YOUR INSIDER'S ACTIVITIES GUIDE
IN HO CHI MINH CITY 🇻🇳 SINCE 2008
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES TAKE A TRIP TO LITTLE SAIGON
When people choose their next travel destination, all too often they just consider the broad strokes. The downtown of a city, the attractions they can see or visit, and the food they can eat. All of this is important, but these factors often aren’t what give travelers lasting impressions years later.
The best experiences come when you see the many different cultures living together in one zip code.
Case in point? Little Saigon in Chicago, Illinois.
Big Saigon, Meet Little Saigon
Chicago isn’t the only city in North America with its own little part of Saigon. These Vietnamese communities, mostly created after the American War ended in 1975, have sprung up all over the continent: today from New York to San Francisco you can find Vietnamese-American communities operating businesses, helping the community, and keeping Vietnamese traditions alive.
When you turn onto Argyle Street in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, you can see one of these vibrant communities for yourself. Dotting both sides of Argyle Street and the intersecting Broadway street, you’ll be greeted with bakeries, Vietnamese restaurants, markets, and all manner of little tastes from Vietnam.
Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood is home to over 10,000 of the more than 25,000 Vietnamese people living in Illinois.
Argyle Street is a bustling and bright part of the city, but it hasn’t always been like this. In fact, it was the influx of Vietnamese people that helped make this metropolis a little better.
Asia on Argyle
When Vietnamese began to come into the US, many gravitated towards Argyle and Broadway – streets that had a less-than-sparkling history. This inner-city retail district had fallen into disrepair: shops had closed and it was considered unsafe to walk the streets after 5 p.m.
The turnaround of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood occurred first when Chicago restaurateur Jimmy Wong bought property on Argyle Street in the 1960s. His original intention was to make this pocket of Chicago what he would call “New Chinatown”. However, as an unfortunate accident prevented Wong from fulfilling his dream, another developer stepped in.
In 1979 Charlie Soo, the founder of the Asian American Small Business Association, lent his hand to this worthy cause. Rather than focus on the original plan to make a New Chinatown, Soo involved Chicago’s Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, and Japanese businesses as well. From here, he worked tirelessly to get what would later be deemed Little Saigon off and running.
He gave the Argyle “L” station a US$250,000 rehabilitation, and in 1981 started a yearly “Taste of Argyle” food festival (which has since disbanded, unfortunately). After working with Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne to fix the sidewalks and subsequent mayor Harold Washington, it was largely thanks to the efforts of this man that Argyle Street has a sign that reads “Asia on Argyle” today.
What to Do in Chicago
Besides the eclectic and culturally rich Little Saigon, Chicago has much more to offer. As the third-largest city in the US, Chicago is known for its architecture, its food, and its sights.
Grab a world-famous Chicago hot dog to munch while you hit the city streets. The downtown area is huge, but well laid out and incredibly walkable – in 2011, Chicago was named the fourth-most walkable city in the USA. And don’t forget to sample the amazing pho to be had in Little Saigon – we hear that Vietnam Restaurant on 1032 W Argyle Street is the place to go.
EVA Air Makes it Happen
Now that you have a little taste of what Chicago has to offer, we have even better news for you. EVA Air has a great route to get you to the Windy City. Featuring a short layover in beautiful Taipei, it will go as quickly and seamlessly as an international flight possibly can.
Named one of the Top 10 Major Airlines in the Asia Pacific as well as the Best airline in
Taiwan by famed travel website Tripadvisor, it’s EVA Air’s pleasure to give you the most luxurious and one of the quickest routes to Chicago.
And to make matters even better: EVA Air flies one of their coveted Hello Kitty-themed jets to Chicago. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES FEELING FITTER IN 2022: 5 ALTERNATIVES TO THE GYM IN SAIGON
The festive season already feels like it was a million years ago. But if you’re anything like me, you’re probably still trying to shake off the after-effects of Christmas dinner and too many glasses of fizz on New Year’s Eve. Also, if you’re like me, the thought of grabbing your trainers and heading to the nearest gym is about as appealing as reliving 2020. Luckily, Ho Chi Minh City is packed with a variety of options to help us shake off that festive food coma and start feeling fit and fresh again!
Dream Pole and Dance Studio
Immediately after Christmas may not be the most obvious time to take up pole dancing, but if you are looking for a workout with a high-calorie burn and a massive confidence boost, it could be worth considering.
Located in District 1, Pretty Pole offers classes for both pole and aerial hoop dancing. All fitness classes accommodate a range of abilities, from absolute beginners to experienced dancers, so there is no need to feel shy about joining in. Be prepared for a full body workout as trainers Ms. Anne and Ms. Vy put you through your paces to ensure that you not only gain fitness and flexibility but confidence and strength at the same time!
For full details of the classes available at Dream Pole and Dancing, called them at +84 775 547 463 or visit them at 200A Đ. Cách Mạng Tháng 8, Phường 10, D3, HCMC, Vietnam
Rock Climbing at Push Climbing
If you’ve ever seen a pro-rock climber, you’ll know that if you do this activity properly, you’ll be waving goodbye to bingo wings and muffin tops forever. Rock climbing engages almost every major muscle group in your body, whilst increasing flexibility and being low impact, which makes it an incredible workout for participants of any level.
If you are looking to ease your way into climbing, Push Climbing in Thao Dien and at the Crescent in District 7 offer a variety of courses and events for participants of all levels. They even offer ‘Date Night’ Friday where the entrance is Buy One Get One Free between 5 pm and 10 pm. Early morning memberships for those of you who like to get your workout out of the way first thing, are also available.
For full details of the options available at Push Climbing, visit their website for more details visit them at 188/1 Nguyễn Văn Hưởng, Thảo Điền, Thủ Đức City, Vietnam
Modern Dance at GS Dance Studio
For some people, even a ‘different type of gym’ is still too much like a gym. So, if you’re looking to totally avoid dumbbells and barbells, and all the rest of it, maybe a dance studio is what you are looking for. With nothing but a sound system and some pretty cool neon lights, GS Dance Studio is a great place to ‘bring fun back into exercise’.
Offering classes to cover levels from ‘Never Dance’ to ‘Advanced’, and a range of styles from Hip Hop to Jazz Funk to K Pop, GS Dance Studio promises a fun, energetic option to get you back in shape this year.
For full details, and amazing examples of what’s on offer at GS Dance Studio, visit their Facebook page.
Spinning at Body Shape
I think we can all agree that Saigon is not the best place to cycle. And if cycling is all you want to do, paying for a full gym membership for one bit of equipment is hardly going to encourage you to sign up. Thankfully, the smart folks at Body Shape offer both spinning classes and spin bikes for individual use, AND temporary memberships and walk-in rates.
High intensity, low impact, and heart pumping, spinning is an effective way of burning calories, improving cardiovascular health, and toning your lower body. Classes also offer a fun, sociable workout, that will help you to push yourself to achieve your fitness goals. That, or at least there will be someone there to pick you up off the floor when your legs give way, as mine did last time I tried to complete a spin class!
