Nightlife & Entertainment in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, has developed itself into a backpacking and tourist hotspot in South-East Asia. Vietnam as a whole is finding itself becoming more and more popular among travelers and Ho Chi Minh City is rapidly becoming the front for the new and modernized Vietnam even if the appearance does not always match the reality. When compared to Hanoi in the north, Ho Chi Minh City has always appeared to be somewhat more liberal and free thinking (probably due to it resisting communism for so long) and this corresponds to some of its entertainment activities such as the nightlife.

We are going to look at several aspects of entertainment in Ho Chi Minh City from what you can do as a family, for backpackers or for a crazy weekend in the city that is trying to rival some of the best in South-East Asia.


Family Entertainment

On first impressions Ho Chi Minh City does not seem as though it holds much in the way of family entertainment. The city has become the financial center of Vietnam although Da Nang is quickly overtaking it in regards to development and this has created an impression of a business city with some good tourists attractions – Cu Chi Tunnels for example – but little else. The concrete jungle portrayal of the city and the thousands of commuters filling the buses and beeping their horns doesn’t dispel this perception however the reality is different and for families there is a lot to do in the city.

One thing that the city does make very good use of is green space and while not an entertainment facility in the strictest sense of the word it is useful to know. There are many parks throughout Ho Chi Minh City and often in the most unusual places; for example you can walk for blocks with just shops and businesses to find a small park full of trees, greenery and people meditating. Especially for kids this is good because it provides a brief respite from the chaos of the traffic. The South in general is also blessed with more water parks and amusement parks – the Suoi Tien Theme Park being a good example. While these facilities may not live up to our ideas of what health and safety should be (although they are getting better) they do provide a fun day out for the family and a good break from the often serious nature of Vietnamese culture and history.

Furthermore, Ho Chi Minh City, like Hanoi in a way and certainly Da Nang, is modernizing at a quick rate and this means more modern facilities and entertainment activities. There are many cinemas in Ho Chi Minh City with many of them being built within the past few years. While traveling all the way to Vietnam to go to the cinema may seem a bit strange when you have been in the country for a few weeks taking some time out and visiting somewhere modern and like home (especially with kids) can be a great way to spend an evening. Ticket prices are a lot cheaper than back home with $4 or $5 getting entry into the new films. While they will have Vietnamese subtitles it isn’t really an issue and The Galaxy cinema which is in District 1 would be the closest for tourists and they show new releases in English.

For younger children there are many soft play areas in the city as well that are a lot better regulated and safer than you would imagine in a country such as Vietnam. Taking kids on a tour of the country while trying to keep them occupied when seeing attractions like the Opera House or the Reunification Palace can be difficult however play areas such as the BeeBee Activity Center which costs about $5 for entry is a good way to keep them entertained.


Nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City

If during the day in Ho Chi Minh City is dedicated to sightseeing for tourists or working for locals then nighttime is for coming alive. The most popular areas to head for nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City include the general downtown area, Hai Ba Trung Street, Dong Khoi Street, and Pham Ngu Lao Street.

Let’s start with the less rowdy of travelers first. There are several night markets throughout the city which provide an authentic Vietnamese experience where you can generally expect to shop well up until midnight. The main one is located outside of the Ben Thanh Market which starts operating after 6pm. Here you can savor local food, drinks, culinary treats and bargain for some inexpensive clothes and gadgets as well. It is an all-round relaxed atmosphere at the night markets in Ho Chi Minh City and the vendors are certainly less pushy than they are during the day.

For the party goers then you have Bui Vien Street. If you ever wanted to find a part of Vietnam that was approaching how areas of Bangkok are then you would head straight to Bui Vien Street. That isn’t to say that the relatively short road is a full on red light district – just a bit of it – but it is clearly aimed at the backpacking crowd. On this street you will find countless bars with both inside and outside seating selling cheap drinks and music blaring from all angles. Indeed, the street in itself is becoming a snapshot of what many parts of Ho Chi Minh City are aspiring too; perhaps not as full on but certainly more lively and keeping the doors open later than in Hanoi. In this area you can get a drink easily at 1am or 2am whereas in the north you will be lucky to find any signs of life on the streets at this point unless you know where to go. So, if you are a backpacker or traveler who enjoys a drink and a party then head to the Bui Vien area of Ho Chi Minh City.

As a general rule, bars that offer live music will not charge a door fee, although you can expect to pay a bit more for drinks ranging in price between 55,000-85,000 VND for beer and spirits. However, be advised that most bars and nightclubs will close at about midnight although some of the younger orientated bars such as the Go2 Bar on Pham Ngu Lao Street will stay open until 2am.

