Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Holidays In Saigon

Xmas photo at Hang Ma street

I have arrived in Saigon after over two hours flying from Hanoi with Pacific Airlines, a cheap airline joined with Qantas Airlines from Australia. The flight was delayed for 30 minutes but the journey was fine and I am now in Saigon for two weeks holiday for Christmas with my friends and my sister's family.

Xmas photo at Hang Ma street

I love going down here because the weather is not cold during Christmas time while Hanoi is freezing and it's sunny today, great, I love it. The food in the south is great with lots of herbs and vegetables and also people understand my countryside accent because I'm from here. I also love being with my sister who is going to cook me good food and hang out with me in the shops and on the tennis courts.

Xmas photo at Hang Ma street

I will try my best to update my blog as much as I can during the next two weeks. Hope everyone has a great holiday season.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Countryside Weddings

Tuyet's wedding

I have attended many of my friends' weddings in the countryside and I realized that, in the north, the wedding meals always start from 10am and some times, in some families, at 9am depending on where they live. It's quite funny because most people in the west would consider that to be breakfast time. When attending these weddings, we have to leave Hanoi very early in the morning to be there on time. At these weddings, it's common to stay there for one hour, eat all the food, drink all the rice wine, get pissed then piss off. Sounds not pleasant but it really is pleasant and fun and I love it.

Tuyet's wedding

The atmosphere of these weddings is really great, warm and special. The neighbors come and help the family out by cooking, decorating the home, talking to people and some of them sing and dance as well. It's so cool. Most of these couples are quite young, from 18 to 25 years old and they sometimes look a bit funny in wedding dresses. Also, it's quite normal for the brides to be a bit pregnant so the weddings have to be rushed so that they still look okay in their wedding dresses.

Tuyet's wedding

The food at countryside weddings is always different to other weddings in the city because they use so much MSG, salt and sugar. In different areas, they serve their own special dishes such as cat, dog, rat and buffalo meat but they don't tell you at the beginning. They wait until the end of the party. I have eaten these meats before and they are really tasty but I wouldn't try if I had known. A warning note is: if you have a weak stomach, do not go into the kitchen because you may be surprised at their cooking methods. Most of the food that they cook is near the floor and it's not like a normal kitchen. Some people take a pill before they go to countryside weddings as their stomachs are not so strong.

Tuyet's wedding

If you have a chance to go this kind of wedding, go for it and enjoy the great atmosphere, try to be a local and try all the food and you can experience real northern Vietnamese culture.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Saigon Dec 2007 - Part I

Fruit in Ho Chi Minh City

I always wake up a bit late on my holidays and it's no different today as I woke up at 11 Am. After a few minutes washing up, I started my day with a bowl of Saigon hu tieu. There's nothing better than that and a beautiful sunny day. I wandered around for a few hours before stopping at Sasa Cafe in Bui Vien Street for lunch.Walking the whole morning is hard work. The food isn't bad here with the high light being the spanish fried rice with chicken, seafood, sausage and vegetable, fresh spring rolls and cold beer. What I always notice in Saigon is the friendly service, which is one of the differences between the north and the south. In Hanoi, sometimes the service in restaurants can be not very welcoming.

Hoang Ty

Later in the day, my sister and her friends invited me to Hoang Ty restaurant for dinner. This is my favorite place in Saigon which serves great steamed fish and deep fried fish with lots of different vegetables and herbs, rolled in special Trang Bang rice paper. We ordered these dishes plus Cu Chi beef which was recommended because it was very tender like western beef. We also ordered boiled pork, crab and prawn noodle and pig feet noodles. It was enough food for a whole army and we couldn't actually finish it all.

Hoang Ty- Banh Trang Trang Bang Ca Loc

After dinner, we headed off to play tennis and we were all too full to play and not surprisingly, we couldn't move well to hit the ball!

To be continued.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Three Nagas' Birthday

Hoa Vien restaurant

My good friends Eric, Mark and I were born under the same status of dragon year but in different years. As we are all going for our holiday next week, we decided to catch up with a group of good friends at Hoa Vien restaurant. Hoa Vien is huge restaurant with outdoor seating and 3 storeys inside, located at 1 Tang Bac Ho street. The great thing inside is that you can pour your own fresh Czech beer at the table. This is a fun thing to do and they also have a very good atmosphere with great staff.

