20 September 2005

Cat Dang

There are coffee shops on every block in HCMC, sipping coffee and chatting being a major form of entertainment here. It’s just that they don’t look like what the term coffee shop conjures up in my mind.

On my first outing to a coffee shop with a young colleague, I was expecting a little café with a few outdoor tables. What I got was a Disneyland ride without the track.

The Cat Dang coffee shop doesn’t look like much of anything from the outside. You enter through a maze of motor scooters parked on the side walk, go through a glass door, then up a dingy stairwell. At the top of the stairs you enter into a tropical wonderland.

I stepped out onto the upper floor seating area that is a rectangular mezzanine overlooking a wall-to-wall mini-lake on the ground floor. This area is wide enough to have tables both along the sides and bordering the low latticed wall at its edge. Everywhere you look, there is tropical foliage; banana trees, orchids, hanging and potted plants.

I think it is best to sit at a table right at the edge, where you can peer down at the lake. In the middle of the lake is another seating area with a few tables under large trees. To get to there you must walk across wet, slippery logs. (Not something I would ever try). In the lake, there are canoes loaded with pineapple, pomelo, shrimp traps, and oars. The water is a murky green-grey, but you can see fish swimming around in it.

The ceiling is a glass dome with retractable panels for severe weather situations. When I was there, they remained opened, letting in sunlight and air. It’s never too hot because of the water misters and fans. However, if you would prefer a/c, there is an enclosed area on the ground floor surrounding the lake.

After you order you coffee, or juice drink, or a bite to eat, the waiter brings you iced jasmine tea. They keep refilling your glass the entire time you are there. And you can order just one cup of coffee and sit there for hours. In fact, that is what most people do.

The only negative side is the music blasting out of speakers every few meters, and the huge TV’s set up so that you can not avoid watching Jackie Chan, Star Wars, and an endless array of action films.

I saw people playing chess, people with laptops, people just talking, but all enjoying their time. I hear that at night, when lit by red lanterns, it is even more beautiful. Hopefully, I will get there one night.