Neon Nightlife in Saigon
Written by David McGuinness
I landed in Ho Chi Minh City with my TEFL in a suitcase, a measly $500 in my pocket and some heavy jet-lag that was partly due to the excitement of starting something new. I ran to the gate at Manchester Airport like Bilbo Baggins, going on his unknown adventure with no cares, just fuelled by pure relief that all the goodbye’s were done and my journey could finally commence.
“Man, what have I done leaving England?”
I must admit at this point that although I consider myself an extremely confident person with new surroundings. The first 15 mins of the journey in the cab out of HCMC airport filled me with an overwhelming sense of ambivalence. The mix of atmospheric heat with the chaos on the roads of Saigon hit me like a freight train loaded with rocks. No joke, it was a sense of genuine terror. A real fear of the unknown. “Man, what have I done leaving England?” My only previous trip to Asia once before could not have possibly prepared me for my new chapter I had been so looking forward to for the last eighteen months. On the other hand, I was wide-eyed at the pavements laden with street food sellers, traders and members of the public, all selling bowls of curious meats and vegetables. I will never go hungry again.
On further gazing from the safety of the cab window, I saw the neon lights blinking in competition for local attention for the most unusual of late night business. I didn’t think of it at the time but now reflecting, I never expected that there would be an all night printer and photocopier repair engineer working at midnight fixing your printer problems! Now I know that if you want something done, no matter how insane the idea, there is someone out there in HCMC that will do it for you for a very reasonable price. This was the excitement coming back around toppling my fears. This was going to be a fun way to live!
Back in good old Blighty, having coins is just a way of life. It seemed like a sensible idea to bring my wallet with me but found that Vietnam has a note-based currency and my wallet became instantly obsolete with its zip up coin pouch. I felt that perhaps a money clip would be of use instead and while looking on Lazada (Vietnam’s answer to Amazon), I found one with ease.
I didn’t really want something that was just a standard clip but something special, something custom. A friend told me about a metalsmith that he had met recently and that he would be able to make me a clip with some personality. Upon asking what to look for online to get in touch with him, he answered “Oh, that’s simple. Just put into Facebook, ‘I Make Anything Out Of Metal’. That’s the guy.” Maximum enjoyment with the name of his business. No need for a brand, just say you can make anything. Legend status.
My friend gave me another bit of advice. “Facebook is king out here. You can get anything you want on the Marketplace so always start there if you want something. A bike, clothing or even want to rent a flat.” This has been some of the best advice I have had. You really can get anything from Facebook in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s nightlife can be a visual treat. Taking in the local cultures and have a bit of street karaoke with some cheap beer and lots of reverb. There is lots of karaoke here, a cultural spot of fun if like me you want to be the centre of attention for three minutes and you will win their respect for having a go at it. On experience, the locals love whipping out the 500w speaker for a good mash up of Vietnamese pop or as I did, Duran Duran. I became famous overnight.
I have a deep passion for music, in particular electronic music. I have a craving for making drum n bass and techno and equally DJing every chance I can get but I was unsure of the opportunities to do either and thought that doing this would be a challenge. I was greatly mistaken.
There are many cool hotspots for electronic music in the city as it has such a vibrant fashion and music culture. The youth of Saigon want to be getting involved with the most obscure of musical tastes so the sounds they dance to match their fashion choices and this is really fun to experience.
A quick email to one of the many open deck nights at Tempo, a cliquely hangout for Saigon’s college students, had me in to do a set and challenged me to play the nastiest techno I had. I obliged, the vibes of the dark and dank bar with a small crowd gave a sense of the new electronic underground being forged. It felt like the rave foundations that were laid in the 90’s but here, in Saigon. No one knew what they were listening to. It was all new to them but they loved it and they wanted more of it. Tempo is good for the lounge with some friends with its comfy seating and casual cocktails. It’s worth checking out as they have eclectic dub/reggae events, live hip hop battles and of course, good old fashioned moody dubstep, circa 2008. And bassface drum n bass that will make your lips pukka up tighter than a drum skin.
If you are a DJ or even a fan of live performance, go to Wam. The bar has a cool collection of classy cocktails and a view of the Landmark 81 over the Saigon River that I have yet to match without going to an expensive rooftop bar. Having DJed there I can see why people love it so much. A sound treated room with some stunning vintage speakers that rival anything you can find in a professional recording studio. A jam on their rotary mixer and you will want to stay and play tunes all night long. This is a great vibe for educated musicians to come and chat about life in this truly untamed city. Expect anything from electronica, punchy tech house and techno to jungle vibes and smooth liquid drum n bass.
I have been in this concrete sweatbox for four months and have only peered through the keyhole of what happens when the muddy orange sun sets at 6pm every night. Ho Chi Minh City can be whatever you want it to be. You can lose yourself in Bui Vien Street with the travellers or you can find a groove in something more tailored to your interests musically. It really can be unique for all tastes. I don’t have that feeling of ambivalence anymore, I just feel like I have a chance to grow musically and have a wicked time with all of the above.