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Confronted with the noise, the pollution and the hectic pace of Ho Chi Minh City, weekend getaway locations like Mui Ne, Da Lat or the Phu Quoc Island become de facto choices for a romantic evening, a candle-lit dinner in secluded comfort.

But amidst the din, the dust and the bustle lie several secret places where you can take your loved one for a solitary escape into a totally different, even unexpected atmosphere.

These places are not museums, theaters or parks, but special restaurants and cafés.

Thanh Nien Weekly presents a sampling of these sites.

On Dang Tat Street in District 1, the Cuc Gach (The Brick) Restaurant has the feel of an authentic retreat. A small half-open wooden gate welcomes you into a lemon grass scented house with a courtyard that lets the sun in, but keeps its harshness out. After passing a small pond that connects two different dining rooms we get to the first floor from where a part of the red tiles of the roof is visible.

The woods, trees, water and space, complement the interiors of the restaurant that features a small library and an impressive wine collection in addition to chic artifacts.

Cuc Gach offers a wide selection of traditional Vietnamese healthy food, but expats in the know recommend its pumpkin flowers stir-fried with garlic, tofu fried with lemon grass and the sweet-sour fish soup with pineapple and traditional herbs.

River life

Appropriately named, The Deck offers a luxury of space and breathtaking views. It has a sort of "secret lane" that leads to a spacious courtyard (where Yoga classes take place in the morning) and a curve in the Saigon River appears at a location where it expands and flows strongly, wild coconut grows along the opposite bank. The boats and ships going past do not disturb the tranquility. A table for two at The Deck during sunset makes for a beautifully romantic evening.

Managed by Adrian Scott, an English chef who decided to move to Vietnam after falling in love with Vietnamese street-side food, The Deck promotes southern Vietnamese dishes. The fruit salads and fresh spring rolls come highly recommended.

Tasteful elegance

Located in the heart of the city near the Notre Dame Cathedral, Au Parc offers French and Middle-Eastern cuisine. The view of the park from a window seat perfectly compliments the sandwiches, pasta, steaks and rich varieties of coffee that the restaurant is famous for.

Au Parc has three dining rooms on the ground and first floor. Window views to the park with its big trees and French-style furniture and paintings are particular strengths. If you want to chill out with friends for a whole afternoon, take a trip to the dining room loaded with plush couches and colorful African cushions.

"At Au Parc, the furniture, sofa, everything is tastefully and superbly organized. There is always good music, good salads and good coffee," said Alessia Adelfio, a regular Italian customer.

Arabian nights

Warda is a unique Middle-Eastern hideaway restaurant. Located in a small alley off Mac Thi Buoi Street, Warda sports bold red colors and a romantic, exotic ambience on the ground floor. The first floor is bathed in jade blue and beaded curtains dropping from the ceiling, give it a distinct Middle-Eastern feel. Warda is famous for the traditional shisha, an Arabian water pipe. Order a dose of flavored tobacco (strawberry, apple and cherry) and settle in for a long languorous smoke.

"There are many modern restaurants in Saigon. So it is good for a change to go to a restaurant like Warda. The atmosphere here is always pleasant," said Martino Castellani, a regular patron.

Another place to enjoy Middle-Eastern food is the Cashah café lounge & restaurant with its domed small and big dining rooms and a great view of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Cashah also serves the shisha pipe and fruity tobacco.

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