover bands and a polished atmosphere make MZ a hot live music venue. This is very much a party venue, and the music befits the purpose. The drinks are expensive and rumours of bar girl scams abound, but the staff are generally welcoming and accommodating and the wine list is well-curated. Worth a visit on a special occasion.

Carmen Bar

8 Ly Tu Trong, D1 | 090 1354 787

Carmen Bar’s intended effect is that of a Spanish castle, which mirrors its nightly live music offerings: the bar prides itself as the go-to spot for Latin and gypsy music recalling sounds native to the Andalusia region.

musicImage source: travellingtovietnam.net

Overture Cafe

109 Tran Quoc Toan, D3  | 028 7307 8888

This strange cafe-come-wine bar is an excellently bizarre way to spend an evening. With its dim lights, delicious, fresh food and quality live music, Overture is less of a cafe and more of a night-time lair where you can sample the ripest of reds, and puff on one of their token cigars. Grow a mustache before you visit so you can twirl it as you puff.

The venue sees itself as a haven for music enthusiasts, particularly the trained musicians of Saigon. Visit Overture for their special Performing Arts evening on Saturdays and Sundays, and enjoy their choice live music brought to you by Ho Chi Minh City’s best singers, concert performers and music graduates.

Do you have one to add? Why not leave a comment below and give us an excuse to party.

Article written with the help of Seamus Supervivre.

By Kristian Goodchild, Zoe Osborne and Jesus Lopez-Gomez
Banner image source: lahabana.com


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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