Pride and Promise for Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ Community

By: John Mark Harrell

Vietnam is moderately accepting on the international stage.

Queer media representation is increasingly positive in Vietnam.

Thời gian thấm thoát thoi đưa
Thể nào anh cũng sẽ lừa được em
Chàng trai đang sánh bước bên em
Đằng nào rồi cũng sẽ thuộc về anh!”

A chorus of young voices sang this year’s unofficial Vietnam Pride anthem from singer and gay pop culture icon Truc Nhan as they charged up and down Saigon’s iconic Nguyen Hue walking street. Hoisting a giant rainbow flag over their heads, participants broke out into dance, took selfies with drag queens, and some even brought family members to an LGBTQI+ event for the first time. Local papers were there snapping photos, and even some international news outlets in far off countries covered the events of September 14th, 2019. It was only the eighth year in Vietnam’s history that Pride was publicly celebrated. 

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunitySaigon Pride Parade on Nguyen Hue walking street - by cvdvn.files.wordpress.com

What made this day’s gathering truly special, however, was its significance as a platform for the Saigonese LGBTQI+ community to visibly occupy public space - in plain view of their friends and families, their fellow Vietnamese citizens, tourists and expats, and even the police. 

“A western style drag scene has started and grown in Hanoi and Saigon,” says Blake, a Hanoi-based expat and performer. “Pride itself seems to be getting bigger.”

Here in Vietnam, the LGBTQI+ community has only recently begun to occupy a public platform, with the first ever Pride held in Hanoi on August 5, 2012. In a short span of time, Pride celebrations have spread to cities and rural towns all throughout Vietnam, and new ones - like this year’s first ever Pride in Tra Vinh, a sparsely-populated coastal province in the heart of the Mekong Delta - are popping up every year.

Vietnam on the International Stage

The landscape of sexual orientation and gender identity in Vietnam, and more broadly throughout Asia, is a complex terrain from which cultural values, family intradependence, religion, and the tumultuous legacy of colonialism grow and intertwine. As a result, LGBTQ rights vary widely in this part of the world. 

Taiwan is a model of acceptance among its fellow Asian nations, recently becoming the first to legalize same-sex marriage. Its annual Pride celebration in October drew about 200,000 local and international participants, making it the largest in the region.

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunityHanoi Pride Parade - by facebook.com/hanoipride.vn

Malaysia and Brunei have enshrined and upheld some of the world’s harshest punishments for same-sex sexual activity into law, ranging from jail time to caning and, in the most extreme cases, vigilante execution. Though these punishments are rarely enforced, LGBTQI+ individuals receive virtually no protection from the state and are frequent targets of hate crimes and discriminatory police raids.

Among its neighbouring nations, Vietnam sits relatively comfortably on the tolerant end of the spectrum, though perhaps not yet fully accepting. 

“The biggest challenge that we’re facing now,” says Long, a transgender dancer and drag performer based in Saigon, “Is the legal matters of same-sex marriage and the transgender community’s rights to legally adopt their new gender.”

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunityHanoi Pride Parade - by facebook.com/hanoipride.vn

Homosexuality has never been criminalized in Vietnam, and as recently as 2015, the National Assembly passed a bill that would make it legal for transgender individuals to change their gender on legal documents to reflect their true gender identity; however, guidance for enacting this law has yet to be discussed or passed by the National Assembly, leaving the fate of thousands of transgender individuals in Vietnam to the discernment of local authorities, who are unable or unaware of how to proceed without a clear mandate to do so. 

But perhaps the greatest source of controversy over this bill within the transgender community is that only those who have had gender reassignment surgery qualify for legal recognition.

“Because that law will be defined by surgery and not by someone identifying as transgender, it really should be called the ‘transsexual’ law,” says Linh, director of ICS Center, a nationwide legal advocacy group. “So now the current draft, and older drafts, have been debated even in the trans community...because being legally recognised requires you to have some kind of medical transition, and not every trans person wants to do that.”

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunityJS Band at GenderFunk Pride Ball - by facebook.com/GenderFunk

Rectifying this aspect of the law may take some time. The National Assembly, having agreed in principle that this law should be made in 2015, have since given a mandate to the Ministry of Health to work out the specifics of that law, as well as how it should be implemented.

“Though the transgender law is still debated within the transgender community, the main reason that hasn’t been passed is because there have been a lot of new laws proposed in the last two years,” says Linh. “At present, the transgender law is not the Health Ministry's priority. The draft bill has been proposed eight times from 2017 until now but it still hasn’t been prioritised, most likely because this law only affects a small minority of the population.”

Despite this challenge, there is a palpable sense of hope and anticipation within the local community that major progress could be made in the next few years. “I don’t think we’ll never be prioritised just because we're a minority,” says Linh. “It just means we need stronger visibility, to raise our voices and express our needs.”

“I'm positive that Vietnam will be the next in Asia to legalise equal marriage.” 

… says Dan Ni, a Saigonese drag performer whose optimism is shared by many in the Vietnamese LGBTQI+ community.

As public perception warms up to the LGBTQI+ community, mostly through increased representation in the media and pop culture, many Vietnamese citizens maintain a bright outlook for the advancement of gay rights in the next decade.

“We hope to achieve same sex marriage, hopefully in the next 6 years,” says Linh. “I hope that the transgender law will be resolved sooner, since it’s achieved more progress than the same-sex marriage law.”

