Known only officially as Ho Chi Minh City, but informally to everyone still as Saigon, the main city of Vietnam is a fantastic place. It passes Charlie’s Single Dude Evaluation with flying colors. Great food, people, party and value make Saigon one of my top 5 cities in the world.
So many things are great about Saigon that it’s hard to decide where to start. To pick a first among equals, let’s start with the food. In my opinion, when you consider the good value, great taste, and health, Vietnamese food is the best food I’ve found on Planet Earth. They have great spicy salads, soups, seafood, fried rice in a pineapple, fresh spring rolls, you name it, it’s all amazingly good and fresh. If you want something else, every menu in the tourist areas is 30 pages long and filled with every type of cuisine you could possibly desire- Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican, pizzas, sandwiches, salads, you name it. The Vietnamese take pride in their ability to cook everything, and even a Vietnamese burrito is totally decent. It’s a good rule of thumb to never eat Mexican outside of North America but Vietnam is an exception. Vietnam was previously a French colony so it’s the only Asian country where bread and cheese is commonplace. The apex of drunk food is the Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich which is delicious crispy French bread with meat inside, like a regular French sandwich, but with the Vietnamese twist of spicy vegetables. All for only $0.75 in the heart of tourist Saigon nightlife.
This brings me to another great thing about Vietnam. It’s an incredible value. Manuel and I would take our girlfriends out to dinner in the heart of tourist Saigon. We would order like kings, appetizers, salads, entrees, surprisingly drinkable bottles of Vietnamese Da Lat wine, never spending more than $50 for a double date dinner. Hotels are as cheap and easy to find for as little as $10. Drinks are a dollar or two at most places. Taxis will take you somewhere for $1. Massages, clothes, consumer goods and almost everything else is very very affordable.
Another great thing about Vietnam is the drug situation. Everybody in Pham Ngu Lao that tries to sell you something has 2 items for sale. It goes like this:
“Motorbike ride? Motorbike? No want? Marijuana?”
“Books, you buy books? No? Marijuana???”
“Sex? Want take me home? No? Marijuana????”
“Marijuana? Want Marijuana?? Nooooooooo??? Cocaine????”
I challenge any loyal Single Dude Travelers out there to walk down one block of De Tham street and not get offered drugs at least once. It’s basically impossible. And you can smoke anywhere you want, on the street, at the cafe (outside), anywhere you want. The cops don’t care. Just be careful crossing the street, Saigon streets are jam packed with motorbikes and crossing the street high can be dangerous.
Vietnamese people are great too. Loving good food and being cool with drugs is a great start. Vietnamese people are cool, classy and smart as a whip. There’s a reason that the Viet Cong whupped America’s ass, and that is that the Vietnamese people are very smart, practical, and effective. Although English is not spoken at a very high level there, people still understand what is actually going on and the issues involved much better than in supposedly more developed places like Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The retardation problem of Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines is not a problem in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese girls are fabulous. Smart, with interesting personalities and actual intellectual interests, the Vietnamese girls were a revelation to us after months of dealing with retarded boring Singaporeans and Filipinas. They are also widely considered to be the most beautiful in Southeast Asia, and I can not disagree. I also really prefer uptown, educated, classy girls and the Vietnamese girls are all that and more. As a more conservative culture, the Vietnamese have less of a prostitution problem and typically the hookers are more easily identified as working girls. Beware, that the fancy bars do indeed have lots of hookers, so use common sense when you meet a hot chick at a bar by herself at 2 AM.
Two warnings: First, there is one big problem with the hotels in Vietnam, that is that technically speaking Vietnamese girls are not supposed to be in hotels with foreigners and some of the more traditional hotels will not let you in if you show up with a Vietnamese girl, especially late at night. I and many others have had to check in to brand new hotels late at night because we had a girl with us. Make sure your hotel is on the same page as you before you pay. Be sure to have an explicit understanding that your “girlfriend” will be welcome when she “arrives later”. Second, you do need a visa before you go so check it out online before you travel. There are plenty of brokers online for a visa on arrival and the total cost should $20 from the broker and $45 when you arrive. Once you arrive, grab a taxi- Vinasun is the best non-rip off taxi company and go to the main tourist area, called Pham Ngu Lao. There on all the side streets you can get a cheap hotel for $8-$10 per night for something basic or a nicer one for $20-$30 and then get to work.
Lush Bar Saigon has a Ladies Night that is absolutely legendary on Tuesday nights. This is my favorite place to meet women in this part of the world.
Sax N Art Jazz Club is a nice classy place with live jazz music every night and is an excellent place to take a girl on a date. It is quite expensive for Saigon standards, with $5+ drinks and a $4 cover charge.
Blanchys is a good place to find uptown Vietnamese girls who like Western guys, but is also upscale.
Go2 Bar is the last call option and right smack in the middle of the backpacker zone. Go2 is not single dude recommended due to its egregious price gouging but it’s the best show in town after 3 AM, so just get liquored up or stoned ahead of time, pay cover and don’t drink to0 much. They will charge you $5 even for a coke in there, however.
Another must while you are in Vietnam is a visit to a tailor. The Vietnamese will whip you up a wardrobe made to measure in a few days that will fit you perfectly in whatever style you dictate. Remember Jacques’ number 1 rule of fashion: Your clothes must fit. There is no comparison between a made-to-measure suit and one you buy off the rack one in terms of fit. In Saigon you don’t even need to shop around to find a tailor to make you a suit for $50-$75 with the typical Vietnamese pride in a job well done. If you’re shopping for a new wardrobe the savings in Vietnam will pay for entire trip there perhaps even with something left over to spare.