Tag: vietnam

20 Things I Look for in a Coffee Shop “Office”

My temporary workstation at a Starbucks in Hanoi

My temporary workstation at a Starbucks in Hanoi

With the Internet and modern-day communications technology, I can work virtually anywhere. This means I have no set work space. My office is wherever there is an Internet connection and preferably coffee. For me, this means coffee shops.

Here are twenty things I look for in an ideal coffee shop “office”.

  1. Reliable, high speed Internet
    The faster the Wi-Fi, the better. I have found that Internet speed has a big effect on my productivity. There is nothing worse than being ready to work and having to wait minutes for a page to load. Or finding out that the wireless connection is not working. A slow or unreliable connection can add up to hours of wasted time over the course or a day or week.
  2. Good coffee
    Americanos and brewed or Vietnamese coffee are my go-to beverages. I usually stay away from lattes and other “fancier” drinks, except to spice things up on occasion.
  3. Standing desk
    Having the option to place my laptop on a bench and work upright is ideal for me. Since I stare at a screen for an inordinate amount of time during the day, I prefer not to be sitting 100% of the time while I do so. Sitting too much tends to make me feel like a hunched over mess. Ideally I would stand for at least an hour or so and then alternate between sitting and standing as needed.
  4. Good tables
    If I am going to be working at a place for an extended period of time, having access to good table is key. This means an appropriate height, ample surface area and plenty of leg room.
  5. Quiet
    I prefer quietter settings without loud music or hordes of conversations. I pretty much always use earplugs or noise cancelling headphones to block out external noise as there is almost always some background noise in Hanoi.
  6. Friendly staff
    Friendly employees can make a big, positive difference in the overall experience.
  7. Smoke-free
    A little smoke in the air is fine, just as long as it’s not too close by or heavy.
  8. A pleasant atmosphere/concept
    I really like Cong Caphe for this. It is a “Viet Cong” themed coffee chain, with various locations in Hanoi. The one in my neighborhood has four floors with lot of plants and old communist literature and posters decorating the walls. The staff also dresses in green fatigues. Very cool place to hang out.
  9. Not too crowded
    Having some people around creates a pleasant atmosphere. Too many people, however, create noisy distractions and a lack of good seating availability.
  10. Ample outlets
    Access to an electrical outlet for my laptop is essential for stays lasting longer than my battery life.
  11. Close by
    Anywhere within 15 minutes is preferred. It can be fun to explore and try new, more far flung places. But as a rule, the closer, the better.
  12. Plenty of room
    My ideal coffee shop would be spacious and roomy, not cramped.
  13. Comfortable chairs
    Some chairs feel designed for a species other than Homo sapiens. I try to avoid these chairs.
  14. Good lighting
    This is especially true for me because my laptop’s screen reflects a lot in bright, sunny conditions.
  15. Good floor layout
    A place that arranges its furniture sensibly and has good overall interior design is a plus.
  16. Good bathroom
    The cleaner, the better. Good sinks and hand drying options are a plus.
  17. Food
    I don’t usually eat much at coffee shops, but I will at places like Joma that have a decent food selection.
  18. Comfortable temperature
    Not too hot or too cold. Just right.
  19. Clean
    I have found that the level of cleanliness usually reflects on the overall quality and service of a coffee shop. The Starbucks by the Opera House is an example of a very clean and pleasant cafe.
  20. Not too expensive
    This is not much of an issue in Vietnam as most everything here, including coffee, is relatively cheap. But due to the relatively high volume of coffee I drink, it’s nice to have an affordable coffee.

Impressions of Hanoi, Part 4

Plane at the Vietnam Military History Museum

Plane at the Vietnam Military History Museum

Continuing my “Impressions” series, here are eight more general observations of Hanoi, Vietnam.

