Mango Weekly – 28 May 2006 (Vietnam)

Hi folks. This week will feature a trip report from my recent visit to Vietnam. Been a busy week so sorry for the late post. Will have plenty of new and juicy tales in the next Weekly post this Sunday.

Vietnam (VN): HoChiMinh City (HCMC)
This blog contains information gathered during a visit to HCMC May
21-25, 2006. Overall, VN was a great experience. I hope you will find
this information useful if you decide to take a trip yourself. More
information on HCMC can be found at http://www.saigoninsideout.com and
http://www.elephantguide.com/saigon/saigon.htm .

Air
Hotel
Transportation
Beer Bars
Dance Clubs
Bars/Restaurants
Massage
Tours
Traffic
Weather
Convenience
Internet/TV/Mobile Phone
Impressions

Air
– Immigration was slow like most Airports
– Currency Exchange is located inside Airport after you leave Immigration. Rate was $1 US Dollar to 15,890 Dong and 1 Baht to 351 Dong
– Taxi Counter is located next to Currency Exchange. Cost about $5 US to get downtown
– Booked through a friend and great travel agent, Will Heron at DTC Travel www.dtctravel.com. Tickets were around $270 US on Thai Airways. Cheaper tickets can probably be found but I am a FF on Thai Airways.
– DTC Travel also picked up a Visa for Vietnam for around $55 US. You can go to the Vietnam embassy and do this yourself for less

Hotel
– All Asia Hotel
261-263 Le Thahn Ton Street District 1
HCMC, Vietnam
Tel. No. +84(0)88245710
I highly recommend this hotel. A VN expert friend of mine suggested it and it proved to be an invaluable recommendation. It’s not a fancy hotel 2-3 Stars but the staff is extremely friendly and it has one very important feature, you can bring guests back to stay in your room. Doesn’t sound like a big deal but in VN most hotels REQUIRE you to buy a new room for your guest. The location is not bad either. You can walk or taxi to most locations within 10 minutes. Rooms range from $16-22 US and there is an Internet terminal (DSL) for use 24/7.

Transportation
One thing to remember when soliciting the services of the following is that the driver will always tell you that they know where your destination is. This is to ensure the fare. They will most likely not know and end up asking along the way. If you have an address and/or a map location in Vietnamese this will help considerably.
– Taxi
Fantastic value. Make sure they always use their meter. Fare starts at 12,000 (75 cents US) and climbs from there at a modest rate
– 3-Wheeled Bicycle Rickshaw
Passengers sit in front and driver peddles behind. Great views, though scary. Bargain hard. Some drivers demand more money later. They are very aggressive. If you can’t handle this don’t use them. Write the address and agreed price on paper. Same price for two people which is about $1-2/hr US
– Motorbike
Same as 3-Wheeled Bicycle Rickshaw pretty much. One important difference is that the Motorbike guys are on every corner soliciting your business. Very annoying. Also, when the bars close they will prey on foreigners asking them if they want to go to a bar that is open. They get a huge cut from the bars that stay open late, especially the girly bars. The girly bars hate it when you come up in a motorbike because they have to give them around $20 US for the referral. This is why most motorbike guys will take you to these late night destinations for free, but of course they will ask for a few bucks first before saying they will take you there for free. Check the Bars section for bars that stay open late and walk or Taxi there

Beer Bars
These bars consist of women in slutty evening wear and usually a few pool tables. The girls are extremely friendly and very attractive. One will typically latch onto you as you order your drink. Don’t be shy to look around and pick the girl that suites your taste, just be polite about it and they will cater to your needs. The ‒deal” here is simple. You buy the girl five drinks which are about $5 US each and that constitutes the bar fine. I strongly suggest talking to the mamasan to cut a deal right upfront. You may not be sure of the girl or girls you want so ask her to keep a tally on the drinks to use as credit towards the bar fine. Otherwise, they will hit you up later for more than five drinks (they are very shrewd about taking you for every penny they can get). You have great bargaining power upfront to make a good deal so use it. After you reach agreement on the bar then ask the girl(s) what their short and long term rates are. Again, try to do this before buying drinks. They hate this upfront bargaining because it can save you a great deal of cash. The typical short time deal is $50 US plus $20 US for the hotel room, long time is $70 US plus $30 for the hotel room. These are top rates. I’m sure VN expats and experts can get better deals. You can save money on the hotel room if your hotel accepts guests but some girls will not go to a hotel they don’t know. Again, discuss this all upfront to make sure they will. Leaving the bar is done in a very discreet manner. They call a taxi, you get in taxi first, and then the girl comes out a minute later. Closing times vary on these bars. I was there during the APEC convention so most of these bars closed at 12. Normally though they go until 1 or 2.

