You will surely be offered beer at some point during your time in Vietnam. Enjoy it. And make some new friends while you drink.
A pint, a jar, a can, a tinnie…whatever you call it, they enjoy it in Vietnam. Nearly 4 billion liters of the cold stuff is produced each year here. Vietnamese beer culture is an unmissable part of visiting the country. So, drink up!
The first step to successful beer-drinking in Vietnam is to learn the Vietnamese word for “cheers”, which sounds like “yo.” Locals tend to say: “One, two, three, cheers!” or “Mot, hai, ba, yo!” If you want to really show off, you can toast “to your health (chuc suc khoe)!”
Types of Vietnamese beer
Draught (bia hoi)
This is the most popular type with the locals. Brewed daily in local breweries, bia hoi (or “fresh beer”) has no preservatives and so is the cheapest and purest type of Vietnamese beer. You can pay as little as 5,000 VND ($0.10 USD) in bia hoi bars (more about these later) for an infamous plastic glass of draft beer.
Vietnam produces around a dozen national brands of beer, a few of which you will see on nearly every restaurant or bar menu:
333 is a pale lager with 5.3% alcohol content. It is usually the cheapest of these national brands, at around 12,000 VND (US$0.50). The name was initially “33” beer, but in 1975 the communist government added an extra 3 to differentiate from colonial origins. Ordering a 333 beer in Vietnamese is easy — ask for “bia ba ba ba (Three Three Three beer).”
Saigon beer has three types.
Saigon Green is usually the cheapest. It has a smooth taste and an alcohol content of 4.3%.
Saigon Export (AKA Saigon Red) is, as the name suggests, of export quality, although it has a stronger taste which is not always to everyone’s liking!
At 4.9%, Saigon Special has the highest alcohol content and a sweeter taste than red or green.
All cost between 15,000 VND ($0.60 USD) and 20,000 VND ($0.90 USD).
Hanoi beer is produced in Hanoi, the country’s capital. In Saigon it may be a little more expensive, but still only costs around 20,000 VND (US$0.90). It is a pale lager with a slightly sweet taste and an alcohol content of 5.1%.
Finally, there’s Huda. It comes from Central Vietnam and has a similar taste to Heineken. It’s often the same price as 333.
Ho Chi Minh City is home to some incredible craft breweries such as Pasteur Street Brewing Company, Winking Seal, East West Brewing Company and Fuzzy Logic. They produce unique beers by combining traditional methods with unusual local ingredients. You can find passion-fruit, cocoa and even coffee beer. Be prepared to pay a little more, around 80,000 to 120,000 VND ($3.50 to $5 USD). But it’s worth it!
The Vietnamese have some unique ways of enjoying their beer, both in terms of how they drink and with whom they drink it.
First, a warning. Beer here usually comes with ice. (I know, it is a despicable thought to Westerners who usually enjoy beer cold from the fridge.) Your waiter or waitress may place a large ice cube in your pint glass, no questions asked. Try it. You might grow to like it! Or it might teach you to drink your beer a little quicker before the ice melts.
Another great part of the beer culture in Vietnam is the social aspect. It is a communal and shared experience. Locals commonly order beer by the case for everyone to just dive in, the empties counted later when it’s time for the bill. The table of locals next to you might ask you to share a toast with them, or you can even invite your waiter or waitress to join you and they will very often accept (at your expense!).
It is also common for the Vietnamese to do business with a beer, meeting after work with colleagues to discuss or close deals. More can get done around the beer table than in the boardroom, so perhaps even organize one yourself if you are here on business!
Where to drink?
Bia hoi bars
Enjoying a beer in true Vietnamese style means sitting on a plastic chair at the roadside surrounded by chattering locals at a bia hoi bar. These ubiquitous, open-air bars are noisy, informal and inexpensive social hubs where locals gather in large groups to drink in the evening after work. The draft beer flows like water! Pull up a chair and you will get a drink sometimes without even having to ask. Sometimes a karaoke microphone makes its way through the group.
Some places to consider:
Vinh Khanh Street on the District 1-4 border is lined with plastic chairs. Just take a seat and wait for a server.
Bui Vien Street (Saigon’s backpacker street) is home to several bia hoi bars, distinguishable by the plastic chairs spilling out on to the road.
These are a relatively modern phenomenon, popular in particular with large groups of young locals. Beer clubs are a cross between a bia hoi and a nightclub, with a DJ usually playing international and local electronic dance music unapologetically loudly! Locals aren’t put off by having work the next day, so you will find beer clubs bustling every night of the week.
Fox Beer Club sits by the Saigon River in District 1. It is modern and trendy, with 2 levels and even a stage for dancing. It is open from 4pm to midnight every day.
One Plus Beer Club is one of the few rooftop beer clubs in Saigon. You can expect performances and dancing to accompany your beer. It barely sleeps, open from 10am to 1am, Monday through Saturday, and 10am to midnight on Sunday.
Vuvuzela Beer Club is in the heart of District 1 on Pham Ngu Lao (also known as “Backpacker Street”). Its bright lights and thumping music make it unmissable when it is open, from 10am to 11.30pm every day.
Or somewhere else?
Ho Chi Minh City truly spoils you with choices to enjoy Vietnamese beer. So whatever type of beer you choose and wherever you decide to drink it, you’ll see there is a wealth of choice in Ho Chi Minh City when you are partial to a pint.