  • Mostly cash based society
    Some places allow you to pay with credit card, but cash is the dominant form of exchange.
  • You have to ask for things
    Sometimes shopkeepers and restaurant servers fail to “adequately” acknowledge your presence. Or even anticipate such obvious needs as ordering food. This means that you have to be proactive in asking for things like the check. I have gotten used to this, but at first it felt like I was being ignored. In a restaurant setting, I’d say that I usually prefer the Vietnamese way of “benign neglect” compared to the American standard of servers asking you every 10 minutes how your meal is.
  • Not a lot of garbage cans
    There are noticeably less trash receptacles compared to the states, both in public areas and private shops. Still not really sure where to put that receipt the cashier just handed me.
  • No tipping
    Pretty much wherever you go, tipping is unnecessary or even expressly forbidden forbidden. (I saw signs warning against tipping masseuses at the Yakushi Center.) I have, however, noticed some tip jars at coffee shops.
  • Smells
    To quote Rudyard Kipling, “The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” A few times I have smelled something completely new here. It’s usually mildly unpleasant or just unique.
  • No resentment of Americans detected
    Although there was a war here less than 40 years ago, I haven’t sensed any negative sentiments directed towards me as an American. Maybe the Vietnamese are just good at masking their animosity toward their former enemy, but I strongly doubt it. Or maybe they are just trying not to gloat about their victory. But I also doubt that. I guess that whole military conflict is water under the bridge at this point.
  • Really good coffee
    The longer I stay here, the more I appreciate the coffee culture. There are so many delicious coffee concoctions to try including egg coffee, yogurt coffee (with and without sticky rice), frozen yogurt coffee, coconut milk coffee, and coconut coffee smoothies. Those are all in addition to Vietnamese coffee (which is strong and a little sweet) as well as espresso drinks like lattes, Americanos, etc.
  • Relaxed city
    According to this article, Hanoi is a city best suited for taking it easy. This rings true to me as the pace of life here sometimes feels busy but never rushed.

A Week of Cafes

Coconut coffee smoothie at Cong Caphe

Coconut coffee smoothie at Cong Caphe

Over the past week I made a list of all the coffee shops I visited in Hanoi.

I was pretty focused on work things, so I prioritized places that I knew had reliable Internet and a good working environment. For this, Cong Caphe in Tay Ho (specifically the rooftop) is probably my favorite.

2/2310:30Oriberry (Tay Ho)Soy Latte40,0001.87
2/2311:30Highlands Coffee (Tay Ho)Americano44,0002.06
2/2320:00Highlands Coffee (Tay Ho)Americano54,0002.53
2/2323:15Puku CaféCoffee Shake55,0002.58
2/240:15Puku CaféFlat White60,0002.81
2/2413:15The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (Tay Ho)Brewed Coffee50,0002.34
2/2417:30Joma Bakery Café (Tay Ho)Chai Tea Latte45,0002.11
2/2513:00Highlands Coffee (Ba Dinh)Americano44,0002.06
2/2517:30Highlands Coffee (Tay Ho)Americano44,0002.06
2/2520:30Cong Caphe (Tay Ho)Coconut Coffee Smoothie45,0002.11
2/2521:45Cong Caphe (Tay Ho)Coconut Coffee Smoothie45,0002.11
2/2611:45Highlands Coffee (Tay Ho)Americano54,0002.53
2/2616:00Cong Caphe (Tay Ho)Tea Pot30,0001.41
2/2717:30Highlands Coffee (Old Quarter)Americano44,0002.06
2/2719:30Cong Caphe (Trang Tien)Black Vietnamese Coffee30,0001.41
2/2722:15The NineAmericano28,0001.31
2/2813:15Aura CoffeeYogurt with Coffee28,0001.31
3/114:15Highlands Coffee (Hoan Kiem)Americano44,0002.06

Chilling in Vietnam

Hanoi fishermen

Fishermen by the lake

Before coming to Hanoi, I had heard cautionary tales of foreigners getting ripped off or even worse. After all, Vietnam is a “third world” country. So it’s supposed to be scary and dangerous here, right?

