Bia 333. Saigon Special. La Rue. The cheap beer trio responsible for countless jungle hangovers. Knock back even only a few of these 10,000 dong (50 cent) cans of chemicals and you’ll wake up the next morning with a beating headache and the jakey shakes. It’s to be expected, when they cost so little. The price is almost enough to get past the questionable taste.
In Good Morning Vietnam, Robin Williams sits at a bar in Saigon and takes a sip of Bia333. His face immediately sours, saying it tastes like “formaldehyde”. Spot on.
Vietnam is considered one of the cheapest countries in the world to drink alcohol. Conviences stores like Family Mart or Circle K stock cheap cans and bottles that you could buy with pocket money. An abundance of al fresco beer drinking spots dot the city, with 10-20k bottles on offer and stored in ice-cold buckets. Even nicer, trendy bars have drinks at low prices. If alcohol is your vice, then this place can do it cheap.
Drinking habits amongst the locals can vary. Many Vietnamese people choose not to drink or don’t have a taste for it; much preferring a night at the coffee shop with friends over smoothies. ‘Coffee Culture’ is huge here, with many young people piling into cafes after school or work. These are the hang out spots, with trendy teens and young professionals on their iPhones, having some time to relax between daily duties. It’s the perfect place to get a big group together, or to catch up with a friend. A/C, music, lighting, modern decorations, trendy staff, huge menus. Instead of “let’s catch up over a beer” it’s “let’s meet for coffee”.
However, sit for evening dinner at most quans out on the plastic chairs and you’ll soon hear glasses clinking from a hearty group of chain-smoking Vietnamese men. Celebrating birthdays or enjoying a cold one after work, drinking beer on the street is a common sight in Vietnam, one that brings liveliness and good humour. I’ve sat at these places frequently, with locals often piping in for a little chat. “Where you from?, You like beer?” and all of a sudden you’ve got a new one in your hand. Unless that’s not a beer but a bag of peanuts a street vendor persistently asks you to buy.
There is a strong sense of community spirit in this country, and its drinking culture embraces it too. Drink with a group of vietnamese people and every 2 minutes you’ll be saying “cheers” and clinking glasses. You’ll be on your next before you know it!
Expats usually enjoy variety in their drinking, and Ho Chi Minh has a lot of it. More expensive bars are located around the city, offering a cool atmosphere and trendy venue to hang out. Rooftop bars are a popular choice, watching the sun go down over the skyline with a beer in your hand.
Sometimes these rooftop bars turn in to full-on nightclubs. I went to a Vietnamese sky bar with some local friends. The music was pumping vinahouse on full decibels, with beer girls dancing on tables and an enthusiastic MC rallying the crowd to do silly shit like a Spring Break veteran. Beer towers were everywhere amongst the packed tables. Young, trendy Vietnamese letting loose and having some fun. If there’s a future in Vietnam’s drinking culture, it’s this.
Not all local bars are fun. ‘Beer Clubs’ have gained massive popularity in recent months. Here, scantily clad women run about with towers of beer, amidst a deafening chorus of badly-remixed pop music. Honestly, if there’s anything in the world louder than Beer Club music then it’s past deafening. If you must go, bring earplugs.
Vietnam is more reknown for its Bia Hoi. This is freshly home-brewed beer served on the street at a really cheap price. They are a more common sight in Ha Noi over Ho Chi Minh City, perhaps due to its growing volume of drinking establishments. The beer can be either good or bad, depending on who makes it. Get a good batch, and you’ll be enjoying a lovely crisp taste.
From the plastic chairs of Bui Vien, to the riverside quans, to the fancy skybars towering above the city, there are a multitude of options for your big night out. Here, I’ll be talking about some of my favourites.
Mot, Hai, Ba… Dzooooo!!!!!
The View, 195 Bùi Viện.
Of all the rooftop venues in Saigon, this is my favourite. Sitting on the top of the Duoc Vuong hotel, you get to the bar by walking through the hotel lobby and taking a small elevator to the 7th floor. Walk up a few more flights of stairs and you’ll be greeted by smiling staff ready to get you to a table.
The view isn’t the highest in Saigon but it’s still lovely. At night all the towers light up, and a gleaming cityscape buzzing with activity lies before you.
This is a good venue to get a big group of friends together. There’s two levels and plenty of tables. The owners are fond of playing Latin music, so get used to hearing Ricky Martin every so often.
Drinks are affordable, with beers around 20k and many cocktails under 100k.
Broma Bar, 41 Nguyễn Huệ
This is a unique bar complete with rooftop, lounge, modern decor and fantastic ambiance.
There is often live music, and shisha is available in a tempting variety of flavours. Coconut and vanilla is a must.
The cocktail menu is excellent, with some drinks drawing inspiration from local ingredients. The ‘Rum Bo Hue’ is a tipsy take on the famous noodle soup Bun Bo Hue. It tastes just like the soup, in the best way possible.
Hoang Sa is the name of the street running adjacent to the Saigon river. Once a slum, the city council invested millions of dollars getting the area cleaned up. The make-over came complete with greenery, pleasant walkways and bridges. Many locals can be seen taking strolls here, couple sitting on their motos canoodling.
Walk down the street and you’ll find a beer place on every block.
Pasteur Street Brewing Company, 144 Pasteur
You want good beer? Come here.
The owners of Pasteur Street Brewing Company are American expats with an expert talent for brewing some of the most delicious beer you will ever taste, not just in Vietnam.
The menu offers fascinating flavours, making you feel like a kid in an adult candy shop. The dark coffee beer is rich and aromatic, whilst the lemongrass beer is more of a lager, light and absolutely refreshing.
Beer lovers and even the most hardened connoisseurs will fall in love with this cool, plaid-shirt type establishment.
It’s gotten so popular recently that it’s even started selling its own merchandise. Thinking of getting myself a hat.
The best parties are always at home. It’s likely the house you rent during your stay is going to be large with a lot of open space. Perfect for inviting people over, with plenty of room to mingle. Combine these surroundings with boxes of beer and bottles of Vang Dalat wine, and you’ll all be dancing until the sun comes up.
Just watch the noise – your Vietnamese neighbours might not appreciate it!
Until next time friends, cheers!