Vietnam is a drinkers paradise. However, there are some really common tricks seedy bars use to increase their profits.

On a scale from Paulie Shore to Martin Shkreli, these range from mildly annoying to absolutely insidious.   You can’t argue with these places, either. Next time you’re out on the lash, try to avoid any establishments guilty of the following acts of treachery:

1) Diluting Alcohol

This is usually the one you think of first. Bars in Viet Nam, especially in tourist districts, are all about their all-mighty margins (see: dollars) and a quick way to extend their stock is to water down their stash.  They may even get a few extra shots out of the bottle after diluting that bad-boy with Nuoc Suoi. If you suspect the bar is cutting their stock, order a shot of neat dark liquor, like Jack Daniels or Jameson.  If it doesn’t look like liquid shoe polish, go elsewhere.          

diluted alcohol is common in vietnam

2) Fake Alcohol

Rum should not taste like bubble gum.  Gin should not taste like vodka and pine-sol. Dying rice-ethanol yellow does not make it tequila any more than Yamaha Exciter tail lights will make your Nuovo a Yamaha Exciter. People selling empty bottles on the side of the road are not peddling them so college freshmen can make sweet neon lamps for their doom rooms. 

Rice wine dyed to resemble other types of alcohol

3) Tiny Measures

A standard shot is 44ml or 1.5 fl oz. However, most bars in Viet Nam use 29 ml “short” shots. These are a full 50% smaller than a standard shot in America/Europe/almost everywhere else.  A bar is advertising a bucket which they claim has five shots?  Really has three.  These drinks are about as disappointing as the last season of Lost, which is saying quite a lot.

small shot glasses used everywhere in vietnam

4) Insane, Often Hidden Markup on Mixers

If you order a gin tonic, many bars will charge you for both the gin and the tonic independently. The going rate for the mixer is usually on the order of 10k vnd, which is what they cost per can at Circle K. Even though you’ve bought the can with your first drink, they will continue to re-charge you for the same can of mixer each time you re-up. You can beat this one by buying a single can of mixer, and ordering your booze on the rocks. Mix as you go! Beat the system! Lights out, guerrilla radio! 

overpriced mixers at bars in Saigon

5) Straight giving you half a drink

This is not a Jack and Coke.  This is a splash of alcohol and a splash of mixer in an already tiny (4 oz) glass. 

Small drink pour often found at HCMC bars

6) Ice berg, right ahead!

In a country where virtually everything is much smaller than what we’re probably used to, two exceptions stand out.  Carrots and Ice cubes; both of which are comically large. While massive carrots probably aren’t hurting our 3 a.m. benders, (or maybe they are? Who knows how you party…) a cylindrical anvil of ice is basically the Kanye West to our T-Swift.  If you want to feel worse than you already do about ordering a 120k rum and coke, remove the ice cube and behold your three sips of cocktail. 

Huge ice cubes are a vietnamese cocktail tradition

7) Creative glass sizes

To fool customers into ordering bigger [Read: more expensive] drinks, some establishments will offer a larger size drink for a small amount of extra Dong.  They are relying on an age-old visual trick wherein taller = greater mass.  

Optical illusion. The glasses hold the same volume of beer.

8) “Strong” drinks = less mixer

Ordering a double, or stronger drink will run you twice the price since economies-of-scale isn’t a thing in Asia. In reality, a lot of places will just use less mixer and more ice.  The now defunct and unfortunately named “F*ck strong buckets” on De Tham in HCMC was notorious for this.  A “F*ck strong” vodka Red Bull came to you half full, and it was only “strong” because they pretty much held the Red Bull and gave you a frosty bucket of engine degreaser, or Vietnamese rice vodka. 

Most strong drinks in south east asia just use less mixer

9) Terrible “happy hour” deals

“Buy two get one free” is a desecration of this holy pillar of work/life-balance.  Happy Hour means buy one, get one free (or a percentage discount from the normal price.) The bars advertising these lame sales techniques aren’t actually saving you any money.  By requiring you to buy two, the profits from drink A and B have already covered drink C and then some.  This crappy deal only works if you happen to be out in a group of exactly 3 people. 

Buy two get one free vietnam

10) Hidden VAT / service charge

This one is the worst.  This one is the crouching tiger of bar rip-offs. Instead of building the VAT into the price like pretty much every established company in Viet Nam, many bars arbitrarily adopt the American style of charging (which the majority of bars in America ironically don’t do.)  The notification on the menu is already so small that you either fail to notice it, or have already settled in with your drinks by the time you do.  And any establishment shady enough to randomly not include the tax is usually greedy enough to add an additional 5% service charge.  Take that, valued customer!

bar overcharges common to vietnam