There are three things that are guaranteed to get people excited and partying in Saigon; good music, cheap beer and an opportunity to escape the city, even if only for a couple of hours. Saigonella, the inaugural festival held in District 7, promised all three as well as a host of activities right on the outskirts of the city centre.
It was easy for my friends and me to know that we had made it to Saigonella, as the crowds of people, bright lights, and the low pulsing of drums and bass in the distance greeted us.
Walking into Clubhouse Saigon was like stepping into another dimension, the typically pristine garden restaurant had transformed into an explosion of music, artwork, people, and mud from the heavy storms that had just hit the event only an hour earlier.
The Saigonella team comprised of 11 people and the festival took about a year to coordinate, according to Amélie Huynh Le Maux who had been working on communications for the event. The concept was born as an idea for a party that eventually spiralled into a full-blown festival.
“All of us began to share our qualities, our ideas and our contacts, and it grew to become Saigonella, a festival dedicated to gathering and to environment,” says Amélie.
Saigonella partnered with Clean Up Vietnam to help keep the space free from litter and damage that can go hand-in-hand with all-day parties and festivals. Peter Cornish, one of the volunteers with the organisation, remarked: “It’s been really great working here and having this ongoing environment awareness combined with the event.”
Even after the transition into the night-time party, people were still helping him and the other Clean Up Vietnam members collect rubbish and properly dispose of it.
In true homage to the American festival Coachella from which the –ella of the name is borrowed, the day was filled with bright neon colours, artwork, trendy outfits, and an overwhelming amount of things to do. The space was transformed with decorative streamers, circus tents and quiet, illuminated spaces to chill and talk.
The festival lasted for an impressive 19 hours starting at noon Saturday an continuing on untill the last revellers left the premises at 7am on Sunday morning. The line-up consisted of 11 main stage acts and 21 different performers on the garden stage with the music ranging from hip-hop, funk and rap to EDM, house and disco. The diversity ensured everyone was dancing.
Jessica Hilston, a visitor who arrived in the afternoon for some of the earlier activities, said that the event seamlessly transitioned from day to night, especially with such an ambitious line-up catering to a varied audience. The daytime activities included pony rides, yoga, tango dancing, and live painting, as well as a small artisanal market selling hand crafted and locally made products.
Matt from Minnesota, US, decided to spend his last evening in Saigon at Saigonella. “I had no idea what to expect,” he said. “I’ve only been in Vietnam four days and I’m leaving at midnight, but it was definitely worth coming.”
Though there was no option to camp at the festival, the organisers provided a shuttle bus running to and from District 1 every 30 minutes, and the partiers still seemed to bring their full festival gear.
The good vibes were tangible throughout and surrounded everyone who entered the hidden world of Saigonella; from the strangers sharing glitter and dance moves to the old friends expanding their social groups and just enjoying each other’s company.
Will there be a Saigonella 2017? The team has confirmed nothing yet, but after the success of their first year with 1,500 revellers trekking out to District 7 to cut some shapes and share some laughs, it’d be hard to imagine Saigonella not making a comeback.