Experiences of Saigon’s street coffee

Even though there are plenty of bars for you to wander in and out of making new friends and having drinks, the part of Saigon at night that is truly special can be found at the parks and outside the more accessible famous sightseeing destinations in Saigon. You can easily go to the park across the street from the famous sightseeing monument, Notre Dame Cathedral. There you will find what the kids have dubbed “Ca phe bet” which translates roughly to Saigon’s street coffee. You have to love that! Indochina tours Vietnam

30/4 Park, Saigon

30/4 Park, Saigon

It is located just across the street from the Notre Dame Cathedral at the park. You can find the park at the cross street of Pasteur and Han Thuyen. Just take a seat wherever you think you might be comfortable, a vendor will soon be by to take your order.

At the centre of each group there’s an assortment of take-away food and drink: sweet Vietnamese iced coffee and tapioca ‘pearl tea’ in plastic cups, dried and grilled squid, crispy-grilled rice paper wraps, fried skewers of okra, quail eggs and fish balls; all eaten off polystyrene trays smeared with chilli and hoisin sauce. Vendors work busily on the sidewalk to keep up with demand, while ice cream sellers on bicycles meander through the park looking for customers; the ‘ice cream jingle’ blaring out of speakers and played on a continuous loop. There’s not a drop of alcohol in sight. Vietnam travel tours

Vendor

Vendor

It’s wonderful to witness and there’s something reassuring about it. It’s very Vietnamese, very local, but also familiar, almost bohemian. It’s a chance for Vietnam’s exploding youth to interact; away from the eyes of teachers in classrooms, professors in lecture theatres, parents at home, and other social constraints which are the legacy of centuries of Confucianism and a generation of Communism. It seems to be an expression of the optimism and youth of this generation. There’s an infectious buzz that makes you wish you were a part of the excitement and youth of the students sitting in the park. They sit in groups – small and large – talking and laughing constantly, some playing acoustic guitars, others singing; their songs occasionally penetrating the incessant roar of engines that characterizes Saigon’s rush-hour.

The students playing acoustic guitars in the park

The students playing acoustic guitars in the park

The reason Ca phe bet is frowned upon by the authorities is that it disrupts pedestrians walking through the park and, sadly, many of the students neglect to take their rubbish away with them, leaving an unsightly mess of polystyrene and plastic cups strewn over the grass. In the past, students rode their motorbikes and bicycles up onto the sidewalk and into the park, or left them by the side of the road, causing traffic congestion. The Saigon authorities countered this with an elegant solution: they set up barriers around the perimeter of the park; disguising them as street vegetation by linking dozens of flower baskets at regular intervals with a white chain at knee height.

Whatever the tensions between the city authorities and the students enjoying Ca phe bet in this area, there’s little doubt that the youth sitting on the ground in Reunification Park have very different ideas, values and expectations for the future than their parents and, I expect, the local government – the vast majority of whom are of the older generation.

Travel lovers.

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