I read an article recently that stated that nightlife in Saigon was pretty much non-existent.
Was this the same city in which I chose to live two and a half years ago? I found it hard to believe. The same city where I have frequently stayed up for 24 hours, drinking, partying and having a great time? The same city where market traders start work as late night revelers wobble past on their way home? The same city where many drinkers go straight to the office from the myriad of pubs, bars, nightclubs, karaoke rooms and other venues? I was beginning to think I had imagined it all.
I moved to Saigon, now of course called Ho Chi Minh City, in 2013, originally for just two months. I had a short writing gig and thought it would be fun to stick around for a while. Two and a half years later I’m still here, still enjoying life and still getting home at 4 a.m. on a regular basis.
After-hours bars in District 1
This is the main business and entertainment area, and there is no doubt that the vast majority of the late night watering holes are to be found here.
In the backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lao you’ll find a full-on 24-hour party town. This is Saigon’s answer to Bangkok’s Khao San Road, though not quite as spoiled. It is here that you’ll find cheap beer and hostesses in abundance. Along Bui Vien, which runs parallel to the Pham Ngu Lao, as it has come to be known, the trendy hipster types and old school expats gather seven nights a week. This whole area never sleeps.
Young foreigners in Ho Chi Minh City’s backpacker area in District 1. File photo
Just across from here, moving towards the river, you’ll find a group of bars spread across the few blocks that run between Pasteur and Ho Tung Mau. On Ton That Dam in the middle of the old wet market, Chilli Pub serve many after-hours revellers with beer, wine and spirits until 4 a.m. seven days a week. This is one of the best bars in town if you like the atmosphere of a pub where everyone knows everybody else.
If trendy nightclubs are more your thing, Apocalypse Now and Lush are two of the better known after-hours clubs. These two venues are very popular among the young, trendy set who like to party all night long. Apocalypse is one of the oldest late night dancing and drinking venues in town. Lush is newer but has created quite a stir in recent years. It is extremely popular with clubbing fans. All of these venues are gay-friendly in a city that has a healthy attitude to gay and lesbian people. Probably the most popular gay bar in the city is Centro, where the gay community meets to party, dance and watch the late night cabaret.
Cafés and karaoke
Many people of course come to Asia and don’t want to do the same things as they do back home. Saigon has such a variety of things to do that you don’t see in the West.
The city has hundreds of cafés selling amazing tea and coffee, many of these open late also. Walking home in the early hours of the morning you will pass many old style, hole in the wall type places that are popular with the locals. Old guys sit enjoying drinks, chatting and generally chilling out. They will often invite you to join them and are almost always happy for you to join if you ask. I quite like this scene; even with no common language it’s fun to sit and relax with the locals.
The phenomenon that is karaoke is evident across the city. In most districts you will find karaoke houses. To Westerners this is a strange phenomenon indeed. The idea of going to a venue that specializes in karaoke is rather odd. Of course some of these are nothing more than a place for working girls. Some though are legitimate. As with all things in Saigon, it can be difficult to tell the difference.
Beyond District 1
While the main attractions are inside District 1, they are by no means confined to it.
In District 3, The Acoustic Bar has live music concerts every night except Sundays from 9:00 p.m. While the music generally ends around midnight, people hang around drinking into the wee small hours.
Over in District 4, the dance floor in Cargo Bar remains packed until the sun comes up. Opening in 2013 this place has garnered a huge following.
In District 2, late night drinking can be a bit hit and miss, which is surprising considering the very large expat community here. BMV and the Buddha Bar sometimes open very late but it tends to depend on how busy they are, which can be frustrating at times. The Billiard Clubs along Tran Nao however are always open very late. So if playing pool and drinking are your thing, then these can really be great fun.
The fact is that like most thriving modern cities, Ho Chi Minh City has plenty to offer after midnight, and in some cases right through the night.
This is definitely a 24-hour party town.
* Editor’s note: The view is personal and does not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Thanh Nien News.
Keith Hancock is a blogger who now lives in Ho Chi Minh City. The article was originally published on City Pass Guide. You can also read more from his blog.