We’ve already said that things tend to stay open longer in Ho Chi Minh City than in the north and this is true of nightclubs as well. The Cage nightclub not far from the Saigon Post Office on Ton Duc Thang is perhaps the most international of clubs beyond the ones that are found on Bui Vien and there is an active clubbing scene in the city that isn’t really present anywhere else in the country.

Some places such as the Dung Du St ZanZbar vary their closing time based on the amount of people in the bar at different times of the night. Bars that cater to the young Vietnamese population are usually open to three to four in the morning and bottle beer joints similarly have late closing times.

Discos and live music clubs tend to be the most popular forms of nightlife although in the tourist bars you will find locations with billiards, darts, and sports games from back home on their television sets. In addition, expat bars often hold quiz nights which are popular. Le Pub located off Pham Ngu Lao at the Bui Vien intersection offers a popular quiz night on Tuesdays if you happen to be in Ho Chi Minh City.

For lively nightlife then Ho Chi Minh City certainly holds its own. Most of this is down to the large influx of tourists that are now coming into Vietnam however this has just helped to further the entertainment adult and night time options in the city and Ho Chi Minh City as a whole is starting to feel the benefits of it.


Adult Entertainment

Adult entertainment and a ‘red light’ experience are also popular in Ho Chi Minh City and there are some bars and nightclubs that cater specifically to those looking for working girls, although even though they are fairly blatant in what they are, they are perhaps not as outgoing as their neighbors in Thailand. Ho Chi Minh City does have an active ‘red light’ scene however it is not as confined to one area although some bars on Bui Vien as well as District 3 of the city.

Bars such as Oblivion located on Bui Vien are popular locations for this and are generally low key meaning that if you tell a girl you are uninterested they will move onto another gentleman without any problems.

It goes without saying that you should keep your wits about you when you go to these bars and areas with robberies much higher than the rest of the city; a common tactic is for two women to approach you on a bike, one quickly grabs the one out your pocket, jumps back on the bike and drives off into the night. Another thing to look out for is your bill. Many bars – usually the ones with girls – put you on a tab so you don’t pay for your drink as soon as you get it however this can end up in you having several drinks added to your bill that you never agreed to so just keep an eye on what you have drunk or who you have bought a drink for.


Karaoke

Normally when someone is asked to do karaoke it creates a feeling of dread and fear; singing in front of others is not an enjoyable pastime for a lot of people however Vietnam is different. Most Vietnamese like nothing more than getting in front of everyone and singing a song at karaoke and, as such, there are literally hundreds of karaoke places throughout Ho Chi Minh City and indeed thousands throughout the whole country. No party or night out is complete with karaoke is seems.

Many small bars will also have karaoke facilities. While they may not be a karaoke bar in the strictest sense of the word most will have a microphone and some karaoke tunes for people to blast out their favorite song after a few too many rice wines. With the Vietnamese it isn’t really an issue over how good or bad you are at karaoke rather it comes down to taking part and even if you are absolutely terrible it isn’t a problem in their eyes however in front of a bar full of backpackers that is a different issue. iBox Karaoke on Duong So and King Karaoke on Thai Van Lung are two popular locations for tourists.


Other Options

Not everyone is traveling with kids to Ho Chi Minh City and not everyone wants to party and wake up the next day with a hangover so if you fall into this category then there are other activities to do. Sometimes sitting in a café and watching everything go on is a great way to experience the city and Ho Chi Minh City certainly has an abundance of café’s. Coffee is a speciality here and if you don’t fancy the big chains like Highland Coffee (or, indeed, Starbucks which has recently opened its doors) then there are many independent and smaller outlets littered throughout District 1.

Finally the Bitexco Financial Tower which is a huge skyscraper built in District 1 over the past few years and offers some stunning views of the city at night. Entrance is not cheap (200 000 VND or $10) however if you head up to the top floor at night time then you can spend a while gazing at the city come alive and there is a bar and café there too.

Ho Chi Minh City is favored by many over Hanoi due to its more lively nature. While Hanoi is fast getting a reputation for having good nightlife it is not yet on the same par as Ho Chi Minh City in the south. From the red light bars in District 3 to the rowdy backpackers in Bui Vien Street the city has a growing abundance of nighttime haunts that aim to cater for every need. Not only this but is also provides many entertainment facilities for families as well with exciting markets and universal entertainment such as the cinema.


Safety

All in all Ho Chi Minh City is actually quite safe at night. While some areas such as around District 3 and the Le Lai Park can be dangerous if you are walking on your own – robberies are quite common – there is little threat of actual violent crime especially against foreign visitors. The city is trying to market itself to tourists and keeping them safe is one of the main elements of this. Ho Chi Minh City may be making a name for itself as the financial powerhouse in a developing country like Vietnam however it is also raising its profile and providing more and more entertainment activities for locals and tourists alike.