Review: Tro Lai — Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Tro Lai is a small adult oriented lounge in Ho Chi Minh City. It is what the Vietnamese refer to as a caphe om. Directly translated that means it is a hugging cafe. A few days ago I reported on Chile’s coffee with legs. I have reported on Vietnam’s caphe om in the past but I have never reviewed any shops specifically.

Tro Lai is located at 698 Pham The Hien street in the city’s District 8. It is one of several similar shops on the same strip including a place just steps away called Tro Lai 2 at 726 Pham The Hien. These places probably would not be obvious to the casual observer at all. They typically have a sign outside with nothing more than a name. There is no indication of what goes on inside anywhere on the exterior.

ca phe om in ho chi minh city

Caphe om in this part of town normally sit back from the street. They have open fronts yet they are difficult or impossible to see into from the street. Tro Lai is no exception.

The place has a glass front with doors that are usually kept open. Inside there are several rows of the kinds of lounge chairs that are common in low rent cafes all around Vietnam and Cambodia. There are also two or three women on staff who are there to entertain the male customers who enter.

The lighting is kept low though it is definitely possible to see the entire place once inside. Some type of techno style music plays in a never ending stream in the background.

The women at Tro Lai range in age in looks from average twenty-five-year-olds to very worn out women in their thirties or forties. They wear dresses or shorts and tight blouses. Although none can speak English they do welcome foreigners who happen to wander inside.

When customers enter they are asked to order a drink. Although the place is technically a cafe coffee is not actually available. Drinks like cans of local beer poured over ice in a glass are the usual fair. Cans of non-alcoholic beverages are sometimes also available but there are no guarantees. A drink costs around 60,000 Dong ($2.64 USD).

After a customer sits down and orders he is joined by one of the available women. With only two or three women on staff the customers don’t necessarily get to choose who they would like to sit with. Whoever does accompany them usually sits on their lap though occasionally they will sit next to customers instead.

Normally the women flirt with customers or make small talk but that is not possible with customers who do not speak Vietnamese. The women do not typically come right out and offer sex to customers either though some will confess their availability when asked in a polite and discreet manner. Typically that means they will tell a customer they can go to a hotel for 800,000 Dong ($35 USD) or something similar.

Some of the women will not offer sexual services or at the very least reserve such service for selected customers. Others are a lot more open. The older and more desperate looking women are the most willing which is not surprising.

No sexual services seem to be available inside the cafe itself from any of the women on staff. There are lots of tales of all kinds of sexual activities going on in caphe oms. It is often joked about by Vietnamese people. In reality there are some places where action is available and many others where it is absolutely is not. These days the places that do not offer any services on premises seem to be more common.

Unlike some other more popular hugging cafes nearby Tro Lai never seems to get very busy. That may be due to the small staff though other factors probably also come into play. I can’t profess to have any special insight into the mind of the average Vietnamese caphe om customer.

Tro Lai, 698 Pham The Hien, Quan 8, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Open every day from afternoon until late night. Click here for a map.

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