Inside Ho Chi Minh City's budget gyms

For a mere VND180,000 a month ($7.90), budget fitness centers in Ho Chi Minh City offer almost everything to those who want to stay in shape.

Venture into a small alley in District 3 and let the loud music guide you to "Complete Victory."

That's the English translation for Toan Thang, a 60-square-meter gym loaded with weights, benches, and power cages. People of all sorts of shapes and sizes can be seen there sweating their calories away, with the heat cooled down by a few fans in lieu of air conditioning.  

Signage of a gym in an alley on Cach Mang Thang Tam street, District 3. “Join us and leave the scraggy past behind.”

Sitting sweaty on a bench, Phan Thi Thuy, 20, listens as her trainer shows how to do core exercise. 

“Two months ago I dropped out of a quite fancy gym in District 1,” Thuy said. “I paid VND350,000 a month but lost zero weight. Then I found this gym, which is half the price and it actually helped me shake off 2 kilos in just a month.”

The university student prefers this low-cost gym for its friendly atmosphere. "It feels like a family," she said.

People watch instruction videos.

The "Toan Thang family" is made up of 200 members - students, drivers, office workers - all looking for a place to stay fit without having to spend a fortune.

As Vietnamese waistlines are growing, all the while air pollution is choking up the cities, indoor workouts have gradually become the necessity of a healthy urban life.  

Luxury gyms are competing for a slice of the ever increasing fitness pie thanks to the rapidly growing middle class. But by cutting down on all that glitters and fancy add-on services, budget gyms in Ho Chi Minh City have been able to accomodate everybody else.

A decade after Tuyet Lan and her husband invested VND1 billion into Toan Thang, equipment included, Lan is confident it's been "one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.”

“We have two fitness trainers, and are planning to expand the business. But it’s not easy to find a place we can afford,” Lan said.

Nguyen Quoc Dzung, a gym owner and fitness professional.

Nguyen Quoc Dzung opened his gym, also in District 3, three years ago, only with an outlay of VND200 million.

“I think it's a part of modern life. Everyone wants to stay healthy,” Dzung told VnExpress International.

The gym owner and fitness professional trains his 150 members himself, which helps him cut down on costs.

7 p.m. at a budget gym.

Nguyen Van Tien, a driver lifts weights in a gym in an alley on Tran Van Dang Street, District 3. “I prefer this small place because it's cheap. I can feel comfortable working out here among other people.”

Dan, a 53-year-old bodyguard, joined the gym three months ago.

Mai Huong, a kindergarten teacher, said she found this affordable gym on Facebook.

Weights in a budget gym in Ho Chi Minh City.

“This place costs only VND120,000 a month, good for both me and my wallet,” said interior designer Tri Ba of a gym on Tran Van Dang Street.


Huong Quynh, a university student listens to her trainer.

Soft drinks sold at a gym, placed next to a first-aid kit.

Outside a budget gym in an alley off Tran Van Dang Street, District 3.

Thanh Nguyen, Nhung Nguyen