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5 of the Best Rooftop Bars in HCMC

5 of the Best Rooftop Bars in HCMC

As Ho Chi Minh City grows up, so does it’s selection of rooftop spots to suit all tastes. Saigon offers historic heights which became famous for the role they played during the war, and brand new shiny skyscrapers providing panoramic views and party vibes. Unlike other cities, rooftop drinking is affordable in Saigon, especially if you take advantage of the happy hours and offers that most of the bars listed offer. This is an introduction to five of the top spots in the center of town to enjoy sunsets and glittering night views of Ho Chi Minh.

Rooftop Garden at the Rex Hotel

Rex Hotel
Rex Hotel

A Saigon institution, the roof bar of the Rex Hotel is a spacious corner terrace overlooking the colonial City Hall. This is one of the more historical watering holes; the now-famous hotel bar was popular with military officials and international correspondents covering the Vietnam war during the 60’s. The 5th floor roof bar retains plenty of the right kind of old-school charm, but also has a little of the wrong kind; being rather kitch and dated, despite a renovation in the early noughties. The background music tends to be bizarre array of pop tracks, from the Vengaboys to Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’…(in May). Get there early to avoid the cheesy live band which play on a stage flanked by plastic elephants and a giant illuminated crown. Despite a few tacky touches, this old-fashioned joint is a must-visit for a taste of Saigon’s past in a fantastic rooftop setting.

www.rexhotelvietnam.com

Rex Hotel Saigon, 141 Nguyen Hue Blvd, HCM City, Vietnam
Phone: +848 3829 2185

Level 23 at the Sheraton Saigon Hotel

Level 23 at the Sheraton
Level 23 at the Sheraton

Soaring above the HCM skyline, Level 23 is a much higher view over the city stretching into the distance. Perfect for sundowners, the bar is semi-enclosed, but with large open windows facing towards the sunset. Given the staggering view, the bar has surprisingly never been particularly busy when I’ve visited, but apparently gets more lively as the evening goes on. With a wide selection of drinks, this roof bar also has the best complimentary beer snacks – generous bowls of wasabi peas, nuts and rice crackers. Level 23 is an understated bar with no pretension and a really great view, so definitely worth a visit to escape the hustle and bustle of street level.

www.level23saigon.com

Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers, 88 Dong Khoi, HCM City, Vietnam
Phone: +848 3827 2828

Saigon Saigon at the Caravelle Hotel

Saigon Saigon at the Caravelle Hotel
Saigon Saigon at the Caravelle Hotel

Across the road from the Rex, and equally historic, Saigon Saigon at the Carvelle is a fantastic spot for an early evening gin & tonic. Slightly more elevated than the Rex, this was the highest spot in the city during the 60’s and was also popular with journalists swapping stories and drinking heavily during the war. After 9pm, there is a very loud live band which for me ruins the ambiance of the bar, so I would recommend early evening for a pit stop here, and avoid 10pm when you risk having to watch 20 elderly tourists performing a synchronized dance to a Ricky Martin song. Despite that, it has remained a great spot for stunning views over the center of the city whilst sipping a cold one.

www.caravellehotel.com

Caravelle Saigon, 19 – 23 Lam Son Square, District 1, HCM City, Vietnam
Email: hotel@caravellehotel.com
Phone: +848 3823 4999

Chill Skybar

Chill Skybar
Chill Skybar

It’s full on glamour at Chill Skybar, the poser’s choice of roof bar in Saigon. The clientele are young and stylish in this vibrant spot. Chill is also high up on the 26th floor, so the views are magnificent. The concept is more modern, with the bar marketing itself as a place for Saigon trend-setters to be seen. In stark contract to the Rex or Caravelle, Chill Skybar is unashamedly flashy, and a better rooftop spot if you are looking for a late night party. Good news for my fellow Ho Chi Minxes; Chill put on a great ladies night every Wednesday, offering a free bottle of sparkling Rose to a group of 4 or more ladies.

www.chillsaigon.com

Level 26 AB Tower, 76A Le Lai Street, District 1, HCM City, Vietnam
Email: info@chillsaigon.com
Phone: +848 6253 8888

Shri Restaurant & Lounge

Shri Restaurant and Lounge
Shri Restaurant and Lounge

With more of an emphasis on food than many of its rooftop counterparts, Shri overlooks many of the key landmarks in the center of the city and its glass railings provide clear sweeping views over wider Saigon. Shri has also recently introduced a happy hour offer; 50% off drinks from 3-7pm. The bar has regular live music, lunchtime menu offers and other events. Shri is far from pretentious and, without anything kitch about it either, it provides a happy medium between the likes of the Rex and Chill Skybar.

www.shri.vn

Rooftop – Level 23 – Centec Tower, 72-74 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 3, HCM City, Vietnam
Phone: +848 3827 9631
24 Hours in Ho Chi Minh

24 Hours in Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as the locals still call it, is a rising Asian star sprawling across the Mekong delta. The mammoth river meanders past both glitzy new skyscrapers and clusters of low thatched huts, marking this diverse city’s intoxicating mix of old and new worlds. Motorbikes and scooters swarm through the streets of Saigon carrying families of five, portable street kitchens and even wide-screen TVs.

The French influence lingers in the tree-lined boulevards and colonial buildings of District 1, as well as the abundance of baguettes which are sold and scoffed on every street corner. Saigon hasn’t historically ranked up there with the big boys of Asia – Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai – but it has so much going for it; vibrant, foodie, fast, ambitious, and incredibly good value.

