Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) is the biggest city in Vietnam with an irrepressible soul and entrepreneurial energy. This charming city houses many classic French buildings, skyscrapers as well as ancient Buddhist pagodas and temples from the 18th Century. Manic rushing traffic, rich cuisine combining both fancy restaurants and delicious street food, a vibrant nightlife scene with stunning rooftop bars – these are just a few reasons why Ho Chi Minh became one of the most popular cities for backpackers and tourists in the world. Super feisty, flexible, energetic, and creative are how you would describe local Saigonese. To blend in with the hustle and bustle atmosphere of the city, the people of Saigon are quick to connect with the flow of life happening around them every minute. The LGBTQ+ community here also raises the rainbow flag higher with pride than their mates in Hanoi.
Local people in Saigon often dub the weather as “a maiden with mood swings” just because of how unpredictable it is. The climate of Saigon is subequatorial, meaning there are high year-round temperatures and two seasons. The rainy months from May through October are characterized by violent but brief showers. The dry months from November to April, with the temperature can climb up to 40°C at the end of April while remaining very humid. It is an appearance that the prime time to visit Saigon is from September to March. During this time, there are many festivals that take place such as Christmas and Lunar New Year holiday (locally called Tet). All you need is a well-planned for your trip – checking the weather before you come to Saigon, best to bring your casual, easy to dry clothes, and don’t forget to bring your light raincoat or umbrella if you plan your visit in the rainy season.
Similar to Hanoi, although Saigon traffic might also be a nightmare for first-time comers, getting around in Ho Chi Minh City is a fairly easy task as there are a number of options to choose with easy access and various prices. There is also an accessible network of motorbike taxis (locally called xe ôm – hugging motorbike) and private taxis that links you to the city center and beyond. Grab is replacing traditional xe ôm and taxis due to its fast and cost transparent service. Travelers may even rent a motorbike, but wriggling through the busy (and dangerous) traffic of the city may be quite a challenge for the novices. If you are in District 1, jumping on the iconic yet diminishing cyclo or Hop On Hop Off Bus is also an available option. Don’t forget to look for a boat trip tour on the Saigon river to get a fresh look of the city from a special angle. Besides, an eight-line network of Metro Rapid Transit, bus rapid transit (BRT), tramway, and monorail lines are being developed as a government effort to increase public transportation.
Saigon is no exception to taxi and transportation scams. Foreigners are the ideal targets for many taxi and cyclo-drivers across the area. Many visitors get into cars with broken meters or “quick-running” meters, travel a few kilometers in the wrong direction, insist on a set price that is actually more than what the meter will charge, or take a “fake” taxi. Tourists have recorded incidents where the driver demanded a heavy tip and declined to give them their luggage. The cyclo driver would drive the passenger to the alleyway to demand more money while threatening physical harm to the passenger. The city is making an effort to restrict to only certain parts of the city due to a large number of complaints. Also, beware of pickpockets in crowded and touristy areas and stay conscious at bars or clubs.
Its relatively high number of LGBT people, including those who have come from the countryside or abroad, has also added to the degree of openness, creating a more open and inclusive environment where even locals also can be more expressive about their sexual orientation or public display of affection.
To make the most of the old Saigon colonial grandeur and the city’s hottest gay nightlife and clubs, District 1 is the place to stay – the main central district of Saigon. It is home to the city’s major museums, fine dining, and exciting nightlife, as well as most of the international 5-star hotels. District 3 and District 5 are the neighboring areas that also provide great accommodation locations, and less intense, less busy as District 1. District 2, District 4, and District 7 are newly-built, more developed, and modern areas where it would be more fit if you are on a long business trip.
Saigon has no LGBT exclusively hotels but a lot more of gay-friendly places, you will have no issues showing up as a gay couple or being questioned about sharing a bed. Nevertheless, Saigon is all about local alley life! Locals tuck themselves away in narrow alleys all throughout the city. Staying in an alley will be a bit quieter and it’s fun to observe the local activity going on outside.
Ho Chi Minh City is more active and more accessible in terms of gay clubs and the popularity of the gay community. The Republic Lounge is the only real gay bar and nightclub in Ho Chi Minh City – and the only place to go to enjoy a queer party and a drag show every weekend. Whiskey & Wares or The Tipsy Unicorn are also the popular gay bar of Saigon. Owned by two American gay guys, Whiskey and Wares has its intimate atmosphere with conversation, unique cocktails, and industrial style decor. The Tipsy Unicorn is a small lounge tucked away in an area away from other Saigon gay bars and nightlife. This part of town is filled primarily with local restaurants.
Le Pub and Thi Bar in District 1 cater to mixed gay-straight crowds, with strong patronage from gay clientele on weekends. Thi bar is located in the main nightlife hub of Bui Vien Walking Street. Ho Chi Minh City are not far apart in terms of a community for women. Le Pub attracts a decent crowd of women on weekends, same with trendy coffee shops — but it moves around.
Fox Beer Lounge and Poc Poc Beer Garden are two venues which cater mostly towards local men where they often host Saturday LGBTQ nights. Papa Cafe is more of a restobar that turns into one of the hottest gay hangouts later in the evening, with karaoke, drinks, dinner and plenty of fun particularly at weekends.
To mention some LGBTQ+ events being oganized frequently, Full Disclosure Entertainment is a super fun monthly parties featuring outrageous drag shows, an epic DJ late into the night and all your queer family. Les Come Out is another excellent organisation that organises lesbian and trans-inclusive parties. They aim to provide safe spaces for the local LGBTQ community. Finally, never forget to check out GenderFunk when you are in town – the Biggest Disco Dance party provides a safe space to explore your creativity, gender, and darkness. Make sure you check their Facebook pages to see what’s coming up while you’re in the city.
There is a wealth of resources available in Ho Chi Minh where you can get tested, but most of them are geared towards locals. Binh Dan hospital is the first public hospital which opened a department to provide heathcare service for LGBTQ community. G-Link and Pride Health are two other great services where you have more of a chance of finding English-speaking staff.