Seafood hotpot

When everyone arrived, we ordered some really good prawn spring rolls, grilled prawns with bacon, Thai salad, susu vegetable, a seafood hotpot and some other dishes which I can't remember and of course the tall 4 litre glass cylinders of black beer, which are also tapped at the table. It was a great combination for talking and eating over a few hours.

Hoa Vien restaurant

We had a fabulous evening with good friends and interesting conversations. Congratulations to my dearest friends Mark and Eric, also myself:) A great year is coming with many good things Also thanks to all of our friends for coming.

Hoa Vien restaurant 023 Large e-mail view

Hoa Vien is a great place for a special celebration with a big group of people.
1 Tang Bac Ho
Ha Noi

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rice Cooker Day!!!


Yesterday, 15th December 2007 might be rcognised in the future as 'Rice Cooker Day'. In Vietnam, we call helmets rice cookers and not many people like wearing them but from yesterday, they are compulsory. In other countries in the world, wearing a helmet is accepted as normal and necessary but, in Vietnam, people have never really liked the idea and the government have to issue a law to force everyone to wear a helmet.


Today, I went out and was so surprised that most people were wearing them. The variety of styles and colors actually make the Hanoi streets quite colorful. There are some men wearing pink, yellow or even purple helmets which made me laugh. I have a dark red one. I think it's become like a fashion item now. Anyway, good to see people wearing helmets. They are all over town, being sold in every single street from mats on the floor, from tables, too. Most people who work as motorbike taxi drivers have bought helmets from China which are cheap because they have to buy at least two helmets and some people cannot afford to buy expensive ones.


Wearing a helmet is important for road safety and we should have been wearing them for ages but Vietnamese have always thought helmets are a nuisance because you have to carry them everywhere. There are lots of people wearing helmets today without clipping the strap. They just put the helmet on to follow the rule because the government has recruited lots of police men to fine people driving without a helmet. Following the news on TV tonight, there was over 3,400 people fined yesterday. This is good and I agree that the goverment should give a big fine for whoever isn't wearing a helmet because people won't be serious about it otherwise.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Tuyet's Wedding

Tuyet's wedding

I was invited by one of my ex-colleague, Tuyet, to her wedding in Hung Yen, a small country town 60kms away from Hanoi. After almost an hour by car, we arrived at her house to a really warm welcome from her family who sent us straight to the table to try their food. Remember, it's 10Am. The food was all ready !!!!.

Tuyet's wedding

I wanted to take a few minutes break to check out the local area to take some photos first. I talked to a few people about the area, the local food and the girl. When I took the camera out, many people came to ask me to take their photo and most of them were old people. It was really funny and sweet. I love that because I feel like I am at home and these people seem like my relatives.They are such sweet people, they helped Tuyet to organise her wedding the night before.

Tuyet's wedding

They killed a pig, a small dear, ducks and chickens and they made some special cakes for the wedding. It was a real community effort. So much food, though, but thank god there was no cat meat, dog meat or buffalo meat this time. The food was really good even though there was so much MSG, which I could taste very clearly. Even though it was quite early, the rice wine was always filled up after each toast and my friends were drunk after a few glasses because this homemade wine was much stronger than the stuff they normally drink in the city.

Tuyet's wedding

We had a great time, everything seemed perfect. Thanks Tuyet for inviting us to your special and important day. Congratulations and I wish you all the best for your future happiness.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Making Bookings In Hanoi

I remember about 5 years ago when I had just arrived in Hanoi, my friends and I went to play tennis and the court keeper insisted that we pay in advance. We did that but in the middle of our court time, the court keeper told us that some other people needed the court now because they had also paid in advance the day before. I argued how unfair and unorganized this was but she told us to get off. This is quite typical of how some business is done in Hanoi. Most tennis courts in Hanoi and some other businesses operate in the same way.

That’s an experience I learned very early after coming to Hanoi to live five years ago.

