SAIGON, VIETNAM: 14 Ton That Dam Cafe Apartment

Sunday, May 19, 2019


I went to Saigon with my good friend/roommate last April! We didn't have anything specific for our first day, so we decided to just walk around the city to get a feel of what a day in the life of a local in Saigon feels like.

The first day felt quite like a City Break, because we were literally just walking around and observing the streets. I did do my part however with researching on nice places to spend some time in, such as cafes. My friend S and I used to spend most of our time studying in coffee shops back in college. I'm not a big fan of coffee, but I do enjoy sitting down inside a coffee shop, listening to the indie music playing in the background, and doing some people watching from time to time when I take a break from my readings.

This time around, it was exactly just that kind of experience again, but in a different country. I searched for where the youth would usually spend their time in. That's when I came across The Cafe Apartment on Nguyen Hue Walking Street and 14 Ton That Dam. 

The Cafe Apartment is easily visible, as it is within reach of the famous landmarks in the city. S and I were more intrigued by the other lesser known cafe apartment, so we decided to explore it first. 14 Ton That Dam is just as accessible and it takes around 10 minutes to walk there from the Walking Street. As S and I searched for this building, we came across many other streets which were lined with many, many other coffee shops. I really liked the fact that the cafe culture in Vietnam is evident whichever street we went to.





Go inside!!

We were quite unsure if we were at the right place, because it looked like a residential building. It felt like we were intruding into someone else's home. But we just went in anyway because we believed in the power of Google Maps. 

I somehow felt excited coming in to this building. It can be easily overlooked and you would think that there wouldn't be much going on in such a place, but entering it, going inside, climbing up the stairs and down, taught me otherwise.

This place was alive, teeming with independent coffee shops and boutiques. There were writings on the walls, coffee shops with quirky names, random peculiar things hanging around, potted plants, fairy lights; bits and bobs that have enchanted me. Peering through the windows made me feel like I was in a safe space, away from the bustling city.











Some of the quirky establishments that can be found sitting inside this building:


Boutiques!





The first place we went to was on the top floor, which was called the Mocking Bird Cafe. By this time, S and I were already drenched in sweat and were thirsty from all the walking. We simply sat there with our coffee and rested. 










After a while, we then set out to check another place that caught our eye, mainly because it was painted yellow and had a bunch of potted plants outside.




It's called Zen Tea. When we came in, we randomly spoke to a woman who was having her tea at a table and asked if we could join her, to which she politely obliged.

"Have you had lunch?", she asked. I could tell she was around my age, or older. 

"No, we haven't yet actually," we smile sheepishly in response. It was already 12NN and we didn't notice the time at all. I think that's the thing with being in a place outside my own; I lose my sense of time entirely and it flows in a way I can't grasp. 

"You can go have a vegan buffet lunch downstairs, and you can pay any amount you want," the woman replied. "You can follow the owner of this tea shop downstairs." she said as she introduced us to the owner. We exchange smiles, all the while my friend and I thought to ourselves: it's too good to be real. 

When we came downstairs to the ground floor, indeed we found the vegan restaurant the tea woman was pertaining to. It was quite busy, with people chatting, eating, getting food, but all the while it wasn't a chaotic kind of busy. The people who were refilling the the food were monks. The people eating there were also locals, both young and old, families, couples, groups of friends, all of them were happily sharing their meals together.




S and I hesitated a bit, but hey, it was definitely an experience. We entered the restaurant and sat on a table. We then got our food, and talked about how we still couldn't believe we could eat as much yet pay as we liked, or as we deemed would be appropriate for the amount that we ate. The food was also good and real, I loved the vegetables. The people were chatting away with their companions and it was a lovely sight to see. I didn't feel like an outsider despite thinking that I may have looked like one. 


After eating, we dropped the money in a box and went back upstairs to the tea shop where we left our new friend.

We sat down with her again and told her of our unusual yet delightful experience. It made me think of myself, as a person who is always guarded and would easily have my own judgments and suspicions about something unfamiliar, experiencing something like that was clearly something I was not used to. We then proceeded to talking about a variety of topics, from life, culture, history, and even tea. I asked her to teach me how to mix the tea ingredients. 





There was a bookshelf filled with books and they're all in Vietnamese


This was a shop where you can make tea as you like, and pay as you like. It's also open 24 hours. Our friend shared with us that it was her favorite place; this was where she studied, where she met up with friends, and where she felt at home. I was beginning to see the significance and impact of such a place to the people around here. 

She also explained to us a bit of the history about the building. It used to be a residential area from way back. There are still people living here, however most of the spaces have transformed into places for business. One thing for sure though is that this was the quirkiest, eccentric, and youthful place I've been to in a while and it was thrilling.







I have been completely charmed by the 14 Ton That Dam Cafe Apartment and the experiences I've had in it.

Address: 14 Tôn Thất ĐạmPhường Nguyễn Thái Bình, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

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Where have you been to lately? :) thank you so much for being here, dear reader. 


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