Enjoying an evening in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City, officially) is easy. There are so many options that the worry is not what to do, but what you will miss by choosing one activity over another. It would take a year of nights to experience everything Saigon nights have to offer. Here is a list of some of the most sublime:
1. Drink coffee at a local café. Many of these street-side shops have seats akin to lawn chairs. All the chairs are faced out towards the street, making one of Vietnam’s favorite pastimes, traffic watching, possible. These places are perfect spots to find some shade on a hot afternoon or watch the energy level of the city rise on a weekend evening.
2. Barhopping downtown can be expensive, as most bars in this area cater to foreigners. Still, living the expat life, if even for a single night, is interesting. Vietnam has a relatively tight expat community, and the scene is rather easy-going.
3. The area around Pham Ngu Lao is known for cheap drinks amongst the backpacker crowd. There are several places that cater more towards resident expats, especially the English teaching set, but these tend to be more laid back. This is a pretty happening scene, but mostly aimed at tourists.
4. Middle class and upper crust locals head to plush venues either with live music or a DJ. Getting bottle service at these places is the norm, and may set you back $30 to $50 dollars or more. Still, swilling with the city’s elite while enjoying the best service the city has to offer is nice. The fruit plates, muscular air conditioning, scented face towels, and subtly flirtatious bar maids are a welcome change from the gritty city outside.
5. Two words: Bia Hoi. These stall are set up all around the city. From noisy beer halls to plastic chairs set up on the sidewalk next to a hand-painted sign, bia hoi (fresh beer) is an institution in Ho Chi Minh City. Many of these places serve food, though local vendors come by hawking peanuts, rice cakes, and other snacks. This is the quintessential experience that every visitor must have at least once. Things get rowdy later on at many of these places, so enjoying a couple of liters earlier in the evening is a good idea.
This list only scratches the surface of Saigon’s nightlife. There are literally hundreds of other options. Just don’t miss the bia hoi.