For full details of flexible memberships and the variety of fitness classes at Body Shape visit their website or visit them at 49G Đ. Quốc Hương, P. Phú Thuận, Thu Duc City, Vietnam
Hopefully, this little round-up of alternatives to trudging along on a treadmill has inspired you to get out and about in this wonderful city of ours! Here’s to a happier, healthier 2021.
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES FINE YOGA STUDIOS IN SAIGON
When it comes to healing, strengthening, and opening your body to untapped physical potential, yoga is a practice worth every penny! And there are plenty of options right here in Ho Chi Minh City.
Location: 125A Đ. Quốc Hương, P. Phú Thuận, Thủ Đức City, Vietnam
Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 21:30 a.m.
Styles: Vinyasa, Hatha, Acro, Ashtanga yoga
Levels: All – Price: $
If you are looking for an intimate, affordable, no-fluff yoga practice with small class sizes, YogaHaus+ yoga studio is a perfect choice in HCMC. Daytime hours are very limited in this young studio that opened in 2017, but the schedule suits exercise in the evening.
In 2017, Tram Le, a hard-working businesswoman, and entrepreneur started YogaHaus+ to share her passion for yoga. The studio is straightforward: one large room with mirrors, mats, and basic yoga props. “If you are looking for a spa, go to an elite studio. If you are coming for yoga, I am here to share my passion”, Tram said. Come to YogaHaus+ to work with one of the best yoga teachers in Saigon with years of Vinyasa, Hatha, Acro yoga, and fitness experience.
Studio: B building, ITAXA House, 19 Võ Văn Tần, D3, HCMC, Vietnam
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 7:35 p.m.
Styles: Hatha (variety), Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Power yoga, yoga teacher training, and more.
Levels: All – Price: $
In terms of the variety of classes, affordability, and locations, Yoga Living is one of the best yoga studios Saigon has to offer. It is one of the first large yoga studios in HCMC to serve a wide variety of clients. Their new location is at 19 Võ Văn Tần, Phường 6, D3, HCMC.
The Võ Văn Tần Studio has three large classrooms that can accommodate 50+ students. Classes get rather full during peak hours, but luckily the class schedule changes every week providing plenty of options from open to close. Enter either studio and you are greeted by the sound of relaxing zen music and a smiling Yoga Living employee guides you where you need to go.
The rotating schedule includes everything from high-intensity fat-burning flows to gentle and restorative classes in Vietnamese and English. This is a great option for people to try a variety of class styles and yoga teachers to find what fits their body best.
The facilities are simple and include lockers, showers, complimentary water, mats, and towels.
Tucked away in a secret green haven in Thảo Điền, this yoga studio feels like a magic portal to the natural landscape of old Saigon. To find it, you have to wander past a beautiful family garden with open grass. It is easily the best yoga studio for reconnecting with the elements in Ho Chi Minh City.
The small space includes two classrooms for up to 20 people that connect patrons to the surrounding nature. There are simple facilities that boast an all-natural, earthy ambiance to match the environment. Bathrooms, showers, lockers, towels, and mats are included.
The owners of Yoga pod maintain a rotating variety of classes so clients can experience different teachers, philosophies, and practices.
Location: 41 Trần Ngọc Diện, Ward Thảo Điền, Thu Duc City, HCMC , Vietnam – Website
Types: Vinyasa, Hatha (Variety), Qi Gong, Tai Chi, yoga for Older Bodies, Reiki Healing, Sound Bowl healing, Meditation
Levels: All – Prices: $
Mandala Wellness is much more than a yoga studio. Founded by two mothers looking to provide a holistic wellness sanctuary, this center is dedicated to giving back to the community by “empowering [people] from within.”
Mandala is a top-tier wellness retreat and yoga studio perfectly located in a Thảo Điền villa, just far enough from the noise of the city. When you enter the driveway, you are greeted by a lovely garden that wraps around a stunning white, vine-covered façade. The facilities include bathrooms, showers, lockers, a juice bar, counseling and therapy rooms, and two classrooms for up to 40 people at a time.
When it comes to the restorative aspect of yoga, this one-of-a-kind HCMC studio is unrivaled. Apart from some of the more popular types of yoga, Mandala offers many services including counseling, reiki healing, meditation, sports therapy, Tai Chi, and more. When it comes to the restorative aspect of yoga, this one-of-a-kind HCMC studio is unrivaled. Apart from some of the more popular types of yoga, Mandala offers many services including counseling, reiki healing, meditation, sports therapy, Tai Chi, and more.
Yoga Sculpt and Shape (SNS)
Yoga Sculpt and Shape is one of the pioneers of yoga in Saigon. It is on the 16th floor of a high-rise, nested high above the noise of the city center. Besides its impressive history and height, what makes the studio stand out is its advanced level of yoga training. It has produced some of the most famous names from the Vietnamese yoga scene and still attracts master-level yoga teachers from around the globe.
The studio is simple, with two large classrooms and basic facilities. Class sizes can contain up to 40 students, but smaller advanced groups and private sessions are also common. It boasts mid-high level pricing but is worth the money for a world-class yoga training experience.
Studio 1: Aeon Mall, 2nd Floor, No. 01 Road No. 17A, Quarter 11, Ward Bình Trị Đông B, Bình Tân District, HCMC, Vietnam – +84 28 7107 9899
Studio 2: Thảo Điền Pearl Plaza, 3rd floor, 12 Quốc Hương, Ward Thảo Điền, Thu Duc City, HCMC
Hours: 6:30 a.m to 8:30 p.m
Types: Over 20 yoga types + Aerial, Pilates,
Levels: All – Price: $
When it comes to luxury, world-class facilities, high-end equipment, and specialized yoga training, nothing compares to Yoga Plus. Owned by the same company as UFC Gym, Yoga Plus offers up to 22 different types of yoga in their two Saigon studios, with highly trained professional yoga teachers from around the world.
The modern facilities ring with elegance from ceiling to floor. The lobby boasts large ottomans complete with pillows, ambient lighting and music, a small yoga shop, and a juice bar. Clients can find themselves practicing in large, naturally lit classrooms or in specially designed private rooms for one-on-one instruction.
Almost every yoga niche can be found here, as the studio contains every yoga and Pilates prop imaginable. Locker rooms include saunas, steam rooms, showers, and hair dryers.
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES TOP THINGS TO DO IN SAIGON AND 4 YOU SHOULDN’T
Every Friday I wonder what to do for the upcoming weekend. I love lists of activities in Saigon, but I couldn’t find one that fits my needs. What do you do as a writer? Correct. Assemble your own list of things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. And some things you really don’t want to do.
Do: Discover Hidden Alleyways in Saigon
This is one of the things that I find most amazing during the day. Just walk into one of these alleys and check out where they lead and what they reveal. You may discover the best places for shopping or having a coffee, and have something to impress your friends with. I can lead you into a labyrinth of “hems” and show you the best pineapple tarts in Ho Chi Minh City. Nearby there is a seafood kitchen where an old granny prepares the most delicious shellfish dishes I have eaten so far. All that happens in an alleyway you usually would just walk past.
Check out Zoe’s article “Things to do in Saigon in 72 Hours”, to get an idea about the amazing street foods you can find – hidden from plain sight!
Do: Have a dress or suit tailored for you!
