Sunday, December 30, 2018

Vietnam After Dark – A guide to the best nightlife activities in Ho Chi Minh City

Fresh off my trip to Bali, I was thinking where else I should go when 2019 comes rolling around. I have to admit, I was tempted to fly further than South East Asia, but then again, there are still tons of unexplored countries within SEA that I have not been to, one of which is Vietnam. 

So I did some digging and thought perhaps I should put together something for those keen on visiting Vietnam as well, in particular, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city by population. While taking up just a mere 0.6% of the country’s land area, it contains 8.34% of the country’s population and 20.2% of its GDP. This high octane city of both commerce and culture has driven Vietnam forward with effervescent energy. The city breathes life and vitality into all who settle here, and visitors cannot help but be hauled along for the ride.
While Saigon (as it was formerly and still quite affectionately known) is amazing and bustling during the day, the night takes Ho Chi Minh City to a whole new level. Known as a city that never sleeps, Ho Chi Minh City is brimming with a myriad of pursuits and activities after the sun goes down to please just about anyone. While lively and vibrant, it can also be quaint and peaceful. All these factors contribute to Ho Chi Minh City’s uniqueness – which one truly has to experience to appreciate.

So, from live music to street dining to cultural pursuits to simply taking in the city lights, here’s a brief guide to Ho Chi Minh City after dark, and one which I will definitely want to explore when I make it one of my priority trips in 2019:

Getting the authentic music experience
Ho Chi Minh City comes alive after dark with its vibrant music scene – Photo by Sam Sherratt
Ho Chi Minh City has garnered a solid reputation in recent times for its great live music scene. From smooth jazz to heavy rock and everything in between, there most likely is an establishment that caters to your music preference. Sing along, dance or just enjoy watching the show. On open mic nights you can even go up and sing! Just don't get me up there unless you want it to rain :p

Gigs are fairly well spread out across the city so you should never be too far from some singalong fun, and if you are staying in the popular areas of District 1 or 3, then music aficionados will certainly be spoilt for choice for an authentic music experience.

And while we’re on the topic of live music, Karaoke fans will love to know that Vietnam has taken this favourite Asian pastime to a whole new level. In Ho Chi Minh City, it’s not unusual to find grand lounges, decorated so lavishly as if they were expecting royalty! Rooms can be booked for as low as RM130.00 per group, which includes drinks, finger food and hours of singing your heart out to Backstreet Boys, Michael Learns to Rock, Guns ‘n’ Roses or any artist that tickles your fancy. The playlists are endless. I know what I will be singing to when I go there, no one can take me away from Westlife and MLTR!

Street food galore

Savouring local delicacies is a must in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City stands out as a place in the world where you can enjoy tasty food on the streets. Here, you will find so many standalone or groups of stalls scattered around the city. Locals love sitting on the sidewalk and enjoying a hot bowl of soup or dish of rice after a hard day’s work. Check out Co Bac and Co Giang, two of the most popular street food alleyways.

Indeed, the streets of Ho Chi Minh City are legendary for serving up a smorgasbord of culinary delights to please just about any palate, from uniquely Vietnamese dishes, ranging from savoury noodle soups to steamed rice cakes. Most dishes here will cost you less than RM5, so it’s easy on the wallet too! I guess that's one of the perks of travelling to a SEA country, as most of them are quite affordable so you won't burn a big hole in your pocket.

Also worth checking out is the Phan Ngu Lao area, a popular hub for backpackers, which garners a steady stream of local and foreign visitors at night. When the brightness of the daytime is replaced by the darkness of night, the area takes on an impressive persona with dozens of Bia Hoi stalls, restaurants, bars and street food vendors. Also noteworthy are the small but beautiful restaurants which serve up a variety of Vietnamese traditional dishes and Western food.

A bit of culture at Ben Thanh Market and Saigon Opera House
Immerse yourself in local culture at the Ben Thanh Market 
 For a glimpse of Vietnamese culture, head on down to Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1. This is certainly a great place to buy local handicrafts, branded goods, Vietnamese art and other souvenirs. Although busiest during the day, night time brings many food vendors onto the streets serving a wide variety of seafood, as well as many fashion stalls and souvenir type stalls. The night market is set up alongside the market on Phan Boi Chau Street and becomes a pedestrian zone from 7pm to 11pm so you can browse at your leisure. Be prepared to haggle as prices may start a little high. I for one, am prepared to go to any lengths to get what I want for a good bargain.

Like I mentioned earlier when it comes to street food, there is an unending supply of good food available. Here, you’ll also find eating stalls inside the market where you can get a taste of hawker-style Vietnamese cuisine or simply cool off with a cold drink when the bargaining becomes too much. When night falls, restaurants around the perimeter of the market open their doors creating a vibrant streetside scene filling the air with the scents of wok-fried noodles, barbecued fish and meats. One of Saigon’s oldest landmarks, Ben Thanh offers a great atmosphere that is absolutely authentically Vietnamese.

Meanwhile, for a different side of culture, a visit to Saigon Opera House is a must, especially when the sun goes down. Also known as Municipal Theater, the Saigon Opera House is a beautiful colonial building in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City with a stunning facade of ornate winged statues and curved window frames. Inside, the culturally inclined are able to witness the best of the fine arts that visit Vietnam seasonally, and although there are no consistent performances, events are common. Performances range from ballet and musical concerts to Vietnamese traditional dances and live theatre. Performances are advertised around the building and information can be found in the state-operated tourist information center close by.

Bask in the city lights
Venture into the city at night for a glimpse of Ho Chi Minh City’s dazzling city lights
If architecture and night scenery is your thing, then Ho Chi Minh City is definitely a city for you to explore. Walking around Ho Chi Minh City is the best way to get around, especially at night. If you head over to the city center, around Nguyen Hue Boulevard, you will have easy access to spectacular attractions such as the City Hall, Notre Dame Cathedral, Post Office and Opera House. All these buildings are so beautiful at night when the floodlights come on. Wandering through the maze of alleyways is also fun. Not to mention, hitting your 10k footsteps streak when you'

For a bird’s eye view of the city lights, visit Bitexco Financial Tower - the high-rise building in Saigon with a total of 68 stories - enabling guests to take exquisite shots of the city from above. Inside the tower, the Saigon Sky Deck provides visitors with a spectacular panoramic view of the bewitching cityscape at a height of 178 meters. Say no more, this is definitely going to be my first pit stop in the city when I arrive! The building also houses a complex which comprises a shopping center, cinemas, restaurants, and coffee shops.

Getting there
Enjoy flying with Vietjet!
If you like what you’re reading, then Ho Chi Minh City is definitely a place for your next holiday – and getting there is easy too. While Vietnam, in general, is easily accessible via a host of airlines, Vietjet operates daily flights direct from Kuala Lumpur to Ho Chi Minh City.

As they say, getting there is half the fun and nobody makes this adage truer than Vietjet. Vietnam’s new-age budget airline, which is known for its “fun and quirky” offering and service at affordable rates, is fast winning over travellers to become one of the region’s favourite airlines.

So there you have it, a quick guide to Ho Chi Minh City at night – so for all night owls out there, this could very much be the destination for you!

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Til the next time, stay beautiful!


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