No. 49
49 Hai Ba Trung Q.1 HCMC 8226282
Friendly and attractive girls. One pool table in front and one in the back. There is a neon 49 sign out front.

No. 51
51 Hai Ba Trung
Friendly and attractive girls. Two pool tables. There is a neon 51 sign out front.

Smiley Bar
(Didn’t get address but it’s around the corner from No. 49 and No. 51, just ask somebody but not a motorbike guy since they will hit the bar up for a take)
A nice and more modern beer bar with a pool table downstairs and two upstairs. The girls are friendly and attractive.

Sus Bar
30 Thai Van Lung St., District 1 (84 8)8251772
A little lower rent but not bad because they stay open until 4. They have one pool table and some attractive and friendly girls.

A Place for Memory Bar
40 Thai Van Lung St., District 1-Tel. 0903637216
I went to this bar after leaving Sus (around 2:30am) because one of the chewing gum selling kids on the street said it was still open. The mamasan woke up a few girls and it was a fun time. Not sure what the bar is normally like but probably like the others listed above.

Dance Clubs
These clubs will have a mix of Vietnamese people going out to party and dance, foreign men and women, and freelance working girls.

Apocolypse Now
A rather large dance club and restaurant with one pool table in the back. This was by far the most happening bar in town. It was packed every night but had to close at 12 each night because of the APEC convention. The music was tolerable. A bit dated but the crowd really enjoyed it. Overall, it was a mixed bag of just about everybody looking to party. Not sure about the prices for the working girls but they were definitely there. Probably the same rates as the Beer Bars. As for the food, I had a Cheeseburger and it was really bad so I wouldn’t recommend eating there.

Q Bar
Opera House 7 Cong Truong Lam Son, D1, HCMC-Tel:(84-8)823 3479
www.qbarsaigon.com
This was by far the nicest bar I visited. A classy joint but both times I went it was pretty empty. I hear it gets crowded on the weekends though. The bar is fully stocked with just about every spirit you could want. They mix a mean Martini.

Bars/Restaurants
Most of the bars in this list are hangouts for expats. They have very attractive female staff that are there to keep the expats entertained and drinking. A bit of a tease but whatever makes your rocks sweat. They don’t appear to be available for anything other than bar talk but I suppose it’s possible if you break them down over time.

Number 5 Bar
5 Ly Tu Trong St., D1, HCMC-Tel:(84-8)8256300
Popular expat bar. Has a pool table and what looks like a decent menu. An okay place to hang with a friendly staff.

Bottom Line Bar/Restaurant
21 Ton Dun Thang, D1, HCMC
Nice bar with great food and friendly staff. Worth a visit.

Gecko Restaurant and Bar
13B Le Thanhn Ton St., Ben Nghe Ward District 1, HCMC-Tel:(84-8)822 1074
While looking for anything open at 2am I stumbled into this friendly little bar. It turned out to be a fun time. I met the owners Ms Thuy and her American husband Frank I believe. Nice folks and apparently they have pretty good international and Vietnamese cuisine.

Ghetto Tavern Bar and Restaurant
17/14 Le Thahn Ton, D1, HCMC
Great little spot with very friendly staff. Drinks were good, Internet Terminal was free, and I ordered a Pizza from Annie’s upstairs. It was quite good. I also hijacked the music selection for the bar because it was playing mp3s off the Internet Terminal so that was cool.

Bourbon Street Restaurant
123 Le Loi, D1, HCMC (84-8)914 2183
I was in the mood for some Cajun and TexMex so headed over to Bourbon Street. I was not disappointed and had an excellent meal. The Gumbo portion was a bit small and lacking meat/seafood for $4 US but the Chicken Fajitas for $5 were excellent. So was the Mango Juice I had. This place carries McIlhenny Co. Tabasco and Gumbo File to add to the authentic taste.

Rex Hotel – Paradise Coffee Shop
141 Nguyen Hue Blvd, HCMC-VIETNAM-Tel: (84-8)829 2185
http://www.rexhotelvietnam.com
Paradise Coffee is a quaint little coffee shop in the Rex Hotel. I ate lunch here one day and enjoyed the peace, comfort, aircon and view. However, the ham and cheese sandwich I ordered was really bad. It was kind of expensive too. The sandwich and coke came to $5.40 US

Street Food
I found the street food to be top notch and indulged almost every day without getting ill.