Booking a hotel in Hanoi also presents the same problems. If a guest is willing to pay a few more dollars for the room then they will give a previously booked room to them. I've had this happen to me many times while trying to book hotel rooms for friends from overseas. The last time was two weeks ago when two of my readers from the USA came to Hanoi for their vacation. I booked them in at the Prince Hotel in To Tich Street a month before they arrived and re-confirmed a few times in between then a final confirmation one day before they arrived. The hotel receptionist said everything was fine but the next morning they called me and told me that they didn't have any rooms for my friends.

Even though the flooding in central Vietnam had caused travellers to change their plans to come to Hanoi earlier, I was still very angry that my booking was taken. In the past there has been no reason at all. In the process of trying to find rooms in other hotels, I also realised that the hotels in the old quarter had all raised their prices by 30%-50% to make more money from the sudden crowd of people.

Finally, I found two rooms at the Trang An Hotel but I had to be sure that I really had them. I went to a tour agency and asked them to book me those rooms to be double sure. When the tour company picked up my friends from the airport (they arrived at midnight)and took them to the hotel, their rooms had been given away to other people! I called the hotel many times between 11.50 Pm to 1am to confirm that everything was okay and they kept repeating that my friends hadn't arrived yet. I couldn't believe it the next morning when my friend said that the taxi driver had driven around for an hour trying to find another room. The hotel staff called and found them a room in a guesthouse in the middle of nowhere and forced them pay to $40 in advance before giving my friends the address. Later they found that the guesthouse rooms were only $25!

I couldn't stand to hear anymore and called to give the hotel staff a charge. This was after my friend had returned to the hotel the next morning and was told that the new charge on the room would be $55, $25 more than the price I had been told when I booked. They also cheated her by giving her fake money and old money that isn't used anymore and also put the price up for their airline tickets from 665,000Vnd to 880,000Vnd for Hanoi to Hue. The hotel owner had a really bad attitude as well and she didn't believe that her staff had behaved in such a way.

What can I say? These people are ruining tourism in Vietnam and I hate this kind of cheating. They shouldn't be allowed to operate with such bad service and bad behavior? What I am going to do is name all of these hotels and warn people to avoid them! Be careful with any transactions with hotels in Hanoi!

  1. Prince Hotels- To Tich street
  2. Trang An hotel - Hang Gai street
  3. Lucky Star Hotels
  4. Morning Star Hotel - Hang Hanh street
  5. Golden Sun Hotel - Hang Hanh street
  6. Heart Hotel - Hang Hanh street

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Mua Rung Restaurant

Ca Keo Hotpot

Don't get confused between Mua Rung restaurant and Mua Rung Discoque. This is a real famous restaurant for southern Vietnamese dishes. When the locals talk about Mua Rung, they always mention Ca Keo hot pot which is the most popular dish at this place. I love this hot pot, too.

Vegetable for Ca Keo Hotpot

This restaurant is huge but it's busy all the time according to my sister. On the day of my visit earlier this year, it was packed. There is nothing special about the decoration and the set up but the friendly staff, great food and reasonable prices make it so popular. You can choose to sit on the first floor, second floor or on the third floor where they all have big fans spraying out a fine mist to cool the temperature down.

Grilled river shrimps

The ca keo hotpot contains Ca Keo fish, sour broth(canh chua) include dry onion, morning glory, Keo Neo vegetable, Dang vegetable, lots of herbs, bean shoots, lotus, celeri, water spinach, criander, banana, and other vegetables that I don't know how to translate(Bach Tang, Giang leaves, Keo Neo and a very special vegetable called Nhut which is only available in the south). They use pork bones cooked for a long time to make a natural sweet stock then add some Thai sate stuff and their own special Mua Rung ingredients to make a really yummy sweet and sour stock.

Chicken skin salad

Beside the hotpot, they also serve a variety of Vietnamese food but for me, the highlights are the chicken feet salad, grilled Ca Keo fish, and grilled small river shrimps or sauted beef with onion and green pepper.

