It's never 'just one drink' in Vietnam - mostly due to the insane drink specials, writes Eli Orzessek.
"Just one drink," I say to my Contiki tourmates as we enter the Brown Eyes bar in Hue.
Unfortunately, if there's one thing I've learned in my time in Vietnam, it's never "just one drink" at all - mostly due to the insane drink specials. Everywhere you go, someone's trying to get you drunk.
Tonight, they're offering a fairly conservative "buy one cocktail, get one free" deal. Back in Hoi An, I'd declined a night out and then heard tales of "buy one, get two free" drinks and seen the photos and the messy aftermath on the tour bus the next day. How smug I felt, well-rested and well-hydrated - but, also, how very boring.
At Brown Eyes, I order a mojito and a Singapore Sling, breaking my promise right from the get-go. One sip confirms my suspicions - the drinks here seem to be poured much stronger than back home and I can see my quiet night disappearing already.
The T-shirts worn by bar staff add to this prediction, claiming their opening hours are "5pm until the last person passes out". And then they bring out the free shots.
The bar is fairly subdued when we arrive after dinner, so we check out the board games on offer and start a game of Jenga, which quickly gets rowdy.
It's a cosy space, with the familiar griminess of a dive bar and edgy decor that includes a giant cat spray-painted on the wall.
After the second round of Jenga, things are starting to pick up and our table is carried away to make more room on the dance floor - which has been flooded by young locals in this university town.
The music is also starting to pick up and as the DJ pumps out early 2000s hip-hop and r'n'b, I'm in heaven - dancing with my hands in the air and ending up in many regrettable Snapchat videos.
Suffice to say, I'm feeling like I'm 20 again, despite being one of the older ones on the tour. And it feels good! So good, in fact, that halfway through the night I stumble back to my hotel and drop my phone off because the bar is getting crowded and I don't want to risk losing it.
On my return, the dancefloor seems a bit daunting, so I hang out in the outdoor area - which is a peaceful contrast, with its fairy lights and origami swans.
There I meet a French guy who runs a local hotel and a Vietnamese guy who's visiting from Canada. We smoke some shisha and they warn me against eating the fish in Halong Bay (did you see all the dead ones that washed up? I ate fish anyway, but I'm all right) before I head back inside for some more dancing.
At this point, the bar feels more like a club - it's totally packed and totally pumping. My group is drinking "cocktail buckets", which is exactly what it sounds like, and they're all being passed my way. I sip out of one straw, then another and another and another...
As the night starts to come to an end, my group migrates outside and a couple of guys on the tour teach me how to smoke shisha "properly" - they're from Dubai and India, so they know what's what. If you're curious, it's supposedly five short drags, followed by one long drag that you inhale until you get a head rush.
Before we can leave, another round of free shots comes around.
"Just one drink" eh? Oh how the mighty do fall.
Getting there: Air New Zealand's seasonal non-stop service from Auckland to Ho Chi Minh city runs three times a week from June to October.
Details: Contiki's 10-day Vietnam Highlights trip takes travellers through Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and Halong Bay. Phone 0508 CONTIKI for more details.