Working Out Without Shoes in Saigon

This post was last updated on 2024 April 21

It’s not always easy staying fit while traveling. Eating well, walking everywhere, and carrying a heavy backpack is my fitness strategy in a nutshell, but sometimes you just want a good, hard workout, you know?

Well, that WOULD have been nice, except I didn’t bring any sneakers (er, trainers) with me on my 2013 Asia trip. I had a self-imposed limit of 3 pairs of shoes – yup, you read that right (thank god I’m no shoe addict!) – and sneakers did not make the cut. Flip flops, Toms, and hiking boots did. About 95% of the time, this met my needs on the road – but on the rare occasion where I felt like going for a run, I was out of luck.

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Working out in the park

Late one afternoon in Saigon, I was walking back to my hostel after a trying day of frolicking and ODing on street coffee. I cut through the neighborhood park and to my delight, the park had come alive with people of all ages working on their fitness: little kids, old ladies, and everyone in-between. I passed by a few small groups practicing aerobics around the park to blasting boomboxes, but what REALLY caught my attention were all the workout machines scattered about. You can whirl, twirl, crunch, pedal, squat, pull up, and hang from all sorts of contraptions at any time of day, no electricity needed – and for FREE. A frugal frolicker’s dream!

Then I thought, WAIT A SECOND – I don’t really need proper footwear to use these machines. I could easily get away with wearing flip flops, or even going barefoot. And with that, I high tailed it to my hostel to get changed and returned to the park to begin working out without shoes.



Most of the machines were pretty easy to figure out, but there were a few whose diagrams and Vietnamese instructions couldn’t quite explain it to me. I had to get a little creative with those. When in doubt, plank! – or at least do something that tightens your core muscles :)

My personal favorite was the machine where you would stand upright on a circular disc and hold onto a stable handlebar with your hands while twirling your lower body back and forth with the disc. If you do it right, you REALLY feel it in your core. So much fun!

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These public fitness machines can also be found in parks in Bangkok and Phnom Penh, and likely other major cities in Southeast Asia. I thought it was a uniquely Asian phenomenon, but then I saw some around London as well. C’mon America, get with it! For a country notorious for its health and obesity issues, the US would do well to instate something similar in its public parks.

working out without shoes

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