Many tourists come to Hong Kong or Thailand to have suits made for them, but ordering these items is also popular in Ho Chi Minh City. As I extensively described right here in this article: “How to find a good tailor in Ho Chi Minh City”, you first go to An Dong, or another fabric market to pick your favorite fabric, and then you pick a good tailor. They measure you from top to bottom and after a few days and a fitting session, your order is ready.
Don’t: Discover Alleyways in Saigon
Did I just say you should discover hidden alleyways? Yes, you should, during bright daylight. At night, however, these places tend to be more than just dodgy. Especially in and around the backpacker’s area in Pham Ngu Lao, you should stay away from dark places after midnight. Gangsters roam the alleys and you don’t want to get into a scuffle. Most of them have shanks or knives, and some even machetes.
Do: visit one of the big traditional markets
A market stroll is always a good idea. When have you last been to Binh Tay Market, the central market of Cholon, which nowadays forms Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown? Delve into the colorful market environment in search of dried shrimp, gastronomy packages of chopsticks, and bulk loads of new year decorations. For everybody who wants to avoid the stress of the touristy Ben Thanh Market in the center of Saigon, Binh Tay offers their heart’s desires.
Don’t: Eat at an international fast food chains
Many people believe that the food sold by international fast food chains is cleaner than street food. I am challenging that on account of several people I have met who worked for those places in the past and came up with stories as scary as any other food scandal. I prefer an honest banh mi over one of these overpriced McWhoppers any day.
And the other reason is: Why did you come to Vietnam in the first place? Try the local food, it’s delicious! And if you are concerned about the cleanliness in those places, get a fresh banh mi at Bier Garden on Dong Khoi street, they even have an open kitchen and their food is delicious.
Do: A day tour to the Mekong delta!
The legendary Mekong delta is just one jump away and waiting to be discovered by daring travelers from all over the world! Just jump into the next travel agency and book a tour. If you are a penny pincher, you may end up with the standard four-island tour, which is nice but a little too touristy for most people’s taste. That’s why I undertook the private tour to Cai Lay & Cai Be I reviewed. The trinkets and souvenirs you can take from there are mostly based on coconuts, so prepare coconut oil, coconut soap, and coconut statuettes. But also honey and rice paper are quite famous things to bring from the Mekong.
Don’t: Drink cheap street coffee!
Apparently, Vietnamese palates got so used to not tasting actual coffee that some of the coffee sold for VND 10,000 on the street doesn’t contain a single coffee bean. On August 26th, 2012, Thanh Nien News published an article about fake coffee that is made in Saigon. One of these factories, Thong Phat, produces around 1.5 metric tonnes of fake coffee per day from soy, corn, and a concoction of partially unidentified chemicals the reporters labeled “life-threatening”. Vietnam Breaking News posted an article in 2014, as another fake coffee producer got busted by the authorities. The inspectors found just soybeans, corn, and chemicals. Apparently, they did not find any “coffee money” as well, otherwise, the workshop would probably continue production, quite like Thong Phat company, which received the rating “good” after a food safety inspection, while the Saigon Department of Health issued a “failing to meet requirements” to the company.
If you are rather interested in really good specialty coffee, check out our interview with Dũng, one of the owners of The Workshop, where they sell excellent coffee!
Do: Go to the outer districts!
District 1 offers everything you need and the Districts 2 and 7 are the prime living areas for ex-pats and wealthier Vietnamese families. But if you want to experience real Saigon, go to District 12, Bình Thạnh, or District 10! Tourists are rare there, so don’t expect people to speak English, but see it as a great opportunity to discover what living in Saigon really means.
One especially cool thing to do on the weekend is to book a pavilion in Van Thanh Park and have a barbecue with friends there.
Don’t: Believe everything I tell you!
Just be adventurous and try stuff you want to experience. You want to live an interesting life after all, and just one street coffee won’t kill you. Avoid that stuff when you are pregnant though! If you are a little street smart and pay attention to your surroundings, you can have a great time in Ho Chi Minh City.
If the opportunities we mentioned are not suitable for your taste, you may want to check out:
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES WHY CHRISTMAS SUCKS
Let’s face it, Christmas sucks.
If we take an honest look at the holiday’s bloody history, the commercial circus it has become today and the tremendous stress felt during this time, it’s easy to see plenty of negatives. As Christmas gains popularity in Vietnam and HCMC, it will be interesting to see what course it will take here.
The Violent History of Christmas
Many countries around Europe have been celebrating what we now call Christmas for over 2,000 years, and its roots lie in polytheistic pagan traditions. In Germany, people went into hiding from the god Odin, who would fly around at this time of the year to observe his people. Those not living in accordance with the pagan belief were thought to perish. So people stayed indoors to avoid judgment. This was a time of fear.
In Rome, the celebration was known as Saturnalia in honor of the agricultural deity Saturn.
“Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would become masters. Peasants were in command of the city. Businesses and schools were closed so that everyone could join in the fun.” (History.com).
By the Middle Ages Christmas had finally replaced the pagan versions of this celebration, as Christianity overtook most of Europe.
“On Christmas, believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today’s Mardi Gras. Each year, a beggar would be crowned the “lord of misrule” and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects. The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief.” (History.com)
By the 17th century, Christmas entered another stage as Oliver Cromwell and his genocidal gang of Puritans took control of England. Cromwell canceled Christmas in hopes of keeping England free from the sinful behavior he believed to be associated with the holiday. Shortly thereafter, King Charles II came to power, and Christmas was reinstated. This was a time of savage bloodshed and war, and a raucous time between Protestants and Catholics that resulted in thousands of deaths.
As Christmas was a key practice in the Christian religion, it was often a catalyst for disputes between different religious sects. So much for Christmas cheer. The next wave of change came about in the United States after the American Revolution. In the early 19th century, Christmas was often met with rioting from the poverty-stricken lower classes.
As a result, many citizens and the governments of both the United States and England demanded that citizens hold more peaceful and family-oriented celebrations. These changes resulted in many of the common customs we still uphold today.
Western Commercialisation of Christmas
So, are we any better off? When looking at the ridiculous commercialization of Christmas in the West, it seems we are still missing the point. Advertising agencies have worked tirelessly to create the need to buy, buy, buy. In 2013 alone, the United States retail industry raked in over $3 trillion, according to statista.com. Since 2000, there has been a consistent increase in retail sales; Christmas has become more about spending money than anything else.
In addition to the shopping madness and the deaths associated with religious fanaticism, let’s not forget that for the less fortunate, this has always been a time of depression, despair, and at worst, suicide. A 2014 study in Queensland, Australia, looking at the years 1990 to 2009, found a statistically significant increase in suicides on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.
Christmas in Vietnam seems to be much more down-to-earth. Although it is a new concept that is being warmly embraced regardless of religion, it seems to uphold the values that have been lost in the West. In HCMC, families spend time together, there is no serious pressure to spend hundreds of dollars on gifts, and the general atmosphere is much more pleasant and unrestricted. Perhaps we in the West need to rethink how we celebrate.
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES WATCH OUT, TET IS COMING!
