A Night at Ho Chi Minh’s Famous Bui Vien Backpacker Street

Bui Vien backpacker street is probably one of the most overwhelming parts of Ho Chi Minh City. 

That’s not surprising considering it’s a backpacker street. But even so, spending a night at Bui Vien backpacker street proved to be more overwhelming than I’d expected. It was in equal parts amusing, thrilling, shocking, and sometimes infuriating.

You might be reading my reaction as one borne of innocence, devoid of an understanding of backpacking culture in general. But I assure you that’s not the case.

I’ve been to both Khao San Road and Pub Street — the other famous backpacker streets in Southeast Asia. The former belongs to Bangkok and the latter to Siem Reap. While both of them were fairly dizzying, they pale in comparison to Bui Vien backpacker street.

I generally quite enjoy backpacker streets. I don’t consume liquor — about 90% of what backpacker streets are about — so I always feel slightly disconnected. But I still amuse myself by simply staring wide-eyed at all the depravity around me.

Walking sober down a backpacker street in Southeast Asia offers the purest and kitschiest form of entertainment possible. Who the hell needs the real housewives and the Kardashians when you have the shitty backpackers of Asia? And I say that with all the tenderness I can muster.

Anyway, my point is, I’m neither a prude nor an ignoramus. But my night at Bui Vien backpacker street still proved to be quite overwhelming.

In this article, I’ll give you a brief overview of what Bui Vien backpacker street is like. Following that, I’ll tell you about my scandalous night wandering amongst the streets of Bui Vien.

Read: Top 5 Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City

About Bui Vien Backpacker Street

Bui Vien Backpacker Street is a single long street lined with street stalls, bars, pubs, and coffee joints. During the days, you can get from one end of the street to the other in about 10 minutes. At nights, it will likely take you considerably longer.

Only foot traffic is allowed in Bui Vien backpacker street because of how crowded it is. Furthermore, backpackers here have a reputation for being drunk senseless so having cars drive around would be a hazard.

Bui Vien backpacker street is lined with shops catering to everything a tourist can need. They have cheap street food stalls, souvenir shops, bars and pubs, coffee joints, travel desks, hostels, and SIM card shops.

At night, Bui Vien backpacker street is the most lively place you can imagine. It’s loud, often obnoxious, and glittering with neon signs and flashing lights. During the day, the backpacker street is always reeling from a hangover, dazed and unkempt.

bui vien backpacker street ho chi minh vietnam
Bui Vien Backpacker Street during the day | Image Source: Vietnam-Guide

A Brief History of Bui Vien Backpacker Street

Bui Vien started developing into a backpacker street in the post Vietnam War period. A lot of global tourists started coming into the country. A lot of them had more money to burn than the locals made in a whole year. But they still weren’t rich enough to afford proper hotels and luxury.

So families with properties converted parts of their home into a hostel, or a cheap “touristy” restaurant, or a pub. And that’s what gave rise to the Bui Vien backpacker street.

Even now, a lot of the shops in Bui Vien work in a similar model.

My Bui Vien Backpacker Hostel

The hostel I stayed at — aptly named Bui Vien hostel — was actually a family’s home.

The family resided in a room in the ground floor, along with the reception. The rest of the floors consisted of dorms for tourists.

Every morning, the family would prepare a home-cooked meal for the backpackers in the hostel up on their terrace.

If you’re gonna’ stay at Bui Vien backpacker street, I highly recommend it. You can find the latest prices on the Bui Vien Hostel Booking Page.

bui vien hostel ho chi minh
Bui Vien Hostel Dining Room | Image Source: Booking

My Night at Bui Vien Backpacker Street

My night at Bui Vien backpacker street started off with me looking for Grindr guys to show me around.

After much scrolling, I set up a date with a cute Vietnamese boy for later that evening. He wanted to take me to a local gay club close to Bui Vien backpacker street.

The “Gay” Bar in Bui Vien

The club was definitely trendy and hip, with pink fluorescent lights, a rooftop bar, and chill live music. However, it wasn’t particularly “gay” as I’d expected.

Apparently, the city’s closest approximation of a gay bar is one merely frequented by gay people. They don’t have any overtly gay-exclusive clubs.

After downing some cocktails and some coy under-the-table action, we decided to head over to a dance club. It was still early in the night so people weren’t all shit-faced yet. There was still some sense of decorum in the streets.

However, Bui Vien backpacker street was starting to rear its nightly head.

As I walked down Bui Vien backpacker street, the vibe had considerably changed. The clubs lining the streets were blasting off loud raucous music in complete disharmony with their neighbors. A lot of impromptu “massage” parlors had opened up and several ladies tried to lure me into their den. However, that was all expected. I’d already been groped in Pub Street in Cambodia so it wasn’t particularly shocking.

My Grindr date and I danced in the club which increasingly grew stuffier by the minute.

As the night wore on, our inhibitions slipped away and we openly embraced each other and made out in public. It was actually quite liberating.

Most people dancing there were pretty drunk. One girl in particular was dancing with a bottle of beer in her hands. She accidentally hit some guy’s head with the bottle and it shattered. He started bleeding. She responded by apologizing profusely and started pouring the beer over his head. Well, alcohol is supposed to be a disinfectant.

bar bui vien backpacker street ho chi minh
The “gay” bar next to Bui Vien Backpacker Street.

Frat Boys in Dresses

Somewhere along the way, I’m not sure where, I lost track of my Grindr guy. He was probably lost in the crowd, never to be heard from again. I was slightly disappointed but I shrugged and hopped back into Grindr.

I got pinged by a Vietnamese-American dude who was eating Pho in a street joint right across from me. We had dinner together. He laughed at my flailing attempts to command the chopsticks into submission. And we hit the streets again.

