Who’s the Hooker?

Telling pros from non-pros is the hardest thing when you first venture into the Saigon nightlife.

It’s hard even for a seasoned Western whoremonger used to the more “transparent” trade practices of Thailand, Cambodia or the Philippines. A Bangkok threesome-themed brothel owner once told me he didn’t like Saigon because “a guy has to bring his own lunch” here. Even he, a hardened pimp hustling for 15 years just 600 miles away, saw my city’s nightlife through a tourist’s eyes. He stayed in the middle of downtown Saigon and still couldn’t find quality pussy to buy.

Don’t you worry, prostitution is alive and well in Vietnam – from big city clubs to backwater karaoke rooms, and to their traditional concept of marriage if you’re being cynical.

But how to tell a Saigon ho?

As one finds out after a few days in this city, hoes will not always tell you they are such, not until the last minute, or even the minute after that. And the money you give them will be for the appreciation, the gesture, the gratitude, more than for the sex itself. God forbid you ever ask them if they’re hookers up front. Some will say yes, but then you will pay dearly for the transparence. It’s like the premium fee at your convenience store; you’ll pay for your laziness. Visit Apocalypse Now “Bar-Café” at 2 Thi Sách to learn more.

Let’s assume you’re a connoisseur who won’t settle for the tourist price. (And by tourist price I mean anything more than 2 millions for an overnight GFE)

Then you’ll find out one of the most unsettling facets of Vietnam is that oftentimes, things are not what they seem. A café is not always a café. Ditto for restaurants, barber shops, pool rooms, and more. It’s not just about hiding illegal sex work; double entendre permeates all of society, from concert halls disguised as tea rooms, all the way to the highest office in the land.

I call it fluidity, for lack of a better term. Vietnam is fluid.

Word and meaning don’t always intersect. Yesterday doesn’t exist anymore. Tomorrow is another day. Expensive might become cheap. Cheap might carry a high price. A smile might be dubious. An unfriendly face could mean well. As the saying goes, một mắt nhắm một mắt mở (one eye closed, one eye opened). See, they’re the first to admit it.

Perhaps it’s the whole Asian face thing – saving face will always beat stating the truth, even when all parties know what the real deal is. Perhaps they’ve built a culture much more connected to the irrationality of the human soul than our own version of modernity, due to Europe’s Age of Reason and whatnot.

One thing is sure, you gotta be smart in this country or it’ll outsmart you real fast. Hate it or love it, I for one wholeheartedly embrace it.

Some guys like a challenge. Others go to Pattaya.

Which brings us back to Saigon ladies of the night. Note that I’m strictly speaking of “international” downtown venues here.

Local clubs are a whole other game. I’ve been to many such places around the country (and by country I mean deep fucking countryside, not your last week-end in Vũng Tàu), only to witness the same testosterone-crushing frustration over and over again. There sure are some hoes down for đô’s in there, but you and me wouldn’t be able to tell them from the rest of the Asian-style pay-to-chat hostesses.

Karaokes will give you guaranteed pros, not before you’ve spent millions on stupid dried squid and fruit plates. So they’re not on the free market per se.

Of course there are actual brothels all over the country, but you gotta know a bunch of guys to get into those. There also are many online escort listings at attractive prices (just google “Gái Gọi”), most of them guarded by cumbersome SMS locks to evade police scrutiny. (Vietnamese police knows everything, but still, một mắt nhắm một mắt mở).

In any case, you won’t get far if you don’t speak Vietnamese.

And if you do speak Vietnamese, let’s hope you like pubic hair.

For most of us Trai Tây, it’s downtown bars.

Don’t get me wrong, I love those places. It just takes quite a while and many hangovers before being able to tell the ladies who do it for money from the ones who do it for fun.

It’s definitely not the outfits or the surgeries; Vietnamese women from all walks of life use every trick in the book, God bless them. It’s not the flirty looks either; those are easy to come by in Saigon for any Westerner of acceptable age and BMI.

What might rather help is a mix of set composition and general demeanor.

