Crazy Buffalo Tramples Saigon

By Dave Fox
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

There is something surreal about sitting at a sidewalk bar at one a.m., in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, hearing “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd drown out the horns of motorbikes. This is my favorite Saigon street corner, but it has changed since my last visit. My eyeballs are currently being molested by a cacophony of neon – a four-story neon buffalo head to be exact.

The neon buffalo is the logo of Saigon’s recently opened Crazy Buffalo Bar. Although I am unable to confirm this, I suspect this neon buffalo is the largest neon buffalo anywhere in the world. Neon smoke puffs from the buffalo’s flaring neon nostrils. The Crazy Buffalo looks truly crazy, and not the “Hey dude, let’s have a crazy party” kind of crazy. No. It is more like a “I am a mentally unstable buffalo, and I would like to stomp upon your crunchy little head” kind of crazy.

The giant neon buffalo is attached to a wall that did not exist seven months ago, the last time I was in Vietnam. Behind the newly constructed, four-story wall, there used to be four floors of balconies. I used to sit and write on those balconies. Back then, the Crazy Buffalo Bar was the Quyen Thanh Hotel – basic, clean rooms, with full baths, air conditioning, minibars, and pet geckos, for 17 US dollars a night. The former balconies are now hidden behind a wall of cement and neon, and I am guessing the geckos have scampered into hiding too. Across the street, as I sit and write at a different bar, frenetic flashes of Crazy Buffalo neon are reverberating off my notepad, hitting my eyeballs in a manner that would likely cause me to have a seizure if I were epileptic.

When I stayed at the Quyen Thanh last March, strange things started happening. One day, the desk in my room disappeared. The day after that, the chair that had belonged to the desk vanished as well. I left town for a couple of days, and when I came back and checked into a new room, the receptionist told me there were no available rooms with refrigerators – even though every room had had a fridge a year earlier.

The Quyen Thanh, I eventually discovered, was closing. The staff, a friendly family who slept in the lobby at night, did not know what would become of it.

The Crazy Buffalo is what has become of it. Its first two levels have been serving cocktails 24 hours a day for a couple of months now to backpackers who probably do not need cocktails 24 hours a day, but who am I to judge? The third-story hip-hop club had its grand opening two weeks ago.

I loved Saigon from the first hour of my first morning here, 19 months ago. It is urban sprawl at its finest, with epic snarls of motorbikes, sidewalk barbecues, and resilient, smiling faces. It is delicious, delicious chaos — hot sauce: optional. There are so many things I love about this city, one of which is marveling at the motorcycle traffic, and the Quyen Thanh balconies were ideal for that.

I worry about my old gecko friends who would visit me in my room in the late afternoons. They used to hang out on the walls, near the air conditioners but I doubt they are there anymore. I sense the Crazy Buffalo is not their kind of joint. I hope they have found a new home where they can live in peace, like they used to.

And I wonder about the politics of a place like the Crazy Buffalo. I mean, Saigon has faced far sadder disasters than this. But when the US military came here in the 1960s to, you know, defend democracy and capitalism and all that stuff, I don’t think this is what they had in mind.

[See the Crazy Buffalo in crazy neon action! Click the crazy window below!]

Published on Wednesday, December 2, 2009

One Response to “Crazy Buffalo Tramples Saigon”

  1. anon
    January 6, 2010 at 10:49 PM

    You’ve got to be kidding me! Quyen Thanh was one of the greatest traveler’s hotels around! I put a lot of friends and family in that place while I was living there. This Buffalo is freaking hideous.

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