If you’re looking for a unique place to visit on your trip to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, why don’t you check out the Cafe Apartment in Nguyen Hue Walking Street? This incredible building is not like you’ve ever seen before. It’s an old and dilapidated 9-story apartment building that was converted into hip cafes, boutiques, co-working spaces, restaurants, beauty parlors, and other commercial establishments with quirky facades. The spaces that used to be apartment units were remarkably converted into shops, extending into balconies, which is what makes the building unique.
Short History of the Building
The Cafe Apartment Building was originally built during the mid-1960s. It used to be the dwelling place of American military officers, usually the high-ranking officials who work for the South Vietnam government. During the Fall of Saigon, the military officers vacated the building and shipyard workers occupied some of the units.
When the city starts to develop and several new buildings were constructed nearby, the street where the building stood has become a commercial hub of Saigon. Thus, the tenants have decided to rent out their units to commercial establishments even though this is something illegal. As a matter of fact, eviction notices have been sent to these shops many times, yet they remain open.
What makes this building to stand out is its unique layout. Since the building was originally used as an apartment, the layout is not something that you will see on other commercial buildings. All shops with their colorful facades and signage are facing southwest and the balconies open out to the Saigon River and the Walking Street. When viewed from the outside, the building will remind of you of a chocolate box.
The entrance towards the upper floors is on the left side of a bookshop called Fahasa. This is a popular chain of bookstores in Vietnam that sells a wide range of books, magazines, newspapers, maps, and other reading materials.
There is a staircase that would take customers to every floor, until the 9th floor. If you prefer to take the elevator, you’ll have to pay 3,000 VND or around USD 0.13. Some shops and cafes on the top floor will refund the elevator fee you paid by deducting it from your bill. This is another unique aspect of the Apartment Cafe. There’s also a parking space available for customers, located right next to the building, at the Lucky Plaza.
Exploring the Building
When you get inside the building, it seems like you are in a residential place. But as you climb to the floors, you will see the doors of each unit have signs and names of the shop or cafe that occupies the space. Some doors that lead to restaurant and cafes have menus plastered on the door.
It can be confusing for first-time visitors since there is no set layout on each floor and it might take a while before you can find the shop that you intend to visit. The key is to look for the shop from the outside, while you are standing at the street. Take note of the location of the shop so when you get inside the building, you’ll know which direction you should go.
Notable Shops and Cafes
There are more than 30 business units inside the Cafe Apartment building. The most visited units are those coffee shops and teahouses that have built a customer fanbase among the younger crowd. What’s great about these shops is that they open out into the streets and have seating at the balcony where customers can people watch as they enjoy their refreshing drinks.
One of the most popular teashops in the building is Partea, which caters to tea lovers of all kind. It’s an English style teahouse with a very cozy ambiance inside. Here, you can order all sorts of teas, including delicious ice-cold milk teas. It’s a great place to unwind and enjoy a good conversation with friends.
If your craving for some delicious treats, check out The Maker on the third floor of the Cafe Apartment. It’s among the most visited cafes in the building, thanks to its wide range of delicious drinks and foods. The cafe is also known for its excellent Wi-Fi so it’s not surprising to see digital nomads working on their laptops at this place.
If you want to shop for some of the latest trends in fashion, the Cafe Apartment is a great place for you to visit since it’s also home to some of the finest boutiques and fashion houses in Ho Chi Minh. Head towards the second floor and you’ll find the Chicbae fashion boutique that sells some of the most fashionable clothing and accessories. Another great boutique to check out is the Dark Eye Clothing store, a small shop with bare concrete floors selling a wide range of Western-style clothing.