Working out how to do some working out in Saigon
Think of an article about fitness and you probably instantly think of some generic airbrushed Men’s Health post telling you how to get a body like the guy out of Wolverine. What you don’t usually read about are the amazingly dilapidated and crappy gyms all over the world that can actually give you a glimpse into the local communities who live there.
I’ve been to my fair share of shit gyms over the years in places such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Morocco and Thailand – and on a recent trip to Vietnam I wanted to continue what has now become a travel habit of mine in each country I visit. Not only is it good to keep up your strength and health when you travel, I really do think just hanging out like a local is way more rewarding than ticking off tourist sights. Of course big hotels probably have state-of-the-art gyms you can go to. But these places are gonna be filled with tourists and not fun. What you want is a place that is falling to bits, with no air-con and questionable equipment.
After a bit of reseach online I read about one such place down a side street on the border of District 1 and District 5 in Ho Chi Minh City. I arrived early in the morning only for the owner to grunt at me, pick his nose then tell me to come back in the afternoon. So of course I wandered back at 2pm to predictably find the place shut with noone in sight. Welcome to SE Asia. Looking about I saw a guy getting a haircut across the street (literally a barber’s chair sitting in the middle of the pavement with a mirror nailed to a wall) and the barber told me it was National Holiday and that the gym was closed. I’d try again tomorrow.
The next day I could already tell from far away that the place was open – rows of motorbikes and mopeds lined up outside the door and trance music blaring from the inside. A load of fish was being dried outside on the pavement on a plastic chair and fried food was being cooked in the reception area. I handed over 50,000dong ($2 )and went inside, the only westerner about and getting the curious looks I have become used to when I visit these places. As expected, the equipment was pretty bad but not terrible. The front section had actual machines but towards the back was were the fun started. There were free weights (totally mismatched and some homemade by the look of it) and a barbell that was ludicrously held together with masking tape. At one point a white cat jumped down from a ledge near the ceiling and proceeded to walk along the top of one of the machines while a person was using it.
Alongside spotlighted posters of Vietnamese bodybuilders, other interior design highlights included a blocked toilet, a back wall that had been smashed through (with wet rugs hanging on the rubble) and a bucket of hard boiled eggs for sale. Considering the temperature of the room, and not sure when they had even been cooked, I decided to pass.
On this particular gym adventure I didn’t really speak to anyone, although one guy did hold up his hand to show me that it was swollen and filled with some sort of weird fluid. I just gave him a nod that I had acknowledged his deformed hand and went back to my routine. And that was that.
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Wanna go for yourself? The the place is called Clb Thể Hình Trần Hưng Đạo. Expect it to be open when it’s open.
Address: 257 Nguyễn Khắc Nhu, Cô Giang, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam