The facts were these:
Late on a Wednesday afternoon in July, two twenty-something gals were strolling the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, trying not to get hit by a car. One of these gals was myself; the other was my friend of many years, M.
As tends to happen in the rainy season in Vietnam, the pale grey clouds overhead erupted into a burst of rain with no warning. Seeing a red and white sign with the word ‘Restaurant’ printed boldly in all capital letters, we ran toward it and ducked into the cafe, resolving to wait out the downpour over a glass of juice.
There was nothing immediately suspicious or unusual about this restaurant. There was an assortment of tables and chairs near the front window, a bar along the left side, and a hallway at the back, presumably leading to the washrooms. There was one other table occupied by a group of businessmen at the front by the window and about three servers, one male and two female. The waiter seated us near the bar and gave us menus to look over. I was facing the rear of the restaurant; M. was facing the window.
That is when we started noticing that something was off about this restaurant.
The menu had almost no food on it. There was a list of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, a few snack items, and that was it. When the waiter came to take our order, he asked repeatedly what else we would like to order. He walked away with a puzzled look on his face to get us some orange juice.
“Those men haven’t stopped staring at us since we got here…” M. whispered to me once the waiter was out of earshot.
Now, being stared at is not an unusual phenomenon in a foreign country, but these men did not take their eyes off of us.
I started observing our surroundings a bit more closely. I saw a waitress disappear into one of the rooms along the hallway in the back, which I had assumed was the washroom. When one of the businessmen followed her in, I then noticed the sign on the door was not the ladies room symbol. It was marked ‘VIP’ #3.
“Umm… M., I think we are in a gentlemen’s establishment!” I whispered back to her.
Yup, “RESTAURANT” was a strip club!
The servers must have seen us make this realization because they burst out laughing while watching us from the back.
We were in such a hurry to get out of there that I didn’t look closely at my bill and put down a 1,000,000 dong note instead of a 100,000 (essentially paying $50 for a $5 charge).
The very honest and amused waiter chased me down the stairs and brought me all my change.
“Sure you don’t want anything else?” he said with a grin and a wink as he handed us the change.