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Hẻm Gems: Reading Cabin Sells Stationery, Serves Drinks, and Builds Friendships

If I had to describe Reading Cabin in one phrase, it would be “every cafe in Saigon all at once.”

The first time I heard of Reading Cabin, I realized immediately that it shares a not-so-narrow hẻm with my childhood home. Besides serving drinks, Reading Cabin is also a mini collective attracting the city’s creative youths from all disciplines, including music, design, writing and cinema.

Similar to any other coffee shop in Saigon, one can bump into hordes of office workers chasing deadlines at Reading Cabin. But sometimes, curious middle-aged neighbors in the hẻm pay a visit too. At times, gaggles of children aged 5–6 hang out on the ground floor to toy with the figurines on display, or the miniature bánh mì carts on the wall showcasing Vietnamese culture.

Each section of Reading Cabin is dedicated to a different area of creativity: the entire ground floor highlights local products, from stationery, upcycled backpacks, and mechanical pencils to fascinating reference books for those with a penchant for design.

The stationery space is divided in two, each leading to an upstairs area via a staircase. One is slightly more secluded, outfitted with a bookshelf for your browsing pleasures. The other section has mats so customers can sit on the floor, while the al fresco area is sometimes transformed into an outdoor cinema for movie nights.

True to its name, there are purposeful amenities dedicated to the reading experience, while the “cabin” quality is reflected in the space’s intimate seating areas and the friendly faces that, after a few visits, feel like long-time friends, at least to me.

According to the manager of Reading Cabin, the store-slash-reading-space has been around for four years. After four years in existence, does Reading Cabin identify as a coffee shop, a stationery store, or a library? The answer is all of the above.

“Our starting point was just somewhere for everybody, especially those who share a fondness for stationery and reading, to chill. So right from the beginning, Cabin has set up a space to sell our favorite stationery items, alongside a small library, where people can hide to read books all day.”

“Gradually, some patrons started making drinks to enjoy while reading, we thought it was a brilliant idea — sharing a space to drink, to read, to journal. That was why we decided to establish Cabin in 2021, just as a way to spread our small joy to everyone.”

Reading Cabin features a small bar area to serve customers, making drinks with quirky names like “cà phê bê đê” (queer coffee) — which is cafe sữa đá with a layer of macchiato cream — and alcoholic drinks in the evening.

“Cà phê bê đê can also be known as AsianGayFriend Coffee. The name refers to its creator, a true-blue queer friend of ours. You have to shake your hips vigorously in order to produce a delicious glass of cà phê bê đê. Just try it out if you don’t believe us.”

“There’s also Sai Lầm Mơ Muội Món, a drink with a wide range of tastes from sweet, sour to tannic. If you happen to add too much of something, it’s alright, because we’re all daydreamers.”

The cordial ambiance at Reading Cabin comes from the music playlist, which includes many musical influences from 1990s dream pop and shoegaze, to 1980s new wave, and even 2000s V-pop hits. During one visit, Reading Cabin will take you on a journey through different shades of emotions. While jotting down this review, I was sitting at a table the first floor amid the lingering notes of ‘Venus in Furs’ by The Velvet Underground.

“Our soundtrack is often curated based on the personal taste of each barista. Everybody has their own favorites and playlists. Sometimes there are overlaps because we’re from the same group, but the kiosk’s music is quite diverse. Besides, we put aside specific tracklists for rainy days, sunny days, days with a certain prevailing mood. If you happen to drop by on a day when there’s no music, that’s probably when the barista wants to enjoy a bit of natural ambient sounds, or just simply at a loss of what to listen to.”

Those who have been to Cù Rú Bar, a beloved Hẻm Gem based in Đà Lạt featuring a unique way of interior decoration, attracting a cult following amongst local creatives, would find Reading Cabin very familiar: there’s a tinge of nostalgia, but with a healthy dose of open-mindedness to welcome new values and ways of thinking.

Reading Cabin, to me, is an intersection representing a very Gen Z subculture — somewhere you can turn to when you are toiling with difficult life problems any time of the day from morning to dusk. If you’re struggling to find a new hangout for your friend group, keep Reading Cabin in mind.

Reading Cabin is open from 8am to 10pm.

Reading Cabin

Hẻm 18A/33, Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Đa Kao, D1, HCMC


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