Sam (from Malaysia)
The Saigon nightlife consists of all-night drinking with expats, backpackers, and a bunch of scantily dressed Vietnamese girls. Drinks are cheap. Girls are beautiful. You’re sure to get what you’re looking for whether you want a night you can’t remember or an unforgettable night with an exotic lady.
The main party areas are along Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien in District One. Several bars, restaurants, and budget hotels are there. The Western crowd is mostly young backpackers who like to drink and party, which means that no matter what night you’re out, it’s probably going to be a lively one.
The other typical westerners are the expats. Some are young, others are in their 50’s and 60’s who’ve come to Vietnam to semi-retire. The one thing that they tend to have in common is that most of them are English teachers.
So, the Saigon nightlife is a mixture of people of all ages and nationalities making it an exciting place to be. The city is full of pubs and restaurants, and both locals and foreigners seem to enjoy a good drink… Vietnamese men drink a lot, my observation is that it’s almost a competition between them as to who can drink the most. You’ll hear ‘mot, hai, ba, yo’; this is one, two, three, drink. They then proceed to drink all of the beer in their cup. Five minutes later, it’s repeated and so on.
People are friendly and like to drink with foreigners; expect to be invited over to their table and to join in with their excessive drinking. Vietnamese girls are easy to approach and, if they can speak English, you’re almost guaranteed to be in when you give her a few compliments. The girls in Saigon like the attention of western men, regardless of your age or appearance.
One thing to note with Saigon nightlife venues is that they change names a lot. What was there last year may not be there now. I had a few favourites but they have long since shut down. The best areas for drinking are in the backpacker areas around Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien. Expect a beer to costs around $1.50 there. For the latest tips on the best pubs, speak to some of the other backpackers. If you want to drink with the locals then go to any restaurant away from this area. You’ll be sitting at tiny tables on even tinier chairs at these places, so they might not suit the larger gentleman…
A popular club that has stood the test of time is Apocalypse Now; this is located near the backpacker area in District One. You’ll find a mixture of locals and westerners there, drinks are expensive and drugs are all around as are the prostitutes who work there or freelance there.
Beer clubs are the favourite part of the Saigon nightlife for locals. A beer club is basically like a pub with live music. The waitresses tend to wear very short and revealing dresses, and they’ll try to use their sexuality to sell you the most expensive beer. Drinks are expensive and are consumed in large volumes, every table has a beer tower.
The beer clubs are also prone to the occasional raid by the police. I’ve experienced this and it was scary. The black uniformed police, who are rumoured to be ruthless, marched inside. Everyone fell silent. The police walked around picking out people they did like the look of and started shouting things at them. I’m not sure what was being said but it was aggressive. A little while later everyone went home.
An unusual part of the Saigon nightlife is that some coffee shops double up as clubs. The DJ there is often an attractive young girl wearing clothes that leave little to the imagination. In fact, I’ve heard rumours that some of these venues even turn into strip clubs later in the night, although I’ve never come across it myself.
The nightlife doesn’t come without its problems; hawkers will constantly harass you trying to sell you things that you don’t want. Beggars are everywhere and there is no shortage of petty criminals who will try to pick your pockets. It’s not pleasant, especially when parents send their disabled kids to try to get the sympathy vote. It’s a bad idea to give to beggars as there will be others watching them, as soon as you give anything you’ll be swarmed. Do as the locals and just ignore them completely.
Another thing to be aware of when you’re enjoying the Saigon nightlife is this common scam. At most places, you pay for the drinks at the end. The receipt is on duplicate paper. The top copy is yours. The bottom goes to the bar. Some waitresses pretend to check the receipt and make a tiny marking on the top one, which doesn’t go through to the bottom one. Now, they charge you for the extra drinks and the money goes into their pockets. Always count your drinks and check.
Saigon girls are friendly and it’s easy to start up a conversation with them. Most are happy to practice their English and are eager for the attention of a westerner. The girls you meet after midnight and who are drinking glass after glass of beer are more likely to be up for casual encounters. Friends have met girls this way and are still with them today. Others took them back to their hotel for a lusty night of pleasure.
The Saigon nightlife is also full of prostitutes. Some are more obvious than others.
Be careful if you’re picking up a girl to make sure that they want to come back for sex or if they want to be paid for sex. Foreigners fall for this time and time again. They were naïve enough to think that it was all for fun until the girl starts getting aggressive and starts making a scene.
A night out in Saigon can be dangerous. People aren’t usually violent and most don’t carry weapons but you need to be careful of your possessions. Given any opportunity, the locals will rip you off, scam you or steal from you. A key thing to remember is to never carry a lot of money or leave your belongings unattended for a second. Every day there’s a story of someone having their bag stolen by a speeding motorbike, or cameras and phones went missing from their table…
Drugs and drug dealers seem to be everywhere and the authorities seem to turn a blind eye. You can buy weed and crystal meth in minutes. The latter is often laced with other things such as heroin to dilute the purity. Taking drugs is risky with all the people out to steal from and scam you.
A final safety issue with regard to the Saigon nightlife is the number of drunk drivers all over the place. Like I said before, the Vietnamese like to drink… and then they get on their bikes and drive home! A lot of drivers are drunk or under the influence of drugs on the roads around the bars. Take care when you walk around as pavements are limited.
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