Give a book, receive a free coffee at Old Saigon Cafe

June 14, 2020 - 08:36

Every Sunday, customers at Sài Gòn Năm Xưa (Old Saigon) Cafe can pay for their drinks by bartering a book.

By Việt Dũng

The Sài Gòn Năm Xưa (Old Saigon) book cafe in HCM City's District 1 allows visitors to barter books for drinks. VNS Photo Việt Dũng

Every Sunday, customers at Sài Gòn Năm Xưa (Old Saigon) Cafe can barter books for drinks.

At the book cafe, visitors are surrounded by shelves full of many kinds of books, both old and new. 

The cosy atmosphere is a great place to have a coffee, cocoa or juice while making friends with like-minded book lovers.

Lê Bá Tân, who opened the cafe more than a year ago, told Việt Nam News: “I've always wanted to open something like this ever since high school. Eventually, I had enough resources and managed to fulfil my dream so I could display my favourite books and connect with other book lovers like myself.”

The idea of allowing customers to barter books for drinks was first carried out in March, but the cafe had to stop the activity because of the social distancing rule during the coronavirus pandemic. It resumed on May 10.

“Our ‘pay for a drink with books' is something we are doing to attract book lovers and help them connect with others here. The books are a reason for people to come here and socialise and learn from one another through books,” Tân said as he placed books on a shelf.


Lê Bá Tân, owner of the book cafe (right), wants to encourage people to read more. - VNS Photo Việt Dũng

Tân has no specific requirements for the books, and accepts almost any genre, from comics to textbooks to novels, as long as the books are still physically intact.

Many young book lovers have been willing to part with their books – even if the books were worth more than a drink – to contribute to the cafe’s massive collection of literature for future readers.

Every Sunday, besides bartering books for drinks, a wooden stand stacked with books is set up in front of the cafe where visitors can get a book for free or exchange one of their books for one on display.

The cafe also holds discussions about books and Việt Nam’s culture.


Visitors enjoy their drinks while chatting with other book lovers or reading a book from the cafe’s massive collection of literature. VNS Photo Việt Dũng

Trần Đức Huy, who sells books online, visits the cafe three times a week. On one Sunday, he brought six foreign and Vietnamese books, which allowed him and his wife to stay for a long time since they were equivalent to six drinks! 

He said the cafe was a nice place for university students and for anyone who wants to find new reading materials.

"While the book-drink exchange programme does not yield much profit, the activity is not organised every day. It helps visitors make friends," Huy said, adding that “people can share the joy of reading with each other".

Another visitor, Đặng Thị Mỹ Tiên, told Việt Nam News that her friend who had introduced her to the cafe said that its atmosphere was lovely. 

Tiên, who has a fondness for nostalgic things, really likes the place and encourages people to exchange books they have read with other people. 

She described the cafe as a "bridge that connects book lovers". 

“Almost everyone here is a book lover, and each book can provide various topics for us to talk about. Strangers can talk about books as if they know each other. Even non-book lovers can hang out here and slowly develop a liking for reading,” Tiên said.

Besides Vietnamese patrons, the cafe has a small but frequent foreign visitor base, with around 10 visitors every day. They tend to buy books about Việt Nam’s culture and history written in English.

“With our current activities, we hope to work with other organisations in a small way to draw more people towards books. People should care more about books and read to gather knowledge that can help them in everyday life,” Tân said.  VNS

To watch our video about the cafe, scan this QR code with your mobile device.