Lauren Cameron investigates some of the many sporting options available in Saigon. Photos by Romain Garrigue.
We’ve all been there. It’s New Year’s Eve. It’s approaching midnight and you’re overexcited, high-strung and probably extremely tipsy. You’ve eaten, drunk, and partied yourself into oblivion over the festive period – and boy is your body feeling it. It’s only natural that you make the bold and extremely rash decision to make public your New Year’s resolution: your intention to lose 15-odd-kilos in 2018.
Now day has dawned and you are exhausted, hungover and questioning your decision-making processes.
Like I said, we’ve all been there. Self-improvement, or at least the desire for it, is a popular hobby around this time of year. Statistics however, reveal the sad truth: a mere 8% of people on average achieve their New Year’s resolutions every year. But before you join the masses of high-hopers whose new year dreams are doomed in inevitable failure, stress not. Ho Chi Minh City is quickly gaining a reputation as Asia’s second fastest growing economy – and the growth isn’t limited to the finance sector. There is a growing number of private gymnasiums, boutique fitness studios, sport stores and unique activities on offer across the city that cater to those who want to get fit but can’t quite see themselves doing it traditionally. We’ve gathered a list of sports and activities that will help you keep your New Year’s resolution – and dignity – intact.
For Those Who Love To Race
The Indochinese Peninsula, of which Vietnam takes up the most Eastern part, offers some of the most unique and stunning outdoor adventure terrain in the world. The lush highlands and mountain plateaus of Vietnam’s North, the fertile lowlands of the Red River Delta and the rugged mountain peaks and extensive forests of the central highlands are a dream for those who get their kicks from outdoor trail running. The local competition scene is in full swing year-round, drawing a competitive local and international crowd of runners and adventure racers. In 2018 you have your fair share of race events to choose from – starting with the HCMC Marathon taking place this month! January 14 will see the country’s most high-profile marathon hit the streets of Saigon, with options for participants including the full 42 km marathon, a 21 km half marathon, a 10 km and 5 km run, with all categories open to both men and women. For the younger competitors among us, there is even a 1km Kids Dash – or 2 km for those with bigger ambitions! Organised by Pulse Active, the HCMC Marathon has been around since 1992 and is attracting more entrants year on year. If you can get yourself in shape in time to compete in one of the shorter distances, this is a sure-fire way to rid yourself of the second and third helpings of Christmas pud you enjoyed over the festive season.
For the even more adventurous at heart, you could sign up for the Tu Lan Adventure Race (March 31 – April 3, 2018), a challenging, multi-day competition that offers a thrilling race itinerary featuring upstream wooden boat racing, jungle trekking, river cave swimming and rock climbing. The race requires participants to make their way through the unique, rough terrains of Vietnam’s infamous Tu Lan Cave System, traversing giant limestone mountains and the deep, cool underground rivers that wind through the valleys of the Quang Binh Province. In teams of 10, more than 100 racers will be scored on their team’s performance each day, with the 2018 challenge expected to have the most challenging itinerary of any previous race. The best part? Funds raised by 2018 participants will be used to build a number of floating houses for the struggling local community of Tan Hoa commune.
Set in a similarly awe-inspiring setting, the Vietnam Jungle Marathon takes place on April 14 in the Pu Luong Nature Reserve, 140 km south west of Hanoi. With routes of 25 km for the ‘beginners’ among us, 42 km for the more ambitious and 70 km for the extremely hardcore, the course takes runners through ancient jungle, vibrant rice paddy fields, remote villages and past soaring limestone peaks, in an area otherwise untouched by tourism. The challenge culminates in an after-party at the Ban Hang Race Village, where runners are invited to exchange on-trail experiences beside a roaring fire under a starlit sky… I wonder if it’s possible to join for this alone? Joking. But on a very serious note: given that trail running burns between 800 and 1500 calories an hour depending on speed, my calculations show you can burn off at least eight bottles of champagne an hour by cruising at a medium speed in this race. So start training folks!
To keep an eye out for other upcoming races across the country be sure to follow Run Vietnam (www.facebook.com/runvietnam) on Facebook.
Tu Lan Adventure Race
Entry fee | VND70,000,000 per team
Entry fee | Differs depending on distance
Details | www.hcmcrun.com
Vietnam Jungle Marathon
Entry fee | US$129 for 25km, US$139 for 42km and US$169 for 70km
Details | vietnamjunglemarathon.com
For Those Who Get Bored Easily
Heaving your body up a wall (though not appealing to all) is a great way to challenge and improve one’s physical strength and endurance. And contrary to popular belief, rock climbing requires a whole lot more than upper-body strength – it also requires intricate footwork, flexibility, lower body strength and lean muscle mass (which could be problematic given we’re dealing with post-Christmas bodies here). From a mental standpoint, climbing also teaches focus, determination and balance, and studies have shown that climbers who totally lose themselves in the flow of the activity enter a mindset that can create a sense of euphoria and even block pain! Bonus: a one hour climbing session can burn well over 700 calories – the equivalent of four portions of Christmas turkey! Given that Ho Chi Minh City is built largely on flat terrain, natural outdoor climbing opportunities are few and far between, however, there are a handful of artificial indoor climbing gyms ideally suited to those wanting to give the sport a go. Unfortunately Vertical Academy in District 2 closed just as we were going to print, leaving Push Climbing in District 2 and Everest Rock Climbing Centre in Go Vap the only remaining rock climbing gymns in town.
