185 — the corner of De Tham and Bui Vien, and the streets are busy. Dodging motorbikes and squid carts, we head inside the bar to avoid the relentless traffic of cigarette and flower sellers forcing their wares on the customers seated outside. The buy-one-get-one-free cocktail offer lasts all night and at VND70,000 they’re difficult to resist. A computer sits on the corner of the bar waiting for would-be DJs to pick a song. Lounging on the low seating with personal music at our fingertips, it’d be easy to settle in for the night, but the bright windows from the countless 24-hour convenience stores light the way for the night ahead.
Lam Son (242 Tran Binh Trong, Q5), is a venue that never stops singing. It was once hard to imagine how a karaoke bar would have enough business to justify all-night opening hours, but no more. From VND100,000 an hour for a room, or slightly more if you want an adjacent bathroom, the price is good. The whole venue is set underground — no windows or clocks to warn customers of the impending dawn. Each room is country themed. We find ourselves in ‘Egypt’, a long room lined with soft seating and a runway style drinks table, all topped off with a pyramid mural and hieroglyphics on the wall. The stock of English songs is plentiful even if the lyrics are sometimes mystifyingly misprinted. A friendly waiter keeps topping up our drinks, so by the time we leave we’ve racked up a VND450,000 bill.
Back to the backpackers’ lair, Crazy Buffalo (cnr of Bui Vien & De Tham, Q1) shines like a beacon on the corner. A few people lounge on tables outside, and upstairs in the club, customers are similarly posed. The music is loud and a drinks menu lists beers priced VND45,000 to VND80,000. Slightly more reasonably, cocktails are about VND90,000 including their notorious Long Island Ice Tea. With enough friends, the club’s atmosphere quickly picks up, but we head across the road to see what’s happening there instead.
Go2 is still cheery downstairs at this pre-dawn hour, with a group of people playing pool and a few tables of friends sharing drinks. The club upstairs is also pretty busy, though there is confusion over the entrance price with the bouncers asking VND150,000 for men and seemingly nothing for women. It’s unclear whether these prices are set in stone or determined by how short a woman’s skirt is. Beer costs a painful VND75,000 at this time of night, but the cocktail list looks inviting, starting at VND100,000. The lights in the club leave psychedelic coloured dots bouncing over your body and the atmosphere is high-spirited, especially considering how late it’s getting.
It’s about time for a breather and the deckchairs outside Lily Bar (179 De Tham, Q1) beckon warmly. The staff quickly rearranges the chairs and tables so our group can all sit together and VND20,000 beers and VND40,000 cocktail buckets appear on the table. With few peddlers out this late to pester you, it’s quite nice people-watching from this uninterrupted vantage spot.
The time difference between Vietnam and the west means that there’s always sport on at some godforsaken hour. Boston Sports Bar (175/6 Pham Ngu Lao, Q1) is warmly lit and a few dedicated fans sit watching TV screens and sipping Tiger draught for VND33,000. It’s been a long night so the all-night kitchen is a welcome sight with breakfast for VND65,000 and pizza for VND70,000 to VND260,000.
Before deciding to drop our heads onto a pillow, we head to the all-night casino at the Sheraton (88 Dong Khoi, Q1) to try our luck at blackjack and the slots. It's a little intimidating walking in through the fancy foyer, but the image of winning the jackpot spurs us past the desk staff and up to the casino room. Because of the cloudy gambling laws for Vietnamese nationals, we were told to show our foreign national passports. An hour or two of excitement and disappointments later, we leave with considerably lighter pockets, and finally call it one helluva night.