Media Representation

Public exposure to queer individuals in pop culture, politics, and the media has certainly increased in the last decade. Vietnamese movies frequently depict protagonist, usually gay male or transgender female characters, though their roles have often been relegated to well-known and tired stereotypes. 

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunityDrag queen, Sweet Potato, at Saigon Pride Parade on Nguyen Hue walking street - by facebook.com/GenderFunk

“Securing acceptance and respect is important,” says Ana, a British expat and performer based in Saigon. “As opposed to the current portrayal [of gay men] in the media as just jokers or flamboyant comedy characters.”

“In the past 2-3 years, there has been a lot of LGBTQ representation,” says Linh. “Talk shows and reality shows create a lot of positive influence, although most of them are not perfect, and there are still stereotypes and bias. But it does bring different stories to the general public. That is something we appreciate about the media. And we will need all this visibility and much more in order to pass the transgender law in Vietnam.”

Though stigma and harmful stereotypes certainly remain in pop culture, LGBTQI+ representation seems to be steadily increasing and improving. In the Spring of 2019, popular TV game show Người Ấy Là Ai featured a young gay male contestant who shared his story on national television. His parents later joined him onstage and talked about how they had come to love, accept, and celebrate their son for who he is. Former Vietnam Idol singer and transgender pop icon, Huong Giang, is also a regular judge on this show, which has subsequently featured a handful of other LGBTQI+ contestants.

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunityLove is love - by znews.vn

One of 2018’s biggest viral moments in Vietnamese television that made international waves came in the form of a shocking reveal on Vietnam’s first ever season of The Bachelor, in which one of the female contestants, Minh Thu, broke decorum and declared her love for one of her fellow female contestants, Truc Nhu, and asked her to quit the show in front of a national audience. Later footage would reveal the producers’ shock as the contestants embraced and left the set together, though Nhu would agree to stay on the show until her eventual elimination. After the season aired, the two announced that they had gotten together after the show, and have been the subject of national admiration ever since.

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunityStill from Truc Nhan’s MV Sáng Mắt Chưa - by yeah1music.net

Just a few weeks after international Pride month this year, Vietnamese singer and pop culture icon Truc Nhan released his latest hit music video, Sáng Mắt Chưa—a wacky, colourful, unapologetically flamboyant rollercoaster ride in which he is depicted “crashing” his friend’s wedding to let her know that her fiance is secretly his gay lover. 

While the tabloid-esque frivolity of illicit sexual affairs may seem like a rather shallow and tacky Pride anthem to the casual Western observer, this hilarious jab at “closeted” gay culture in Vietnam struck a chord with the local LGBTQI+ community for depicting an all-too-relatable scenario, in which many deny their own sexuality to fulfill their parents’ expectations to have a heterosexual marriage and start a family. Indeed, the tremendous pressure gay men face to take up the mantle of their family name and have children of their own is at the root of a lot of the violence, rejection, and discrimination they experience, sometimes in the form of violence from their own families.

Out in Public, Closeted at Home

Many people, particularly in urban areas, lead fairly open lives with their friends, finding local queer spaces when they are available, and of course dating and often getting into serious relationships—but they simply don’t talk about their public lives at home for fear of disappointing their parents, maintaining a precarious separation of the two worlds. It is common, therefore, for LGBTQI+ individuals in Vietnam to be publicly “out” but still “closeted” in their own homes.

This cultural phenomenon is widespread in Asian countries, where three or more generations often occupy a single household, and where adult children often stay with their families well beyond the age of 18. In Vietnam, this is partly due to cultural values rooted in traditional Confucianism, and partly due to socioeconomic necessity, with families functioning as a vital support system.

The legacy of Confucianism, imported by Chinese colonial rule centuries ago, still lies at the foundation of family values in Vietnam and, like many other patriarchal systems around the world, governs familial relationships, and assigns specific roles to women and men. Though Vietnamese women today enjoy a greater measure of independence and equality than in the more conservative, fundamentalist past, they are still typically expected to leave their childhood homes to join their husbands’ families after marriage. 

Traditional Confucianism says little about sexuality, but the structural mandates built on gender and generational hierarchy have historically left no room for homosexual relationships, and in extreme cases, have made homosexuality a de facto threat to the fabric of society and the status quo.

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ CommunityĐạo Mẫu, or “Mother Goddess” worship - by thanhnien.vn

A notable exception exists in the centuries-old tradition of Đạo Mẫu, or “Mother Goddess” worship, originating in the north of Vietnam in the 16th century as a rebellion against Chinese colonial Confucian gender roles. Instead of relegating women to submissive, passive roles, Đạo Mẫu incorporates numerous female and male deities, and places female deity Lieu Hanh at the center—a symbol of women’s desire for freedom, happiness, and independence. Even more transgressive were the mediums specially chosen to commune with the goddess, who wore the clothing matching the gender of the male or female deity they wanted to commune with, regardless of their own gender. This is, perhaps, the first recorded instance of the performance of gender fluidity in Vietnamese culture. Đạo Mẫu received UNESCO’s inscription in 2016, and has had a cultural resurgence at the Four Palaces in Hanoi, where visitors can witness the colourful and centuries-old ritual practices of the religion in a dramatised way.

Looking Ahead

“There is no secret group of smart, benevolent activists who are going to secure rights and acceptance for you,” says Blake. “If you want things to change, you must be part of the effort. How big your contribution is and exactly what that contribution is, is up to you, but you should not be a bystander.”

