Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Saigon Cafe Catalog

This article from Nomadic Notes inspired my trip to Saigon. I was so excited to experience this crazy city and its awesome café culture.

I'm happy to say that I found a few gems in the city that were not on the Nomadic Notes list (I would feel lame anyway if I literally just visited the exact same cafes). I did also stop by some on the list but they didn’t look cool enough to try.
Here is my 2015 version of the  great cafes in Saigon. This list is small because I was so happy with the cafes I found, I didn’t want to try any others!

Tous Les Jous
I visited this café every single day. Though it is an international chain, I grew a special attachment to the branch in Binh Thanh district.  It was a five minute walk from my apartment, had excellent lattes and Vietnamese coffee, pastries, comfortable seating, and wifi. I loved this café so much I didn’t want to go anywhere else, but I did force myself to explore District 1 from time to time. 

id café
This was the first café I tried out in District 1. True to form, it is trendy and dark, up a narrow staircase, and located on the second floor of an inconspicuous building. Wifi and drinks were good, but the food could have been better. It was worth a visit but I did not return. 

I visited L’Usine twice. Their food menu is overpriced, but they have amazing cupcakes and a great flat white. During the day, the restaurant is illuminated by sunlight, and I work well in natural light. This place is very hard to find, but I will leave some good directions. First, pin it on Google Maps. Get to that pin. You will see an Art Arcade (long hallway). Walk down the hallway, when it dead ends, turn right. Go up a flight of stairs to the second floor. You have arrived at L’Usine. 

Effoc coffee
I found this place while on the way to La Rotande. It appeared new and still in the process of being decorated. Cheap drinks and a perfectly suitable place to do some work for a few hours. 

La Rotande
I recommend La Rotande even if you are not interested in working from cafes. The atmosphere and abundant sunlight make a serene afternoon trip, whether for drinks or lunch.  I order the do-it-yourself spring rolls, and they were amazing. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Danbara Starbucks in Hiroshima

View at night

Every once in a while I find a place that leaves me with a deep impression, a place that is both the source and inspiration for many memories. One of those places I found in Hiroshima.

After moving an hour and a half away from Hiroshima, I would make monthly pilgrimages into the city for some urban renewal. I would take the bus on a Friday night after work, and come home by mid-afternoon on Sunday. For the first couple months I was simply finding my way. I would try different restaurant, browse café catalogs and go on hunts for the perfect place to write and sip a cup of coffee, but no experience was really worth repeating. It was not until the third time I made this pilgrimage that I found my way.

Starbucks was a regular place for me in Japan. I have already written extensively about the shortage of spacious, writer-friendly cafes in Japan.  With a few lucky exceptions, Starbucks continues to be the best option for most people who wish to spend a few hours on their laptops. Hiroshima has three major Starbucks branches. The Hon-Dori is the main, three-story café in the busy covered shopping center downtown. This one is great for people watching through the vast windows, but in peak times there is a line out the door, and seating is a precious commodity. I hated walking 30 minutes from my hostel only to find that it was too crowded to work from, so I gave up on that one. The second best-known branch is the Heiwa-Dori, at Peave Blvd. This one seems to be preferable for expats in the city, but the seating is even more limited, and the fact that it is located inside an NHK building makes me feel like I'm going to work at the office. My all-time favorite Starbucks, not just I Hiroshima but  in the world, has to be the third branch, the Danbara store.

Perched majestically in the Danbara neighborhood, a new upscale-housing development near the Mazda stadium, this sprawling, gorgeous Starbucks is the best one I have found in the world. At all hours there is plenty of seating, and I prefer the second floor. My prime choice is to sit outside, on the balcony facing the river. Form here I get a pleasant view of the pedestrian bridge and condominium across the river. If it’s too cold or if all the seat are taken on the balcony, I sit inside at one of the small tables.

This is certainly not the most architecturally remarkable Starbucks, nor does it break any other records in terms of uniqueness, but it has a youthful and local vibe. It is quiet but hip, comfortable but interesting. Since I found it, I made it a point to start and end my weekends in Hiroshima at this Starbucks. 

View at night facing the street

Lounge area on the second floor

Large dining table on the second floor

Interior view form the second floor

Dining room table on the second floor

View from the outside balcony

Outside balcony seating area

Daytime view

The drive-thru sign

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Catching Up: Thoughts from Saigon

I love the way the wind blows at night in Saigon. Nights in this city are a perfect end to sunny days.
Everyday I wake up happy.
I go to bed happy as well. I appreciate life here. I am no longer feeling like my hours are being wasted sleeping or tooling off on the internet.
Today I want to be right here, in Saigon.  I am loving my time here, even when things are weird or uncomfortable. I love it.
Perhaps my brain has finally, finally, finally, caught up with my body. And here it is, in Saigon. Alert and observant. Not judging. Always being grateful. I am grateful every morning I get to wake up and see our sun-shadowed bedroom through the blue mosquito netting. Even when those early morning hours are passed in sleep, even when I’ve frequented the same bakery day after day, even when we twice failed to leave our district and go into the city, even then I can say boldly that the day was good. Though I’ve made relatively little progress sod my blog, my website, or my novel, I feel very proud of  any small progress I make.

I’m sure some of this happiness comes from being in a city where I feel mobile. A city that offers me enough choices to feel content, even if I choose the same restaurant or cafe day after day. I am also happy to be in an apartment, which somehow makes so much difference. Knowing that I have autonomy over my domain, not have to acknowledge anyone on my way in or out of the apartment each day. Having space to spread out and rule my territory. Having exposure to local people and life and being able to observe it at a distance, without being targeted as a tourist and peddled to or served. I can walk through the streets and exist as a person, nothing more.

Saturday , Jan. 17, 2015   Tous les Jours,  Saigon 2:08 pm

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Starbucks New World Saigon

I was in Ho Chi Minh City during Starbucks’ two-year- anniversary in Vietnam. The iconic New World store opened in February 2013, and was the first Starbucks in Vietnam. This is a very spacious and well-designed store, but the real appeal comes from the view of on the second floor, which provides the quintessential image of Saigon in the form of a famous roundabout, complete with swiveling mopeds and nonstop traffic. I was lucky enough to score a window seat on the second floor and spent nearly an hour watching traffic flow.

Outside the store

First floor

Second floor

View from the second floor window at dusk

Me, hard at work

Wall art of the stairwell
 I also uploaded a video of the traffic as seen from the window on Starbucks. It is one full minutes sped up to 10 seconds:

Touchdown Tokyo

Every time I fly to Japan, I have this routine of changing clothes in one of the large, accessible stalls in the arrivals lobby. I would do ...