Ho Chi Minh City boasts a good range of nightlife, so there’s no need to head back to your hotel once dinner is through, although an ongoing crackdown on late opening means you’ll probably be tucked up in bed by midnight unless you’re in the De Tham area. Later at night, a number of clubs get going, though they often have short lifespans unless they are under the protection of a major hotel. Things seem a bit looser around the budget district, where several places open all night. The free monthly magazines The Word and Asia Life carry up-to-the-minute listings of the city’s latest bars, plus the hottest new clubs and any more highbrow entertainment on offer.
Bars and pubs in Ho Chi Minh City range from hole-in-the-wall dives to elegant cocktail lounges that would not be out of place in a European capital. The area around Dong Khoi is predictably well endowed, and another boozy enclave exists around Le Thanh Ton, Hai Ba Trung and Thi Sach, where a glut of places, ranging from slick yuppie haunts to watering holes that hark back to the raunchy GI bars of the 1960s, has developed to cater for expats renting apartments nearby. At the other end of the scale, all the cheap restaurants and cafés around De Tham turn their hand to drink at night – fine if you’re willing to forego atmosphere in order to save a dollar or two on a beer, and great for meeting like-minded tourists. Many of the bars listed below feature live music either every night or at the weekend. In most places, such as 17 Saloon, you’ll find Filipino bands performing well-rehearsed covers of current hits and old favourites, though there’s also a growing base of local musicians who are making a name for themselves in venues like Thi Café and Yoko. It isn’t unheard-of for big showbiz names from the West to make appearances in HCMC (Bob Dylan was here recently), so check out the local press for details. Prices vary wildly: a Saigon beer at a streetside café in De Tham will cost you around $1, but you can multiply that by four or five in a more upmarket bar on Dong Khoi. One way to economize while downtown is to take advantage of early-evening happy hours, or check out the surprisingly cheap and tasty bia hoi.