Vietnam stands at the precipice of an exciting time for the LGBTQI+ community. Awareness and acceptance is spreading, laws are gradually making their way into the books to secure equality and protection for some of Vietnam’s most vulnerable communities, and the general outlook for the community in Vietnam is positive.

Vietnamese children and teenagers now have access to role models and resources that were almost completely out of reach only a decade ago. Media representation is increasingly affirming and positive. International influence imports a diversity of worldviews and cultures to a country that, up until the early nineties, was virtually cut off from the outside world.

Vietnam’s LGBTQI and CommunityHanoi Pride Parade - by facebook.com/hanoipride.vn

Still, there are plenty of challenges that remain. The LGBTQI+ community continues to be ostracised and isolated, particularly in rural communities, and disproportionately affecting trans people. “Coming out” is a hot topic and widely seen as something that is still impactful and consequential for many families. Particularly with the older generation, outdated stereotypes and misinformation through lack of exposure and education persist.

Thanks to the efforts of local initiatives and organisations like ICS, this is gradually changing, and leaders in queer communities throughout Vietnam are becoming more and more outspoken to challenge conventional assumptions and offer support to people who are vulnerable or afraid to be their true selves. 

“Don't be shy, be confident, do everything you can to be confident,” says Phong, a Hanoi based drag performer. “You're beautiful and have the right to exist. When you accept who you are and show your talents, don't be afraid of what other people think of you.”

“No matter what gender you have, you have the right to choose to do the right thing or the wrong thing,” says Lolita. “So, choose the right path to discover yourself and do not rush to conclude anything when you do not really understand it.”

“Be you,” says Dan Ni. “Because as Lizzo said, it feels good as hell.”

Vietnam’s LGBTQI and CommunityGuests at Genderfunk - by facebook.com/GenderFunk

Banner Image source: facebook.com/hanoipride.vn


The rise of Korean travellers in Vietnam

By: Aileen Murphy

Travel Between Vietnam and South Korea is Now More Convenient and Cost-Effective

Koreans Flock to Vietnam’s Beaches During Winter Months

Korean Tourists Expect Strong Service and Wish for Better Traffic Conditions

The tourism market for Korean travellers to Vietnam has expanded at a rapid rate over the past three years. South Koreans are closely following Chinese tourists as the most significant tourist group in Vietnam and together make up over half of all foreign visitors. However, Korea is projected to soon surpass China with a growth rate of 55.3 percent per year, while the Chinese growth rate keeps diminishing.

According to the latest statistical data published by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), over the past 10 months of 2018, there have been 2,867,380 Korean inbound visitors, a substantial increase in comparison to the around 1,000,000 back in 2015.

In October of this year alone, 303,417 South Korean tourists entered Vietnam, closely following Chinese tourists at 371,361, although Chinese tourists are on the decline mostly due to political disputes between the countries.The recent influx of Korean tourists could be a reflection of the increasingly prosperous relations between the two nations, which is significantly notable within the new generation.

korean travellerImage source: Shutter Stock

Although English still holds the top spot as the most commonly learned second language, the number of young Vietnamese learning Korean has considerably risen in popularity, partly due to their interest in Korean celebrity culture such as K-pop and Korean dramas.

The improved ties have impacted not only cultural relations but also political ones. Amended diplomatic trade agreements are set to make Vietnam and South Korea US$100 billion in revenue, and South Korea will be Vietnam’s second-largest export market by 2020.

Convenient and Cost-Effective Travel Between Vietnam and South Korea

South Korea, in turn, has also become a top market for Vietnamese travellers. Consequently, more and more air routes are being introduced and visa restrictions have been loosened allowing the use of e-visas and a 15-day visa exemption.

There are currently eight air carriers that operate between the countries with plans to increase their frequency and range of destinations—including seven direct flights per week between Da Nang and Daegu, the fourth-largest city in South Korea by population, being introduced on 22 December 2018. The flight itself is also relatively short at just over four hours and it can cost as little as VND4.5 million (US$190) for a return ticket.

But this is comparable to other neighbouring Southeast Asian countries. Destinations such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines have been long-standing popular honeymoon destinations for Koreans but now the luxury beach resorts of Da Nang are giving them a run for their money.

Swapping the Cold Korean Winter for Vietnam’s Beaches

Da Nang is the top-visited destination for South Korean travellers in Vietnam, followed respectively by Hanoi and Saigon. The central region welcomed 1.3 million South Korean tourists last year escaping the cold Korean winter for a warmer climate.

Interest in Da Nang was intensified when a dominant South Korean tour operator, Ticket Monster Inc., cited Da Nang as one of the world’s top 10 destinations favoured by South Korean families and couples. Da Nang city has many tourist attractions including the 67-metre-tall Lady Buddha statue and the recently built “Golden Bridge” that caused a media storm online and subsequently boosted tourism in the area. Da Nang is also revered for its miles and miles of stunning coastlines and well-kept beaches.

korean travellerImage source: ilovevietnamtour.com

South Korean tourists like to visit multiple locations during a short stay, so the accessibility between Da Nang and the surrounding attractions is inviting. The city is only a stone’s throw away from the UNESCO World Heritage ancient town of Hoi An.

Nha Trang is also seeing its fair share of Korean tourists that are mainly middle class 25 to 45 year olds, according to Remi Faubel, General Manager of Novotel Nha Trang. Faubel explained that like Da Nang, the increase in tourism in Nha Trang is likely related to the area’s sunny beaches.