VietArt Gallery/Restaurant/Internet Café
44 Dong Khoi St., District 1 HCMC-Tel: (84-8)822 2312
http://www.vietnamartgallery.com
VietArt is an interesting little 3-story hybrid art gallery/restaurant/Internet Café. I had a great dinner which included a grilled chicken salad for about $4 US and a big plate of Lasagne for less than $4 US. The service was slow but friendly. I then checked email and made a long distance call upstairs in the comfortable Internet room. They also have a great deal of Art on display and for sale.

Massage
Ngoc Huong Thai Massage
63/201 Dong Du District 1 HCMC-Tel: 0913155557 across from Sheraton
Hours: 10:00am-11:00pm
I was missing Thailand so I decided to visit this Thai Massage place to speak a little Thai and get some kinks worked out in the lower back. Well, none of the girls spoke Thai but they were willing to work out any kinks you may have, and I mean any

Tours
There are many travel agents around the city and you can go to the local Tourist Office and buy cheap ½ and 1 day tours. I opted to use SaigonTourist Travel Services (www.saigontourist.net) because I was close by and it looked pretty legit. SaigonTourist is located at 49 Le Thanh Ton and has very reasonable prices. Check their website for tours and prices. I took the Afternoon City Tour for $13 US. I was fortunately alone and had the Guide to myself. It was very educational and covered:
– A Temple
– The War Museum
– St. Francis
– A 3-wheeler Bicycle Rickshaw Tour of Chinatown
– Normally a tour of an Embroidery Workshop but when the Guide told me we were passing a shopping area that specialized in Army gear and propaganda posters we made a swap and visited those instead

Traffic
Pretty congested and quite mad. Traffic here is much like in India where it flows like a river and you just flow with it or you drown. Be careful crossing streets although most vehicles will avoid hitting you.

Weather
It rained for a few hours each afternoon. Otherwise it was tolerably hot.

Convenience
No 7-11’s here so you have to distribute your shopping over the local pharmacy, convenience store and street vendors.

Internet/TV/Mobile Phone
Internet
E-mail and Internet services (DSL speeds) are available in most hotels and posts in
Vietnam. There are also a number of internet cafes
available. The average rate is $1-$2 US/hour.
Mobile phone

In Vietnam you will be able to use your mobile phone as long as it is
programmed for roaming internationally. You may also rent a mobile
phone, which may be easier, or buy a pre-paid phone card. This service
is available at your hotel or at a Mobile Phone Service Center on the
street.
TV
TV is pretty weak. Many local Vietnamese channels and somewhat censored in the day. In the late evening you can get the usual HBO and Star Movies selections. Internet shops are springing up as they did 5 years ago in most other places.

Impressions
I definitely felt a strong government/police presence hanging over the Entertainment industry here but that may have been because it was my first time. Certainly, the expats living here seem to feel more at home. The more time I spent here though the more at ease I was, and the more fun I had. I met many expats and Vietnamese people in the 5 days I was here with all experiences being very rich. The only real annoyances were the constant peddling of motorbike and street vendor services and also the ‒underground” feel to the more risqué bars but then again the danger sometimes adds to the experience. If you decide to go I hope this writeup will be useful. It’s a relatively clean and safe city doing it’s best to become a top tourist destination in SE Asia.

-pmmp

6 thoughts on “Mango Weekly – 28 May 2006 (Vietnam)

  1. Great trip report; maybe add details about internet access or internet cafes, and mobile phones (local SIMs, roaming from Thailand).

  2. Update, even though this is an old article. Helped to get me started in HCMC!

    1. 49 and 51 Bar

    A lot of the bars in HCMC are simply named after address. 49 and 51 are across from the Circle K. 49 employed 7-8 ladies at any given time, half of which are good looking. There’s a single pool table in the back. Of all the bars, I’ve found the ladies in 49 to be the pushiest. Drink prices of 20k-50k VND and expected tips playing pool, regardless if you win or lose.

    51 bar is right next to 49. Ladies can be a little self-absorbed but are pretty. Primarily caters to a Japanese crowd, the same number of ladies as 49 but better looking. A nice pool table in the back, the ladies warm up nicely once you start buying drinks.

    2. Two Sisters Bar / Hai Chi Em

    Two sisters is across from H’Jen’s & Bob’s place, a regular bar. Late 20′s to early 30′s ladies, friendly, but not my thing. 8-12 women working. Pushy mamasan. Drinks 45k-75k VND.

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