A look inside Ho Chi Minh City's emerging creative scene

Linh Nguyen’s influence on the creative community in Ho Chi Minh City is palpable. The first venture he opened, Saigon Outcast, filled a gap the city didn’t know it had: a space for people to congregate, to create, to feel inspired, and to feel at home. He has since opened two additional unique venues in restored, creative spaces: Rogue Saigon, and SOMA Art Café.

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A few days after we first met and interviewed Linh, we spent an evening at Saigon Outcast. Kids scrambled up the climbing wall, a group of artists focused intently on their live model session, a graffiti artist painted the entrance wall, and friends sipped on beers at picnic tables…this was all happening at the same time. Everyone relaxed, treating the space as his or her own. A fellow patron explained, “Linh’s places are such amazing hubs. I felt like even though I didn’t know anyone, I could go there and something would happen or a nice conversation would spark.”

Finding space to share art, music, and creative thought can be hard to come by in a city infamous for having exhibits, shows, and entire venues shut down by the government. Opening places like this is financially risky, pouring effort into hosting a concert that might be shut down at the last minute is not for everyone. But Linh’s passion for creating platforms where people don’t have to feel intimidated to share their work and opportunities for expression inspires him to continue to pursue these venues. The young creative community is "really hungry and restless but shy. They seem like they've been suppressed and they have so much to prove and achieve and get their name out there. They have so much energy. Really, they are very passionate. But they need encouragement and places to work.”


Saigon outcast

Beer garden meets alternative events space, graffiti, climbing wall, craft beer, live music, flea markets... 

Opening Saigon Outcast with a small budget in 2012, Linh and his friend Ha, found an inexpensive piece of land and pulled together containers and an old VW camper van in an artful way. “When I opened Saigon Outcast, it was for myself really. I didn’t know there was a demand for this type of space…but clearly there was." Immediately, the space filled with artists, skaters, and friends. Saigon Outcast became known as a destination for graffiti art, music, and collaboration: “The first couple years we had so many graffiti artists on the walls so that when it peels, you can see the layers of all the previous art works.” Today, Saigon Outcast hosts events most nights of the week, from drawing classes, movie screenings, farmers markets but many also stop by for a beer with friends.

Rogue Saigon

Rooftop specialty beer and music venue. 

Looking for a new place to host concerts (after receiving noise complaints from Saigon Outcast) Linh opened second venture. “The craft beer scene boomed a few years ago, but there weren’t any craft beer spots. At the same time, we didn’t know how long we would have Outcast because of noise complaints with our music. I needed to move the bands somewhere else, so I opened up a place that could have music and great beer!" Located on the top three floors of an old building, Rogue Saigon is a perfect spot to sip on one of the local craft beers on tap and overlook the city below.

Soma Art Cafe

Organic (and local) coffee and art gallery featuring up and coming artists.

“Saigon is really small. We know each other. There are only five galleries in Ho Chi Minh right now and they are all booked out with really famous artists selling their work at high prices. Soma is different, we feature up and coming artists who might not otherwise have a place the show their work." Situated in a beautiful building in District 2, Soma is a fantastic place during the day to have a delicious cup of brewed coffee with a friend. Stop by at night for art openings and a cocktail!

 

What’s Next for linh?

Linh hopes that he inspires other "business to do the same and to open spaces here for sharing creativity." Promoting music and arts in Ho Chi Minh drives Linh to keep working. He has observed that young artists lack confidence, and hops to set up more opportunities for mentorship with foreign artists. In the music scene, he wishes there were venues that could host international musicians. There used to be two: Cargo and Outcast, but with Cargo closing and Outcast's neighborhood growing, they've recently they have had to turn away amazing acts (such as Damien Rice!). "Right now we’re depleted of our capital since we work alone. But until I get it out of my system, that’s what I want to focus on."

Stop by one of Linh's three hangouts and stay tuned, we're certain Linh will have more up his sleeve! 


 

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