"Korean tourists are discreet, well educated, good customers”, Faubel said. “In terms of spending, Koreans are not good. They don't spend money on local products; they don't come for shopping. Koreans mainly come to Vietnam to relax and enjoy the beach, entertainment and bars."

What Level of Service do Korean Tourists Expect?

Speaking to #IAMHCMC, the Marketing and PR Manager at the Lotte Legend hotel, Ms Nguyen Thi Thu Thao, said she had noticed a substantial increase in Korean guests visiting the hotel even during the past month-and-a-half.

She explained that the 5-star Lotte Legend hotel has a mixed international clientele but is also a favourite with Koreans, partially due to its worldwide reputation. She said, “Koreans choose the Lotte legend hotel as it’s a respected brand around the world.”

korean travellerImage source: ttc.com

The average demographic of Korean tourists who stay at the Saigon riverfront-located hotel is high-class travellers aged between 30 and 50, who expect top-quality service. Nguyen said, “Korean customers do not hesitate to spend their money on luxury as long as there is good-quality service; if there is good service and a good atmosphere they are willing to spend their money.”

How Could the Hospitality Industry Improve to Cater to Korean Tourists?

Implementing new strategies to cash-in on the flourishing Korean market in Vietnam is becoming a top priority for tour guides and hotels. However, some services in Vietnam still need drastic improvements to persuade Korean holidaymakers to spend more and stay for longer.

The director of the Korean Cultural Centre in Vietnam, Mr Keum Gi Hyung, recently met with the VNAT in Hanoi to try and solve any remaining barriers between the nations that could be hindering further tourism success. Hyung said at the meeting that providing top-quality tours, professional tourist-guide training, and increased control of agents would ensure the growth rate would continue. Korea offered support in training management teams and tour guides.

korean travellerImage source: hafoodtours.com

He also strongly suggested a heightened focus on improving traffic safety. Vietnam is infamous for its chaotic and sometimes dangerous roads, especially in big congested cities such as Saigon and Hanoi. Korean tourists who aren’t used to the disorder can find it unappealing for a holiday destination.

But Hyung’s advice wasn’t solely contrary. He praised Vietnam for its impressive scenery, delicious food, and friendly and hospitable people.

Banner Image source: Shutter Stock


Nui Tuong Project

By: Zornitza Natcheva

Create sustainable change in a safe and supportive environment.

The importance of community.

Everyone is welcome to visit!

Global support towards an inspiring cause..

A remarkable story about a small rural Vietnamese community and its heartwarming transformation.

Nui Tuong is one of the poorest communities in the Dong Nai province where the main source of living is farming. Unlike some other provinces in Vietnam, Dong Nai has limited resources and English is not taught at primary school level. The Nui Tuong Project began in May 2016 when Hang Le returned back to her place of birth. 

Nui Tuong

Hang was born into a family of accomplished farmers. Having graduated with an English degree, life took Hang to the city where she spent years in Saigon working on a variety of projects and teaching Vietnamese to foreigners. Over time, Hang found her life to be unfulfilling and empty. She was always drawn to her roots and wanted to find a way to give back to her people. Upon returning to Nui Tuong, Hang immediately saw that little had changed for most families in her community since her childhood years. The severe poverty weighed on the community, they had low self-esteem and small hopes for a better future.

Finding Opportunity in the Darkest of Places...

With a passion to lead her community towards a brighter future, Hang realised the huge potential in sustainable agriculture and eco-tourism, as Nui Tuong is mere walking distance from Cat Tien National Park. Not long after she returned back to her village, the head of the ward asked her to teach the local children English in one of the small community houses available. She accepted enthusiastically and quickly saw how smart and inquisitive children of the community were. Hang recognized that in order to continue their development and create sustainable change, she needed to foster an environment where local children could learn, conduct experiments and share knowledge, in a safe and supportive environment.

Nui Tuong

With her own money, Hang founded Nui Tuong Project which is now a social enterprise. It presently sits on a 2000 square metre plot of land, nestled along Dong Nai River and has grown to have four large wooden bungalows for accommodation, additional dormitory for volunteers, a spacious and open dining and kitchen area and a library where children gather for their lessons and study activities. Nui Tuong project is unique as it blends agriculture, eco-tourism and education in a creative and innovative way and Hang strives to expand each area to its full potential. 

Cultivating Community...

At present, there is one permanent staff, Ms. Celine – a French national – who plans to remain at Nui Tuong for two years and is in charge of agricultural development. Her expertise and passion lie in permaculture, organic produce and sustainability and she has devoted her time to both managing the farm as well as creating workshops for the children. The long term goal is to have plants, fruits and vegetables all year round and to entrust the farm operations to the local children. Celine and the children learn about how to create small and large scale farms and about the local challenges in their production processes. The children are encouraged to develop solutions, experiment with new and more suitable crops for the climate, make organic fertilizer, teach farmers not to use pesticides and learn about current methods and machinery used in modern farming. 

Nui Tuong

Hang dedicates most of her time to engaging with the parents in the village. She organises music nights and other events to bring the community closer and build trust in her teaching methods. During community nights, Hang encourages the parents to have trust in their children and to allow them the independence to develop new skill sets and build their confidence. She also guides children on how to develop an open communication with their families about their hopes and dreams. 

Hang emphasizes the importance of having practical skills in addition to just good grades in school, which is what most parents usually focus on and what is promoted in traditional education systems. By promoting “learning by doing” Hang aims to strengthen the childrens’ abilities in performing independent research and having a solution driven, proactive mindset.

