Saigon Nightlife: The Best Bars and Clubs
Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s definitive party city, with its hundreds of bars and clubs to choose from for a proper night out. However, the age-old quality vs quantity argument might not be necessary here as the city’s nightlife scene is quite possibly one of the most diverse in the region. Whether you’re into eardrum-crushing vinahouse music, a low-budget night out for some cheap beers or some good, dark underground techno, there is something for you here.
Welcome to our guide to Saigon’s nightlife!
Backpacker Nightlife in Saigon
Backpackers usually stay and drink in the Pham Ngu Lao District area, along Bui Vien Street.
A slightly subdued version of the infamous Khao San Road in Bangkok, you won’t find a lot of stylish places here. However, many are inexpensive and great for meeting new people.
Bui Vien Street
Although popular with tourists, the Pham Ngu Lao area also masquerades as a slightly low-key red light district, with its countless hostess bars and massage parlours with “extra” services. Just take a walk down the street and if you see an increasing number of pretty ladies smiling at you as you walk, high chance you’re in “that area”.
The most popular (or unpopular) bar in the area is probably Go2 Bar, famous for staying open until morning. It is one of the few after-hours clubs in Saigon although its one-star rating on TripAdvisor might be an indicator that it may not necessarily be the safest option. T & R, a popular tavern along Do Quang Dau road is probably one of the best bars to check out. With an old-school American-styled interior, the ability to play the type of music you like thanks to its open keyboard option and a crowd that’s made up of regulars, it’s a great place to make new friends even if you’re going solo.
Alternatively, you can have a beer at The View in Duc Vuong Hotel, famous for being the most affordable rooftop bar around, or at the quaint Vespa Sofar Bar where you can drink cheap beers while putting together a custom playlist on YouTube.
Generally speaking, there are three kinds of expats in Saigon: those who love the backpacker district, those who hate it and those who pretend they hate it but inevitably end up there every weekend. The second group will prefer more exclusive clubs and bars, which can also be popular with Viet Kieus (Vietnamese who’ve grown up abroad).
Where the Hipper Crowd Goes Out
The Observatory is back! Like so many other indie clubs, bars and cafes in town, they’ve had problems lately in the course of Ho Chi Minh City’s redevelopment campaign but have overcome the worst. The Observatory remains a venue that attracts a hip and music-conscious crowd. Both a rooftop bar and a nightclub, the new location at Cach Mang Thang 8 in District 1 is spacious and boasts an excellent sound system. They routinely host foreign guest DJs who usually play minimal, deep house or world music. Be sure to visit The Observatory later on in the night: the crowds only start to arrive after midnight.
More quality party spots for lovers of underground music include The Lighthouse in District1. Boasting both a lounge space and a chillout area on their roof, they tend to attract a more relaxed and less affluent crowd than higher-end places like Chill Skybar or Glow Skybar.
The Lighthouse is also the spot to check out Saigon’s roster of extremely talented DJs playing with international acts with increasingly-popular events like Heart Beat, TripWire and HRBR.
Vibes, located along Bui Vien provides an option for the budget-conscious raver with a taste for underground music. They regularly host techno nights, featuring notable international and local artists.
Another newly established venue for those who really love underground electronic music is Arcan. Located in a residential zone on Binh Thanh District, the establishment features a restaurant and lounge called the ArcanStone that’s open during the day. The sound-proofed club on the second floor comes to life after dark with a generous array of music you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Asia with genres such as psytrance, raggatek, drum&bass and many others.
You have several bars and clubs where you will meet the same groups of people. The most popular are Broma in District 1, which also hosts the popular Vitamin D after party that starts every Saturday and Sunday morning up to mid-day; Saigon Outcast in District 2 is another eclectic venue which hosts a flurry of activities all year. Colloquially known as “Outcast”, it’s a must-visit for anybody staying in the city longer than just a few days. They organise all kinds of events, have regular movie nights, open mic/DJ nights, farmers’ markets on the weekends, shows and live theatre… and a climbing wall! However, it takes about 20 minutes by taxi to get there from the city centre.
