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Check out Saigon’s famous plane spotting cafes

Friday, March 19, 2021, 09:55 GMT+7
Check out Saigon’s famous plane spotting cafes
Luu Ngoc Tuan, owner of Ngam May Bay cafe ,captures an airplane as it flies near his café in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City on March 16, 2021. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre

With an international airport located directly in its center, Saigon is one of the few cities in the world where residents can sip a cup of coffee atop terraced cafés as inbound and outbound flights cruise low overhead.

While we all dream of jet setting around the world, many of us have to settling for watching planes fly by and imagining we could trade in our day jobs to be aboard and en route to some far flung destination.

With Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport located smack dab in the center of the southern metropolis, dozens of cafés are taking advantage of our innate curiosity for air travel by setting up shop atop the high-rise buildings that surround the airport. 

A group of friends chats while observing at Phen’s café in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre
A group of friends chats while observing at Phen’s café in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre

These venues, known as “aircraft cafés,” have mushroomed along several streets near the airport, particularly Quang Trung Street in Go Vap District and Hong Ha Street in Tan Binh District.

Unlike most cafés, which stay open from dawn till dusk, aircraft cafés are generally open only in the early morning and late afternoon, as their owners tend not to use eaves for shade to maximize views of the airport.

Phen's café acts as a vantage point for customers to observe planes as they land. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre
Phen's café acts as a vantage point for customers to observe planes as they land. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre

According to the owner of one aircraft café, rental contracts for rooftops near Tan Son Nhat are typically long-term and pricey, though other typical costs, such as decorations and interior design are quite low considering all café patrons need to watch planes are simple chairs and tables that can withstand the weather.

A man holds his children as they watch a plane fly by at Phen’s café in in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre
A man holds his children as they watch a plane fly by at Phen’s café in in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

Just a short walk from Tan Son Nhat are Phen's Café and Plane Watching Café (Ngam may bay) – two well-known viewpoints in Ho Chi Minh City where coffee lovers can enjoy their favorite drinks while watching flights descend into or depart from the airport.

Located on Nguyen Van Cong Street, Go Vap District, the second and third floor balconies at Phen’s Café offer café-goers an unparalleled view of Tan Son Nhat’s landing strip.

Phen’s café is typically filled with customers on the weekends. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre
Phen’s café is typically filled with customers on the weekends. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

The third-floor terrace offers such a stunning panorama of the area that customers typically have to wait quite a while for a table while wannabe Instagram models snap photos amidst the gorgeous airport backdrop and vintage decorations that adorn the place. 

Tran Thi Nhu Anh, a resident of Go Vap, explained that she and her friends often visit cafés in the area to watch aircraft take off and land at Tan Son Nhat.

“I usually come here on the weekdays. On the weekends its usually pretty crowded and difficult to find a place to sit. The view here is perfect for snapping photos”, Anh told Tuoi Tre News.

Ngam May Bay café acts as a vantage point for customers to observe planes as they take off. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre
A plane is seen from Ngam May Bay café in Go Vap District where has been considered as a vantage point for customers to observe planes as they take off. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre

Drinks at Phen’s Café average between VND30,000-50,000 ($1.3-2.17) and customers can stay for as long as they please.

Phen's cafe opens from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm every day. The café’s busiest time is in the evenings after 4:00 pm when the sun begins its descent.

Drinks being being served at Phen’s Café. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre
Drinks being being served at Phen’s Café. Photo: Linh To / Tuoi Tre

Tran Trung Tin, another local in Go Vap District often visits aircraft cafés to enjoy the planes with his family.

“My children get excited they see airplanes, so I often bring them here on the weekends to experience the magic of flying,” Tin said.

A 15-minute drive from Phen’s Café is Ngam May Bay, a spacious coffee shop that boasts balconies where patrons can watch planes land without distraction.

Customers, who come here as groups of friends, families, and couples, take great delight in sipping coffee while watching planes taxiing, landing, and taking off nearby.

Deviating from the norm of most aircraft cafés, Ngam May Bay offers several eaves for visitors to comfortably watch the skies while avoiding the harsh afternoon sun.

Luu Ngoc Tuan, the owner of Ngam May Bay, teaches his daughter how to use binoculars to watch planes in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre
Luu Ngoc Tuan, the owner of Ngam May Bay, teaches his daughter how to use binoculars to watch planes in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre

The café is typically packed during weekday sunsets and on the weekends, when it becomes a gathering place for amateur and professional photographers alike.  

Ngam May Bay café does not focus on designing many details to create a minimalist and comfortable for visitors.

The close distance even allows them to see certain outer parts of the planes during flight quite clearly.

Photos taken from Ngam May Bay café by Luu Ngoc Tuan, the café owner, on the wall at his café in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre
Photos taken from Ngam May Bay café by Luu Ngoc Tuan, the café owner, on the wall at his café in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre

Luu Ngoc Tuan, the owner of Ngam May Bay, said his love for flying was the inspiration behind the café.

“One of our competitive advantages is that our business model relies heavily on the location, so there is not much competition,” Tuan told Tuoi Tre News.

Both Phen’s Café and Ngam May Bay have steel nets surrounding their balconies in order to safeguard their customers.

They each also have several signs posted to discourage customers from littering on nearby houses.

While most people living near the airport are constantly vexed by the engine noise, customers at aircraft cafés, especially kids, are fascinated by the noise and sight of the nearby aircraft.

A customer photographs an airplane as it passes by at Ngam May Bay café in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre
A customer photographs an airplane as it passes by at Ngam May Bay café in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre
A Malaysia Airlines plane is seen from Ngam May Bay café in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre
A Malaysia Airlines plane is seen from Ngam May Bay café in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre
A Vietnam Airlines plane is seen from Phen's café in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City on March 16, 2021. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre
A Vietnam Airlines plane is seen from Phen's café in Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City on March 16, 2021. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre

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Linh To - Hoang An / Tuoi Tre News

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