Nui Tuong Village Welcomes Everyone!

Of course, Nui Tuong Project would have never been possible without the help of international volunteers and visitors, which Hang has been actively engaging with in the last two years. In Nui Tuong village, eco-tourism is suitable to be experienced by anyone who loves nature, especially families that live and work in big cities. As a guest you pay a small fee for accommodation in one of the bungalows and you can use the bicycles from the farm to explore the nearby surroundings as well as tour Cat Tien National Park. One can enjoy the rice fields, the farm, eat and live like locals within the commune, learn about country life and experience its simplicity while feeling part of a big family. 

Nui Tuong

Additionally, the project organises Summer Camps where children from local schools and English centers in Ho Chi Minh City can join local kids on the farm and stay between 1 - 4 weeks. Most of the activities are determined by the volunteers and a typical weekly program includes: playing the guitar, practicing martial arts, and drawing. The program also covers subjects such as English, Science, History and Regional Geography. Children attending the camp are involved in weekly workshops on farming and nutrition, making jam and wine, planting flowers and fruits and even yoga! Children are taught how to run projects, manage finances and how to utilise social media for promotion and marketing. Hang loves to observe and discover the potential of each child through these activities and once she recognises certain talent within each child, she will change their role in order to fit their skills and personality, which in turn gives them the courage to develop in the right direction. Hang shares as her personal motivation for this project...

“To see a positive change in a human, to see them understand and trust themselves more and more every day, to have the opportunity to inspire them to be leaders.”

Global Support Towards an Inspiring Cause...

Schools which have joined in helping the project are Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) and Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). Students and staff from FPT University in Vietnam visited and prepared dinner for over 100 community members. Even visitors from Hong Kong are making their way to Nui Tuong village, where 30 students from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology built a soccer field for the whole community to enjoy and taught the children experiments about aerodynamics and engineering. Students from National University of Singapore have also visited for two consecutive years to build additional classrooms and facilities and implement solar lights for the amenities on the farm. 

Nui Tuong

Hang feels happy now, even though her life and community responsibilities have become increasingly demanding and complex. She aims to continue to expand and accommodate more children from her community, nurturing and improving each of their native talents and strengths. Hang sees Nui Tuong Project becoming the perfect social enterprise model for anyone to pick up as a valuable case study and implement in their home towns and communities.

Within the next five years, most of the current children will leave to study abroad, the farm will grow to cover five hectares of land and there will be a small factory to produce wine. There will be additional housing for guests and volunteers, as well as housing for lecturers and scientists, with a fully equipped lab for them to conduct experiments. This is how Hang envisions the development of her project, as she believes her efforts will bring continuous change in the local community, for a better living environment and a stronger local economy. 

Now Hang is focused on the actual day to day work with the children, which she considers the most rewarding human experience. Her most substantial need is to bring more awareness to Nui Tuong Project, and to inspire organisations and companies to support with donations and volunteers. 

Nui Tuong

As Nui Tuong Project grows, it will soon need four additional interns and an education coordinator, as well as volunteers in the fields of Technology, English and Farming.

How can you and your organisation support Nui Tuong Project?
Contact Hang Le directly: +84 978 888 185
nuituongedu@gmail.com

Image source: Nui Tuong


7 Saigon Bloggers You Must Bookmark Now

By: Aleksandr Smechov

Saigon’s tourism scene is stuck on a plateau. Unlike other popular destinations like Bangkok, New York, Paris, etc., all is not revealed – secrets remain and an air of mystery still permeates even rudimentary tasks like going to a doctor and understanding traffic patterns. There’s a severe lack of official documentation and foreign language support that grants Ho Chi Minh City an air of impenetrability at times. Some times, to the point of utter frustration.

Our only hope, it seems, are the bloggers who brave the alien terrains of shouting ladies and incomprehensible signs to discover, transcribe and inform the confused community of expats and visitors. 

To save us all from bashing our heads against the wall when we order sautéed beef and get an avocado smoothie instead, we present a motley group of Content Heroes who provide us with the ins and outs necessary to experience the oohs and ahhs, without as much of the ughs and pffts. 

 

Rusty Compass

Rusty Compass

Cool stuff about Mark’s blog:

• A one-man powerhouse who produces consistent quality content on HCMC and around

• Well-structured website makes navigation easy

• Great pictures

• Observations are candid and nuanced

Rusty Compass features the lovable shiny-head Mark Bowyer, an Asia explorer since 1988. Mark has some cool guides for Vietnam and Cambodia, but his blog section is where his personality really sparkles. 

You get articles carefully eyeing the good and the bad of Saigon’s idiosyncrasies, with sensitive issues like the Cu Chi tunnel’s firing range and a potentially bland future for the city brought to light and discussed in Mark’s signature erudite manner. 

Mark also takes excellent photos.

Standout article: The Last President’s Driver

 

Andy Goes to Asia

Cool stuff about Andy: 

● Articles are written for the everyday expat

● Includes travel blogs, but also what it’s like to live here and work for a living

● Focuses a lot on storytelling

● Explains details that may seem confusing to expats, like the motorbike culture

● Well written, fun, blunt and helpful

A simple Wordpress blog, Andy Goes to Asia details the AsiaLIFE writer’s observations and travels in Vietnam. 

The blogs steady between practical and entertaining, are well written (Andy’s an English literature major, after all), easy to read and quite useful. “The Motorbikes of Saigon” sheds some light on Ho Chi Minh City’s chaotic motorbike culture, giving nuanced advice on where to rent, the 2007 helmet law, unpredictable obstacles and more. 

