Tour guides on your Saigon group tours would describe Saigon people, or Southern Vietnamese in general as liberal-minded. This is true, considering there are almost as many bars and pubs here as there are people. Known to be a high-octave city, Saigon is known to be a paradise for party-goers, an energetic city from morning to night, but many foreigners are not aware that drinking here is not only an entertainment but has become a staple culture in this modern Southern city.
Disclaimer: We’re not trying to encourage alcoholism, just describing a special trait of culture in Southern Vietnam.
Special questions about drinking in Saigon that you probably weren’t answered on your Saigon tourist tour:
Drinking in Saigon is a culture (Source: Internet)
Why drink? No reason
Most people drink at the weekend but Saigonese can get lose any day. Saigon people don’t really need a reason to drink. Coming to Saigon, Vietnam, you will see that places with “beer” and “alcohol” on their title are never empty. This is due to the fact that many people just go out to pubs to unwind with friends after a stressful shift at work, or to escape the heat of summer, so they are greeted at the place almost every day. Moreover, Saigonese are known to be extremely amicable. A friend traveling from far away or a simple birthday party, for most people in the world, would be celebrated by a family dinner. But in Saigon, where friendship is vital, every occasion deserves a party. And each party demands a test of your guest’s alcohol capacity.
Another popular reason to raise the glass is to “wash”, which means treating people to wash off the bad fortune of something new, be it a girlfriend, a new job or new… slippers. Simple as that, the drinking culture has grown its roots into generations with such a carefree Southern spirit.
How do you drink? Just drink
Unlike the sophisticated Hanoians, people in Saigon don’t give much thought to presentation. A feast in Saigon consists of a few plates of peanuts, some other appetizers, maybe a hotpot and tanks of alcohol! There is a joke that alcoholism in the South is more economical than it is in the North because Northern people eat as much as they drink while a Southern person only needs one grilled cuttlefish to finish one tank of beer.
Saigonese’s feast is very simple (Source: Internet)
Nevertheless, if you’re not a drinker, here are a few popular drinking “cuisine” specialty in the South you might want to check out:
Stir-fried bitter melon is easily the most popular Southern vegetable dish. Bitter melon here is stir-fried with many diverse toppings, from scrambled eggs to pork floss to chicken giblets.
Steamed chicken feet:
Not only in the South, chicken feet are favorite appetizers of many Vietnamese. Sipping (or in Saigon, gulping) a shot of strong rice wine while munching through the fat and cartilage of chicken feet is a warm comforting sensation only Vietnamese drinkers know, because unfortunately, most of the time foreigners are too scared to try both.
Barbecue with chili salt
This is an integrating point between Western and Eastern drinking culture, the fact that barbecue and alcohol pairs perfectly. Thus, being a tourist in Saigon means that you can’t miss out on the city’s signature chili salt barbecue. Anything from grilled cuttlefish to pork ribs to freshly caught river fish can be cooked in this style, try out all the options if you can to pick out your favorite.
Who drinks? Everyone
In reality, the stipulated drinking age in Vietnam is eighteen (already pretty low compared to other countries in the area), but if you ask any Vietnamese about the legal drinking age here, they’d just laugh, because there isn’t any. Any Vietnamese would remember buying alcohol for their fathers being a regular childhood errand, thus, when they come to an age when they can drink, they just do. As a matter of fact, when you come on a Saigon tour, don’t be surprised to see students, even middle schoolers, still dressed in uniforms, clink glasses at pubs like any other adults.
Another special feature in Saigon drinking culture is gender equality. Women drink as much and are required to drink as much as men, sometimes men will sit down with their friends, get tipsy and call their girlfriends/wives to join the party. This is very different from the general Vietnamese culture where drinking is considered a manly game that women either get annoyed by or stay out of it.
When drinking, girls are as good as guys
Where to drink? Now this is a serious question that will be answered in this article
As mentioned before in the previous paragraph, drinkers in Saigon don’t need much to have a good time. The drinking “cuisine” can be prepared so easily that there is no need for chefs. Bars and pubs here are mostly unadorned and are similar to the setting of lime tea vendors in Hanoi, plastic chairs and tables, easy to move around and make friends, creating the unmistakably chummy vibe of a Southern pub.
An unadorned pub in Saigon
There are so many places to drink in Saigon but here are a few addresses you might want to check out, ultimately with friends on your Saigon group tours:
- Vibe: Western style, for young people
- Offers: Draught beer, Western food, sausages and barbecue
- Address: 11B Nguyen Binh Khiem, Ben Nghe ward, District 1, HCM city.
- Price: 200.000 - 550.000 VND/each
Cay Me pub:
- Vibe: Affordable side-walk stall
- Offers: Beer, crab hotpot, grilled crayfish
- Address: 18/3 Nguyen Lam,ward 6, District 10, HCM city
- Price: 50.000 - 165.000 VND/each
Thanh Truc Hotpot:
- Vibe: Affordable small indoor restaurant
- Offers: Beer, hotpot, cuttlefish steamed with ginger, lemongrass chicken wings and stir-fried frogs
- Address: 473 To Hien Thanh, ward 14, District 10, HCM city.
- Price: 70.000 - 220.000 VND/ each
- Vibe: Roller skating waiters, young, hippy pub
- Offers: Beer, foreign liquor, barbecued seafood
- Address: 27 Ly Phuc Man, Binh Thuan ward, district 7, HCM city
- Price: 150.000 – 200.000 VND/ each
Is drinking a must? No
However, regardless of how big the drinking culture is, of course alcohol is not the only path to making friends in Saigon. Similarly to anywhere else, there are Saigonese who do not drink and thankfully, many of them are young people. So if you don’t drink yourself, don’t hesitate to say no, most people will be understanding.
Opposite to common knowledge, testing others’ alcohol capacity is also gradually decreasing in Saigon culture. The people in Saigon are liberal-minded, they know social pressure is an unkind manner, especially to foreigners who are unfamiliar with Vietnamese culture and don’t know how to act. So if a party becomes out of your league, just be honest and with a firm attitude excuse yourself.
Saigon is a city of youth, the place to abandon all limitations and exhaustion and just have fun, like a popular slogan of Saigonese: “vui tới bến” – literally translated to “party ‘till you drop”. So do enjoy yourself, but remember to be safe and rational as well, so as to not regret anything in the morning.