Tourists drink beer on the sidewalk of Bui Vien Street in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1. Photo: Diep Duc Minh
Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and probably all cities in Vietnam, are wasting their potential to attract more tourists due to a lack of nightlife.
Most of the country's tourist cities do not have many entertainment venues.
In Hanoi, all restaurants and cafés close after midnight.
A government decree stipulates that all night clubs and karaoke parlors must close when the clock strikes midnight.
Only bars and clubs at top-tier hotels and resorts are allowed to stay open until 2 a.m.
Roberto, a Spanish tourist I met on the sidewalk of Bui Vien Street, dubbed as the backpackers’ area in HCMC, said he and his friends visited quite a number of attractions in the city over the last three days.
They just did not know where to go after sundown.
He said they usually went around Ben Thanh Market and ended up walking back to Bui Vien Street to drink.
Roberto knew there were bars inside 5-star hotels that open after midnight, but they could not afford it. That’s why sidewalk beer was still the best, if not the only option for him.
As we continued our conversation, the area became quieter.
Roberto and his friends had a few more beers. They were about to go back to their hotel and sleep.
“What a pity! Saigon nightlife is all about drinking beer. I heard that Hanoi is just the same.”
Tran Vinh Loc, director of Lac Hong Tours, said his company’s tourists have no idea what to do at night in Saigon.
They usually wander along downtown streets, drink coffee and then go to bed.
“Tourists do not spend much here because they do not have many things to do at night,” he said.
Nguyen Quoc Ky, general director of Vietravel, said on average, a foreign tourist spends no more than $50 per day in Vietnam, while a Vietnamese tourist can spend up to $100 in Thailand and $130-150 per day in South Korea or Japan.
If a foreign tourist spends the equal amount as a Vietnamese tourist in Thailand, Vietnam will be able to collect huge revenues from the 8 million foreign tourists it welcomes each year.
A recent survey by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism showed that only 3.56 percent of the total spending by a foreign tourist in Vietnam is for entertainment.
Please do not force tourists go to bed when they are not sleepy." -- Tran Van Truong, VYC Travel
Tran Van Truong, director of VYC Travel, protested against the midnight curfew imposed on clubs and bars.
“The ban on entertainment activities after midnight doesn't make Vietnam look good. Please do not force tourists go to bed when they are not sleepy,” he said.
Robert Tan, a Singaporean tourism expert, said Vietnam wants to attract more foreign tourists, but it refuses to open entertainment venues after midnight.
According to Tan, most popular tourist cities in the world have an exciting nightlife. Hanoi and HCMC should rethink their policies to attract more tourists.
If there are more entertainment choices, revenues for the tourism industry will definitely increase, he said.
Doan Ky Thanh, the creator of an arts and nightlife district known as Zone 9 in Hanoi which has been shut down, said the city desperately needs more entertainment venues.
“We cannot blame nightlife for the so-called 'social evils.' If there are evils, they exist during daytime too.
"It's just a matter of management."
Vietnamese authorities have recently ramped up efforts to tackle thefts and rip-offs and exempted visa for European tourists, in an attempt to reverse a drop in foreign visitors that’s hurting the economy.
What Vietnam needs to do now is to change the midnight “Cinderella rule” which has existed for decades now.
The good thing is it doesn't need any fairy godmother to make that change.