Price | Day pass (nor including gear) is VND200,000
Details | pushclimbing.com
Everest Rock Climbing Centre
Price | Day pass is VND200,000
Details | everestviet.com
Just admit it. You’ve secretly wanted to try pole dancing ever since Demi Moore’s infamous performance in the 1996 blockbuster Striptease. Well here’s your chance. The once-controversial fitness craze has hit Vietnam at last and ladies nationwide are eager to get a taste of the sensual, aerobic activity. You can’t deny that it’s a great way to lose weight (approximately 350 calories an hour) while having fun and channeling your inner Demi. Pole dancing is a form of group fitness aerobics that certainly gets the heart beating, challenging both cardiovascular and resistance strengths. To sample the sport in Ho Chi Minh City, give Saigondance in District 4 or California Fitness’s Tan Binh District club a call.
Price | VND140,000 a class or VND900,000 for eight sessions
Details | www.saigondance.vn
Price |Varies depending on membership
Details | www.cfyc.com.vn
Mixed martial arts
No, we’re not simply talking ‘wax on, wax off’. Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a hybrid combat sport that incorporates techniques from boxing, wrestling, judo, jujitsu, karate, Muay Thai and a number of other equally challenging disciplines. Although initially described as a ‘brutal blood sport without rules’, MMA has emerged as one of the world’s fastest growing spectator sports, mostly due to the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. But the perks of the sport don’t lie in spectating – the health benefits of practicing MMA are vast. Improved reflexes, enhanced cardiovascular strength, better focus, muscle toning, conditioning, improved mood and weight loss (a one hour session of moderate intensity martial arts can burn up to 500 calories) are just some examples. Lucky for you a number of clubs offering MMA have sprung up across Ho Chi Minh City in recent years, with the Saigon Sports Club in District 7 perhaps the largest MMA center in the city with 81,000 square feet of training space. UFC GYM – touted the world leader in MMA training, also recently opened its first branch in Asia in District 2.
Saigon Sports Club
Price | Varies depending on membership
Details | www.saigonsc.vn
Price | Varies depending on membership, trial class free
Details | www.ufcgym.com.vn
If you want to sign up for a class that feels more like fun than work, give Jump-Fit a go. It is high-intensity, low impact cardio workout takes place on trampolines. I repeat, trampolines. Not only will you feel like a child again for a wonderful 30-odd minutes, but using a trampoline while working out actually increases the number of calories you burn compared with other forms of exercise, like walking or jogging. Consisting of a whole heap of jumps, twists, bounds and flips, Jump-Fit improves lymphatic functioning by increasing lymph flow, ridding the body of all those toxins you accumulated over the Christmas break and improving overall immune function. Jump Arena is the place to give the sport a try, with a flagship facility smack bang in the center of District 2 and numerous other venues popping up all over Vietnam.
Price | VND300,000 a class (including entrance fee, excluding grip-socks)
Address | 63 Xa Lo Ha Noi, Thao Dien Ward, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City
Details | jumparena.vn
For Those Seeking A Workout For The Soul
A 5,000-year-old Chinese practice that literally means “life energy cultivation’, qigong is the holistic combination of coordinated body postures, movement, breathing and meditation. While the exercise might only burn roughly 100 calories an hour, qigong allows practisers to reach higher realms of awareness and awaken their “true nature”, according to Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian philosophy, making it more than worth the while in my humble opinion. Mandala Wellness in District 2 offers regular Saturday morning qigong classes with Van, a practitioner who trained under one of the world’s most well-respected qigong leaders, Tevia Feng, at the White Tiger Qi Gong school of Thailand.
Price | Drop-ins VND150,000, VND650,000 for a 5-class pass, VND1,200,000 for a 10-class pass
Details | mandala-wellness.com.vn
Aquafit And Aquabiking
We all know working out underwater has its perks, mostly which relate to minimised impact on the ankles, joints and back. But some other advantages of pool-based exercise include reduced cellulite (yes please!), enhanced flexibility, accelerated weight loss, better blood and lymphatic circulation – oh, and it is super fun! Aquafit and aquabiking caters for everyone but particularly for those with injuries, arthritis, osteoporosis, recovering from surgery or prenatal and postnatal women. It’s also possible to burn anywhere between 240 to 360 calories an hour – all while working on your tan! Sign me up.
Price | Class prices vary, free trial class
Details | aquafit.vn
Price: free trial class
For Those Who Love Team Sport
Ice Hockey League
Would you believe it? There is an ice hockey league in Ho Chi Minh City – courtesy of the Canadians, obviously. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce Vietnam formed the Ho Chi Minh City Ice Hockey League back in 2010 and games are played every Thursday night at Vincom Mega Mall in District 2 between 7.30pm and 9.30pm for anyone aged 15 or over.