If you’re looking for a similar atmosphere that’s more centrally located, go for Indika, central Saigon’s unofficially official indie bar. It’s tucked away in a backyard off Nguyen Van Giai in District 1, but meandering through two restaurants to get there is half the fun. Reasonable prices and frequent live events make this the perfect place to start your night (but not to end it, as this bar closes at midnight). Their free flow of craft beer for a mere VND 200,000 from 8 to 11 p.m. on Friday nights is a really good deal if you know how to make it worth it...
Another hip place, tucked away in an apartment building on a street off the famous Dong Khoi in District 1, is Layla. Their playlist is more varied than those of other places, as they add some light rock and funky beats to the usual techno-driven musical monotony. If you’re more into talking than listening, escape the loud music in their little green courtyard. Be sure to take a cocktail with you, they’re delicious here!
Lastly, is craft beer still underground in Saigon? Certainly not. The craft beer scene is blowing up in Saigon, Choosing your own cup of beer at Pasteur Street Brewing or East West Brewing Co. Here and in other craft breweries like Rogue Saigon Craft Beer, Heart of Darkness, BiaCraft, The Winking Seal and Belgo you’ll find the same kind of people as at the venues mentioned above, along with our next category: the fancy party people.
The Best Places in Saigon for a Fancy Night Out
Rooftops are everything in Saigon. And the kings of rooftop bars are: Chill Skybar or Glow Skybar.
Chill Skybar is without a doubt the most exclusive rooftop bar in Saigon. On the 26th floor of the AB tower, it attracts an eclectic crowd of international business people, socialites, tourists, expats and wealthy Vietnamese. The view might be the best in all Saigon, especially when the sun sets, which, fortunately, is also the time when they have happy hour with 88,000 VND++ with kinds of drinks.
If you can afford it and if you can get past the strict door policy, it is a recommended place for a classy drink or a date. The music starts to get louder on weekends after 11:00 p.m. and you’ll see people dancing in the bar area until 2:00 a.m.
Note: Though Chill Skybar is expensive for Vietnam’s standards, a typical drink will cost you just above US$10.
Glow Skybar remains a favourite for fancy expats and tourists, as it is even advertised at the airport. It is also a rooftop bar and shares some great features with Chill Skybar: danceable music, a nicely designed open-air area, stunning views and an upscale crowd. The prices don’t differ much from Chill Skybar, either.
Social Club Rooftop Bar on top of the Hotel des Arts Saigon is another rooftop venue of the like, not far from the Turtle Lake in District 3. The music has more of a mainstream feel to it. Drink prices are not cheap, but it definitely gives you a good impression of what typical Saigon nightlife is like.
Social Club Rooftop Bar
Now, what about the ground-floor venues in Saigon? Qui is the currently most trendy place to spend your money in style. Its assets: good music, often paired with little dance interludes by professional dancers, and a great location in Saigon’s always-fun Japanese area. You better dress up some to get in here. Plus, they have a great selection of party drinks.
Other options are the classics Xu Bar and the recently-reopened Blanchy’s Lounge, one next to the other and centrally located on the arterial Hai Ba Trung avenue. They will not be too crowded during the week, but on Fridays and Saturdays you can expect a full house and a very lively atmosphere. The music is generally more mainstream than at other places but Xu especially has some great drinks to offer. Beware the Oyster shot though.
Last but not least, Envy Club caters to both Vietnamese and foreigners and is probably the most spectacular party spot in town with its Las Vegas-style bling-bling decor and staggering acrobatic performances.
The “I Just Wanna Dance All Night Long” Places
Lush is probably the city’s most famous nightclub among foreigners. It is known to be a good pick-up place for both girls and guys. In particular, Lush’s ladies’ night every Tuesday is one of Saigon’s best events for single people. Don’t even think about sipping on a free ladies’ drink here though – they have quite a strict policy!