Check them out at Mua Rung restaurant
4 Su Thien Chieu
Ward 7 District 3
Tel: (84-8) 9307064 - 9307036
Ho Chi Minh city

Friday, November 30, 2007

Flowers Business


The flower business is really hot now in Vietnam, especially in Hanoi. I love wandering around to see how florists are arranging their flowers. Most regular florists in Hanoi use heaps of paper and decoration around their bunches of flowers. In some Hanoi streets, the florists sell to a more specific consumer.


In Phung Hung Street, most businesses sell flowers and anything relating to funerals. I talked to some girls who work sticking flowers into round boards for funerals. Each takes them around one hour to finish and it lasts a few days. They use mostly old flowers and plastic flowers for the outer rounds and they use good flowers for the big centre piece to attract the customer's attention.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Toys to Eat

Flour toys

I remember very well these flour toys because they belong to my childhood. When I was a little boy and I used to see many old people making these beautifully shaped toys to sell in front of my school and in the market. During my years at elementary school and maybe secondary school, the sellers were always around but they seemed to disappear when I went to high school. Maybe I grew too old to notice them?

Flour toys maker

I hadn't seen them for such a long time until last week in front of the Ethnology museum. I was really nicely surprised, and it brought back a lot of fond memories from my school days. Because I took quite a few photos, I bought several toys from the seller above but I didn't eat them like I used to do when I was a little boy. I remembered when we finished our classes, we usually bought at least one everyday and asked our mothers to put them on the top of the cooked rice for about 15 minutes then we used to eat them. They didn't have much flavour but that's the way we did at that time.

Flour toy maker

The man told me he spends less than 10 minutes making each one. They all look gorgeous, colorful and only 5000Vnd. If you ever see this man, buy some to help him out. Nice thing to keep even though it's another dust collector :)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Street Vendors

Street fruits

Street businesses are a unique part of Vietnamese culture. In the past, street businesses were a common way for poor people to earn an income and this is the same today. However, the local authorities in Hanoi are making it hard for street vendors to trade these days.

Fruits sellers

I think one of the reasons is there are too many people who come to Hanoi to do the same thing and sell the same stuff. Lots of people are selling hats, books, fruits, flowers, postcards and t-shirt on the streets, following tourists from one place to another to sell their things. It's not always pleasant and tourists can't enjoy their walking tour because they constantly have to refuse politely from these aggressive sellers. Lots of sellers I've talked said that if they don't hassle people they don't sell anything and they go home empty handed.

Fruits sellers

Two weeks ago, while I was eating duck eggs from a girl on the street, she suddenly ran away with her basket. A xe om called out that the police were on their way. If these sellers get caught, they lose their stuff and receive a fine. It's funny to watch the vendors rush away quickly when the police arrive. But everything's back to normal when the police men are gone. Eventually, the duck egg lady comes back and I finished my snack :) These sellers could be really good 100m athletes.

Street seller

Street vendors are a part of our culture and, even though they are a nuisance sometimes, they should be allowed to remain trading in the streets. Maybe the government should introduce a license to restrict their numbers though?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Architecture In Vietnam

Dong Xuan market

Someone said "No matter how tall and skinny a building, it seems that there is always room for more storeys." This is the reality of Vietnamese architecture and I'm not sure that you can see this anywhere else in the world. Because Viet nam doesn't have much land and our population is increasing unbelievably fast, property in Hanoi and in other big cities is very expensive and the price rises everyday.

Old Houses

The artful mixture of colors and houses in Hanoi makes this place so beautiful. French colonial and art-deco architecture with mostly yellow paint are the most impressive.

Skinny house

The long tube houses in Hanoi may make me wonder about how it is possible to live in such tiny holes but that's the way it is in Viet Nam because we say, " Land is Gold".

Skinny house

If you have a good look inside a typical house, you may be surprised because there may be about 8 0r 9 people living in such a small area. In Hanoi, the basic house consists of the first floor, which is a welcome room, the second floor has bed and bathrooms and the drying room for hanging the clothes is on the top. However, do not be surprised if you see Vietnamese people hanging clothes in front of their houses or on the electric lines. Sometimes they don't even have a permanent bed, a garden hardly ever. They only put mattresses or mats down before they sleep then they fold them back up in the morning. And imagine, there is only one tiny kitchen and bathroom in one house.


