Fitness for all

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Saigon sometimes feels like a big dusty construction site teeming with competitive energy.

Amid the chaos, more and more people are choosing to spend money to sweat out their anxiety in the air-conditioned comfort of the town's burgeoning fitness centers. Saigon residents now have a wide range of options for staying fit - whether practicing Tai Chi in a public park or working out in a fitness center at a five-star hotel.

Two front-runners

Two of the favorite fitness centers in Saigon are California Wow and Star Fitness at The Manor apartments. The prices are very competitive (starting from US$68.3 to $100 per month). At Star Fitness the uninitiated pay a one-time joining fee of $500 (for individuals). After that, a one-year membership starts at around $630. Those who join with a group of eight friends pay no joining fee. Membership holders have access to 25 different classes"”from Tropical Hatha Yoga to Boxing Conditioning.

"[Star Fitness at The Manor] is similar, in quality, to the gym I belonged to in Korea. But the one in Korea was $100 more expensive," said Mr. Lee Bo Hyung, a Korean expat who joined the gym some months ago.

For people like Tran Hoang Viet, the different options of exercise class are the main attraction.

"Somehow, participating in a class is even better than in the gym," Viet said. "It helps one build up endurance I am not so into developing big muscles."

California Wow's two HCMC locations offer over 100 different fitness classes. The price for one year's membership is $799, for six months it is $598 and for one month it is $159.

Linh Johanson, a Swedish-Vietnamese marketing assistant at DQ Media, has tried quite a bit of what California Wow has to offer. "I have tried yoga, belly dance, Bollywood dance and personal training at California Wow fitness center. In Sweden the fitness center market is very competitive while it is still new in Vietnam," said Johanson who usually makes it to the center on Le Lai Street in District 1 during the evening rush hour. "In comparison to the fitness centers in Stockholm, California Wow has the same level of quality, though the price at California Wow is double the cost of my gym in Stockholm."

Working out in the lap of luxury

High-end fitness centers in town are mostly located in five-star hotels and luxury apartment complexes. The price of one-year memberships ranges from $1,300 (Sofitel Saigon Plaza hotel) to $2,300 (Intercontinental Asiana Saigon hotel, Sheraton Saigon hotel) and $2,880 at the Park Hyatt.

Like most of the five-star hotels in town, at InterContinental Asiana Saigon there are different prices for full-time and off-peak memberships as well as packages for couples and corporate rates (maximum four members). Sheraton Fitness also offers packages deals and adjusted rates depending on the number of people signing up.

Thanh Nien Weekly checked out these services as a customer.

Sofitel Saigon Plaza

In comparison with other five-star hotels, the fee for membership at the Sofitel Saigon Plaza hotel's fitness center is surprisingly competitive. $1,300 (plus tax) buys a year's worth of access to the hotel swimming pool, gym, steam room and all classes including aerobics, Tai Chi and four kinds of Yoga.

The gym overlooks the shady street below. While the hotel swimming pool on the 19th floor offers a panoramic view of Saigon. Swimming against the sunset while watching the river pass through the high glass buildings helps relax the body and the mind.

Mr. Tran Binh Brian who is a member of the fitness center at Sofitel Saigon Plaza said: "I chose this fitness center because it is private, accessible and offers great service. It is not complicated here. I am so pleased to see the smiling faces of the fitness center staff when I arrive."

InterContinental Asiana Saigon

The Fitness Center at the InterContinental Asiana Saigon features a translucent, glass-bottomed outdoor swimming pool. Next to it is a room where guests can relax and enjoy free tea and fresh fruit.

A spacious grassy lawn on the fourth floor offers guests and members a quiet place to sun bathe or jog. Starting in November, the hotel will offer a 40 percent discount on 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. memberships; the hotel will also offer five new classes including outdoor Yoga, and Aqua Aerobics.

In the park

Every day, from 6 to 7 p.m. public aerobics classes are offered at Le Van Tam Park in District 1. Hundreds of students clad in gym clothes and sneakers gather in an open square to mimic their instructors. Some of tough it out on the concrete while meeker students stand farther off, hiding in the shade of the park's tall trees.

To organize the class, all a teacher needs to do is prepare a cassette player. The music tends to be a bit old-fashioned and the participants have no privacy at all. For some, it is all about the positive energy. Beyond that, the price is unbeatable - only VND70,000 (around $3.70 per month).

"I come here every day to join the open-air aerobic class with my mum," said 26-year-old Nguyen Thi Huyen. "I spend most of the time in the office during the day so it is good to be outdoors getting some exercise."

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