Yep, it’s that time of year again, when everyone merrily voices the illustrious “after Tet” catchphrases: “We’ll do it after Tet.” “We can finish it after Tet.” “We won’t be able to get it done before Tet.” “I’ll quit after Tet.” “I’ll find a new job after Tet.” So what’s your best Tet phrase?
You may also hear: lock up your bike, your house, guard your belongings, Tet is coming. Items often seem to disappear in the run-up to Tet, and traffic police are unusually active. Those of you who have lived in Muslim countries in Southeast Asia will remember these same curious habits during the run-up to Ramadan.
As we all know, Tet is the local version of Christmas and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one, where everyone in the country celebrates the lunar new year with rituals designed to bring good fortune and fame, achieved by following a complex system of traditions. This is the time for family reunions and paying respects to one’s elders and ancestors. It’s definitely the most sacred time of year, practiced for centuries and with no signs of stopping soon.
Top 5 Tet Festivities
Watching Fireworks on Tet New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Greetings
Lucky Money for Children and Elders
The “tat nien” meal (the last meal of the lunar year) shares all the sadness and happiness and experiences gained throughout the year. These parties are also a time to review family traditions, show respect to elders and strengthen relationships. Definitely a meal worth eating, in our opinion.
The first day of Tet is especially important, as actions on this day will determine one’s fate for the coming year. Might we suggest buying your neighbor a coffee to ensure a really good 2017? Even during the American War, both sides agreed to a temporary ceasefire to respect Tet – although the North famously broke this tradition during the 1968 Tet Offensive.
Tet Food and Flowers
Banh Tet is a traditional cake made with glutinous rice and mung bean, rolled in a banana leaf. Another traditional dish is the five fruits of Tet, or Nam Ngu Qua (the fruits are watermelon, custard apple, coconut, papaya, and mango). They represent the quintessential hope that Heaven and Earth will bless humans. It demonstrates a Vietnamese view of life: “When taking fruit, you should think of the grower”.
You’ll see that in the days leading up to Tet, colorful flowers will fill towns and cities – the peach tree in the North and apricot blossoms in the South. The mandarin is thought to bring good fortune, which is why it’s suddenly widely available.
Get hold of lucky money envelopes as children and young adults expect riches and luck from these red sashes (some supermarkets hand them out at the cash register – grab them). Lucky money, lucky money, where’s my lucky money! Most Vietnamese return to their hometowns for quality time with family and friends. The sudden rush to accumulate wealth to share may have something to do with the sharp increase in “merry” trickery.
Some say the country is on pause. Recruitment of staff becomes impossible, as all are awaiting the 13th-month payout. A fascinating aspect in recent years is the two months preceding Tet. If you’ve been here for a while you probably have encountered countless people saddened while getting roundly shafted: “I’m sad, my motorbike was stolen, my purse/backpack with all my money and phone was stolen, my landlord won’t return the house deposit, my cousin stole my boyfriend, then dumped him.” Have you noticed how customer service becomes dependent on “coffee money”?
Trials and Tribulations
The days leading up to Tet are meant to be a joyful occasion, giving thanks to Heaven and Earth, and wishing our loved ones well. Why the stress? Some suggest it’s the acute social pressure to spend money during the festive season. Motor vehicle accidents rise during this time of year. Perhaps it is the eagerness to get home, pent-up energy, parties leading to tipsy driving, or the desire to just let loose. Limit your driving in the lead-up to Tet.
Traveling during Tet, the busiest travel season in Vietnam is full of surprises. Prices of hotels and food sharply rise, accommodation/eateries burst at the seams, and airplanes are fully booked. When all the festivities come to a close, life returns to a form of relative normality. Another Tet has come and gone. Enjoy!
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES HERE’S WHY YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT VIETNAMESE MOVIES
This summer, history was made. Audiences in Vietnam flocked to Jailbait (Em chưa 18), a romantic comedy chronicling the devious machinations of a 17-year-old girl as she attempts to blackmail an older man to make her ex-boyfriend jealous. The film, released in late April, shattered box office records by raking in almost US$9 million and became the highest-grossing film in Vietnam’s history, international as well as domestic.
It might seem obvious that a Vietnamese movie would hold the box office record in the country. However, in recent years, as more foreign movies have been shown alongside domestically made counterparts, Vietnamese movies had fallen by the wayside.
Does Jailbait’s enormous success mark a turning point for Vietnamese cinema?
A Rocky History
Or maybe a more pertinent question: why was Jailbait so enormously popular to begin with? After all, it fell in the vein of the majority of Vietnamese movies released since the early 2000s, when the country’s mainstream movie industry began to gain ground.
Timothy Bui, international film director and founder of the Vietnamese developing company Happy Canvas, has a theory. “It was strong storytelling,” he said. “It dealt with a prom, which you don’t have in Vietnam—just in international schools. It gave audiences a glimpse of something foreign, but also really universal. And it felt fresh.”
Fresh is the keyword here, according to Bui, and exactly the quality that the film industry has missed in Vietnam since 2015. “2015 was the recession of Vietnamese cinema,” Bui said. “Up until then, you could have made a movie for US$200,000 in your bathroom and it would sell out because it was new. And then all the studios, without progress, kept turning the same product out, while the audience’s taste got more advanced.”
An article published in 2016 by VietnamNet estimated that Vietnam’s film industry was worth US$100 million, a drop in the bucket compared to Thailand and Korea.
“The main argument is, ‘Why would I pay VND60,000 for a Vietnamese film when I can pay VND60,000 for The Avengers?’” Bui asked.
What Does Vietnam Want?
Talk to an ex-pat, or even a local, and chances are they will choose to see the latter over the former, though it wasn’t always this way. Bui said that the Vietnamese audience is nationalistic, takes pride in the country’s creations, and wants to support their homeland’s artists. This might just be the problem.
“I had a talk with a theatre,” he said. “I told them they have to be more selective. Their response to me was, ‘We’re going to give them three showtimes because we’re trying to support and encourage’.” After a deluge of low-budget, poorly developed domestic movies entering theatres in the past few years, Vietnam’s audience has come to expect this low level of quality. As Stephane Gauger, Vietnamese-American director, said simply, “[The audience] got burned, and now they don’t trust the movies people are putting out.”
Gauger, who has been developing movies for the Vietnamese audience since he first worked on Three Seasons in 1997 (released in 1999) as the cinematographer (a movie that Timothy Bui produced), has come up with a broad list of do’s and don’ts for the Vietnamese audience.
According to Gauger, first and foremost, the movie’s got to have comedy, paired with the right amount of heart. “They need the laughs; they need the relief,” he said. Due to the budget restraints, he considers it a bad idea to delve too deeply into action, a foray that a well-funded Hollywood movie can accomplish much better. Horror might work, although there’s a cap—rather than feeling thrilled, he suspects many Vietnamese will just feel uncomfortable instead.
But romantic comedies? This is a genre that’s been around for decades, so the savvy director had better do something different. “That’s why stuff has to be high concept now,” he said, referring to larger-than-life themes like body switching and time travel.
“People want something different from the standard boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. They need a little bit of a twist.”
