Hello Kitty

Enjoy some feline cuddling with your cuppa

Located on the second floor of a three-story house is probably the only cat café in Saigon. Ailu Café (284C Nguyen Trong Tuyen, Phu Nhuan) is small, and the furniture is simple. An oversized scratching tree stands in the middle of the floor. Old paint is peeling off the walls and the smell of cat urine hangs in the heavy air. A dedicated team of staff cleans 24 hours a day, but are unable to keep up with the 30 cats that live there. The cafe is hugely popular (their Facebook page shows 20,000 plus “likes”) but yet it’s struggling to survive.

Cat cafe1

“It is not clear in the name, but we are actually more of a cat shelter than a cafe business,” explains Giang, co-founder of Ailu Cafe. “We’re trying our best just to survive. But we don’t have huge profit margins so we don’t have the strength to improve things yet.”

Giang and her childhood friend started the café in 2010. “We used to collect stray cats and dogs and care for them in our houses when we were young, and when they were strong enough or old enough, we’d try finding new homes for them. At times, we’d have 10 to 15 cats between us,” Giang shares. “When we grew up, it became pretty clear that we would keep doing this for the rest of our lives. Our parents protested, but we figured we might as well make it work somehow, make it sustainable. Providing a place for cat lovers was the easiest thing to start with. Since then, it’s been a tough road.”


When asked why they didn’t open an animal shelter instead, Giang replies. “You can’t survive as a nonprofit cat shelter in a country where people prefer their cats on a plate. It just doesn’t work. To be able to change things and make it better, you have to be able to provide people something of value.”

The Cost of Caring

The majority of the cats (and sometimes dogs) in Ailu Cafe are either strays or abandoned by their owners. “People can pay VND10 million to VND20 million to have a pretty pet to play around with, but then just as easily discard them. They are not things but actual living, breathing creatures that need feeding, cleaning and attention, and when their owners realize this, I guess some of them just didn’t prepare themselves for the responsibility.”

Cat cafe 2

The cost of caring for the animals, many of which did not arrive at the cafe in good health, is high. “When we opened we started having problems we never planned for,” says Giang. The neighbors were the first to protest against the smell and noise. Then officials came regularly to check on the cafe. The worst, however, were the many health issues that arose from keeping so many animals together in a small, confined space. “When one gets sick, there’s a high chance the entire pack will contract the virus as well. Usually we try to preempt the spread. If we spot a cat or dog not doing well or not eating as much as they are supposed to, we bring them to the vet and isolate them.”


Even with these preemptive measures, things sometimes get ugly. A couple of months ago, the pack at Ailu suffered a seasonal disease that saw the death of 15 cats and kittens. Giang and the staffs managed to save the 30 remaining lot, but it was a bitter and sobering lesson for the young team.

However, that wasn’t the only loss the cafe suffered this year. Giang’s partner left, citing the burden too much for her. The original two-friend team is now down to one. “I have no intention of giving up. We have gone a long way since the start. We have managed to pay off our initial investment and the animals are loved and cared for here. We also have plans for the future. We managed to save up some money. Next year, we will open a pet store downstairs and try to get more money to come in. If we are well funded, then we can do more. You’ll see. Things will change for the better.”

“My college doesn’t allow pets so I come here. It’s not so bad here. I mean, my room is dirtier… and has no fluffy cats to hug.”

“I can’t get enough of these guys. Their fur is just so soft… even if they shed like crazy. But hey, I wear jeans.”


“I’ve been working here for a while now. It’s tough yeah, but we do good work.”

Cat cafe

“I like to work while surrounded by these guys. They help me focus. Yes, despite the smell.”

Catcafe owner

“Things will change, for the better.” – Giang, co-founder and sole owner of Ailu


Images by Neil Featherstone

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