A set of 3+ hot bitches dressed to impress with top-shelf bottle service might be it (and it will cost you), except if they’re not trying to attract any male attention outside the group. They might also be “hookers who made it”, living large and fucking hotboys at 30+ on one or more ex-husband(s) pension(s). Or they only work abroad for discretion (Asian girls ain’t cheap in Dubai). In any case their true lives shouldn’t concern you if you qualify as said hotboy in the first place. Yesterday doesn’t exist anymore, remember?

Another group of young girls with cute outfits may dance and jump around like they’re having the time of their life. That’s because they are. Definitely not hookers. You should go for those, and quick before they’re too drunk (even if they only had three Coronas). The sex might be awkward, and the follow-up texting annoying, since you will be one of their first Westerners and they’re used to high-pressure Vietnamese suitors.

Not to be confused with those two- or three-set of casually-dressed young girls with Coronas who are NOT dancing around. Those are first-timers out for a buck in the Saigon “international” scene for the first time. They just didn’t earn the money yet to upgrade to high-class outfits and surgeries but it’s just a question of time. They may be “nhà quê” right now but you won’t believe how they look when you meet them again in five years, provided you recognize them. They usually hang out in the fringe of the bar and suck on the same cheap beer bottle forever. They don’t have center-table cred yet, as they haven’t paid proper bribes to the staff. But the bar still tolerates them for future rotation purpose when the high-class whores with the bottles start getting embarrassingly old.

Being “alone while slutty” is definitely a tell. No Vietnamese person in their right mind would get into any social setting alone. The Vietnamese move as groups. That’s hard-wired cultural shit right here. She may affect a smiling face to pretend she’s just another satisfied patron, but she’s the one doing real business. Except for that rare breed of Western-style DTF horny girls out to score. They do exist but you’re better off waiting for them to make a move, to avoid making a fool of yourself.

Again, we’re in Vietnam, so the money girl might end up giving you a free ride (called “shoring” in whoremonger parlance) while the horny one will not be above a token of appreciation for her time.

So you never really know for sure. Any insight you’ll ever gain is a vague idea of how the stage is set. If you play your cards right you may enter a game you didn’t expect. Một mắt nhắm một mắt mở. Gotta love it!

Newcomers would think the smartest solution would be to ask a local, or members of the staff. But the best solution isn’t always which seems the smartest – see fluidity above. Locals either are as dumbfounded as you are, this bar being an international, thereby strange place, or they just won’t tell you by fear of making someone lose face.

Face is also the reason why you can’t tell the hookers in the first place. Not that they’re exactly ashamed of their trade, but they have their pride. And you won’t see many of them lining up like pieces of meat at some Bangkok fishbowl. Except in karaokes, but again, it’s not a direct transaction (and they don’t speak English).

The truth is, I highly respect Vietnamese hookers for their complexity. Consciously or not, they’re playing their part in the broader enigma that is Vietnam. And that’s part of the fun of being here.

On a side note, it doesn’t hurt that the shroud of mystery drives up their ask price. The scarcier the costlier. So, part of it is marketing.

In the end, the best way to know who’s working or not is assiduity. The more you go out, the more you’ll meet the same girls attracting male attention on a nightly basis, without ever committing to any specific set of friends. You’ll know for sure who’s working. The bad news is, by then they’ll have caught your cheap ass and told everyone you’re one of those long-time expats who don’t pay top dollar.

Pictured: Good girls who are definitely not after money.

2 comments On Who’s the Hooker?

  • This is some of the best writing on the subject I’ve seen. You’re a crack up and insightful. I spent 2 days in HCMC “looking around” and left with more questions than answers about the scene. I also had dinner with a couple of locals who didn’t have much nice to say about the local gold digger (my word, not his). Although he did go onto say that the normal Vietnam husband, cheats, smacks them, and controls the purse strings… sooo I don’t know. But, in the end… I can’t wait to come back.

  • there’s a much simpler way to know : if the girl stares at you then she’s working. especially if she smiles to all the guys passing next to her..

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