Gauger’s newest movie, Kiss and Spell (Yêu đi, đừng sợ), is a case in point: based off the Korean movie Spellbound, the romantic comedy tells the tale of a magician who is afraid of ghosts, courting a girl who has seemingly paranormal abilities. The movie, released in August, won the Audience Prize at the Danang Film Festival in November.
Training for the Future
For Bui and Gauger, two directors who first made their name in Hollywood and who are now committed to developing Vietnamese cinema in-country, the differences between the two working atmospheres go beyond budget and climate.
Both noted, for example, a lack of experienced, professional crew people, which can ultimately hinder the success of a project. For Gauger, who’s currently writing a treatment for a situational comedy that takes place in a Vietnamese university, his current obstacle is finding a suitable writing partner. “My production company will say that they have a great screenwriter available, but she’ll just be really good at thrillers, not comedies. Or, there’s another girl who’s done great work, but she’s shooting in England right now. So, there’s a need, a demand for writers.”
Bui said he constantly yearns for a consistent and dedicated assistant director. Rather than seen as a career in and of itself, like in the United States, in Vietnam, “It’s a placeholder. Everybody wants to direct, so they might take the job for one project, but they’ll be directing the next year.”
Another occasional fly in the ointment, censorship, tends to affect three categories in particular—sex, violence, and politics—though Bui noted that his newest movie, the horror film The Housemaid (Cô hầu gái), marked a turning point for Vietnamese cinema in general. “Before The Housemaid, if you were to make a ghost story, then at the end of the movie, the ghost couldn’t exist. It had to be in your imagination. But we were able to find a middle ground.”
Bui has recently opened a development company, Happy Canvas, to help young Vietnamese screenwriters develop their scripts on a deeper level than previously expected; Gauger is focused on making crowd-pleasing movies that entertain but don’t pander. Will Vietnam’s audience learn to embrace their country’s cinema once again?
“It’s hard,” Gauger said. “You’ve got to basically weed out as many bad movies as you can, develop new talent, develop better scripts… You’ve got to get the faith back.”
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES THE EVOLUTION OF INDIE CINEMA IN VIETNAM
When the Huong Ky Film Company was founded in 1920 by a group of Vietnamese intellectuals in Hanoi, it produced documentaries on the funeral of Emperor Khai Dinh and the enthronement of Bao Dai. But the country’s first feature film arrived at the end of April 1924 with the release of Một đồng kẽm tậu được ngựa (A Penny for a Horse).
With the creation of the Vietnam Film Studio in 1956 and the Hanoi Film School in 1959, the first feature film produced in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was Chung một dòng sông (Together on the Same River) directed by Nguyen Hong Nghi.
Footprints Outside Vietnam
Documentaries and feature films from Vietnam were starting to gain attention in Eastern European film festivals, with the documentary Nước về Bắc Hưng Hải (Water Returns to Bắc Hưng Hải) winning the Golden Award at the 1959 Moscow Film Festival and the 1963 feature film Chị Tư Hậu (Sister Tư Hậu) winning the Silver Award there.
As Vietnam went through changes with reunification and a shift to a market economy in the ’80s, it was only in the 1990s that the film industry showed a clear difference between mainstream films produced for the cinema.
Most of these were comedies released during Tet and drama films, and arthouse films that saw more airplay outside Vietnam than in the country—mainly due to censorship and a lack of interest by the general public.
Vietnam saw a new wave of contemporary cinema in the 1990s with foreign-based Vietnamese directors such as Tran Anh Hung, whose debut film Scent of the Green Papayas won the Camera d’Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, and was also the first Vietnamese film to be nominated for an Oscar.
Tony Bui, Nguyen Vo Nghiem Minh, and Nguyen Viet Linh were also prominent film directors who made critically acclaimed films.
According to Michael Nguyen, a producer in Ho Chi Minh City, “the interest in filmmaking has risen over the years with many young Vietnamese filmmakers taking part in film competitions in the country, such as the 48 Hour Film Project, where the best films from the country will be screened at the short film section at the Cannes Film Festival.”
Films from this competition have twice gone on to Cannes, with Turtle Soup by Vietnam-based, Tibetan director Tsering Tashi Gyalthang going on to win second runner-up at the 2011 finals of the competition in New Mexico, USA.
The recent production of the Hollywood film, Kong: Skull Island in Vietnam has also raised awareness among local filmmakers about the expertise behind making films.
Indie filmmakers who had so long been muddled in funding issues are also starting to venture into film financing labs provided by international film festivals and networking with overseas producers. One such project, Taste by Le Bao, won the Arte International Prize and TFL Co-Production Award at the Torino Film Lab earlier this month.
As more Vietnamese filmmakers start to make their mark outside the country, it’s only a matter of time before the world will get exposed to a new wave of Vietnamese cinema.
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES BEST BARS TO CELEBRATE NEW YEAR’S EVE IN HO CHI MINH CITY
The Vietnamese really do love their fireworks and to be fair, they do them exceptionally well. Any excuse and the riverfront will be lighting ups at midnight. The city lends itself well to fireworks displays with the riverfront presenting the perfect venue. The city does though get incredibly blocked as thousands pour in to see the show. The best way to see the fireworks is to get in early and get to one of the superb rooftop bars, take your seat, order your drinks and wait, or book a cruise boat beforehand.
So where are the best places to see the fireworks in Ho Chi Minh City?
Air 360 Sky Lounge has a more adult vibe than its cousin, Chill Skybar, and a more laid-back atmosphere, making it an ideal after-hours hangout for white-collar professionals. The view is outstanding and more panoramic than Chill’s, making for some great fireworks action. The multi-level setup ensures that you won’t easily get bored as you navigate from the sky deck to the bar area to the stylish lounge.
The Rooftop Garden Bar
This was the place where foreign journalists held their propaganda-laden press conferences during the war. It’s a high-end, smart restaurant bar with terrific views of the very heart of the city. Kicking off New Year’s Eve with the hottest Latin melodies, Rex Hotel’s New Year events feature an endless supply of soft drinks, wine, beer, and mineral water. Adult tickets cost VND3.6+ million and children’s tickets are around VND2 million.
Riverboat Dinner Cruise
A truly great way to experience the fireworks is to book a table at one of the Saigon River boat restaurants. They sail away from the quay and down the river, returning after you have dined to pull up in the middle of the river to provide the most amazing view of the show at midnight. Traditional Vietnamese food served on board is of high quality, generally. This is a superb location to take your date, for Independence Day or other holidays when the fireworks happen.
Broma Not a Bar
Recently renovated, the rooftop bar here offers a truly spectacular view of the fireworks in HCMC. This is right on Nguyen Hue and is a really nice spot. One of the lower roofs in the city, it is nonetheless a great venue in which to enjoy drinks and a party atmosphere as the show starts.
Bamboo Chic at Le Meridien
There are some excellent window seats at Bamboo Chic that look out over part of the city, the waterfront, and the rapid development of Thu Duc City just across the river. This presents a clear vantage for fireworks enjoyment. For New year’s Eve, the restaurant is presenting a special set dinner that includes free-flow champagne, wine, and cocktails. Tickets are usually around VND2+ million.
