Four reasons to visit bars while you’re on holiday

There are four main reasons why you should go to a bar when you’re travelling.

  1. They generally have the best toilets, especially if you’re travelling in a country where you know the toilet regime is a little “challenging” to “western sensitivities”.
  2. At the end of a long hard day walkig and sighteeing, sometimes a refreshing drink can be the perfect way to end the way. On this trip, we’ve already visited a few roof-top bars which have been excellent.
This is the view from the Social Club Saigon Rooftop Bar. Though there was no sunset today (wet season rain), we loved seeing some city views, the drinks were excellent, and the staff friendly and knowledgeable.

3. To meet people that doesn’t involve a tourist queue.

In the midst of yesterday’s rainstorm, I called in to a small bar in Ho Chi Minh City called Terroir Bar.

The bar has only been open for about three months according to the owner, an American who ewas doing some “business” on his laptop while his wife, Vietnamese, served behind the counter.

When I entered I was the only person at the bar, and so he said, “If you don’t like the music, I’m happy to put on something else”. “Oh no, I love 70s disco”, I told him. He responded that he did too, growing up in Detroit.

He told me he and his wife met in (I think) 2017 while he was working here.

We had a nice chat about life in Ho Chi Minh City. In particular, some of the differences with Hanoi (being the city of government), and Ho Chi Minh (being the most populaous).

As with any new bar, he told me things had been going slowly, but they had benefited from being an overflow from “Frolic’, an LGBTQIA+ bar located next door.

After a little while someone else entered the bar and joined the conversation. They told us they were from Bangkok, and were also here for some sightseeing.

Though I wasn’t entirely sure of how they identified gender-wise (I assumed they were born female), it didn’t surprise me we both later found ourselves at the next door bar.

Both the staff and customers at Frolic were in their twenties, with the exception of a couple of older men. I MIGHT have been the oldest.

To my surprise, people were smoking (both the staff and clientelle). After almost 30 years of non-smoking bars in Australia, it still surprises me to go into a bar where it occurs. I think the last time I entered a smoking bar was in the United States, and before that, maybe in the Czech Republic. Almost instantly, my clothes began to stink!

As with every other bar in the world, these days, people seemed more interested in what was happening on their phones than what was happening around them.

I enjoyed a couple of Mojitos, and a bit of crowd watching, before heading home.

Earlier, I had also chatted to a couple of people on a tourist bus.

“Do you mind if I sit here?”, a middle aged woman asked me. “Of course not, and if your partner wants to sit here, I’m happy to move”, I told her. “We’re just friends”, the man said, “And this is my husband”. They were visiting from Taiwan.

There was so much I wanted to ask them about being gay in Taiwan (they only had marriage equality laws a couple of years ago), and of course about Taiwan and the threat from China. In the end, there are some conversations that can only go a little way on a tourist bus.

In both instances, it was a great way to see a bit of life in Ho Chih Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) that goes beyond what you see in the tourist queues.

In contrast to the other cities we have visited on this trip, this feels very much like a “global city” in the same was as you night encounter in Shanghai. With global store brands, and a great variety of restaurant styles.

And reason Number 4?

  • 4. Sometimes a bar literally screams out “come on in”.
Souvenir drink coaster

When I handed over my passport to the Vietnamese behind the bar she looked, at first curious. And then saw my name “Oh my goodness”, she said, “handing around my passport to the other staff”. In honour of a visit by a member of the O’Brien family (I thought of joking “traditional owners”, but that would have made no sense to them), she handed me my first souvenir from this trip.

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