Standout article: The Motorbikes of Saigon

 

Adventure Faktory

Adventure Faktory

Cool stuff about the AF duo: 

● Best layout/presentation of the bunch

● Content is broken down by topics

● Cool pictures

● Content is both practical (who expats date in the city) and related to experiencing the city (restaurants, bars, clubs, etc.) 

The cleanest, most well-laid-out site on the list, Adventure Faktory is a sexy travel blog with quality photos and a simple writing style that’s easy to get into. 

Written by world travelers Mitch and Thuymi, the blog is broken down into simple categories like “Travel,” “Sports & Adventure,” “Lifestyle” and more. Articles are practical and for the most part focused on venues and experiences (like “Fashion Boutiques in Saigon,” “Oktoberfest in Saigon” and “Ho Chi Minh City’s Coffee Culture”), and are chock full of cool Instagram-worthy shots. 

Standout article: The Ultimate Saigon Cafes List

 

Elka Ray

Cool stuff about Elka: 

● Tends to focus on short pieces targeted at the day-to-day goings-on

● Includes nicephotos and interesting stories – even a dash of humor thrown in

● Great writing

Elka Ray is a storyteller, and thus provides a more personal account of her daily life in Vietnam. Author and illustrator, Elka moved to the country in 1996, and has since started a family. 

The blog rotates around her family life at home, daily observations and insights and random musings. It’s a much different tone than others on the list, and the information leans more towards musings rather than practical advice, although there are some venue profiles.

Entries are fun, very well-written and a great read for anyone living in and experiencing the ups and downs of Vietnam.

Standout article: Scraps of history

 

Hello Saigon

Hello Saigon

 

Cool stuff about HS:

● Articles tend to focus on reviews of different attractions, hotels and venues around the city

● Site is streamlined and mobile friendly – tons of pictures and short-form content

● Does a lot of work with food discussions and where the best places to eat are

● Blogger is active and a regular poster

Hello Saigon boasts a constant stream of entries on Ho Chi Minh City’s active scene, including venues, events, food trips and travels to other cities. This is the most streamlined site of the bunch, and consists of a continuous river of bite-sized articles broken up by relevant pictures (1-2 sentences + picture, 1-2 sentences + picture, repeat). 

It’s really freaking easy to read, is fun to scroll through and is quite practical, especially with the flood of photos. The writing is simple and light-hearted, and the content is very snug on mobiles.

Standout article: A Relaxing Stay at Salinda Resort

 

City Pass Guide

City Pass Guide

Cool stuff about City Pass: 

• Self-explanatory (kidding)

• Large back catalog of blogs from a diverse team of writers and guest bloggers

• Long-form content may put off the ADD crowd, but articles are informative and delve deep into their subject matter

• Interview with experts on various destinations

• Blogs cover tourism industry, various lists, events and more

We City Pass Guide is known around town as the free guidebook distributed at fancy shmancy resorts and hotels. Their online counterpart is focused on venue listings, but there is a dedicated blog section that is quite useful if you want to dive deeper into Vietnam’s tourism market, learn about grand opening, unique events, or scroll through various lists (ex. top 5 Vietnamese love sayings, top 7 honeymoon resorts, etc.).

Articles are written by staff writers or guests from various industries, are relatively lengthy but go well with a glass of pinot noir and a bag of Poca chips.

Standout article: The Declining State of Tourism in Vietnam – And How We Can Help

 

Sketchpacker

Sketch Packer

Cool stuff about Zoe:

● The blog features creative sketches of Saigon’s life and locals

● Zoe’s gonzo, down-to-earth observations are fun to read

● Blogs are both informative and very well written

Like Wix-using Andy above, Zoe hardly needs anything more than a free Wordpress blog to suck in readers with surreal sketches, disarmingly honest prose and a gonzo wit about her observations.

Blogs detail living on a severely limited budget (eggs, baguettes and VND 10,000 drinks every day? No problem), unspoken rules of the road, living in a shack on Phu Quoc for a week, children helping administer heroine to their mothers (yep…) and many more gems.

Standout article: Saigon’s Darkest Secrets

 


5 photo tips for travelers in Vietnam

By: Vinh Dao

How to capture and keep the Vietnamese breathtaking moment?

For shutterbugs, Vietnam is a paradise full of photographic opportunities. Whether you are into landscapes, street or even food photography, Vietnam has it all. We have put together five tips for taking photos in this picturesque country.

1. Be respectful. When taking photos of people, take the slow approach. Usually a smile or a gesture to your camera is all it takes for someone to allow you to take their photo.

Local insight: Monks and nuns make for great portraiture subjects.

2. Wake up early. When the first rays of sunlight head across the horizon, the light created is softer and colours are warmer and more saturated. Though this effect lasts usually lasts longer than one hour, photographers call this the Golden Hour.

Local insight: The Golden Hour is a great opportunity to snap some images of Hanoians exercising around Hoan Kiem Lake.

3. Take a tripod. This is a must for taking landscape photos and when the light is fading when shutter speeds are slower.

Local insight: Light streaks from the manic traffic in Saigon’s District 1 will create an ethereal feel to any image.

4. Read up about your destination. Finding a relevant tidbit where you are shooting can make the difference of turning a great shot into something stunning.

Local insight: The best time to take photos in Sapa is before the harvest from mid-September to early October when the rice fields are a bright yellow.