Breeze Sky Bar
This is about as close as you can get to the action; on the riverfront directly opposite the launch site. Get in early and pick your seat, order cocktails and relax. This is a fabulous venue from which to see the fireworks in HCMC.
High above the traffic, overlooking the Notre Dame Basilica, is Shri, a very cool lounge and restaurant serving up great food, an extensive wine list, and carefully crafted cocktails. The views here are stunning and it’s perfectly placed to enjoy the fireworks. Their secret Whisky Library is a great location in which to enjoy a cocktail or to learn about how they smoke their whisky cocktails using three different techniques, unique to Shri.
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES BEST SPORTS ACTIVITIES IN HCMC
Like all modern cities, the best sports and leisure activities are not always in your face when you first arrive in Saigon; they have to be tracked down. In some cases you are likely to stumble across them, others need a bit of research. Watching sports is easy in this vibrant city, and the number of sports bars is growing exponentially. Taking part takes a bit more effort, literally.
The Saigon Pool League was started early in 2014 and in the short time since has grown from just eight teams to a vibrant league of 35 teams playing in four structured divisions (three 8–ball and one 9–ball) with 20 bars taking part. Eightball league matches are played on a Thursday night and the newer and smaller 9–ball league plays on Monday nights. In excess of 260 players are now registered. In just two short years pool has grown to be one of the best sports and leisure activities in Saigon.
The 8–ball League has everything from the top Premier Division for the better players, through the mid-level Championship Division for intermediates to the Social Division which is more light-hearted but still contains some very good players. The–9 ball only has one division at the moment. Players of all abilities are made very welcome and should contact Chris Lee at The Saigon Pool League for details.
The Saigon International Darts League has 22 teams playing over three divisions. Appropriately there are some 180 players regularly playing each week at the seventeen registered venues. Darts is very popular among locals as well as ex-pats and most teams have a variety of nationalities within their ranks. The ladies are made very welcome as is everyone. It’s a great ice–breaker for newcomers to the city, with many social events linked to the league. Make your inquiries to Kevin Kuruvilla, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Not the tallest of people, the Vietnamese still have a passion for basketball. There are many pickup games on courts throughout the city. Expats tend to play in their own groups but there is something of a crossover. Information is sketchy to say the least, but there are courts normally available on most days of the week. More information is available here. For those who love to watch basketball, Saigon’s own pro team, The Saigon Heat, play in the ASEAN League. Their home games are played at the CIS Arena in District 7 and draw good crowds.
The football in Saigon falls into two distinct categories. There is the full on 11 man game and five or six a side short games. Both are very popular and are well subscribed. Having as it does many international schools, Saigon has a strong body of young(ish) athletic guys who are keen to keep up fitness levels by playing football.
The new season of the Saigon International Football League kicked off in September 2014 at the new venue in Ky Hoa in D10. These 11 teams in the league and games are played on Saturdays and Sundays between September and April. Details are available on The Saigon International Football League website.
Established in 2012, the Saigon Monday night Five a Side league organizes matches that generally play in D4. This popular format of sport is a great way to keep fit and meet people. Their website is found here. There is also the excellent Arsenal Soccer Schools project. Originally just for juniors, they have a course concentrating on fitness for adults as well. They have three centers, in Districts 1, 2, and 7, they can be contacted here.
A very popular activity among both locals and ex-pats. Whilst of course most of the condo blocks have superb swimming pools attached, not everyone gets to live in a condo. For those that have not got access to a pool, there are some extremely good community pools in and around the city. These can be found in most districts.
Yet Kieu Aquatics Center
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 5 am – 7 am, 11 am –1 pm, 4 pm – 6 pm. / Saturday and Sunday at 5 am – 7 am, 2 pm – 6 pm.
Lao Dong Pool
Opening Hours: Every day 6 am – 7 pm
Ky Dong Pool
Opening Hours: Saturday to Thursday 6 am – 5 pm
Van Don Pool 1
Van Don Pool 2
Opening Hours: Closed Mondays / Tuesdays to Friday 5:30 am – 7:00 am, 7:40 am – 11:00 am, 1:40 pm – 6:50 pm / Saturday and Sunday 5:30 am – 7:00 am, 7:40 am – 2:00 pm, 2:20 pm – 7:00 pm
Lam Son Pool
Opening Hours: Closed Mondays / Tuesdays to Friday 5:30 am – 7:00 am, 7:30 am – 11:30 am, 1:00 pm – 6:20 pm / Saturday and Sunday 5:30 am – 11:40 am, 1:00 pm – 6:40 pm
Lan Anh Pool
Opening Hours: Monday: 8:00 am – 8:30 pm / Tuesday to Sunday 6:00 am – 8:30 pm
Phu Tho Pool
Opening Hours: Everyday 5:30 am – 11:30 am, 1:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Binh Thanh District
Van Thanh Pool
Opening Hours: Every Day 6:00 am – 7:45 pm
Phu Nhuan District
Rach Mieu Pool
Opening Hours: Closed Mondays / Tuesdays to Sundays 5:30 am – 10:00 am, 2:00 pm – 7:30 pm
The Saigon Cricket League started in 2006 with just two teams. It now comprises seven teams, which are split into nationalities: Australia, England, two from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and a United Countries team. The standard of the league is pretty impressive, as it is in most Southeast Asian countries. Over the nine years of its existence, competition has slowly evolved from a fun day out to a quite serious league. Some of the teams train four times a week. Matches are played at RMIT University in District 7. For further information see the league website.
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES FINE PLACES TO SPEND CHRISTMAS & NEW YEAR IN SAIGON
With Christmas suddenly upon us after what has surely been the longest year ever, you’d be forgiven for not having made plans for the big day yet! Luckily for you, CityPass Guide has been putting in the leg work and researching the best places to spend Christmas and New Year in Saigon.
Whether you’re looking for a 5-star festive feast or a casual Christmas Dinner, we’ve got a selection of options to ensure a very merry Christmas, plus a variety of New Year party destinations that are sure to kick off 2021 in style!
Christmas has always been a special time of year at the Caravelle, as the historic hotel first opened its doors on Christmas Eve in 1959! 61 years later and the celebrations are still as stylish as ever. This year you can enjoy either a spectacular Christmas Buffet at the flagship restaurant Nineteen or a sumptuous Christmas Eve Dinner at award-winning Reflections Restaurant.
On New Year’s Eve, Reflections Restaurant will not only offer beautiful views over the Opera House, but a stunning six-course Gala Dinner, whilst up on the rooftop Saigon Saigon provides a less formal, but no less spectacular venue to see in the new year, with a drinks and canapes package available for VND 990,000++ per person.
Moving from rooftop to riverside, The Deck is a beautiful location for a leisurely, yet sophisticated Christmas on New Year celebration. With the option of arriving at ‘one of the best bars in the world by boat, The Deck certainly offers plenty of opportunities to celebrate in style. A seafood and Champagne brunch is available between 23rd and 30th December, and with spectacular Set Menus specially prepared for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve (VND 1,850,000++ per person), The Deck is certainly a strong contender for the best venue for the festive season.
Hotel Des Arts Saigon
A perpetual contender for the title of Best Brunch in Saigon, it is no surprise that Social Club at Hotel Des Arts is also in the running for the title of Best Christmas Dinner in Saigon too!