This time, things had grown a lot more wild. A lot of the guys were now wearing dresses, and some were even wearing bikinis, quite brazenly.

It was honestly the queerest thing I’ve ever seen.

What is this? I asked my new Grindr date. Some kind of a drag or gender-nonconformity event?

I doubt it, he replied. They don’t particularly seem like social justice warriors.

Nope, he was right about that. They looked more like your regular drunken white frat boys, only, in short bikinis and dresses.

We tried to ask some of them what this was all about. But they were too drunk to answer straight. Upon further investigation, we finally found out what was up.

One of the bars had a Ladies Night offer going on. They were giving ladies free drinks. A few guys decided to put on dresses and proclaim themselves ladies to avail of those drinks.

The bar offered them the free drinks in good humor.

The stunt soon caught on like wild fire. And soon, half the guys in Bui Vien backpacker street were wearing dresses.

While Free Booze was ridding the world of arbitrary gender expectations, Grindr Guy No.2 and I went club hopping.

Alcohol-Poisoning is Unfortunately Common

We were giddily climbing up a dance club when some guys started rushing down the stairs. They were in a panic and they were flagging the crowd out of the way. One of them was holding a girl in his arms, her head tossed back and limp.

The moment the barkeep noticed, she jumped off the counter, cleared the table, and asked them to place her there. She dialed a few digits on her phone, and, within a minute, an ambulance came over. It was like they were expecting it.

That’s because, well, they were.

Later, when things had settled down, I approached the barkeep and asked her about it. She said the girl was gonna’ be okay.

She was a solo backpacker and she’d consumed too much alcohol. Either that or she probably consumed some shady drugs. This was a normal occurrence here. They had been trained to expect one every night.

Being Called a Faggot by a Pre-Pubescent Boy

After I’d spoken to the barkeep, I looked around to find that Grindr Guy No.2 had gone missing.

Oh well, I thought, another one bites the dust.

I texted him but he didn’t see the messages. I thought of finding another Grindr Guy but decided against it. The night was drawing to a close and it was too exhausting.

I was walking down the street when a little local boy came up to me and offered some trinkets. I declined politely. He responded by saying, “faggot”, and made a rude gesture at me.

I was quite stumped and speechless about it. I know, from experience, that little boys can be little shits. But this was particularly strange because he didn’t just challenge my masculinity, he did so using vocabulary that’s typically “western”.

The only explanation is that he picked it up from the other frat boys in the Bui Vien backpacker street.

Crossing a Line

Soon after the faggot incident, I ran into some of the other backpackers I’d met earlier in Phu Quoc island. They were from a bunch of different nationalities, Russia, France, Catalonia, etc.

I was about to head over back to my hostel when I saw something truly shocking and inexcusable.

One of the drunk bare chested backpackers walked over to a little local girl standing on the side of streets. He grabbed her by the head, and pushed her face towards his tits. It’s a good thing one of his friends immediately pulled him off her and said, Dude what the fuck? He shrugged, laughed, and said, we’re friends!

Other than that one guy, most people who saw this transpire seemed unfazed by it. Which was pretty disturbing.

I joined my other backpacker friends for some late drinks and snacks at a roadside bar. We made some small talk. That’s when I noticed a couple furiously making out in the middle of the street.

They seemed familiar. Turns out she was the girl whom I’d seen earlier. The one who broke a bottle of beer on a guy’s head and poured the liquor over his wounds. Making out furiously, they stumbled and fell into a puddle. They didn’t seem to care… or even notice.

Good for them, I suppose. Finding love in unexpected places.

Don’t Shit on People

I walked back into my dorm and climbed into bed, tired and drained. I opened up my Grindr.

Grindr Guy No.2 had sent me a message a while back. Where are you? I’ve been looking all over for you, I’m so drunk!

I answered, I’m back in my hostel now. Should I come over?

He didn’t answer my question. Instead, he just said, Omg I just shat on someone!

You shat on someone? Like, you metaphorically took a dump on someone’s opinions?

No. I literally just shat on someone. Omg, I think he’s upset.

No shit.

Tips for Navigating Bui Vien Backpacker Street

These are a couple of stray observations that might help you navigate Bui Vien backpacker street.

Some of these tips will keep you safe from others. And some of them will keep others safe from you, if you’re being an obnoxious tourist that is.

So here are some do’s and dont’s you can follow:

  1. Hide your shit. Keep everything locked up in your hostel. When you go around Bui Vien backpacker street, carry only as much cash as you can afford to lose. Don’t carry your cards. And don’t walk around with your phone in your hands. Seriously, I lost my shoes while I was there, along with my socks! So be careful.
  2. Don’t accept drugs from anyone. Vietnam has a hard-line policy against drugs. Furthermore, a lot of the drugs in Bui Vien backpacker street are spiked with shit that might just end you.
  3. Don’t engage with people who seem remotely aggressive. Ditch you pride, your ego, and excuse yourself. I didn’t see any violence but I’ve heard plenty of stories of arguments escalating into violence real fast.
  4. Whenever you’re about to buy something in Bui Vien backpacker street, ask for the prices very carefully beforehand.
  5. Don’t dance with beer bottles in your hand. You might crack someone’s skull.
  6. Be mindful that a lot of the hostels are actually people’s homes, with kids. So be at least a little considerate of that.

Conclusion

If you want to find out anything else about Vietnam, you can read my Comprehensive Vietnam Travel Guide for First Timers. If you’re concerned about the Visa process, that’s fairly simple. You can apply online for a Vietnam Visa on Arrival.

I hope you enjoyed my article on Bui Vien backpacker street.

If you have any questions about staying here, feel free to let me know down in the comments!

Featured Image Source: Wikimedia

bui vien backpacker street ho chi minh vietnam