After a Sunday brunch, I love hanging out with friends at Café Vuon Kieng (Bonsai Garden Café) on the riverside by Mai Linh Square.
As you drive down Ha Ba Trung Street toward the river and the Tran Hung Dao statue that occupies the square, you can feel the cool Saigon river breeze blowing across Ton Duc Thang Street.
The best part about this café is the unbeatable view of the greenery in District 2 and downtown Saigon in District 1.
In the outdoor area, a hundred bonsais provide an early morning calm or late afternoon respite. I could sit there for hours drinking coffee and enjoying the open sky, surounded by the bonsais’ white flowers.
The late spring is now flowing into early summer, and Vuon Kieng is one of the few cafes in town where you can feel the changes in season. In the late afternoon, the breezy air is filled with the scents of spring flowers.
The tables are arranged far from each other, so customers can enjoy a quiet time without being distubed by loud conversations at other tables.
The outdoor garden is a good place to hang out with friends on a full moon night. The reflection of the moonlight on the water and the shadows cast by the trees onto one another create a setting where not relaxing is not an option.
The indoor area also has views of the Saigon port and from your table you can watch the day change and pass by as boats carrying sand, cargo or tourists coast up and down the river.
Across the water in District 2, you can see old decrepit French colonial buildings among deserted land plots and gardens. In back of them stands the towering Saigon Pearl, one of Saigon’s newest luxury apartment complexes, casting a shadow and reflection on the river waves.
CAFE VUON KIENG
Vuon Kieng is a quiet and casual cafe. The waiters don’t pester you unless you call then and they even serve Tra Da (iced tea) for free, a practice that was once common here but is all but vanishing in modern Saigon.
This cafe does not serve food but every Sunday couples, families and groups of friends bring their own mini-picnis for lunch.
A family of chickens live around the cafe and may just cross your path, bringing to mind the pleasant Vietnamese countryside. The place is like a day-trip holiday in the middle of the city.
In the late afternoon, the sunlight softens and casts a golden glow onto buildings across the river. Boats passing by turn rich shades of yellow and orange.
Sometimes we stay until sunset, when the light from the windows of Saigon Pearl apartments illuminate the sky like stars and we know it’s time to go home for dinner.
Like other cafes in town, Vuon Kieng serves coffee, fruit juices, tea, beer, and soft drinks at mid-to-high-end, but not unreasonable, prices — VND50,000 for orange juice with ice, and Lipton tea is VND35,000.
Photo: To Van Nga