Even though the American War ended long ago, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) still has a reputation for raunchy nightlife based on the days when it was an R&R centre for US troops looking for a break between hellish tours of the jungle interior.
The powers that be have been doing their best to change this reputation by enforcing midnight closing for some years now, but there’s still a fantastic variety of after-dark activities in this bustling city for all tastes.
Plenty of retail outlets open until very late so it’s easy to spend your evening shopping in one of the city’s many shopping malls or along one of its tourist-oriented streets such as Le Loi. In this way you leave the daytime free for sightseeing and also avoid carting around bags of purchases in the heat of midday
Other ways of spending an evening are at the cinema. Most of these are located in shopping malls, so you could combine shopping and watching a movie. If you’re in the mood for some performance art, check out what’s on at the Municipal Theatre (Tel: +84 (0)8/3829 9976) or the Conservatory of Music (Tel: +84 (0)8/3824 3774). The Binh Quoi Tourist Village stages shows of traditional music and dance at its location out of town.
For most people, though, an evening out means visiting bars for a few drinks and maybe listening to some live music, and in Saigon there are plenty of options. Along Dong Khoi are several welcoming bars such as the Underground and Saigon Saigon in the Caravelle Hotel. This central area is also where you will find lots of nightclubs like the Apocalypse Now, where locals and visitors mix it up on the dance floor.
It’s not unusual for a bar to also function as a live-music venue in the evenings in order to maximise profits, and one of the liveliest places to catch musicians playing is at the Seventeen Saloon on Pham Ngu Lao.
The nearby budget district is the best place to get served after midnight, especially if you drop by Go 2 and Eden Bar, both of which are located on De Tham and usually keep serving as long as there are customers ordering.
This backpacker haven is filled with young hip things dancing until dawn, although visitors should watch their pockets as pickpockets have been known to target sozzled customers staggering home after too many beers.
Ho Chi Minh City
Getting into town by taxi was super easy, cheap and convenient. Got an $7 ticket from the Vinasun booth at the airport, where the attendant took me to the taxi and told me several times not to give the driver any more money. 🙂
Nighttime temperatures were cooler than Bangkok. Strange as it’s more South than Bangkok, it was really rather nice at night. Also it smelled significantly less like a sewer than Bangkok. The taxi ride was highly entertaining as the taxi driver tried to run over as many motorbike riders as possible, or at least that’s what it seemed like. Got to my hotel in no time at all. (Back in Bangkok I counted the number of motorbikes on a similar nighttime run into town, and counted 4. In HCMC, there were 4000 just in the first 10 minutes.)
It’s a very scenic area. Easy to walk. Some touts/guys/idiots trying to strike up a conversation, but with more than enough Bangkok experience I completely ignored them. There seemed to be slightly more of these time wasters than Bangkok, but not by all that much. (And if you’re the gullible type, it only takes one. )
People had warned me about the girlie bars in the Hai Ba Trung area, so of course I had to go in anyway. I don’t think any particular warning is warranted, or at least not one that doesn’t also apply in Bangkok. Found it very similar to, say Soi Cowboy in Bangkok. Some pressure to buy girl’s drinks, but very manageable, and prices were a bit lower than Bangkok. You can easily tell which are the naughty bars as the doors are closed, and they only open them (with girls rushing to the door) as you walk past.
It’s good to note that there are also regular, less ‘hard sell’ bars in the area. I stepped into several and they were very friendly places to hang out for a bit.
Then I tried some more club-like places. Apocalypse Now of course, which is a bit of a dive, similar to freelancer places in Thailand, though perhaps with more young Western travellers there added to the mix. And then Lush club, which is a bit of a poser club, seemingly transported from late 1990’s Bangkok or Chiang Mai. Nothing specifically wrong with it, once the crowd warms up a bit I bet you can have a great night there. Tuesdays is ladies night, so that may be something worth trying a bit later at night. You wouldn’t know which ones are on the game of course, though not sure it actually matters all that much.
Because prostitution seems to be frowned upon, as in: actually illegal AND enforced. This means you can’t just make a friend and take her to your hotel room; it involves all kinds of shenanigans and taxi rides to shady hotels that are off the police’s radar and/or pay them off. This just does not feel tempting to me; honestly: if a country wants to make it this hard to have s-ex with it’s population, then maybe they just don’t deserve some Western meat? Not having gained first hand experience I don’t know exactly how hard or dodgy it would be, but looking at the number of bars and girls, many people easily find ways around it. However it still feels like an added layer of inconvenience, seediness and potential risk that would put me personally completely off the idea, even if I wasn’t married.
I’ll definitely go back. And as a city it’s a nicer place to be than Bangkok, IMHO.