HCMC Dining Guide

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Saigon Nightclub Experience

I've never been a fan of nightclubs. I can count on one hand the number of times I have visited such a place in the U.S. They're excessively loud, expensive, full of the types of people I don't particularly care for, and I'm not a very good dancer...though if you get enough booze in me I will gladly throw down. Sadly Saigon is sorely lacking when it comes to where I prefer to spend nights out: venues hosting original live music (there is a fair amount of music here but it's almost all cover bands), and cozy neighborhood bars. My hometown of New Orleans abounds with both, but here I've had to make sacrifices and accept that the occasional trip to a nightclub is inevitable.

There certainly is no shortage of clubs here, and many of them sound like perfume brands: Lush, Lavish, Velvet, Liquid, Cloud 9. There are two distinct classes of clubs in Saigon - the western-oriented ones, and the Vietnamese ones. Let's look at each category more closely.

The Western Clubs: Pretty much every one of these is located in the downtown area, where most expats and western tourists spend the majority of their time. Their decor and lighting effects wouldn't look out of place in the U.S. (I guess?), they play American top 40, and they feature the usual collection of clientele one would see in the west: on the male side, plenty of douches, tools, frat boys and meatheads (both Vietnamese and foreign); and on the female side a healthy dose of sluts, bitches, divas and woo girls (again, both Vietnamese and foreign). What are woo girls, you ask?

Members of the 'western club' club include all of the places mentioned previously, except for Liquid. They each have ladies night once a week, which is a ridiculously good deal for women. Lush, for example, gives free drinks to females from 10 to midnight every Tuesday. FREE. Seriously. For this reason Lush is arguably the most popular spot among expat club-goers, and Tuesday nights it becomes the city's biggest hook-up spot, as girls drunk on free liquor abound. It's a regular sight to see multiple 'couples' (usually white male expat with local girl in a painted-on dress) sucking face in the middle of the small dance floor. The club management also gets some pretty solid international techno and EDM acts on a surprisingly regular basis. I'm not the biggest fan of that music, but the night when Leeroy Thornhill (from The Prodigy) played back in March was some of the most fun I've had here in a 3-hour period.

As much as I dislike clubs, these places are bearable every now and then. The one western club that isn't, however, is Apocalypse Now, 'Apo' for short. Perhaps the most terrifying words a long-term expat can hear are, "WE'RE GOIN TO APO! WOOO!" Unlike the classic film it is named after, which holds up after multiple viewings, one visit to Apo is really all you need. It is seedy, full of filthy backpackers, fat sexpats, and possible ladyboys, and just walking through the doors makes you feel dirty. You get the sense that, if you look too closely into a dark corner, you may see someone having sex with a hooker. Yes, this is THE club to go to if you're looking to pay for 'it'. I don't even try to approach women there. To be honest Apo is actually sort of a must-visit, since it's been around forever, the people-watching is fascinating, and they play 'The End' by the Doors at closing time, but go more than once and you'll start feeling sad for humanity.

The Vietnamese Clubs - These are scattered a bit further afield, though several are concentrated in District 5. Included in this category are the likes of Catwalk, Gossip, American Discotheque, and Tokyo Nightclub. These clubs cater to much different tastes than their western-oriented cousins, and are aesthetically revolting. Wealthy Vietnamese (and that is who these places serve) have a taste for decor that most westerners consider garish, so the interiors of such clubs are universally hideous (at least in the pictures).

I haven't actually been to any of the ones I just named, but I have spent about two minutes at two smaller ones: they have dance floors lit up with lighting installed beneath them, absurd amounts of lasers, and music so deafening that you can't even hear someone if they put their mouth in your ear and scream. We're talking dangerously loud here; in fact I think standing next to a 747 at takeoff would be better for you. All of these clubs have enormous speaker systems, and they are always turned up to 11. The odd thing is that no one dances, everyone just stands around with their arms crossed trying to look hot and rich in fake Gucci and masses of hair styling gel. Though to be fair the music is hard to dance to, since it's basically the same techno beat over and over and over again. Like Apo, visiting a local club once is something you should do...just keep in mind that you won't be able to hear anything for the rest of the night. Or possibly the rest of your life.

Now go out and have some fun! Or, like me, lament the dearth of original live music here.


  1. I find it amusing how the all-too-virtuous crowd pretends to be horrified by Apo. It's really fairly normal, just lots of hookers, that's all. Most of the hookers look like perfectly ordinary girls and have day jobs anyways. But of course hookers are baaaaaad and we must make an exhibition of our superior virtue so all the world can see what goody two shoes we are. We, of course, are "above" all that, of course. Ahhh, Western sanctimony - it prevents so many young guys from just having a good time! I was talking last night to this poor Dutch guy who was yearning for this girl who was obviously a hooker, but proudly declared "he would never pay for it", in classic Western style, thus depriving himself of a great opportunity of having perfectly innocent fun with a hot girl, and going home alone. I trued convincing him it was all innocent and fun, but his Western indocrination was just too strong. I suppose he has his "pride", although I'm not exactly sure how pride enters into it. On the weekends lots of regular girls come as well.

    Aside from the hookers, the decor is fairly nice, the music often great with good house and hard dance, especially upstairs, and the crowd is fun, easy going, very mixed, and love to have a good time.

    All in all mid-market, certainly not down-matket, with lots of interesting things going on.

    Gossip, by the way, is crawling with high-class hookers - who make it very obvious what they are - to a degree far in excess of Apo. Since the Vietnamese don't have hang-ups and neuroses about these kinds of things, most high class Vietnamese clubs are.

    1. Almost sounds like you work for Apo. And maybe the 'hang-ups and neuroses' we have regarding hookers have to do with, gee I dunno, small things like human rights and disgust with human trafficking. I have no statistics, but many prostitutes in Asia are forced into that line of work, and I would guess they keep very little of whatever money they are paid. The majority goes to brokers/pimps/handlers.

      Every year rings all over the place are busted after luring unsuspecting women in with job offers and turning around and selling them to men or groups in China, Malaysia, Vietnam, etc. If you want to keep supporting that by sleeping with hookers and trying to persuade other men to do so, go ahead I guess. Personally, I will not pay for it. Oh and have fun with STDs. Actually, here are some numbers: http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/vietn.htm.

      Also, you're really going to use the Vietnamese as a standard on how to treat women? Many guys here are absolute dogs that cheat on their wives when they aren't forcing them to get back in the kitchen.

    2. Wow Mike,

      Im glad to see you have the ideas of a seasoned vet. How many times you been to Asia? Vietnam? Saigon...I have seen so many nice girls that do make a bit of extra money selling sex. Are they forced? If you call living in a money driven world where there small $300mo secretary job barely affords them anything more than noodles and a roof, then yes they are being forced...

      I got an idea, why don't you fix this problem by giving the world's economy a boost...

      Better yet, you could just shut your mouth as you clearly have no idea what life s like abroad...