When Vietnam entered the world scene in the mid-1990s, Ho Chi Minh City quickly became one of the hippest party towns in the East. The mood has sobered somewhat, but it's still fun. Everything is clustered in District 1; ask expats in places like Saigon Saigon or Level 23 about underground club happenings. All bars open in the evening and usually keep running not until last call, but until last customer. As for cultural events, Saigon is sadly devoid of anything really terrific, except for a few dinner and dance shows.
For a nonbar experience, Bonsai Cruise (3/F, 101 Nguyen Van Thu St., District 1; tel. 08/3910-5095; www.bonsaicruise.com.vn) operates dinner cruises on the Saigon River for $21 to $28. A local boat also runs a 2-hour cruise for an unbeatable price of $2. Boats depart from a pier just south of the Renaissance Riverside hotel.
Bars & Clubs
The Pham Ngu Lao area stays up late, and there are a number of good watering holes that cater to young travelers. On De Tham Street, about 100m (328 ft.) off Pham Ngu Lao, you'll find a host of little cafes, restaurants, and bars. For a club or chilled lounge vibe, stick to the streets around the Opera House.
Bia Hoi on the Sidewalk Stools
The best local nightlife is out on the street at the city's many bia hoi stands. In the Dong Khoi area, look for Saigon Bia Hoi on the first floor of a large brewery on Hai Ba Trung, near its terminus at riverside.
Best, and a much more interesting option than rubbing elbows with fellow travelers in Saigon's backpacker district, is to take a walk just around the corner from the bars on Pham Ngu Lao (away from De Tham) and along Nguyen Thai Hoc Street to its many streetside beer stalls. Vietnamese customers pull up on a motorbike, grab a stool and a table, and settle in for an evening of beers by the pitcher. You pay just pennies a glass and will likely meet some local folks. Sellers come around with trays of peanuts, robin's eggs, and fish sausages wrapped in banana leaves (the fish sausages are not recommended). All of these stalls will dust off an English-language menu, if you ask. The food is good and just about free (1,500 VND per glass).
Note: If a table is too close to the street, vendors are often harassed by police. Part of the show is watching the owners offer a bribe or make their guests lift up their tables and chairs, moving closer to the shop when the police arrive, only to move back when they leave.
Music & Theater
A few hotels stage traditional music and dance shows at dinner theaters. The Rex Hotel (141 Nguyen Hue Blvd.; tel. 08/3829-2185) has regular performances as well. Call each place ahead of time to double-check the performance schedule.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.