30 May 2011

Where NOT to buy Cuban Cigars in Saigon

My last night in Vietnam was to be coffee and Cuban cigars with a few friends. I’d heard that there was a top-scale stogie shop in District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City, and after some searching and a few phone calls, I’d located it.

Casa Habana Cigars is located on 41 Ha Ba Trung St,  Dist 1, HCMC, just a block or so down from the Park Hyatt. Walking in I was very impressed; walls of glass windowed, temp controlled, cigar cabinets. This looked as good as the ones in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico.
I asked about Romeo and Juliet’s, knowing that they were what I had wanted to buy. They were out of number 4’s, so I looked at the number 2’s. I picked up a cigar and took a whiff; humm….not what I had remembered. I asked the manager about their packaging date, then turned the box over.
Oh, I said, these were packed in 2009, they’re two years old.
But that’s what makes them so good, she replied.
Yes, I have many customers who insist on aged cigars, she assured me.
I knew this was wrong. I knew they were way past their shelf life, but spent $18 a piece on two cigars. I have no idea why I believed her, especially after I had asked her who imported their cigars.
The owner makes trips to Cuba to buy all the cigars, but he isn’t Vietnamese, he’s American, she told me.
I pointed out that this could not be possible since it was illegal for Americans to go to Cuba, let alone run an import/export deal with the country.
She assured me that I was wrong; that this was a legitimate business venture.
That evening we lit up the cigars and I kicked myself; they sucked. They were not the smooth, tasty Cubans I had sampled in Mexico. They were old, and not totally horrible, but certainly not worth $18.
In retrospect, I realized that I should have looked for a different brand and taken much more time in selecting my cigars. But the heat, humidity, and last day errands had gotten the better of me and thrown me off my usual cautious self when buying luxury items in places like Vietnam. However, that does not excuse a sleazy American from ripping people off and disseminating false information about Cuban cigars.
Now I must wait for my next trip to Mexico where the cigar shops are run by honest folks.



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