5. Use your camera strap. Sling the strap around your neck or across your shoulder to prevent an opportunistic thief from nicking your camera.

Local insight: When walking around in major cities, this is a must as motorbike thieves are drawn to cameras like moths to a flame.


Other articles:

Top 5 tips for crossing the street in Vietnam

Top 5 photo tips for travelers in Vietnam

Top 5 tips to rent a motorbike in Vietnam

5 tips to manage your online reputation on Tripadvisor

5 tips of preparation for better score at golf

5 tips to take pictures of fireworks in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi

Top 5 tips for preventing theft in Vietnam

The art of bargaining in Vietnam

Tips to spot and avoid scam and pick pocket


Special Flowers for Tet 2019

By: Robert Fouldes

Every Tet holiday we also celebrate and enjoy the arrival of spring. Everyone looks for the best flowers and ornamental plants to decorate their homes, to provide a striking visual effect and to create a feeling of freshness, helping us to look forward to a new year filled with luck, happiness and good fortune. Some of the popular flowers for this occasion are yellow apricot blossom, cherry blossom, kumquat, chrysanthemum, orchid, and narcissus. We find great joy in decorating our homes with flowers for Tet, raising our feelings as well as beautifying our homes, we also find ourselves expressing ourselves through personal tastes and communicating something of ourselves through the aesthetic of our style and decoration, in some cases hoping to mark ourselves as a connoisseur or arbiter of taste.

Let us consider what flower varieties are the hottest choices in this New Year / Tet 2019?

1. Chaenomeles japonica

This is a kind of flowering shrub that visually combines the cherry blossom of northern Japan and the southern yellow apricot blossom. Chaenomeles japonica is also known as Maule’s quince, belonging to the rose family with a short woody bush growing to about 100 – 200 cm. The shrub is slender and graceful, rich in colour, the flowers have broad petals, grow to be evenly sized, with cleverly arranged petals 3 - 5 cm diameter. The petals open by day and close at night and can be expected to be in flower for up to 2 months. The flower shows a diverse range of colour, bright red, crimson, red-orange, red rose. When in bloom, this flowering shrub is like a red fire, symbolizing wealth, peace, virtue and the common good. It is usually cultivated as a bonsai, and will also bear fruit. The shrub produces apple-like fruit, green until turning yellow when ripe, it appears quite like a pear, is fragrant, hard and usually sour, but it can be used to make preserves.

The price of Chaenomeles japonica varies from 1 to 10 million VND depending on the shape and size of the tree.

special flowers for tetImage source: giahuygarden.vn

2. Prunus mume Sieb

Prunus mume Sieb is a kind of white apricot blossom. It is a woody species, belonging to the rose family. The more rough and hardy the tree trunk is, the more beautiful it is considered. The flower buds are pink, but when blooming they gradually become white with very tight layers of petals. When the petals are shed, the remaining calyx (that protected the flower bud) gradually changes to red looking like a new flower, then this too falls away after a period of time, because of this, the flower has another name “twice apricot blossom” meaning that the flower blooms two times. Prunus mume Sieb symbolically represents the honourable man, for principles and values of virtue. The three most favoured silhouettes of the Prunus mume Sieb are the triangle, the straight and the slantwise. The triangle is also known as 3 elements: sky – earth – human with a large root and three branches forming the tree trunk. The straight upright appearance is straightforward, honest and strong. The slantwise is also known as the silhouette of a waterfall, leaning to one side, the shape often bending as would a tree growing on a steep mountain slope, which means reverence to the superior, the master.

Most of the Prunus mume Sieb cost from 2 to 15 million VND depending on the shape, silhouette and age.

special flowers for tetImage source: sohanews.com

3. Camelliathea amplexicaulis

Also known as Japanese Red Camellia (and has been called the Japan Rose), the flowers possess a conspicuous beauty and exude a beautiful, elegant and gentle scent (tea being a variety of Camellia). Camellia can be considered a gourmet plant with an added reward of flowers. Wherever you place the tea flower, the whole area will benefit and become refreshed and brightened as the flowers exude their wonderful aroma. Tea flowers come in many different colours such as reddish brown (deep tea), dark pink (pomegranate tea), pink rose (royal tea), white (white tea), yellow (gold flower tea) and sometimes hybrid combinations of white and pink stripes, red stripes, speckled (octagonal tea). The flowers are large and conspicuous usually with 5 to 9 petals. The Tea flowers will bloom for 5-15 days. The flowers symbolically represent perfection, loyalty, humility, dignity and grace.

Flowers cost from 500 thousand to 120 million, depending on the colour of the flower and the age of the tree.

special flowers for tetImage source: blogspot.com

4. Camellia sasanqua

The flowers are fresh and vibrant, but they do not overpower us with a dazzling feeling, but radiate our senses with a feeling of warmth. The petals are broad, curved, and gently embrace the yellow stamens, the fragrance is very light. These flowers include two varieties, one with single petals and one with dual petals. The colours are quite diverse with white, pink, dark pink, yellow, with the most popular being crimson. Blooms can last up to 20 days; the flowers are often very thick and cover trees with a high density. Camellia sasanqua represents harmony, joyful life and friendship of the family (in Chinese, the name of the flower is synonymous with the big house, the main house).

