Hanoi’s trendiest cafés

Hanoi’s trendiest cafés

From sublime to feline, CNNGo reader Sarah Curson picks out the cafés in Vietnam's capital that make coffee fun

Hanoi’s café culture is a fusion of old French Indochina and modern, colorful imports from the West. It gives Hanoian cafés a unique brand of kitsch and craziness unlike anywhere else.

Hanging out in cafés is a national pastime that consumes life both on and off the pavement from early morning until late, late at night.

Fashions and trends blow through Hanoi’s streets as quickly as most establishments can keep up. Some things of course are timeless; suitcase-sized street tea stalls, for example, are as permanent as they are ubiquitous.

Elsewhere, a fluidity and transience flows through the city; cafés on the cutting-edge of culture constantly have to reinvent themselves in order to attract the latest impressionable crowd of Hanoi’s coffee drinkers.

And we are a discerning lot. A hot cup just doesn’t cut it anymore.

We want extras! Games. Books. Stuff. Luckily, there's no shortage to be had in Hanoi. 

Dice Café: Where games meet coffee

Dice CaféKeeping a steady hand while playing games at Dice Café.The Dice Café in Hai Ba Trung district is where games meet coffee. Be it Jenga, cards or complex Asian board games, this is a place to linger.

Getting served is simple -- take a seat, order, then choose from a multitude of games to play while you wait. 

You can drink traditional Vietnamese coffee -- served in the uniquely Vietnamese drip-filter style -- for just VND 20,000, so it won’t exactly break the bank. Whole afternoons can be lost here just drinking and playing with new and old friends.

You’d be surprised how competitive it can get. 

Dice CaféDisputes are settled the only way possible -- with mallet cushions.

Just in case having coffee with a side of games isn’t novelty enough, the cushions are shaped like mallets, and squeak when you use them to bash the unfortunate soul who knocked over the Jenga tower.

Dice Café, 111 Trieu Viet Vuong, Hai Ba Trung district, tel: +84 (0)9 0429 5955; open daily 8-11 p.m., VND 9,000 per hour for games.

Spaghettibox: Where art meets coffee

SpaghettiboxHanoians can get creative at Spaghettibox.Those of a more creative bent should head to Spaghettibox in Ba Dinh district where art fills the menu.

University students make a beeline here between lectures to unleash their creativity on the walls, floor and tables. Customers phone in orders on the retro-phones stationed in each room, and then get arty.

Pens and paint are provided, but bring your own paper or canvass if you want to get super-creative and really leave your mark.

There are layers upon layers of individual artworks, from school-desk etchings to graffiti-style signatures and song lyrics and sayings. Many are in English.

With simple pastas, pizzas and rice dishes from VND 20,000, it’s a great place for the budget eater.

Spaghettibox, 90c Nui Truc, Ba Dinh district, tel: +84 (0)4 6273 1139; open daily 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m., except for Friday 7:30-11 p.m.

Ailu Cat Café: Where cats meet coffee

Ailu Cat CaféWant a cat with your coffee? Come to Ailu Cat Café.By far, Hanoi's wackiest cafe is Ailu Cat Café, situated on the shores of Tay Ho, Hanoi’s biggest lake.

In a city where snakes, birds and dogs are eaten without a second glance, a café with the word "cat" in the title sounds like a place tourists with weak stomachs should avoid at all costs.

Thankfully, the cats aren't on the menu but all around the café’s cozy interior. Up to 20 of them are at times draped across tables, curled up on cushions or asleep in the shoe rack.

If you order enough drinks to stay long enough, they’ll even sit in your lap.

The café has an all-drinks menu, but the choices are both expansive and cheap; coffee, tea, fresh-fruit smoothies and juices setting you back around VND 30,000-50,000.

A recommendation for the adventurous coffee drinker is cà phê sữa chua đá, or iced coffee with yogurt (VND 35,000). Like peanut butter and jelly, it’s a combination so random that it just has to be delicious.

This place is always so busy that the rumor is that you have to book a cushion on weekends.

The cats in residence run the full spectrum of feline shapes and sizes; from tiny and timid kittens to sleek and slender shorthairs to large, fluffy moggies that observe visitors from afar.

As it is virtually everywhere in Hanoi, Wi-Fi is free, but unless you want a cat asleep on your keyboard, this is not the place to get any work done.

Ailu Cat Café, 4, Alley Xuong Phim, Thuy Khue Street, Tay Ho district, tel: +84 (0)1 6990 8538.

More information on Hanoi’s best and worst cafés can be found here.

About the author:

I am an English Teacher who recently returned to the United Kingdom, after a 12-month adventure teaching and blogging my way around Southeast Asia from a base in Hanoi, Vietnam. I tried to maintain a job teaching kindergarten English, but was more often to be found singing karioke and writing restaurant reviews for the "New Hanoian" expat forum. When I’m not in Asia, I write about my adventures and plan to go back. Read my blog here. Read more of my experiences of Hanoi’s cafes here.

Sarah Curson submitted this piece as part of CNNGo’s CityPulse section. To find out what other stories we are looking for, go to our CityPulse page