With a 5-Course Set Menu Dinner of around VND 1,888,000++ per person with the option of a wine pairing being served on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, a spectacular ‘Festive Epic Brunch’ including free flow Tattinger Champagne on December 27th usually around VND3,700,000++ per person and a New Year’s Eve Champagne Brunch (VND 4,000,000++ per person served, unsurprisingly, on New Years Eve, it might just be worth moving into Hotel Des Arts for the festive period.
With Saigon Kitchen Restaurant also offering a traditional Christmas Eve Dinner and Christmas Day Lunch, complete with a visit from Santa, Hotel Des Arts also has a shout at claiming the crown for the best place for a family Christmas in Saigon.
A regular haunt for Thao Diners, Mekong Merchant may not have the wow factor of a 5-star hotel, but if you are looking for a comfortable, affordable, and fuss-free Christmas Dinner, ‘M.M.’ must be considered one of the best options in the city.
If you are looking for an option that allows some flexibility in regards to what you eat but would prefer a sit-down dinner rather than a buffet, Mekong Merchant’s Christmas Day menu is certainly worth considering. Usually starting at VND 790,000+ per person for two courses, Mekong Merchant is certainly more affordable than many options, and if Turkey doesn’t float your boat, you can choose from Salmon, Beef Wellington, or Pumpkin Involtini for your main, and Traditional Christmas Pudding, Pavlova or Christmas Parfait for dessert.
Continuing the theme of being totally flexible, the choice to add a starting sharing platter and wine package or free flow package is also usually available on the day.
Another hotel, yes. Another budget-busting buffet, perhaps not! Basilico at Intercontinental Saigon may not offer a traditional turkey dinner, but with an abundance of exquisite festive treats including veal, salmon, beef, cold cuts, and cheeses being served alongside Prosecco, house wines, beers, and soft drinks, the Christmas Eve Dinner usually starts at 1,490,000++ per person and Christmas Day Brunch at 1,600,000++ per person is certainly worth considering.
If you simply cannot call it Christmas without a slice of turkey, Market 39’s buffet has got you covered. This may also be a great choice for anyone with children who need to let off some steam before going to bed on Christmas Eve as Market 39 is offering balloon modeling, a magic show, and a visit from Santa in addition to a delicious Yuletide buffet on the big night! I’m tired just thinking about it!
In addition to offering the usual festive buffets and set menus that you would expect from a top hotel, Park Hyatt Saigon has offered two rather unusual events at Christmas that may just make it the best place for anyone looking to enjoy the magic of the Christmas season, young or old!
One of them usually is Magic at The Park, which is the first and only private magic show series in Vietnam and provides an opportunity for families to enjoy a uniquely magical experience. Combining magic, the funfair spirit, and the joys of the festive season, this limited-period performance is certainly an exciting addition to the Christmas calendar in Saigon. The upcoming Christmas events are still not yet validated. For full details of all festive events at Park Hyatt Saigon click here or call the Festive Desk at +84 9 6269 0471 or email email@example.com
Shri Restaurant & Lounge
So much more than a rooftop restaurant, Shri is one of the best places in the city to spend an evening, let alone a special evening like Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. With fantastic views of downtown Saigon and one of the city’s most extensive wine lists, Shri could be the best place to enjoy for anyone looking for effortless sophistication during this festive period.
A 5-course Christmas Set Menu is usually served (around VND 2,200,000++ per person) often featuring Fois Gras, Lobster Bisque, and Salmon Tartare, last year it was available on 24th, 25th, and 26th December, while a 4-course Festive Season Menu was available throughout the month of December in past years. A delicious Vegetarian Set Menu is often available (around VND 1,200,000++ per person) as is a Kid’s Set Menu.
On New Year’s Eve, Shri’s spectacular terrace will likely be one of the best places to be as the clock strikes 12 but with details still unannounced, you’ll have to wait to find out precisely what delights are in store!
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES WHERE TO LEARN MARTIAL ARTS IN HCMC
Not only in HCMC, but self-defense has also fast become one of the most popular ways to stay fit and healthy, and for good reason. While CrossFit may carry a certain hipster sheen, it has very little application in a world where self-assuredness and confidence can make or break you on a daily basis. Martial arts combine intense exercise with precise training that gives students the confidence and ability to defend themselves – a combination that provides excellent all-around self-improvement.
Self-defence isn’t about learning how to crack skulls and break arms. It’s about instilling a belief in one’s ability to tackle the harshest conditions that life can throw at you. Most martial arts are focused on avoiding conflict rather than instigating it – “The art of fighting without fighting”, as Bruce Lee famously said. And with a huge array of different styles and disciplines available, anyone should be able to find a technique that resonates with them.
Choosing Your Style
Karate is hugely popular in Saigon, with a multitude of different styles practiced.
When deciding what style of self-defense to try, you should look beyond the discipline, and instead judge each class based on the attitude of the master: “It’s not the kind of martial art we should look for but the quality of the teacher. And we don’t mean their qualification or certificate. We always suggest just looking at the teacher of a school. His behavior, his passion for people, and for his martial art. Martial arts are for the mind and heart first, and to fight for survival second…” says master Michael Kloesser.
While Karate, Kung Fu, Muay Thai, and Taekwondo are popular disciplines on offer, people are now looking at more exotic styles. With the increased popularity of MMA (mixed martial arts), many niche styles are enjoying a resurgence.
Krav Maga, an Israeli-developed combat style that incorporates elements of fighting disciplines from around the world, is one such style. Made famous in the Bourne Identity movies, Krav Maga is one of the most ruthless fighting styles, incorporating weapons training, improvisation, and unarmed combat.
Taught at the Saigon Sports Club by Stephen Davison, the style isn’t pretty, but it’s amongst the most effective forms of self-defense if learned properly.
Saigon Sports Club offers a raft of other styles ranging from kickboxing to judo. It claims to be the biggest gym in Asia, and the diversity on offer would certainly add plausibility to the claim.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), a favorite among MMA champions, is seeing record numbers of new students around the world, drawn to its versatility and effectiveness in real-world situations. Saigon Luta Livre is a favorite among BJJ aficionados, and the training provided by Erik Koehne has contributed to the gym’s stellar reputation for Brazilian catch-style wrestling.
Vo Vi Nam: A Truly Vietnamese Martial Art
But often overlooked is the one martial art with true claims to Vietnamese heritage, Vo Vi Nam. With a combination of armed and unarmed techniques, Vo Vi Nam borrows elements of Kung Fu, Muay Thai, and various other regional disciplines to form a composite style unique to the country. Many Vietnamese learn from an early age, but foreigners are welcome to learn it as well. Potential students could try Rach Mieu Sports Centre (1 Hoa Phuong, Phu Nhuan District, HCMC, Vietnam) to see if it’s a good fit.
And if you’d rather just spectate, Quan Khu 7 on Hoang Van Thu, Tan Binh District, plays host to all manner of fighting events, from taekwondo to aikido, kickboxing to karate. It also offers training. Local practitioner Sean Duffy explains: “The boxing practitioners are from all around the districts and some of the trainers are or were members of the Vietnamese armed forces.” With so much available, what excuse do you have? Get out there and start fighting!