I admit that when I stepped off the plane at Noi Bai International Airport, my guard was up. I was keeping an eye out for scammers and thieves. And, beaven forbid, I did not intend to become the victim of an overpriced taxi ride.

In short time, however, these vague suspicions were replaced by the realities of my surroundings.

One of the first things that struck me upon arriving in Vietnam was the laid back demeanor of the people. The fact that I arrived at the tail end of New Year’s holiday probably had something to do with this, but people just seemed really easy going. This first impression has held true until now.

I can’t think of a time where I’ve seen someone overly stressed or in a rush. I also can’t recall anyone getting really angry. People here smile in a natural, not forced, way. Nobody appears to have an agenda or exhibit any passive-aggressive behavior. (Perhaps this would be different if I worked in an office?)

Even the security guards don’t take themselves too seriously. There were a couple of times were I thought I was in “trouble” for parking my motorbike in the wrong place, but the parking attendants showed no sign of irritation. They just pointed to where I should park and resumed their standing around.

The lack of uptightness here has been quite refreshing, particularly because it tends to rub off on you. It has the effect of lowering your overall stress level, which otherwise could easily be higher due to navigating a foreign city, culture, and language.

Impressions of Hanoi, Part 3

Evening commute in Hanoi

Evening commute in Hanoi

Continuing the theme of my previous two posts, here are 14 more impressions of Vietnam’s capital city.

  • Lots of free delivery
    Things such as jugs of water, groceries, and laundry are examples of what’s available for free delivery. This is nice for larger items and repeat purchases.
  • Vietnamese and foreigners mix well
    In my neighborhood there is a good mix of foreigners and Vietnamese people. Despite the occasional language barrier, it seems to be a harmonious mix. I suspect this is due to Hanoians’ easy going nature, which rubs off on the cities’ non-natives.
  • People are short
    This is probably stating the obvious, but you won’t find many NBA prospects here.
  • Internet can be unreliable
    When I got here at the beginning of the year, the Internet was adequately fast. However, after an undersea cable broke, the Internet became incredibly slow for over two weeks. Speeds have since bounced back, but there can be periods of sluggishness.
  • It can be hard to find basic things
    Certain “common” necessities like contact solution are often difficult to find.
  • Lots of extra staff
    There seems to be an over-supply of employees at many stores. There often appears to be double or even triple the number of staff needed.
  • It’s not that touristy
    I’ve been to the Old Quarter district several times. This is the heart of the “tourist” area and home to many hotels and backpacker hostels. Yet in the six weeks I’ve lived in Hanoi I have not seen a single postcard for sale. Which is strange because I have actually been on the lookout for postcards. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any “Hanoi” t-shirts for sale, either. Or keychains, mugs, or any other souvenir trinkets. For me this is a plus because it means I get to experience a more “authentic” city.
  • You pay afterwards at cafes
    Cafes are like restaurants in that you order first, sit down, and have your drink brought to you. You don’t pay until you leave.
  • It’s a big city but doesn’t feel like it
    The city is quite spread out and doesn’t seem overly crowded. Although there are around 2.5 million people in the city (6.5 million in the greater metro area), the population density does not seem that high. The city feels large but not crowded.
  • The traffic is crazy, but drivers are not
    Traffic in Hanoi is notoriously hectic, but the drivers are surprisingly relaxed. I have not seen any cases of “road rage” or much overly aggressive driving. People honk out of courtesy and not out of anger.
  • The women are attractive
    I have heard that Vietnamese women are considered some of the most beautiful in Asia. I would have to concur.
  • People are friendly
    For the most part, people seem friendly in a genuine way.
  • There aren’t any alcoholics/junkies
    Although beer drinking is popular here, I haven’t noticed any crazy public drunkenness. I also haven’t noticed any drug abuse or homelessness. I’m guessing this is due to cultural taboos against anti-social behavior such as excessive drinking and drug use.
  • The city closes early
    Hanoi is alive and bustling during the day and evening, but around 11 PM everybody goes home and the city shuts down.