Two foreign tourists caused outrage in Hanoi earlier this month when a video appeared to show them sunbathing in bikinis on a grassy bank beside Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake. Given the sacred location and local attitudes towards appropriate dress, their behavior was deemed inappropriate and offensive by many commentators and law officials.
But, as a sun-lover myself, hailing from the U.K., a country where summer can come and go in the space of a day, I can (almost) understand the girls’ logic, even if it was applied without much thought as to their surroundings. Despite boasting year-round temperatures of 30-degrees or more, life in Saigon, in particular, can often be completely void of any exposure to the bright round ball in the sky. As we hop from air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned shopping malls, offices and restaurants, it’s possible to go days, if not weeks, without a single dose of Vitamin D.
“Where’s your tan?” people ask whenever I go back to England. “Don’t you live in Vietnam?”
So, grab your SPF100, select a good paperback, iron your swimmers, charge up the iPod, and steer clear of Vietnam’s hallowed historic sites. We’ve put together a list of the best places in Ho Chi Minh City to get semi-naked and bask in the sunshine without landing in hot water with the fuzz.
Van Thanh Park (and pool)
Dien Bien Phu, Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City
Could this be Saigon’s best park? Van Thanh’s expanses of grass and greenery are ideal for kicking back and catching some rays, and with a pool and dining facilities, there’s enough to keep you there all day.
There’s a rather odd rule about not being able to put down a towel or blanket on the grass (flaunt it and risk the wrath of a security guard’s wagging finger), but the cabana and barbecue areas on the south side of the park more than make up for it (rental charges apply).
The open-air public pool, unlike many in town, is geared towards fun rather than straight-line swimming, and features parasols and loungers and has plenty of nearby food and drinks vendors to keep you going. Immensely popular with families, it’s wise to visit mid-week if you want to avoid the kids (and their water guns!).
Thao Dien Village
189-197 Nguyen Van Huong, Thao Dien, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City
An open-door policy allows non-guests and non-members to “sneak” into this decadent hotel, pool, gym and spa facility on the banks of the Saigon River for a day of sun-soaked luxury. For VND300,000 ($13), enjoy a whole day relaxing by the pool or lazing by the river beneath a tropical canopy of plants and trees away from District 1’s noise and fumes. Once you’ve worked up an appetite (by doing absolutely nothing), the three onsite eateries, including Ngon Restaurant, are ready to take your order and bus it straight to your lounger.
After dinner, slip into the sparkling water to cool off, rinse and repeat until sunset.
Dam Sen Water Park
3 Hoa Binh, District 11, Ho Chi Minh City
Firstly, if you don’t like crowds, don’t visit Dam Sen at the weekend, and definitely don’t visit during a public holiday. Being just 8km from the center of town, it’s an extremely popular spot. With waterslides, water playgrounds, a lazy river, a pedal-boat lake, concrete beaches and plenty of water-fueled (and land-based) fun, Dam Sen is a much-loved inner-city opportunity to strip down, cool down, and ogle your love interest in his budgie smugglers.
Lying less than half a day’s travel from Saigon by road or rail, the coastline between Vung Tau and Mui Ne has played host to several music and arts festivals in recent years. Offering a wide range of live music, DJs and performance artists, they’re an ideal way to let off some steam with the sand between your toes and without upsetting the neighbors. Remember, sun and alcohol don’t mix, so make sure you’re downing plenty of coconut water (a natural hydration drink) and slopping on plenty of lotion before your skin goes from “healthy glow” to “oh-no-no-no”.