In addition, throughout the city, you can see some big Soviet-style buildings such as the Hanoi railway station and the post office. Many of the pagodas and temples have been influenced by Chinese architecture. Some rich Hanoians who live around West Lake in nice big villas. This is a really quiet area but very expensive and secure.


These days, there are lots of crazy ideas for building and house design in Viet Nam which is not surprising when you think about our history. In the big cities and even in the countryside, there are so many big architecture firms. I just hope the planning authorities manage to protect the character of Hanoi by preserving the old quarter and many of the French buildings and oriental temples and pagodas.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Electric poles

Western people who come to Vietnam as tourists or for work are both amazed at the electrical work and the crazy wiring. The main purpose of the electric poles is to transfer electric wires from one point to another point but it isn't like that in Vietnam. Now, those skinny poles have to hold many different kinds of wires such as TV cables, telephone cables and other communication wires and advertising boards. People also hang their washing and their bird cages on them!

Electric poles

It looks like a huge tangled fishing net in some places. It is really dangerous and there are quite a few deaths by electric shock in my country every year. Quite frequently, a loose wire is hanging down over the road.

Electric poles

I suppose this is one of the problems of Vietnam's fast development but something needs to be done about it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Le Tonkin Restaurant

Le Tonkin Restaurant

We were all invited to join Lora's farewell party at Le Tonkin restaurant two months ago. This is one of the beautiful restaurants in Hanoi which is located in a gorgeous French building surrounded by nice gardens in Ngo Van So street. We were so excited to be there in such a nice place with friends and to eat nice Vietnamese food, at least that's what we expected.

Lotus Salad

After experiencing quite a few restaurants in Hanoi, I know a bit about Vietnamese food and this place was disappointing. They seem to use a bit too much seasoning, salt and MSG because even the salads were salty. For the prices we pay in these kinds of restaurants, I expect better.

Fresh spring rolls with pork and prawns

We ordered some beautiful Allan Scott white wine from New Zealand and they didn't have any bottles in the fridge. The waitress gave me a really warm bottle which she said was cold. I asked them politely to put it back in the ice basket and that we would wait, and also asked them to put few more in the freezer because we were a big group of 25 people. After awhile, they brought another bottle and put it on the table without an ice bucket. We were willing to pay over $30++ for a good and chilled bottle of white wine, not for hot white wine. Then, in the middle of the dinner, the waitress came over and told me that they had sold out of Allan Scott wine and could we choose a different brand but they once again came with warm bottles. What kind of service is that? In this kind of quality restaurant they should train their staff well as this is a really basic rule about wine but it seemed they don't really care about this.

Fresh fruit salad with pork

It seems as though it's the kind of restaurant that's only interested in serving tour groups - people who might complain but they are unlikely to see again. They are unlikely to see me again, either.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Love Hotels

Nha Nghi - Guesthouse - Hanoi

Hanoi has an amazing range of hotels, from five-stars like the Sofitel and the Hilton to cheap mini-hotels and backpacker places. There is another kind of hotel - a guesthouse really - that is also very popular. Known as Nha Nghi in Vietnamese, different people come to these guesthouses for different purposes, many of them for their secret happy moments!

Nha Nghi - Guesthouse - Hanoi

These places are common all over the city and the people who work there don't need many qualifications. The most important things they need is to be clever, fast in dealing, understanding and ignoring. You also have to know how to warn clients when the police show up and hide any documents or booking information.

Nha Nghi - Guesthouse - Hanoi

Nowadays, there are many young teenage couples who, instead of being at school, play truant and go to hotels to 'study' being adults :). The number of older people who have secret second lovers also choose these places for their own privacy. The guesthouse staff don't care who they are, how old they are or what time they arrive. They give the room and collect the money, mostly by the hour! Such an easy job.

Nha Nghi - Guesthouse - Hanoi

On the down side, some of these guesthouse rooms for drug use, prostitution and gambling. Many people have been caught by police, publicly embarrassed in magazines and the hotel staff also get in big trouble because this is illegal. It is clear that these guesthouses are providing for a demand but the meaning of the word guesthouse has a different meaning in Vietnam!