My first time at a Saigon hostess bar made me very uneasy.
It was about five years ago. I just came in from Thailand where the lady business is much simpler (albeit uglier). Now I was in the land of fluidity where few things are what they seem. My Vietnamese-American friend had brought me along with his uncle to a live-band bar (I think it was Napoly) packed with sexy female employees, many of whom tried to catch our eye as we walked in, their smile at the ready. Some were already engaged in playful chit-chat with much older men (mostly Việt Kiều sporting crisp polo shirts and drinking expensive whiskey). Being a newcomer to Vietnam, I thought I’d landed at some high-class hooker lounge. Of course I was wrong.
My friend quickly explained that I could sit with any of these wonderful creatures as long as I’d tip her for her time in the end. No bar fine, no blowjob in the toilet, no meeting after her shift. She would only laugh at my jokes, play some drinking games, tease my hormones more than a bit, and that would be it. And I thought…
This had to be most idiotic idea I ever heard.
Still, I went along with it, as my companions were proceeding to leave me for their own “dates” and I didn’t know what else to do on a Saigon night (we all have to start somewhere!). I thought it might be fun, I should be open minded and try it. One hour of awkward dialogue and forced drinking later, I parted ways with my lady, who stood there waiting for me to slip her a 500,000 note. My intuition had been right: not only this was a waste of time, but I felt worse than when I came into the bar. What kind of socially inept loser pays women to talk with him? As we walked out of the bar as lonely as we came in, I voiced my puzzlement aloud, only to hear the next day that my friend’s uncle had told him I was a hopeless Tây Balo. I’m not sure that was meant to be an insult, but it wasn’t exactly a nice thing to say.
Fast-forward five years.
In these years I had a shitload more experiences of the Saigon Nightife, and I’m sorry to report that my stance on hostess bars has nothing but intensified. Paying a woman to sit with you or hear you talk, however hot she is and you’re not, is the single most idiotic way to lose a man’s money, not to mention self-esteem. I’d rather invest all of my money in Bitcoin than spend a single dime on a woman’s sexless pretense of sexual attraction.
And if that makes me a huge Tây Balo, well I’ll be happy to wear my dirtiest Chang Beer tank top next time we hit MZ Club just to see if it makes you look any more attractive to your supposed lady friends, Mr. Big Shot Đại Gia Geezer. (For the record I hate seeing men in tank tops in polite society, this was just a rhetorical device. Anyway you get the point).
In Saigon you can get “pay-to-flirt” service pretty much everywhere, from seafood restaurants to DJ cafes to expensive Vinhouse nightclubs. I’m tempted to include the Western-themed girly bars around Bitexco (as pictured above) even if they don’t require direct tips, because the girls do earn commissions on your bill, and they get to improve their English for upward mobility or future marriage purpose (the venerable No.5 Bar on Pasteur Street boasts 100+ weddings to date). The Western-bar girls will always earn less than their VN-bar counterparts but they have no choice as they are deemed too dark-skinned therefore ugly by local men.
VN INSIDER TIP — Neg hard on their dark skin and you might get somewhere. However white you think it is, in their mind it’s too dark or else they wouldn’t be here.
However high- or low-class the surroundings may be, the core idea remains the same. In a country where many girls are still raised solely to satisfy men in exchange for family security, working as an hostess offers them an attractive way to maximize their part of the equation (the security) while minimizing our own (the satisfaction).
(On a side note, the Japanese and the Koreans get the best of both worlds since their girly bars and “business clubs” in Bến Nghé often have rooms to fuck the hostesses, far from the watchful eye of undercover police as VN men aren’t allowed there. They’re the only ones to enjoy that privilege to my knowledge. Of course there are always exceptions; Smiley Bar on Thái Văn Lung still lets girls suck Western cocks upstairs, the last remnant of a bygone era of Hai Bà Trưng hooker bars; they must pay hefty bribes or have rock-solid Hà Nội connections to be still doing it to this day. I also suspect the Chinese have a very developed and lucrative system of their own in District 5 but that world is beyond my reach. Anyway this blog is about being a Western man in Saigon.)
Of course in the West we also have many places where men pay women in exchange for sexless proximity. Strip clubs for starters; and now millions of free porn videos and webcam girls a click away. But at least strippers strip, and porn lets you masturbate in the privacy of your home.
Some level of erotic gratification, however miserable, is involved in the transaction.
In a hostess bar, you just sit there smiling like an idiot.
Not that you can’t fuck the hostesses. They’re living breathing females after all, and young at that, which makes them prone to sexual attraction if it presents itself. But if you present yourself as a customer from the get go, i.e. the one in position of demand, that sale might be hard to close. However much looks, status, money or game you got before stepping into the hostess bar, none of these will matter once you sit on that stool, because the core concept of the place is you are going to pay ladies to talk to you, and you signed in for it by your mere walking in.
I don’t care if it’s a luxury live-band venue, a daytime cafe or a Western sports bar; those are all smoke screens for the main attraction which is friending the ladies. That’s the main difference with a “normal” bar (Asian or Western) where you actually go watch a band or a game, drink and/or dance with your buddies, mingle with the crowd, and potentially pick a girl (customer) along the way.
Waitresses the world over know they’ll get better tips if they put on a smile and a sexy outfit. But that doesn’t make them the main attraction; there’s no way you’ll go to their bar just to talk to them, unless you’re a creep (in which case you should definitely switch to hostess bars).
In the hostess bar the girls are the offering, disguised as the crowd.
And they have nothing to offer but smoke. Better go get a real hooker and get your cock sucked for about the same amount of money and much less hassle. The pussy might be of lesser quality but at least you’ll get to see it.
If you meet the hostesses outside their bar, however, you might turn the tables. As noted above, you won’t be automatically cast as a customer, hence you’ll have a fairer shot at them. They’ll be normal, everyday women on a equal footing with you in the supply-and-demand dynamics.
The hard part is staying awake long enough, as these young ladies work the graveyard shift for long hours with very few days off. If your own schedule permits you can try to match theirs. You might need to use drugs to keep pace and also to spice up the game. It will cost you less in tips, but more in damage to your health. Perhaps the best course of action is to keep off these women altogether.
Pictured: (No) Action at the No.5 Bar on Pasteur Street.