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES BEST THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN SAIGON
Many of Ho Chi Minh City’s things to do are suitable for families with kids of all ages. If you are living in Vietnam as an ex-pat or just visiting, we list the 10 best things to do with your children in Saigon.
City Parks and their Playgrounds
The city’s parks are places where childish exuberance, which can be hard to contain in a hotel room, can be unleashed. Van Thanh Park in Binh Thanh District has paths and a field for little people who just need to run, as well as a small playground and a swimming pool. While the kids are busy being energetic, adults can relax in a bamboo hut over a small pond or work up a sweat on the tennis courts.
Listening to Songbirds
Tao Dan Park in downtown District 1 also has room to move, making it a popular spot for city dwellers to take their morning and evening exercise. And it’s not just people who visit the park. Songbirds are taken to the park’s little cafe (fronting Cach Mang Thang Tam Street) every morning, their cages hung from purpose-built frames to encourage them to sing. It’s a fascinating experience to visit the bird cafe, especially watching the bird owners take their beloved pets home by motorbike.
Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre
The park, which has a large playground and an indoor play center, is a short walk from the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. The 55-minute water puppet shows, all in Vietnamese, need to be booked a few days ahead. You could continue the bird theme with a visit to Pet Me Coffee in Phu Nhuan District. This small drinks-only cafe has a resident mini-owl and several parakeets, which can be petted, as well as some larger more exotic birds who hang out at the front of the coffee shop.
Family Fun in Suoi Tien Amusement Park
One of the city’s wackiest attractions in town is the Buddhist-themed Suoi Tien, Amusement Park. Allocate a full day here, especially if you plan to visit the vast water park section. The amusement park can be quite baffling if you’re not well versed in Buddhist stories because there is limited signage in English.
Still, a stroll through the strange displays, which include a wish tree and The Royal Herbal Wine Palace, can be very entertaining. There is also an aquarium, 4D cinema, a dolphin show, and the Snow Castle, the perfect place to escape Ho Chi Minh City’s heat … by plunging into a sub-zero world of ice and snow.
Pretending to Be Adults in Kizciti (temporary closed)
Younger kids will enjoy learning about the world of work at Kizciti in District 4. The staff here usually has enough English to explain how each activity center works. Each child receives a small amount of kizo, the Kizciti currency, on entry and they must decide how to manage it.
Some activities cost kizo, and some earn it. A small open-air cafe serves basic food and coffee to sustain the “kiz” and their parents through a long day of “work”, which can entail learning to be a pilot, a pediatrician, a delivery person or a firefighter.
Indoor Kid’s Play Centres and Playgrounds
Ho Chi Minh City has several indoor play centers and amusement arcades. In the city center, Vincom Center has a play area and a game zone in its basement. In Thao Dien, Thu Duc City, there’s a play area in the garden of The Snap Cafe, and Jump Arena Climb Giga Mall is always fin.
In District 7 there’s an air-conditioned indoor playground inside Bee Bee Premium Kid’s Cafe and a kids’ activities center on the top floor of the Crescent Mall. Vitopia is also an excellent option for your child to experience a variety of career opportunities, adjacent is the fun Jump Arena Trampoline Park. Older kids can while away a few hours at Paintball Saigon, in the pool at Lan An Sports Club, or at the bowling alley on the fourth floor of Diamond Plaza.
Learning Arts in Vinspace
In the ex-pat area of Thao Dien, in Thu Duc City, there is a range of activities for older kids. Some of the more interesting include taking a workshop or joining a summer camp at Vinspace art studio.
Saigon Reunification Palace
The Reunification Palace is a prime example of a must-visit family-friendly attraction that has a special appeal for kids. The roomy but slightly run-down public areas could be the backdrop for a princess fantasy, while the basement war rooms will appeal to hero types. Making the palace even more appealing is its location, a short walk from the Haagen-Dazs ice cream cafe located on Le Than Ton street, D1.
Families traveling to Vietnam with kids should not worry about things to do in Saigon. We only listed our top 10 attractions but there are many more great ideas that will make your stay memorable. You may also want to read our article What to Do in 24-hour in Saigon.
SAIGON INSPIRATION ACTIVITIES HOW TO ENJOY THE DRY SEASON NEAR SAIGON
By Keely Burkey
Take a Day Trip from Ho Chi Minh City
Not the most original idea in the world, but still worth a visit. Although these tunnels have been slightly repurposed to fit larger frames, you’ll get a closer look at the everyday living conditions of thousands of people during the American War.
How to get to the Cu Chi Tunnels?
About 40km from the city center, there are a few options: take one of the many tours offered through just about every travel agency in Pham Ngu Lao, or do it yourself by motorbike (it’ll take around two hours).
Cruise the Mekong Delta
The Region is more than 40,000 sq km, so you’ll have to make a choice or two about where to go and what to do. For a relaxing bike ride and a leisurely nap in a hammock, check Ben Tre, My Tho, and An Binh Island. For small-town city life, there’s no better place than Can Tho.
How to get to the Mekong Delta?
We recommend the Phuong Trang bus line or, for the scenic route, pick a river cruise with the typical Mekong Delta tour package: the floating market, coconut candy factory, and set lunch.
An underrated spot is definitely worth a day’s visit. About 75km from HCMC, this is doable if you’re confident on your bike; be sure to have some small changes on you, as it does involve a ferry ride to Can Gio. The main point of interest here is definitely the mangrove island, which features a recreation of a Viet Minh army station and hundreds of incredibly social monkeys, just waiting to snatch your sunglasses.
How to get to Monkey Island?
If a motorbike is not for you, there are several tour companies for about US$50 for the day.
Great for a family day with the little ones. Hidden away in Dong Nai, not many people know about this hidden gem. Here you can swim (or wade with a life jacket), kayak, bike, camp, lounge, and generally just enjoy life.
How to get to Giang Dien Waterfall?
About 50km from HCMC, it’ll take about an hour-and-a-half by car and two-and-a-half hours by bike. Be sure to save the directions on Google maps, as a lot of the drive is in the countryside, with limited reception.
Have fun at a water park
HCMC has water parks aplenty. Head to Binh Duong to enjoy the sun at Dai Nam Van Hien, or slip and slide in District 11 at Dam Sen Water Park. In District 9, check The BCR Club, which features a large pool and a paintball and archery shooting range, or Suoi Tien Park, probably the most established amusement park in the city.
Give Back to the Community
OK, not strictly an outdoor activity, but admirable nonetheless. Several organizations and institutions are always looking for help; although it certainly helps if you speak Vietnamese, for many it’s not a requirement. Here are some of our top choices:
Helping Orphans Worldwide (HOW)
Thien Phuoc Orphanage
All the way out in District 12, gives orphaned children the love and care they need. About 60 children, most with severe disabilities, reside here, and Sister Kim, the organizer, is always looking for people to spend time with them. See their website for more information.
Animal Rescue Service
District 2 holds two daily dog walks, and would love you to take part! With a morning walk and an afternoon walk, you can play with a pooch and get outside at the same time. Maybe you’ll even find the canine companion of your dreams.