The infamous Apocalypse Now, often referred to as the oldest nightclub in Saigon, attracts a diverse crowd of late-night revellers, expats, tourists, and – be warned – many freelance sex workers. The music includes popular hits from the past 20 years. The averagely priced drink menu makes it a cheap option for late-night party people; however, best stick to beer here – the cocktails are not recommended.
Piu Piu is a much more recent addition to this category. Sitting right behind the Saigon Opera House, this club boasts two floors with different music styles. The DJs on the lower floor mainly play hip hop, while their upper-floor counterparts put on everything from Michael Jackson to “I Will Survive”.
There are also a roster of events that happen during the week, including the increasingly popular Mid-Week Crisis series every Wednesday which is perfect for those looking for an intimate, yet subdued night out with a beer or two with great music.
Hostess Clubs and Bars
Saigon’s hostess bar (or, colloquially, “girly bar”) scene attracts a mix of office workers, business tourists and flirtatious husbands. The majority of hostess bars in the city are pretty innocent compared to those in the rest of Asia. These will usually have 5-10 young waitresses in sexy dresses chatting with customers in exchange for drinks. Bars of note include Elixir Lounge and Voodoo. Be careful though: some places are actually disguised prostitution joints with private rooms upstairs, particularly on Hai Bai Trung and in Saigon’s Little Tokyo on Ngo Van Nam Street.
Live Music in Saigon
The best options to listen to live music are located inside or next to 5-star hotels. The recommended venues are Catwalk near New World Hotel and Maxim’s. You also have rock clubs like Seventeen Saloon, and Hard Rock Café attached to the Kumho Asiana Plaza.
Image source: thebureauasia.com
If you want to listen to local bands, there are some alternative venues as well such as Fang, Snuffbox, MZ Club, RockFanClub and Yoko. Some years ago, we would definitely have recommended Acoustic Bar but unfortunately, they’ve changed their focus to cater to a more mainstream audience.
Ho Chi Minh City’s nightlife scene for Vietnamese is incredibly huge, yet few foreigners seem to be interested. In District 1 alone, you have at least 15 popular nightclubs, 30 karaoke bars, and twice as many beer bars. If you dare to venture in other districts, you will discover there are hundreds more.
We are big fans of those clubs as they can be great for meeting Vietnamese people. The atmosphere is usually crazier than in more Western clubs. The way they operate is quite different than other venues, though.
Typically, you will be ushered inside by the bouncers as if you were a royalty (or promptly shooed away if it’s a “Vietnamese only” club). They will make space for you to stand at a table and summon a waiter to bring you a menu. Naturally, they expect a generous tip for their services.
Most likely, you will have to buy at least one bottle of alcohol as they won’t sell drinks by the glass.
For this reason, it is best to come with a small group, unless you’re an alcoholic. The bouncers and waiters might offer you the company of ladies/hostesses who will expect some tips as well. They may also bring you an expensive fruit platter that is best to refuse.
Beer Club Saigon
Drinking is part of Vietnamese culture but you rarely see people getting seriously drunk most of the time. Many do overindulge at venues like 030 Club, 212 Club or FOX beer lounge, though, so think twice if you want to join their drinking games.
The latter, however, is among my favourites in Saigon: It is a totally insane place and it should be on top of your list if you want to have a wild night out in Ho Chi Minh City. Located just a few hundred metres away from Bitexco tower, it is packed on weekends with a decadent crowd getting completely hammered in super kitschy decor.
Note: As you are most likely to be the only foreigner inside, it is possible that you won’t be allowed entry.
Beer bars and beer gardens are another craze in Vietnam. You would need more than one liver to try all of them. Vuvuzela Beer bars (several locations), a concept most similar to Hooters in the States, are probably the most famous and popular in the city. You could also check out Kingdom in District 1 and Poc Poc Beer Garden in District 3. All of them have very loud music. For a quieter spot to enjoy a beer, there’s always sports bars such as Red or Phatty’s Pub.
As the Saigon nightlife scene is always rapidly changing, we invite you to leave comments on this page to let us know if any of the nightclubs or bars mentioned here are closed. Don’t hesitate to share your favourite spots with us, too!
Banner Image source: Air 360 Sky Lounge