24 hours is not long to take in all that Saigon has to offer, so these are my recommendations on getting the most out of your visit.

Pho for breakfast

pho

Vietnam’s beloved national dish is best sampled at breakfast time (as the locals do), once you get over any preconceptions about eating savoury noodle soup first thing in the morning. Delicious bowls of the fragrant broth are served from hole-in-the-wall style cafes on every street corner – usually the more basic the cafe, the better the pho. You can order ‘pho tai’ (rare beef) if you only have one chance to try it, but there is a choice of different toppings if that doesn’t whet your appetite. True to most Vietnamese food, pho  comes with a small garden on the side for you to customise your bowl. At a local style cafe, if you pay more than 40,000 VND (2 USD) then you are paying too much. The best way to find somewhere for pho is simply to walk a few blocks, wherever you are in the city, and take a seat…likely on a plastic stool, but it will be worth it.

The War Remnants Museum

Saigon’s war museum tops most lists of things to do in the city, and is a must-see even for museum-averse travellers. Chronicling the ‘American War’, as the Vietnamese understandably refer to it, the museum is a harrowing overview of the atrocities of Vietnam’s recent history. Inside the museum, stories are told mostly through an extensive collection of horrifying photographs, but there are also preserved prison cells and some deeply disturbing torture paraphernalia on display, as well as original tanks, weapons, Chinook helicopters and aircraft outside the museum. The museum has admittedly been accused of portraying a rather one-sided picture of the war, but its likely you will have already seen some arguably biased American films about the Vietnam war before your visit, so I recommend just taking it all in and with a pinch of salt.

Lunch on the Mekong river

the-deck

After the war museum, take some light relief by grabbing lunch on the Mekong river. A 15 minute taxi from the centre of District 1 will take you to the tranquility of The Deck in Thao Dien. If so inclined, ask your hotel to call the restaurant and organise for their boat to collect you from District 1. This way to can also squeeze in a Mekong boat trip, and arrive at the restaurant in style; disembarking your boat on a jetty at the front of the restaurant – not for those who prefer to remain inconspicuous. If you choose to take a taxi, driving through Thao Dien you will find an unashamedly expat enclave, with trendy bars, gourmet super markets and some ridiculously large villas to ogle at. True to its name, at The Deck you can escape the heat and hustle of Saigon with some upmarket lunching on a beautiful wooden deck overlooking the river. The Deck’s menu is skewed towards fish and seafood, but there are plenty of options to suit all tastes. Try the duck pancakes, the pork belly dumplings and the Phu Quoc prawn rolls. The restaurant also has a wide selection of wine, including a very decent pale rose, if that’s your poison.

Colonial sights and roof bar hopping

Make your way back to District 1 to take a leisurely tour of the beautiful buildings, interspersed with stops at the most old-school of drinking holes. All of these spots are just a few minutes walk from each other so by foot is definitely the way to go. Start at the Notre Dame Cathedral, where you can also see the very grand old post office located in the same square. The interior of the post office is interesting, with its preserved colonial telephone booths and a looming painting of Ho Chi Minh overlooking the parcels and packaging counters.  From here, head towards the roof of the Rex Hotel for a drink. Everything about the Rex is very dated (including the elevators which look like the perfect spot for a 1970s James Bond villain to pounce), but the views down the central promenade make for good people-watching. Occasionally you can catch unassuming pedestrians getting soaked by the fountains which sporadically spurt water up from the pavement below. Once refreshed, head up to the City Hall and then round the corner to the old opera house, a beautiful building next to the Intercontinental Hotel, where Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American during the war. Finish at the Caravelle Hotel’s Saigon Saigon roof bar for a gin & tonic. This leafy bar is where the newspaper correspondents gathered during the war to exchange information, stories and of course to drink heavily.

Food and sights on a Vespa

vespa-tour

This may sound daunting but a vesper tour is undoubtedly the way to experience Saigon as it’s meant to be done. Jump on the back of a scooter to take in the sights and immerse yourself in the glorious chaos of the city’s streets. If you choose Vespa Adventures night-time foodie tour, an experienced driver will whizz your group around various eating and drinking locations to sample the some of the best Vietnamese food. This is a great way to try a number of renowned local dishes if you have limited time in the city. Make sure you are hungry – there is a lot to eat, even for the greediest of foodies. This tour isn’t cheap (around 90 USD) but if you take into account that you aren’t spending money on a restaurant dinner, and you’re getting a thrilling tour of the city by night, it’s worth the expense. People of all ages and sizes do different scooter tours so don’t be put off if you think you are too old or awkward to get on the back of a vespa. This unique tour will tick boxes for everyone – foodies, thrill-seekers and culture vultures.

After-hours

If you want to sample some of Saigon’s night life in one night only, then start by hitting Pham Ngu Lao street for some of the cheapest beers you can find these days. This area is buzzing with backpackers and hawkers. Its not for everyone but its an experience and at the very least a cheap drink. If you have the energy, head to Apocalypse Now, Saigon’s most famous night club, where travellers and locals come together to dance and drink. It reminds me a little of a cheesy club from university days, but if you choose to embrace the vibe then you can definitely have fun dancing the night away here.

24 hours should give you a good taste of what Saigon is about, but to really get under the city’s skin you need to experience the many layers and dimensions of this wonderfully challenging city. There are many things which don’t quite function properly in Saigon but, like an old drunken friend who often gets it wrong, you forgive these misdemeanors for its endless energy and charm.

 

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