Flowers cost from 500 thousand VND to 100 million VND, depending on the shape, age and age of the tree.

special flowers for tetImage source: kenhhomestay.com

5. Hibernation Rhododendron

According to the ancients, the rhododendron flower is a symbol of gentleness, peace, prosperity and reunion. For some European countries, this flower is considered a symbol of glory and pride. Rhododendrons can also have another name: Azalea. Possessing a brilliant beauty with warm colours, azaleas are commonly dark red, dark pink, pink, purple, orange, white. Every time the flower blooms, it fills the space around it with vitality. An interesting aspect of the rhododendron is its hibernation, in cold dry periods the plant will reduce its water content, but the cells will remain alive, in Autumn / Fall, the tree will slowly fall into hibernation with the appearance of dry branches. When the water supply at the roots resumes, after 2 days the tree will wake and on the third day will bud and the flowers will begin to sprout. On the 7th day, the flowers will begin to bloom, and after 15 days the buds will fully bloom with brilliance.

The price of hibernation rhododendron is quite low, from 150-500 thousand VND / bunch of 30-50 branches.

special flowers for tetImage source: kenh14cdn.com

6. Classic Rose

Classic Roses are always loved for their beauty, romantic association, elegance and luxurious appearance. In addition, the number of blooms on each bush/tree is usually quite large. The rose bush also radiates a broad gentle fragrance that adds to its attraction. Classic Roses are a diverse and widely cultivated species. The flowers have many varieties such as Van Khoi Rose, Sapa Rose, Lipstick Rose, Bach Xep Rose or imported pink called Tree Rose, all with various colours: white, pink, dark pink, yellow, red, purple or veined stripes. Rose blooms usually last for 7-10 days, with some types of super long lasting blooms persisting for a whole month.

Classic roses are priced at VND 1.5 - 250 million depending on the origin and freshness.

special flowers for tetImage source: vuonhongvanloan.com

7. Peony

Peony was dubbed the king of flowers with a beautiful, noble and gorgeous bloom. Charming and delicate as roses, the petals are narrow, smooth, layered from the centre to the outside, giving a full shape, but the size is much larger (20-30cm) than a rose, making it stand out in every space. It also possesses a passionate and charming scent along with various striking colours such as pure white fawn, a noble and fresh pink, an attractive bright red, a charming high purple, a warm golden shine, a keen purple, and a charming pink colour to a unique reddish purple. The flower symbolises wealth, prosperity, beauty and wisdom and is a popular gift all around the world. The Peony will bloom for 7-10 weeks in suitable conditions.

Peony flowers cost between VND 500,000 and VND 8 million.

special flowers for tetImage source: tronghoa.vn

8. Winterberry

Winterberry is a shrub that grows wild in many countries such as the Netherlands, Canada, and the United States. The tree is tall, beautiful, with slender glossy green leaves, it produces small white flowers, then clusters of berries along its branches, appearing as yellow then ripening to a striking red; these berries are also a favourite food of birds. The tree is at its most beautiful in the late winter and early spring, a clear sign of the New Year. Europeans have long used the Winterberry along with other flowers to decorate and bring a feeling of warmth to the home in the middle of the cold winter season. In the climate of southern Vietnam, fruiting branches can be kept fresh for 7-10 days. If the climate is as cold as in the north, they can be kept for months.

Winterberry prices are quite expensive because of their origin, incurring import and storage fees. Each branch will cost around 200-400 thousand VND, a large collection for about 5 - 50 million VND.

special flowers for tetImage source: wikimedia.org

9. Forsythi

This flower blooms in early spring; the blooms are a bright yellow colour, like the apricot blossom in southern Vietnam. However, Forsythi blooms in clusters, with the flowers clinging along the length of its long slim branches. The flowers have 4 long petals stretching out to hug the pistil. The Forsythi grows as a wild-flower in many European and American countries. They also have the name "Easter Tree " or "Golden Rain", and are often grown as fences/hedges or in parks. The plants often shed their leaves before flowering. Each flower cluster appears to possess great intricate beauty, but close observation reveals quite a simple structure, but it remains visually dominating. The yellow colour always raises one's spirits, inspiring and bringing joy wherever they are found. The flowers can stay fresh for about 15-20 days.

The prices range from 300-500 VND / branch, depending on the height. A large plant is available for about VND 4 - 15 million.

special flowers for tetImage source: amazonaws.com

10. Hybrid Orchid

The Orchid is still the first choice for many flower lovers, but the type of orchid most sought after recently is the Hybrid Orchid, even though their prices are quite high, from several million to nearly ten billion VND. The Flowers have a very distinctive appearance with different colours, diverse shapes and width of petals. There are many types of orchids such as Rhynchostylis gigantea, Dendrobium anosmum, White Dendrobium Nestor… each species having a unique appearance, in fact, all are unique. For example the Paphiopedilum parishii orchid or “mutant beard”, originated from Germany, its shape is intriguing as it appears to be adorned by two long beards, it holds the price of 4.6 million VND / plant. Dendrobium anosmum orchid is marked by broad, thick, firm but not too long petals, costing from 5 million VND / plant. Rothschild: an almost extinct orchid species with only a small number remaining in the Kinabalu region of Malaysia - dubbed the "gold of Kinabalu", blooms only once every 15 years, the flowers costing upwards from 110 million VND. To get these orchids, collectors must order a long time in advance, and sometimes there will be no guarantee that they will receive them at a given time, such are their rarity, but for many flower lovers and collectors, the investment is worth both the time and money, for them to attain the object of their passionate desire.

special flowers for tetImage source: ytimg.com

Banner Image source: ynghiahoa.net

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