CANCHAM will also be offering hockey training and coaching sessions for different age groups and all levels of play in the near future. Not only will an hour spent on ice a week remind you what it feels like to be cool, but the activity also burns an admirable 403 calories an hour!
Ho Chi Minh City Ice Hockey League
Price | VND360,000 game for non-members/VND260,000 a game for CANCHAM/SWECHAM members/VND220,000 for students
Details | www.facebook.com/IceHockeyinSaigon
Australian Rules Football and Gaelic Football
Aussies. They’re everywhere. In this instance, it’s a great thing. Playing Australian Rules Football is a fantastic way of improving your upper and lower body strength, agility, speed, cardiovascular fitness, endurance, and ball-handling skills, as well as learning self-discipline and team skills. The Vietnam Swans – the country’s premier Australian Rules club – is an inclusive, nationally-focused sporting and social club with active membership across Vietnam, including Danang, Hanoi, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City and Vung Tau, in addition to supporters and players in Australia and across the globe. By joining the Ho Chi Minh City team, you are opening yourself up to not only play home fixtures but also travel around Asia for games and tournaments including the AFL Asian Championships, the annual ANZAC Friendship Match in Vung Tau, Manila Cup and Central Vietnam Games, held annually in Hoi An.
While the Swans is a male-only sport club, in 2014 it formed an official partnership with the Ladies Saigon Gaels Gaelic Football Club, who the Swans now trains, tours and socialises alongside on a regular basis. Don’t stress out if you don’t know the rules of this bizarre sport because, as a similarly inclusive club, the Gaels welcomes players who often have never played a game of Gaelic Football in their life, as well as all nationalities and sporting backgrounds.
Prices | Playing membership VND2,000,000, social membership only VND500,000
Details | vietnamswans.com
Ladies Saigon Gaels Gaelic Football Club
Prices | VND2 million for 12-month membership (including tournament fees, training kit, merchandise and social functions), VND1.2 million for 6 months. Free for Vietnamese citizens.
Details | www.saigongaels.com
Organised voluntarily by a group of HCMC-based expats who lamented the lack of team sports available to English speakers in the city, the Saigon Shooters is a Monday night mixed adult netball competition held at the Australian International School sports facility in An Phu, District 2. As well as earning to right to feel smug as you burn an impressive 580 calories an hour playing the sport, joining the Shooters will also open the door to a potential 70+ active new friends, with regular social events and even opportunities to travel and represent the Saigon Shooters at a competitive level. The 2018 Season will start up again after the Tet holiday and for more details join the Saigon Shooters Facebook group.
Prices | VND10,000,000 a team to enter the competition
Details | www.facebook.com/groups/saigonshootersnetball
For Those Who Prefer To DIY
There are some of us who would rather not commit to a full season or sport team for fear of a changing schedule or general unreliability. Fear not! There are a ton of easy, DIY exercise options for those who prefer to work out every-now-and-then as opposed to regularly… Here are just a few.
Hit The Pool
The pros of getting into the water to exercise by far outweigh the cons (namely squeezing into last season’s one-piece), with swimming recognised for its ability to reduce obesity, improve muscular strength, relieve stress, back pain – it can even toughen weakened muscles in post-surgical breast cancer patients. Since swimming does not strain the body’s connective tissues, it is a good sport for physically challenged people, particularly those suffering from leg and lower back pain, as well as arthritis and osteoporosis. There are a handful of Olympic-sized pools scattered throughout the city, with Yet Kieu perhaps the best suited to serious swimmers and Van Thanh suited to those seeking a relaxed poolside vibe after the hard part is over. With a nice poolside restaurant, this resort-style pool is set within a well-maintained tourist park amidst lush surrounds, making it a firm crowd favourite on weekends.
Yet Kieu Pool
Address | 1 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1
Price | big pool: VND20,000, small pool: VND15,000
Opening hours | weekdays: 5am-7am, 11am-1pm, 4pm-6pm | weekends: 5am-7am, 2pm-6pm
Van Thanh Pool
Address | 48/10 Dien Bien Phu, Binh Thanh District
Price | VND70,000 entry
Opening hours | 6am-7pm daily
Work On Your Forehand
How long has it been since you’ve picked up a racket and had a hit? Yes, it might take a while to get back into the swing of things but tennis is a brilliant way to get a sweat on and the health benefits are fantastic: improved aerobic fitness, a more favourable lipid profile, improved bone health and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, to name a few. Tennis can also burn anywhere between 400 and 540 calories an hour depending on game… two portions of Christmas Day roast potato at least! If this floats your boat then get in touch with the folk down at Lan Anh Club in the very central location of District 10, who will happily sort you out with one of seven available tennis courts. Alternatively, Green Bamboo Club in the Binh Thanh District has courts available for hire. Or you could always befriend someone living in a fully serviced apartment with full amenities.
Green Bamboo Club
Address | 50/3 Xo Viet Nghe Tinh Street, Binh Thanh District
Price | Depends on time of day
Contact | (08) 38986504
Lan Anh Club
Address | 291 Cach Mang Thang Tam Street, District 10
Price | Ranges from US$1.35-$6 an hour depending on time of day
Details | lananhclub.vn
Contact | 8627144.