Coffee fuels the beating heart of Saigon. Everywhere you look there are coffee shops or street vendors with café sua da which you can sip on plastic chairs while watching the hustle and bustle of city life. But in a world rapidly being taken over by Starbucks and The Coffee Bean, where even independent coffee shops are conforming to a standard formula, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a truly unique place to sit and savor that life-affirming cup of joe.
Whether you’re a Saigon newbie or have lived here for years, chances are that you’ve never heard of The Coffee Ship. That’s right, it’s “Ship”, not “Shop” and therein begins its uniqueness. The Coffee Ship is an actual floating café where you can sip delicious drinks while feeling the breeze and the gentle tilt of the barge as it rides the soft waves created by passing boats. Because you’re not actually sitting by the road, you might still see the traffic but you won’t hear it, so you’ll feel simultaneously part of the city but far removed from the chaos.
The Coffee Ship has been run by Co Trinh and her family for the last seven years and can be found floating on the muddy waters of the Kenh Te Canal on the cusp of District 7, facing District 4 on the other side. From the moment you set foot on the wooden gangway, you’ll know you’re in for a unique experience. It’s a perilous crossing over some very polluted water but the slightly treacherous path over random slabs of wood is well-worth what’s at the end. The moment you step onto the long and slender wood boat you’ll see that she’s oozing with cozy charm. Potted plants and star-shaped hanging lanterns are in every corner, the sides of the deck are open and both the upper and lower decks are fitted with handmade wooden tables and chairs, the bathroom is clean and there’s even wifi.
As you make your way down the lower deck, it’s hard to decide where to sit, since every spot looks cozy and inviting. But the choice is clear once you climb to the upper deck where it’s light and airy and you can look out onto the waters and enjoy the sight of passing boats making soft waves.
The large menu boasts many delicious fresh juices mixed with sugarcane at very reasonable prices, several food selections are available and of course, there’s coffee, lots of coffee.
An hour or two can easily go by as you are lulled by the ever-changing scenery and the rustic wood decor interlaced with green plants gone rogue. It feels so authentic and unique because it was apparently once a working barge. Today though, it’s like the home away from home you’ve long been looking for where you can meet friends for a catch-up or simply enjoy the serenity on your own.
Weekend mornings can be busy so Co Trinh recommends that you call in advance if you want to reserve a table but dusk might be the best time to go. Those quiet moments right after sunset and the relentless heat of the city tappers off, but right before darkness sets in, everything is bathed in soft light and you can truly appreciate the view of D4 across the canal, a juxtaposition of shanty shacks and moored work boats alongside middle-class homes and colorful apartment blocks.
Saigon is always full of surprises. Discovering the authenticity and tranquility of the coffee ship, like every good surprise, catches you off-guard in the most unexpected and delightful way.
Naomi Sutorius –Lavoie is a freelance writer and Canadian transplant who lives in HCMC, Vietnam.
759 Tran Xuan Soan, D7, HCMC